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Doctor Who New Year’s Special Recap: Reconnaissance of the Dalek

Doctor Who

Resolution
Season 11 Episode 11
Editor’s Rating *****

Doctor Who

Resolution
Season 11 Episode 11
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Sophie Mutevelian/BBC Studios 2018

Earlier this season, based on the monsters and villains he’d been unleashing, I found it difficult to imagine how Chris Chibnall might write a Dalek. Well, now we know, and the answer is “brilliantly.” “Resolution” is a real corker and a remarkably fresh outing for the Daleks. It’s big and bold and feels cinematic and globe-spanning and time trotting — all the way around, a far more fitting finale to this inaugural season than “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos.” So much has texturally changed with this new Who that bringing back a single maniacal Dalek (also how the show reintroduced them back in 2005) to cap off this first block wasn’t so much of a masterstroke as a no-brainer. The masterstrokes are in the execution.

The epic opening sequence recounts the ninth-century tale of an army of enemies coming together to battle a lone enemy, resulting in the formation of Order of the Custodians, who cut the creature into thirds and spread the pieces across the globe. This is all so big and powerful it seems a shame to whittle it down to a mere two minutes of screen time. One of the Custodians is cut down while doing his duty (which had me saying to the TV, “You had ONE job …”), which is followed by that gorgeous dissolve showing the passage of time: The dead body in the ninth century fades into a pile of bones in the present, at the center of an archaeological dig beneath Sheffield Town Hall.

Emphasizing the holiday setting early on, Lin (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mitch (Nikesh Patel) are perhaps thinking less about the remains of the dead man in front of them, and more about the kiss they shared the night before on New Year’s Eve. These are decent, normal folks who aren’t looking for trouble, but they’ve unwittingly stumbled across a third of the remains of the Dalek, so, too late. A bit of the old ultraviolet light infuses it with enough life to accelerate a “spatial shift” which somehow brings the three pieces back together. This seems like one of the dodgier aspects of the story, and yet I went with it because crafting new aspects of the Daleks is challenging, and I wasn’t about to let weird technobabble get in the way of the fun. The TARDIS hones in on the alien activity in Sheffield, interrupting the dazzling New Year’s Eve observations of the Doctor and friends, and they’re off.

“Resolution” features at least three outstanding reveals, and the first is the tentacled creature stuck to the side of a sewer wall. Lin reaches out to touch it, and you scream at her not to, because we know what horrors await. Or do we? Not so fast. After a bit of dramatic subterfuge, the second, even more horrific reveal occurs: The Dalek creature has draped itself around Lin’s body, declaring to her, “I am your pilot.” It has taken control of her mind and body and is dead set on gaining back its armor and weaponry to destroy all life on Earth, as Daleks do.

This sets into motion a series of sequences in which Charlotte Ritchie — along with Nick Briggs, delivering a much different sort of Dalek voice — almost steal the episode from everyone else. Dalek-Lin makes its way across the UK murdering anyone who gets in its way and delivering devious lines to its host, like, “You are a useful soldier;” and, upon hearing police sirens, “That sound is no rescue. It is combat.” One of the best moments is also one of the most subtle: the way a tentacle gently caresses the Dalek gun it retrieves. If you didn’t notice it the first time, go back and look for it.

Meanwhile, Team TARDIS deals with a very different kind of intruder back at Graham’s homestead in the form of Ryan’s perpetually absent father, Aaron (Daniel Adegboyega). The Doctor’s immediate reaction upon meeting him: “You weren’t at Grace’s funeral. Ryan waited for you. You let him down.” That direct, fierce protectiveness of her friends is an admirable quality in this Doctor. It’s also awareness — making mental notes about the things that matter to the people around her seems to be a real hallmark of this Doctor, and may be unique to her out of all the Doctors. Remember, Clara had to make flash cards for the Twelfth Doctor to help keep his social conventions in check.

But Ryan and Graham are ultimately quite capable of handling Aaron on their own, and there are different combinations of moments and scenes between the three men in which they hash it all out. Early on, Graham bluntly informs the absentee father, “You haven’t done enough,” which is followed by Ryan calling Graham “gramps,” and Graham in turn calling Ryan “son.” It’s a lovely payoff to their story over the last couple episodes. The scene in the coffee shop where Ryan lays out everything Aaron should be saying to him might be Tosin Cole’s best moment of the season. It’s quiet and understated, never played with anger as much as it is laced with disappointment. But Aaron is clearly a complicated man, and his line, “You run ‘cause you’re too ashamed to make it right,” which is loaded with regret, is as heartfelt in its own way as anything Ryan says.

As the Doctor pieces everything together and sets plans in motion, she realizes it’s a form of Dalek called a reconnaissance scout, with capabilities even deadlier than those of a typical Dalek. As the gravity of the situation comes into focus, we see sides of the Doctor we maybe haven’t seen this season. Daleks tend to do that to Doctors. It’s a natural path for a writer to take given the enormous importance these creatures have in the series, and Chibnall is up to the task. A few weeks ago, I ranted about how underserved the central character (and Jodie Whittaker, by extension) was in “Battle,” and “Resolution” goes a long way toward remedying those gripes. There’s a serious Richard III aside she has, where she turns away from her friends and almost looks into the camera, “I always think I’m rid of them. Never am.” A couple other great lines I jotted down: “I learned to think like a Dalek a long time ago;” and, “Me and the Dalek, it’s personal.”

The sequence in which Dalek-Lin forges a new casing out of old parts of steel and actual pieces of its original casing echoes the Doctor doing much the same to craft a new sonic at the start of the season, reinforcing how much the Doctor and this particular enemy have in common at this point. This Dalek, too, feels immediately at home in a woman’s body. The third great reveal is, of course, the new Dalek, which looks absolutely cobbled together with 21st-century tech. It’s probably the only Dalek we’ll ever see that looks exactly like this, and the first big scene between it and the Doctor is entertainingly defining. She dares to ask if its new look is “junkyard chic.”

Much of the third act slyly shifts into anti-Brexit commentary. The Doctor attempts to reach UNIT, only to be met with ineptness on the other end of the line and to discover that UNIT no longer even exists. All of the other countries that were involved in its financing have withdrawn. (An epic shift in the Whoniverse, that is.) Later on, when the Dalek encounters a group of heavily armed soldiers, they have no clue what a Dalek is. English security and its military are worse off and seemingly bumbling in a post-Brexit world. Yet it is breathtaking to watch the creature effortlessly dispatch them, particularly when its orbs open up to reveal missiles.

There’s some witty social commentary that in a regular-length episode never would’ve made the cut, with the Dalek shutting down all of Britain’s communications — including the internet — on New Year’s Day, when, as Graham exclaims, “everything’s shut and everyone’s hungover!?” (Lin observes the same at the top of the episode.) Ryan delivers the deadpan punchline, “What a monster!” Then, Family Guy-style, the action cuts to a random English family realizing they may actually have to converse with each other.

The Dalek storyline and the Aaron storyline dovetail for the big finish, with the microwave Aaron’s been peddling coming in handy as a means of destroying the Dalek’s casing, but also with the organic creature taking over Aaron as it did Lin. The Doctor jettisons the creature into an exploding supernova, but not before Aaron saves his father from the same fate. The swelling music and the cinematography of the moment sell it (it’s a very Alien climax), as does Ryan’s line: “Not bad for a kid with dyspraxia, right?”

Someone I haven’t mentioned once throughout this recap is Yaz. The story wasn’t about her, although she had some fine lines here and there (“So, it’s even worse than the really bad thing you was worried about in the first place?”). A common complaint I’ve read about this season is that “three companions doesn’t work.” I disagree. The show is more of an ensemble piece now, and as long as you accept that every character can’t have an important storyline in every episode, three friends and one Doctor works fine. It allows the series to tell different types of stories around its varied cast. Arguably the best episode of the season, “Demons of the Punjab,” was a Yaz-centered story, and it couldn’t have been told the same way without her. Just because Geordi La Forge didn’t have something great to do in every episode doesn’t mean he needed to be written off Star Trek: The Next Generation, or that the show suffered because of it. He was a fixture of TNG, as Yaz is of this new version of Doctor Who, and a year from now I bet we’ll get some amazing Yaz. Thanks so much for reading me all season, folks!

Doctor Who Recap: Reconnaissance of the Dalek