Doctor Who #1006: Resolution

"Is that your intruder alert or mine?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.1 2019.

IN THIS ONE... A 9th-Century Dalek scout is resurrected on New Year's 2019.

REVIEW: Up top, let me say that I enjoyed the New Year's special a lot more on second viewing than on first, and I think I know why. On initial viewing, you're discovering the plot and processing any given episode as a story you've never experienced before (give or take similarities with other stories you have - Resolution basically rewrites Gareth Roberts' Doc10/Rose QuickRead "I Am a Dalek"), and plotting is really Chibnall's weakness. On later viewings, you know the story, and concentrate on details, dialog, small bits of acting, and emotion. So plot holes melt away, while the dramatic character work holds more weight. And the character stuff surrounding Ryan and Graham has been Series 11's strength; it is again. (Which is not to say it's off the hook for sidelining the ladies. Series 12 needs to build them up.) So let's take those two sides of the equation separately, each corresponding to one definition of the word "resolution".

Resolution: a firm decision to do or not to do something. The episode has gotten some guff for not being all that celebratory. It takes PLACE on New Year's Day, but by its own account, that's not a day for celebration. It's about the celebration's hangover, one for sleeping in and deciding you have to go back to the gym. So right off the bat, I'd say moving the special ahead by a week was a mistake. It yields a story that could potentially have been part of the season itself, and features characters who are done with the holidays. At best, the Doctor pays lip service to it - the TARDIS is touring the great fireworks of history and she makes a "resolution" to defeat the Dalek, which isn't really a resolution when you think about it - at worst, it gives us a family we've never met before who are discouraged to have to talk to each other after the wi-fi goes down across Britain (a doubling up of a comedy beat to boot, because Graham and Ryan did it fine in dialog). In this unnecessary scene and the one where the Doctor calls UNIT and gets a call center, there's a sense that Chibnall is trying to inject the kind of shenanigans that were a part of RTD and Moffat's holiday specials, but it fails spectacularly. The flat lighting on those scenes is especially jarring, as is the acting style, so they look like interjections from another type of television entirely. I really shouldn't be put in mind of Dimensions in Time at this point. I guess the idea that UNIT finances have been put on hold is a Brexit joke, I'm pretty sure it's not funny to anyone watching, sorry Cathy Griffin look-alike.

But I buried the lede. The real "celebratory" bit is pitting Jodie's Doctor against the Daleks for the first time. One single Dalek, but he's a special kind, a Reconnaissance Scout that can take over a biological being the same way it presumably controls its armored shell (conductor slime). If you raised an eyebrow when you heard a Dalek was defeated by 9th Century Saxons, see Theories for how I do think that fits the facts. If what made you raise an eyebrow is the voice of Ryan's dad narrating the legend, I can't help you. That's a very strange and unjustifiable decision. Not that the legend was needed. Why split the mutant into three and bury him in three different spots if it can just 'port the different pieces to its spot once any of them is awake? By that point, you've met a very sweet archaeologist couple, so of course something horrible is going to happen to them (the big surprise is that despite a high body count, they make it out alive, though the show is pretty glib about Lin's fate considering the Dalek crimes she's forced to commit); cue opening titles. Oh wait, no. They're missing. I don't know what Chibnall has against cold opens or credit sequences, but there was a great spot to have them kick in, maybe with added layers of fireworks which could have been edited into that first Team TARDIS scene. Oh well. The Dalek controlling a person is well creepy, but Lin should be feeling the weight of those deaths at her hands at the end, even if the authorities aren't somehow after her. For that matter, this was a perfect place to tell us what Yasmin's status might be with the Sheffield Police. Has she taken an extended leave, or quit? Did she know the officers killed by the Daleks? It's like the show goes out of its way NOT to give Yaz anything to do, sometimes.

The Dalek raids a collection of alien tech - Torchwood obviously left a void that's being filled by independent companies - and from the looks of it, finds a mix of remnants of its own shell, and perhaps those from Remembrance of the Daleks. Same sound for the gun, same type of hover ability. The rest it has to build itself in a knowing echo of the 13th Doctor crafting her sonic in her first episode. The "junkyard chic" Dalek has a cool appearance and does short work of Britain's (pretty paltry) armed forces. I do love its "Allocated surrender period expired!" after about 5 seconds. Defeating it by MacGyvering a microwave oven (the one Ryan's dad is selling, which feels forced) is a perfectly Doctor Who thing to do, but it's not staged particularly well. The Doctor and her extended cast of companions puttering around the killing machine and sticking stuff onto it just looks silly. Then there's a last scare, with the creature taking over Ryan's dad, and a bit where it gets thrown into a supernova (are we at Skaro's location?). By then, it's time for the show to end. I think I would have been happy without all the "I love you dad!" histrionics to make the mutant drop off Aaron's back, if that's what was really happening. At least the Doctor gets some strong material. She's usually good when confronting heinous villains, goading them into making mistakes or panicking (whether it works or not). I love, for example, how much she enjoys telling the Dalek she's the Doctor, but all three of her scenes with it are good. Plus, she gets her own scarf in this!

Resolution: the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter. Where the title gets its full meaning is in the subplot about Ryan and his dad. Left dangling when Aaron Sinclair didn't go to his mother's funeral, leaving Ryan no other choice than turn to Team TARDIS for support. Though a line meant to catch the audience up, Yaz's "it's complicated" isn't facile or hyperbolic. It's true. In his first appearance, Aaron turns out to be a rather complex and sympathetic character, not the caricature of a deadbeat dad we might have been expecting. Ryan's daddy issues have been as much a part of the series' emotional tapestry as Grace's death, and the father-son talk felt very real to me. Aaron isn't a bad person, but he is an emotional coward, unable to deal with the death of either his wife or his mother's. He ran. He hid. He didn't want to stay and have to accept they were gone. I totally get where he's coming from. I also understand Ryan's anger. His father was selfish and thought only of his own emotional welfare, avoiding his anxieties, but leaving Ryan alone to fend for himself. Ryan's not giving him much of a chance, but is Aaron worthy of one? Does it matter? The best line of the exchange is "What do you want me to say? Cuz I want to say it." I believe it! He's trying to make amends, but doesn't know where to start. He wants the dark chapter to be over, but - and this is in line with his psychology - he doesn't really want to face its consequences. Sure doesn't help when the Doctor calls him on it at first glance.

And then there's Graham. He's got some skin in the game, not because he feels responsible for Ryan, but because Aaron is his wife's son. Once again, Graham serves his dual purpose, on the one hand providing comic moments (the front room joke, the bit with Mitch in the sewers), but also the heart of the piece. The moment where Ryan calls him "gramps" is a lot more emotional for me than when he first said it in It Takes You Away because Aaron's there. It's an attack, a statement, the truth, all in one. Graham still wells up when it happens. He also has two key scenes with Aaron, cold and reproachful in the first, but warmer and more understanding in the second. His question - he's very good with questions - is why Aaron didn't come to Grace's funeral not for Ryan, not for Grace, but for HIMSELF. And I think the answer speaks to the same thing Aaron's talk with Ryan was getting at. In the end, both of our TARDISeers have to forgive Aaron. But they're forgivers, that's who they are. If Tim Shaw can get a pass, why not Aaron Sinclair? Are we now going to see Ryan's dad all over the place? No. That wouldn't be truthful. We can vague plans in the New Year, we hope to be able to be better people, to reconnect with those lost to us, or with best selves. That we manage even a fraction of our ambitions is a minor miracle. It's enough, for now, that Ryan has gotten past his emotional baggage. He doesn't suddently have a dad invested in his life (Aaron refuses a trip in the TARDIS), but neither does he have the pain of that relationship hanging over him.

THEORIES: A Dalek showing up in the 9th Century pretty much demands we revisit the problem of Dalek history. Obviously, that's a concept that's evolved because of the Time War. Daleks don't seem to care if they double back on their own history, improve themselves in the past and wipe their flawed futures selves out in the process. It'd be easy if this were a Time War Dalek; then we could say it fell through time like the one in Series 1's Dalek and leave it at that. But it's specifically a "scout", which is a bit of a coincidence. It never mentions the Time War. And 9th-Century humans were able to melt its shell with fire. I don't think you could do that with a contemporary Dalek. I propose instead that this is a Dalek scout sent to investigate Earth for possible annexation, by the same faction of Daleks that WILL invade the planet in the 22nd Century (The Dalek Invasion of Earth). They never got word from the scout, wound up perhaps sending another, or getting to Earth on their own, 1300 years later, but this was first contact. Daleks from that era were rather feeble compared to their Time War cousins. Dependent on static electricity (the scout is special and doesn't need it), they could be pushed around by normal humans and Thall pacifists (the Daleks in the original story were at least cousins to the invaders). And those would be Daleks from 1300 years later (AHistory puts Genesis of the Daleks in the 8th Century, so it would have been one of the very first Dalek astronauts). So not only is it possible for it to get melted by a big bonfire, but also for the humans in this story to do the same. The weapons it wields are evidently more advanced, having been culled from later Dalek visits, and if it knows the Doctor as an enemy of the Daleks, that's information that would have been available from Genesis onward, or else absorbed with the dark web. I find no contradiction here.

There's another line that sends the mind spinning, and that's the Doctor saying dads are complicated... or so she's heard. The questions are: Which dad(s) and heard from whom? Let's go way back. Did the Doctor have a father? He would have been a big part of the McGann era of the TV Movie had gone to series, but in fact, Ulyssses never scored an appearance. Instead, we're left wondering if the Doctor was an orphan, as Listen suggests. She would then NOT have had a dad, and so would only know about dads through others. (Same thing if Time Lords are loomed, New Adventures fans!) But was the DOCTOR a dad? Where does Susan come from? If she was a true granddaughter, there must be a son or daughter to fill the generation gap. We know nothing of this character, so were they estranged, and if so, was HE the complicated one? Then again, new regeneration or not, it would be a bit disingenuous for the Doctor to call into question Aaron's parenting skills if that were the case. Perhaps Susan's parent died (which makes sense given that Susan left Gallifrey too), not that this would erase a toxic relationship between them and the Doctor. If the Doctor ISN'T a problematic parent (for whatever reason you care to name), the simplest explanation is that she heard it from companions' parents, most recently Rose Tyler, maybe Martha Jones or Bill Potts. However, most NuWho companions have either good or slightly irrelevant relationships with their fathers (or AS fathers, look at Wilf and Rory).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The plot is nothing very special and has problems besides, but once again, I find myself invested in the personal drama.


Anonymous said...

I am a simple creature and I am happy with a "Doctor Who" story if the Doctor does Doctor things, the rest of the cast does the things they're supposed to, and the story ends up more or less where it needed to. So I was happy with this episode.

But I had a ton of questions about the legend, and I feel like the whole legend business should have been drastically rewritten. Let's begin:

- Okay, so there's an army of people from all over Eurasia and possibly Polynesia assembling to fight a Dalek in England? That's unlikely enough that there'd better be a big payoff. There wasn't.

- So one of the warriors made it to Siberia, another to a Pacific island. But the third one was killed on the road in Sheffield, and his body was never moved off the road, and apparently people just sort of walked around the corpse for decades and decades until sediment had collected all over it?

- I appreciate the explanation that the Dalek body parts teleport; I sure didn't pick up on that in the show.

- So where's the payoff in the fact that the Dalek was split in three? Three locations, that pretty much demands traveling to the other locations, plot-wise. Didn't happen.

- Likewise, those guardians amounted to nothing.

- Oh, and the ancient scholars drew a Dalek with enough detail that nerds could complain the windows were the wrong size ... and nobody noticed that it was a Dalek? Canary Wharf, anyone?

Here's how Anonymous would redo that legend:

A group of Anglo-Saxons and Danes already on Albion teamed up to defeat an armored demon (depicted like a metal tower with lightning in the old scrolls). Once they stopped it with chains and fire, they hacked it open, and burned the demon inside. From there, they disposed of the Dalek in three locations: the charred remains in a sealed sarcophagus in a secret location, some of the housing in another secret location, and some more of the housing in another secret location.

So in the 21st century, archaologists find this unmarked sarcophagus and open it, and subject it to ultraviolet light. Unbeknownst to them, those remains include a little bit of cybernetic technology that, once powered up, allows the Dalek to regenerate. The Dalek's goal of course is to find the rest of its parts and continue its mission. So the Doctor is left chasing the Dalek to location two, fails to stop it from getting the tech that's waiting there, and then finally has the final confrontation after the Dalek reassembles itself at the third location.

daft said...

In terms of Yaz and her police officer status, it really doesn't need to be technically resolved; she meets the Doctor, goes traveling with her for a while and returns to civilian life (and her day job)in Sheffield, the day she technically left. What isn't reconciled, however, is her complete lack of moral authority to see justice done. Despite the focus yet again being on Ryan's family, Yaz could have been actively utilized storywise being the conduit between the Doctor and the local police force, ensuring Lin isn't summarily gunned downed. It could have easily been accommodated within the space used for the two non-essential cut-aways (UNIT helpline/WiFi Family), keeping the general pace of the story up and providing greater focus. The same applies to Arachnids in the UK, there's been plenty of occasions since the opener for Yaz to assert her tangible authority in modern day Sheffield, yet the writers seem completely oblivious to the benefits of her basic character design. I think one of the reasons for the state of affairs is the character was never really developed properly in the first place. There's no quirks or foibles written into her backstory, therefore, she's reliable and dependable, a dramatic non-event - there's nothing there to assert herself within any given scene. It's the 'Problem With Susan' re-imagined, although she technically outranks the Doctor in local civilian authority, she's not allowed to be the adult (provisional police officer status or otherwise).

LiamKav said...

This episode has another example of the slightly tone-deaf messaging that's been going on all season. One is understandable, but it's happened over and over again. This time it's the message that you should try and forgive bad parents. No. No you should not. It's not your responsibility. If they've let you down again and again you do not have to talk to them. You do not have to listen. Sometimes it would be nice to have a program that says "some people are toxic and you should shut them out of your life, even if they are family".

(The previous message I disliked was "giving up your kids for adoption is a cowardly thing to do" which I was appalled by but gave a pass by saying it was Ryan who believed that rather than the program. Again, though, I'd like an episode to say "some people might not be capable of currently being a parent, and acknowledging that by having your child adopted is in fact an incredibly mature and brave thing to do.")

(And let's not get started on whatever the message was in "Kerblam!")

"I guess we have to... talk to each other". HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA oh man, no-one has EVER done that joke before! Brilliant.

LiamKav said...

A comparison of how two different episodes show that a single Dalek is in fact incredibly dangerous.

"Dalek": the eponymous creature is faced with a large number of soldiers pointing their weapons at it. It hovers, settings off the sprinkler system so that everyone ends up covered in water. It then fires at the water, which arcs from person to person, killing everyone in a single shot. This shows that the Dalek is powerful, but also clever. It can strategise on the fly and use the surrounding environment to take out its enemies with minimal effort.

"Resolution": the eponymous create is faced with a large number of soldiers pointing their weapons at it. It reveals it has missiles built in that it built (?) and blows everything up. This shows that the Dalek has missiles and stuff.

Anonymous said...

"It reveals it has missiles built in that it built (?)"

Yeah. If you want to go the route of missiles -- IF -- then that gets back to my idea of the Dalek reassembling itself and getting ahold of its advanced tech.

I wasn't bothered by the Dalek using brute force, but now that you mention it, yes, a clever Dalek would have been better.

LiamKav said...

"I wasn't bothered by the Dalek using brute force, but now that you mention it, yes, a clever Dalek would have been better."

I wasn't that bothered either. It was fine. But that's the problem both with this episode and with the season at large. It's fine. The bit from "Dalek" strikes me as someone going "okay, so we've got the Dalek killing everyone, but is there a way we could make it more memorable, more clever, stand-out more?" And with this season as a whole I keep feeling that there's no-one going "okay, that's good, but can we make it better?"

LiamKav said...

" And the character stuff surrounding Ryan and Graham has been Series 11's strength; it is again. (Which is not to say it's off the hook for sidelining the ladies. Series 12 needs to build them up.) "

I read an article about this, basically calling the show out on how it's treated the girls vs the boys. The argument is that, basically, if we weren't being dazzled with "we have a woman Doctor now!" then we might notice that almost all the character stuff has gone to the men, with Yaz being close to a non-entity and the Doctor having less to do than any modern Doctor, including the hands-off 9th incarnation. Not to mention the fridging of one woman to motivate the men (which, like everything else, is fine if done carefully, but when it's added to everything else). It's not great.

Anonymous said...

"Yaz being close to a non-entity"

I have to agree, unfortunately. Yaz could contribute a lot more, if they just let her.

"the Doctor having less to do than any modern Doctor"

I'm pretty happy with how the Doctor's been. One thing I've noticed is how she approaches things a lot like a well-trained first responder. Like in the season finale and the Return Of Tim Shaw, when they met that starship crewman (was he the captain? I forget), the Doctor spoke to him the way you'd want a policeman to respond to a person with mental health issues. I really liked how the Doctor asked his permission to put the neural thingie on his his neck and showed him that she's wearing one.

... I wonder if they couldn't give some of that material to Yaz? It's great coming from the Doctor, but it also seems like it'd be in Yaz's bailiwick too.

"Not to mention the fridging of one woman"

Ooof, I never thought of it that way, but you're absolutely right, it was a fridging. Maybe not a shock value fridging like the trope-namer, but yeah, Grace was introduced just to be killed as motivation for the guys.

I can't tell you how much I would have loved to see Grace on the TARDIS somehow. Though I get the feeling she'd have stolen the show. I admit it, I fell for Grace almost immediately, and I will fight anyone who objects.


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