The Doctor’s first and only appearance on our screens in 2019 occurred on New Year’s Day in Resolution (of the Daleks… told you didn’t I!), a sixty minute special that was probably shifted from Christmas Day during post-production in order to ensure Doctor Who was part of 2019 in some shape or form (it’s your lot until “very early 2020” now according to the Beeb). It was also the first sighting of Doctor Who since people’s opinions of Series 11 (or Season 11 if you’re American and don’t use the same lingo as us Brits), for us to see if any lessons had been learnt from public opinion over the weeks prior. So did Chibnall and Co improve anything that the show’s audience hasn’t been keen on, or have they buried their heads back in the sands of Desolation?
Let’s just say it right off the bat, the episode was an improvement on the series/season that came before it. They reintroduced the pre-intro sequence (albeit with terrible choice of font for location statements that made it look like it had been rendered in Windows Movie Maker), they finally gave an episode an actual soundtrack as opposed to ambient sound, and they fulfilled the not-spoken-about-Nation-family-contractual-obligation of an annual Dalek appearance. And given that the Dalek design has had a Marmite response, to me it worked very well. If anything, it’s the best return to form for a Dalek since the 2005 self-titled episode “Dalek”. A genuine threat, that in this case could single-handedly take out a troop of the Army thanks to its improved gun and new heat-seeking missiles. It was also refreshing to see a new Dalek’s origin story, a renegade creature having to mind control a human in order to forge a new machine to live inside. Nicholas Briggs did a great job distinguishing separate voices for the creature (a Kaled if we are being specific) and it’s final form, helping increase the new Dalek’s intimidating nature. So whilst the end of the episode was written in a way that could safely remove the new form of Dalek from the show’s future if needed (unlike Moffat’s Power Ranger Daleks), I’m sure if implied as a different fleet to your bog standard Dalek, there is plenty of scope for a “Reconnaissance Dalek” to show it’s backlit head once again. The strengths of the episode however, do sadly end from this point on…
Whilst Chris may have listened to some of the audience’s issues with the latest series/season, there are clearly certain aspects of his writing he just can’t help himself with. For me, there are two issues still the case with his style of writing when it comes to Doctor Who over Broadchurch or Life on Mars:
- Political Correctness. Yes, the theme is still here, even if more subtly spoken about. For those who missed it, the sequence explaining why UNIT are no longer a unified taskforce, is due to “a review of funding” and a “withdrawal of funds from international partners”. Or in lamen’s spiel, Brexit. Yes the reason Kate Stewart can no longer carry on the Brigadier’s work saving the world from Alien interference, is because you thoughtless unintelligent peasants voted leave! So the next time a Zygon needs teaching the lessons of war, or Captain Jack wonders where his Vortex Manipulator has been hiding, your hatred for the European Union is why they’re buggered! Congrats! Now go and think about your terrible life choices instead of watching a laid back family science fiction programme. Pah! Or, maybe, Chris could have resisted that line, not tried to make yet another point, and instead come up with a more interesting teaser as to what could be explored with Kate Stewart and the remnants of UNIT in series/season 12. Or even in upcoming Big Finish dramas depending on what you consider canon or not. But no, condescending and belittling political point to prove it is!
- Drama over Sci-Fi. Resolution (of the Daleks) introduced us to Ryan’s father Aaron, who has finally decided to show up and see how his estranged son has been doing since Grace’s death. Now flawed characters are nothing new for Doctor Who, and exploring what makes them flawed is yet again not a new concept. It is the way in which these concepts are explored that is the problem. A programme such as Doctor Who has a certain pacing about it, one that keeps you on the edge of your seat as events unfold. Yet since series/season 11, there are constant scenes and sequences that kill that pacing stone dead and turn it into the Broadchurch Chibnall is so comfortable writing for. The lack of score, the long drawn out camera angles, the deep and emotional dialogue that goes on for minutes at a time, is not what a Doctor Who audience expects on a weekly basis. Don’t get me wrong, at times using this style gives a plot gravitas and impact (a good example of this would be Tennant’s Doctor talking to Wilf about living too long, and how he would have been proud to have him as a father), but to have it week in week out is exhausting and kills the episode stone dead consistently. So Aaron hasn’t been around and can’t be respected as a father, surprise surprise. It doesn’t take a several minute sequence to come to this epiphany. Just grab a sausage sarnie at the cafe, show him how you sell microwaves for a living, and end scene. Don’t give us the failure of a father X-Factor sob story for five minutes, when people are more interested in seeing a Dalek blow up half the British Army and knock a missile off course in mid-air.
Sci-Fi > Sob Story.
And then the biggest flaw of the episode raises its head, The Doctor. Throughout series/season 11 I felt like Jodie’s Doctor needed defending. That the biased naysayers were focussing far too much on her gender and writing her off from the very start. And this is something I still stand by. However, one thing I feel saved Jodie’s Doctor throughout her first year, was very weak writing. As a result, it was very easy for her Doctor’s weaknesses to fly under the radar. Well now that a stronger plot and enemy has finally appeared, it’s time to assess Jodie’s Doctor fairly based on character and portrayal.
A Doctor’s first confrontation with a Dalek is always going to be a sink or swim moment, and for Jodie in my honest opinion, it left her treading water. When a Doctor is written to be thrown constantly by events, act confused, and need her “mates” (still not companions folks) help, it simply doesn’t work for her to during the first confrontation with a Dalek find some (feminist) balls and get all cocky and in its face. Unless they’re going to confirm that part of this regeneration being different caused The Doctor to have bipolar, then there is simply no consistency with her portrayal. Mind you, The Doctor having bipolar, just think of the political #Snowflake content he could write for that! All joking aside, the new Doctor has now had a whole year for her Doctor to build and have depth and something that sets her apart from previous incarnations. So far we have teeth snarling, a constant need to be out of breath, confusion, and a desperate need to be down with the kids. Perhaps this is The Doctor’s four billion-year-old mid-life crisis? I asked for a second opinion as to what another lifelong Doctor Who fan had made of her progress as The Doctor so far, to make sure I wasn’t biased. The opinion I got was “as the first female Doctor, her blonde, confused, not confident need to walk around with her mouth open like a blowup doll, isn’t doing her any favours”. My friend’s words, not mine…
While my review of the episode seems more negative than positive, I do genuinely feel that the episode was a step in the right direction before the crew start work on the next series/season. There is still a lot of work to do with Chibnall’s approach to an episode of Doctor Who, namely the fact it isn’t Broadchurch. But the eventual inclusion of a long-standing enemy, the return of a memorable soundtrack, the restoration of an episode’s format, and a strong supporting cast made Resolution the strongest episode of the Chibnall era to date. Come 2020 however, the Beeb need to sit down with Chris and have a long and difficult conversation about how to return the show back to what its core audience know and love. Regenerating the show is very important, but revamping it like a new product altogether is clearly not what the audience wants. A better balance of old and new needs to be found, and found sharpish. Like “very early 2020” sharpish. Otherwise, I feel the BBC may have to start thinking about whether or not Chibnall needs paying off to make an early exit from Showrunner. If he does listen, and Resolution could actually be considered one of the weaker episode formats of 2020, then finally we are off and running… just like The Doctor should always be.
TBG Score: 7/10