BIT OF ADRENALINE, DASH OF OUTRAGE – Our Thoughts on “Resolution”

Ruth Long (@UndiscoveredAdv on Twitter) is a writer, amateur graphic designer, and animal lover, best-known as the co-lead writer of Clara Oswald: The Untold Adventures, a fan-written project following the character of Clara after the events of Hell Bent (the trailer for which is now available on Twitter). You can also catch her on the odd Who podcast, writing meta, or waffling about this, that, or the other on forums. Her favourite Doctor is Peter Capaldi (and if she’s being really cheeky, Jenna Coleman).

Caitlin Smith (@bossy_Clara on Twitter) is writer and student from Australia, and she is also a co-lead writer on Clara Oswald: The Untold Adventures along with Ruth. She used to write meta on tumblr as abossycontrolfreak, now she just waffles on twitter and occasionally has something interesting to say. She’s also a regular on the Eruditorum Presscast. Her favourite Doctor is Clara Oswald.

James Johnson (@JamesStreetmanx on Twitter) is a Creative Media student from Liverpool. He spends his downtime discussing, watching and obsessing over near anything Doctor Who related, especially Daleks. He aspires to become a graphic designer in the future. His favourite Doctor is a tie between Seven, Nine and Twelve (impossible to truly pick one favourite!)


 

Ruth: Welcome to Bit of Adrenaline, Dash of Outrage, where a panel of insightful fans discuss their thoughts on the latest episode of the Thirteen Doctor’s run. As regular host Janine is currently away (something about breaking out of Stormcage to go on a picnic with her husband and an Auton Elvis lookalike), she’s very kindly asked me to do this one! This time, we’ll be taking a look at “Resolution”, which is a momentous story in a lot of ways, marking the first festive special of the new era, being the only televised Doctor Who episode of 2019, and perhaps even more importantly, seeing the Thirteenth Doctor and her fam face off against the Daleks for the first time!

Let’s start off by diving right into that last point: the return of the Daleks! Or more specifically, the return of *a* Dalek, on a lone rampage very-much in the vein of Series 1’s “Dalek, which is widely-regarded as a classic. Battling the dreaded mutants of Skaro has long been judged as a right of passage for a new Doctor, and Jodie’s comes later in her first series than it did for most of her predecessors (Tenant in “Doomsday” excepted). So, the big question is: was it worth the wait? I certainly think so. I do have some quibbles about the story itself, which I’ll get into, but at least as a showing for the Daleks this was pretty strong. Much of that is owed to the phenomenal direction of Wayne Yip as well as some truly brilliant action, but Chibnall’s script also allowed for some highly unnerving and interesting new concepts, most notably the Venom-esque possession of Lin by the Dalek mutant. It’s an evolution of the violation of human autonomy/body horror aspect established in episodes like “The Daleks in Manhattan”/”Evolution of the Daleks”, “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Witch’s Familiar”, though I especially appreciate that “Resolution” demonstrated just how dangerous the internal creature can be even outside of its casing for a good portion of the plot.  

James: Not counting cameos it’s been over three years since the last televised Dalek story, so my expectations it’s fair to say were very high for this upcoming episode, especially due to it being quite a lengthy break for the Daleks in Doctor Who’s modern era – I felt it must be building to something surely? A single stranded Dalek was a solid choice on Chibnall’s part, it’s a recurring trope that has been effective with the Metaltron of “Dalek” and Rusty of “Into the Dalek”, but here it’s a more straightforward type of villain. Rather than have it slowly dissolve into self-hatred from Rose’s DNA or Twelve trying to help Rusty see from his point of view, this Dalek is quite simply a standard killer.

I wasn’t without my admittedly petty worries too at first. This was mainly relating to a potential redesign of an iconic design or how Chibnall would use the creatures themselves after recent recurring problems I’ve had with his tenure so far. Whilst the latter did become a minor annoyance the design itself was not. It’s a fun little thing isn’t it? Bolted together with Sheffield scrap, I wouldn’t even hesitate to call it ‘cute’, but then it’s juxtaposed with the slaughter of a platoon of military personnel and remains efficiently Dalek-y, even if the character (do we even call it a character?) of the creature has been changed into a more black-and-white villain, literally to the point of cackling and explaining its dastardly plan to summon armies to destroy and enslave the planet. In fairness to Chibnall this is nothing new at all for the Daleks, but you would expect a bit more of a tie-in to real world issues to make them a more relevant force in this day and age than a simple stylised baddie.

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What a cutie!

Caitlin: I did really enjoy this take on the Daleks. It doesn’t have quite as much to say on a thematic or character level as other Dalek episodes (in particular “Dalek”), but the fear and the tension were certainly there. In an era of Hollywood blockbusters where the enemies are so often armour with guns, it’s great to see Doctor Who taking a different approach. I really like that they spent half the episode on the Dalek as a lone scout, using whatever it could get its hands (tentacles?) on to survive, build up an arsenal and call in the Dalek fleet. It really shows how dangerous even just one Dalek can be, and sets them up as forbidding enemies.

James: What is the first thing the Dalek does upon escaping? An almost entirely unnecessary massacre. I mean what was it doing there but showing off? It quickly flies off once death has been dealt. This seems a part of Chibnall’s tendency to do basic criticism ‘corrections’: the tabloids/papers say stories have become too convoluted under the previous tenure? He removes the story arcs and promises a standalone series! The Daleks don’t kill enough people? He has an entire scene dedicated to killing redshirts! It personally comes across as a minor rebuttal to the previous era that I am not in favour off (Moffat’s era is good and I will forever stand by that), but I find it hard to dislike the scene as it stands. If anyone knows me I am chronically obsessed with the Skarosian monsters and have been since a young age, so it’s still going to be a guilty pleasure for me seeing a scene harking back to other action-based stories like “Resurrection of the Daleks” or “Dalek”. But this iteration still carries an unneeded subtle undertone to almost prove a point to the audience against generic complaints that have been circulated this past decade.

Now to give Wayne Yip some massive credit here for directing the Dalek sequences like a cheesy blockbuster production (slow-motion tank shell dodge, car chases, giant supernova ending!). It even has an almost Wall-E/Wallace & Gromit-style reinterpretation of the Dalek design in the form of the Reconnaissance Scout (wonky and oversized proportions – this is what the Dalek builders community used to call a ‘Woklek’), which make its scenes as a deadly killing machine all the more entertaining, by contrasting this design with serious military officers in armour when it starts firing and shooting guided rockets straight from Looney Tunes’ ACME Corporation. Yip and Chibnall mesh the Dalek’s innate silliness with its sinister personality, with the Dalek going from ruthless killing machine to launching cartoonish silly rants of world-conquering domination, which seem to be happily embraced. I mean it’s defeated by a Microwave Oven!

(This is not really a big point, but I also enjoyed how the military shootout seemingly pays a subtle homage to “Remembrance of the Daleks” with bullets ricocheting of its casing as it indiscriminately kills an ineffectual military force and to be excessively nerdy reuses the gun sound effects from the same story.)

Ruth: Agreed. I’ve got to say I especially loved it when this Dalek faced off with an actual tank! It’s the kind of silly, bombastic, over-the-top nonsense Doctor Who excels at, and superbly executed at that. It definitely appeals to the inner child in all of us I suppose, reveling in that explosive yet fun and slightly ridiculous spectacle. However, I’ve always personally been more drawn to the Daleks when it comes to the psychological/thematic threat they pose. Series 8’s “Into the Dalek” is an excellent example; there’s plenty of shooty action, but like the aforementioned Eccleston episode, the primary focus is on the Dalek as an analogue for the Doctor.

Caitlin: I’ve always found the mirror the Daleks hold to the Doctor the most compelling part of their episodes, but it was interesting in “Resolution” that the parallel wasn’t used to focus on the Doctor’s dark side, but rather how the Daleks are the true equals of the Doctor. We see their problem-solving and resourcefulness in a way that I don’t think has been particularly prominent in any New Who episode, and this is done in direct parallel to the Doctor. First there is the tracking sequence, where the Dalek and the Doctor are continuously on-upping each other in a tense and engaging chase, where neither feels significantly stronger or better than the other. And then there is the Sheffield steel scene, which is a direct call back to the Doctor building her screwdriver in “The Woman Who Fell To Earth”. Both of these scenes establish the Daleks as a truly equal enemy of the Doctor, which I think is an excellent way to introduce them to this new era.

Ruth: Thirteen is fantastic against the Recon Dalek in this story, especially in their workshop confrontation: we get another taste of her more ruthless side, a side that it’s becoming increasingly evident she’s trying desperately to keep her friends from seeing. Even in the climax she seeks reassurance from them – essentially saying “look I gave it a chance, please don’t judge me!” – before going through with her plan to kill it. It’s also there when she tricks the Dalek at the end, in doing so putting Ryan’s father at risk. I adore her brazen power plays as well, like how she forces the Dalek to see her face while she antagonises it; I definitely felt real notes of the Ninth Doctor in ”The Parting of the Ways” there – indeed “I’m coming for you Dalek” struck me as a nod to “Rose, I’m coming to get you”.

Now this is where unfortunately one of the main flaws I’ve found in Series 11 comes to light again. The problem is, as wonderful as it is to see these facets of the Doctor’s character on display, the story once again seems hesitant to offer much, if any, interiority for Thirteen as she deals with these dilemmas, and the fact that nobody really questions her behaviour feels like a massive missed opportunity. If you’re going to show the darker shades to this character, have the narrative actually acknowledge it! For one, I think Graham would have something to say about Thirteen intending to kill the Dalek where she objected so strongly to him wanting to do the same with Tim Shaw – let the characters debate these issues! Let the Doctor argue her perspective rather than everyone just rolling with it no matter what.

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With all the Dalek and Into the Dalek parallels, it’s worth asking, as we did of her predecessors… would Thirteen make a good Dalek?

James: The confrontation scenes between Thirteen and the Dalek, to put it bluntly, feel very Dalek/Doctor interaction 101 to me. They are generally very safe and fan-pleasing sequences. It’s always entertaining for a new Doctor to meet the show’s most known monster, but it’s hard to ignore that these scenes don’t really add anything new to sequences gone past: it goes through the motions of both opponents making their threats and plans clear as each retreats to their respective sides for the coming climactic battle. Speaking of the climax, the Doctor’s mixed up morality ends up with her asking her companions if it’s right to kill the Dalek, almost like she needs the vindication to go through with the act, to which they unanimously say yes. And this happens one episode after the Doctor was berating Graham for wanting to kill Tim Shaw, someone with such crimes as planetary-wide genocide on five accounts, indirectly causing Grace’s death and murdering several other Sheffield citizens. Arguably he had more confirmed deaths than the Recon Scout Dalek in this episode: both of these two monsters treat the situation the same, yet the Doctor refuses to give them same treatment. It’s an annoying inconsistency they keep trying to avoid that I hope the next series goes some way to fixing.

Caitlin: I think this episode pushed the Doctor in some new directions – perhaps not as much as I’d like, but it’s development that does build off Series 11 and her shortcomings there. In particular, the threat of the Dalek requiring a non-pacifist solution, and forcing the Doctor to take drastic and deadly action. I think I would have really loved this story in the middle of Series 11, as a turning point in her arc of passivity vs energy.

But there is definitely a lack of interiority and conflict with the Doctor’s character in this script, and in the series so far. I do appreciate seeing the more contradictory elements of the Doctor’s nature depicted because I think that’s an important part of the character, but I don’t think “Resolution” went far enough in exploring them. Of course, one of the biggest reasons for this is that the necessary groundwork was not laid during the season, the other being Chibnall’s strange aversion to conflict between his main characters.

Ruth: Absolutely, and on that note I think it’s worth returning to the concept of the Doctor and the Daleks being presented as mirrors. It’s symbolism that’s present here as you say, most prominently in the inspired parallel of both characters metaphorically and literally reimagining themselves through forging their respective iconography (while in female form, no less) with “Sheffield steel”: the Dalek shell and the sonic screwdriver. I also really love your point Caitlin on the episode showing the rivalry between the two foes; it’s always a great deal of fun watching the Doctor and a villain pull out all the stops to outsmart each other. But ultimately the Dalek is still framed as an “alien psychopath”, an external threat in relation to the Doctor, and doesn’t pose one on an internal level like “Dalek”, the episode from the new series this one most closely resembles, did.

And of course this story didn’t need to have the same internal conflict as “Dalek”, nor should it have: the Ninth Doctor was in a very different place, and the strength of his narrative connection to the Dalek there came from them both being (as far as they knew) the sole survivors of their races in the aftermath of the Time War. The Recon Scout Dalek is an absolutely brilliant showcase of the horror/destructive power of this classic monster, but it feels like the episode avoided using the Daleks at their most interesting from a character/existential perspective. Which of the two you find more compelling is mostly down to personal preference, though as we’ve seen before these approaches aren’t in opposition and have been combined to great effect in previous stories. I think that’s why the scenes between the Thirteenth Doctor and the Dalek, while well executed, don’t feel especially innovative (beyond the admittedly thrilling novelty of seeing a female incarnation of the character facing one); there’s not much in the way of depth to their dynamic.  

James: Onto arguably the best part of the Dalek in this episode that you touched on earlier: the mutant itself. Doctor Who doesn’t usually bother to play around with the creature outside of its shell other than the occasional one for the Doctor to make direct eye contact with, but Chibnall has built this mutant up into another 80’s homage, this time to “Resurrection of the Daleks” in how it shows how the mutant is still efficient outside of its casing as a survivalist and killer. This version has no discernible face to humanise it, remaining a faceless horrific blob, taking control of guest character Lin really ups the body horror imagery of the episode as she become its puppet, strapped to her back infesting her. It’s a nice new take on the usual Dalek reinforcements in the same vein as the Robomen, Duplicates and the other puppets, but this reaches the logical conclusion: direct manipulation from the Dalek, no cloning, lab or nano genes required.

Ruth: There’s also something to be said about Daleks as an allegory for facism, of their function not just as an embodiment of the Doctor’s darkness but of the very worst of human nature. As you pointed out James, this feels like something that would be especially pertinent to explore in today’s political climate. But “Resolution” isn’t especially interested in that angle either. Look at “Asylum of the Daleks” as a contrast, for example: “Do you know how you make someone into a Dalek? Subtract love, add anger.” This is how the nanocloud turns people into Dalek puppets (or in Oswin’s case, into an actual Dalek), by overruling and twisting human emotion into something evil. Not that this episode had to take that sort of approach, and indeed there’s no denying that the Dalek did feel like a formidable enemy here regardless, but I think it’s somewhat emblematic of the reliance on external conflict in this era thus far, as well as its political sensibilities: for Lin, the evil of the Dalek was an outside force taking control; hatred enveloping her, not infiltrating her.  

Caitlin: It’s far more interested in the Daleks as an isolated evil than an allegory for anything real, which slightly lessens the blow of the Dalek being described as a “refugee from Skaro”. But only slightly, it’s still an appallingly tone deaf and offensive line, and speaks of a Doctor Who that is more interested in being politically mainstream than being morally conscientious. It’s something we’ve seen in previous episodes this series, most notably Kerblam!”, and in the surface level but unsubstantial representation this series.

Add to that the UNIT/Brexit gag (which I don’t think really worked, but if that was the intention, I am uncomfortable), the cutaway scene to the family being horrified by having to talk to each other, and the character who existed only to be gay and die, this episode does very poorly on the political front.

Ruth: Yes, this is something that’s been discussed at length here on DoWntime, and “Resolution” is hardly an outlier in this regard, but yes, the use of “refugee” especially is in extremely poor taste. And I’m genuinely baffled that anyone thinks introducing a minor character, confirming their sexuality only to swiftly kill them off constitutes good LGBT+ representation. This is the third time this has happened in the series (though of course in The Ghost Monument, Angstrom’s offscreen wife was already dead), and it definitely feels like a huge step back from Bill in Series 10. I hope that one of our leads’ sexualities will be confirmed as non-straight in Series 12 (Yazmin being the most obvious candidate), but that doesn’t change the shortcomings in this series, especially compared to what was promised in the lead-up. As for the UNIT gag, I don’t really mind it outside of it cruelly getting us excited for a Kate Stewart appearance only to disappoint, but that’s mainly because I’m assuming this is something that will be tackled in the future – Chris was the one who brought back UNIT in Series 7 and created the wonderful character of Kate after all; it makes sense he’d want to do more with them. But if it isn’t… well, it’s going to leave a rather bitter taste in my mouth.

Moving on, it’s a little perplexing that the conflict with the Dalek in “Resolution” feels oddly divorced from the main character thread of the story: Ryan reconciling with his father. There’s not a whole lot to connect them on a thematic level, and the only real bearing the plot has on this emotional arc is to facilitate Ryan forgiving his father at the very end. With that said, the scenes involving Aaron Sinclair are excellent, some of the best Chris Chibnall has written for the series in my opinion. Ryan’s monologue in the cafe especially is a superb showcase for Tosin Cole; you really feel the hurt in his words. Daniel Adegboyega brilliantly portrays a father wracked with guilt and regret, and Bradley Walsh continues to excel at showing Graham’s sensitivity and grief with a real sense of pathos. Grace’s legacy once again has a strong presence here, with her memory continuing to fuel the growth of these characters. I think there’s a fair argument to be made that Ryan’s forgiveness of Aaron feels a bit unearned, considering they only share one significant scene together (albeit one in which they openly discuss the issue of his abandonment), but it resolves the arc for this episode well enough, and there’s no reason why their relationship can’t be further explored in the next series.  

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Caitlin: I think I’ve almost gotten used to the plot and the character work being separate this series, so I didn’t particularly notice it during this episode. But yes, I do think Ryan’s character thread in this story was extremely well done, in both the writing and the performances.

 

Ruth: A character that sadly fares less well is poor Yaz. I strongly dislike the use of the term ‘assistant’ in relation to the companions in Doctor Who, because I find that definition to be a woefully inaccurate and reductive (and historically pretty sexist) way of describing the co-leads of the show. But due to the narrative’s stubborn refusal to give Yaz more material outside of supporting other characters, delivering/receiving exposition and generally helping out the Doctor, it hurts to say that she sometimes feels like a glorified assistant. It doesn’t help that she’s not personally invested in the dilemma of Aaron’s appearance like Ryan and Graham (the same applied to Series 11’s main arc of dealing with Grace’s loss), nor the Dalek threat like the Doctor beyond it being an evil alien to stop. And what’s so frustrating is that – as in much of Series 11 – they could so easily have given her more in this story. The Dalek murders two policemen, and Yaz sees Lin in a police uniform: what if she’d known the victims? We could have had a scene where Yaz discusses this with the Doctor; maybe it fuels her own motivation to take the Dalek down. But instead, the extent of her role is more or less collecting the two archaeologist’s details, trying to contact them later, and assisting in the climax with every other character. For all intents and purposes, Yaz didn’t even need to be in this episode, and that really, really shouldn’t be the case.

Caitlin: This is definitely a continuing trend from Series 11, as most of the flaws of this episode seem to be. It’s not that Yaz doesn’t have potential, but the show seems completely uninterested in ever exploring it.

Ruth: Oh absolutely. I really like Yaz, and as the official expanded material like the tie-in novels and comics has shown, there’s a fantastic character here, the televised series just needs to afford her significantly more attention, depth and agency so she can fulfill that potential onscreen.

Caitlin: Despite the flaws, I did actually thoroughly enjoy the episode. I was entertained throughout, the plot beats were well set up and well paid off, and I liked the resolution (ha) of the episode. I think there was some good character work, particularly for Ryan, and all in all I feel pretty positive on it as a story. Its flaws aren’t really anything that didn’t exist in the rest of Series 11, and it does improve on several of them – as such it’s definitely my favourite Chibnall script! It also has my favourite direction of the Chibnall era so far – Wayne Yip is an excellent director, and really understands how to depict the tension and the thrill of this story – and even how to shoot and light the TARDIS!

James: Overall though even with its flaws I cannot say I wasn’t entertained by it on New Year’s Day, it’s a fun dumb blockbuster with a Dalek and I’m much happier to leave Doctor Who on its year long break here than with the dour “The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos” but I hope Series 12 will go some way to help stabilise the recurring problems “Resolution” and the rest of Series 11 have featured such as the Doctor’s pacifist to the point of inaction morality, the sideling of main characters and lack of internal conflict with Team TARDIS.

Ruth: This episode has some lovely tonal similarities/bookends with “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” and the bonkers entertainment factor of “Arachnids in the UK”, which made for a highly enjoyable experience. Yes, it does suffer from some of the more persistent issues of the era, but it’s still a visually stunning, well-constructed and exciting episode that definitely ends the series with a bang (as opposed to the rather underwhelming finale that preceded it). It’s also filled with so many wonderful little moments and details, like the vortex being visible through the TARDIS windows, the chair gag, the Doctor’s “now I must remember, how long is a rel?”. I’m optimistic for Series 12, though I do sincerely hope that the creative team have taken things like Yaz’s deficient character focus, the lack of interpersonal or internal conflict and the iffy LGBT+ “representation” into account as elements to improve on going forward. Jodie is a revelation as the Doctor, and Graham, Ryan and Yaz are wonderful companions: may their best adventures be yet to come.

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