Review by Tim Robins
First UK Broadcast: New Year’s Day 2019
Writer: Chris Chibnall
Director: Wayne Yip
Guest Starring: Daniel Adegboyega, Michael Ballard, Nicholas Briggs
As the new year begins, a terrifying evil from across the centuries of Earth’s history is stirring. As the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz return home, will they be able to overcome the threat to planet Earth?
I have made a New Year’s resolution to stop watching Doctor Who-related YouTube channels devoted to a twisted kind of love called ‘hate’, although I doubt that I have the resolve. In fact, I broke my resolution on New Year’s Day, to take a look at what the usual bunch of ‘egalitarian’ (sic) hate mongers were making of the New Year Special, Resolution.
The Vloggers didn’t disappoint. Apparently, according to some, writer and series producer Chris Chibnall was using the Resolution to advance his season long attack on White, Christian, Heterosexuals, and Fathers (feel free to drop or add one or more characteristic to support which innuendo filled diatribe you want). So, Chibnall’s story of a Reconnaissance Dalek defeated in the past, dug up in the present and out larging it around Sheffield on New Year’s Day had been rescheduled to further the writer’s imputed anti-Christain sentiments; either that, or his hatred of all men (born of a tortured adolescence) or his particular loathing for White Christian Fathers.
Ryan’s Dad, Aaron, played by the exemplary Daniel Adegboyega had certainly behave reprehensibly: deserting his son, not even turning up for his mother’s funeral. But to suggest that Resolution was a tirade against fatherhood would require any critic to overlook the time the script gave to Ryan and his Dad Aaron trying to reconcile their differences.
(That time being approximately the entire extra ten minutes given to the episode, nearly five of which were spent over with Ryan and Aaron chatting over a cup of tea. In the event, Aaron was contrite and self reflexive enough to engage in Californian emoto-babble about ageing, embarrassment and the pressures of being a Dad. It’s lucky that Adegboyega had enough on-screen presence to carry this off).
But wait! Stop the show boat! Resolution was actually furthering Chibnall’s hatred of the White Race! You see, no Black soldiers were killed when the army finally caught up with the Dalek that had been mistaken for a drone. Of course there were no Black actors who were part of the army force, either – so was that egalitarian, discriminatory or what?
The Dalek also killed a woman and a gay man. Of course, their deaths were examples of another of Chibnall’s agendas: his pro-minority, anti-heterosexual /male agendum.
You really couldn’t make this YouTube twaddle up. And I’m not.
Still, it could have been worse. The budget could have been blown calling in the army only to find that there were no drones at all, just terminals filled with angry Gatwick passengers.
At time of writing (05/01/2019, 10:55am), the Rotten Tomatoes critics’ score for Resolution stands at 100 per cent with the user reviews scoring an average of 17 per cent. It is fun to see if the online user community can get the percentage down to zero because, frankly, neither score, critics’ nor users’ does either side any credit; one seems like over enthusiasm, the other seems mischievous. But critics, general audiences and fans do differ. It was hard to find a single critic championing Suicide Squad for example, but it did well at the box office. Partly, this is because critics operate with a different set of values, so that even a critic for The Sun doesn’t attack non-mainstream films for being to “arty-farty”. They’d just lose all credibility among their community and quite probably their readership. However, the gulf between critic and fan scores is now being played along the lines of the right’s hatred of experts. Experts are bearers of ‘fake’ (sic) news, such as noting Resolution was the fourth most watched programme on New Year’s Day.
“Review Bombing” or “Meta Bombing” of sites such as IMDB , the AV Club and Rotten Tomatoes is particularly suited to online fandom, whose lack of empathy and playground politics are equalled only by a commitment to venting their hatred across the Inter-web. The tactic originated within the part of the computer gaming community and has been used to impact audience ratings for scores of films, including the most recent Star Wars outings, Solo and The Last of the Jedi, ever since.
While ‘bombing’ might charitably seen as a blunt form of communication between a company and its customers, a kind of crowd fuming, “bombing” has also been linked to some pretty dire political position adopted under the guise of “egalitarianism”. Strangely, such Doctor Who fans have never protested that there have been too many white faces in the TARDIS. Instead, concerns about equality have only been raised now there are two companions of colour. But of course those actors only got their place because of the BBC’s completely non-existent quota system, whereas the white performers got their by sheer force of their acting ability.
A lot of Rotten Tomatoes’ negative user reviews point to legitimate critical concerns about season 11. Yes, some of the expositional dialogue has been boringly on the nose. Take, for instance, The Doctor’s instructions to Ryan after sampling a bit of alien goo from a basement wall, “Get something to store this in for analysis!” As opposed to what exactly, making jam? Yes, some of the plotting has been awkward, evidenced in Resolution by a jarring switch from a car chase to a cafe. Did the script breakdown really read something like: “Dalek tries to conquer the Earth, the Doctor is in a desperate race to stop it, a police car chases a human under Dalek control. Cut to: a couple chatting over a cuppa in a cafe”?
And yes, Jodie Whitaker needs to up her game. Her portrayal in Resolution was on the point of becoming that of a wet vet. Although I don’t want her character to up the aggro by ‘owning’ monsters as American fans have demanded in the name of fan service. Personally, I have preferred her sarcastic quips and her not-on-my-watch attitude to the Dalek left me feeling fully serviced.
However, some of the negative fan reaction is bent on more questionable ends: sack the writers, sack the actors, cancel the show and… er… champion White supremacy.
The reason I can’t let YouTubers lie is that there is an element of Doctor Who fandom that is using the language that circulated and coalesced during the US 2016 election. Throw around words such as snowflake, SJW and Libtard if you want, but if you sound like the alt.right, and you act like the alt.right you are going to be named and shamed as a member of the alt.right.
I am sure that Chibnall knows that bringing in the inequalities that are a part of racism and sexism to the attention of those who benefit from them and yet can be blithely unaware of the problems that they are for others often provokes a hostile backlash. Some of the outrage reminds me of a sociology lecture in which a feminist told young women students that the man who offers to take them home at night to ensure their safety is likely to be the man who actually rapes then. You can imagine the anger of the young men in that class. The trouble is, the feminist was right. Rape by a stranger is rare. Most women already know their attacker. Or, a final example, I was reminded of two sociology lectures that I gave about inequality in the UK. The women in the lecture were filled with righteous anger about sexual inequality, but when it came to ‘racial’ inequality the next week they were arguing people of colour should just go back to where they came from if they felt that they were being badly treated. Tellingly, there were no BAME people of colour in the 200 strong classes.
Of course, fandom should be a conversation not lecture. That said, in my humble opinion, the conversation with White Supremacists ended in 1942.
The argument about Doctor Who’s ratings is fine, but, again, the merchants of ignorance have been peddling their hooky micro-minds online. Overnight figures for Resolution were fine, around five million, placing Doctor Who just behind Emmerdale, but well ahead of prestigious productions such as an Agatha Christie adaptation, an episode of a newly reanimated Watership Down and a re-staging of The Glums (Les Miserables). Resolution was the fourth most watched programme on New Year’s Day (It’s an outrage! No, it’s not!).
Even online, there are better ways of talking about Doctor Who than crowd fuming – and there are more interesting things to talk about those relatively small and unexceptional shifts in audience figures. We don’t live in America, where shows are yanked from the schedules at the merest hint of a threat to advertising or sponsorship.
Sitting with a friend in a local Starbuck’s, we explored our reaction to Resolution. All we really agreed on was that it is a long wait for the next season in (gulp!) 2020! Even now, I hear YouTubers screaming “that’s because Chibnall is lazy!” Honestly, being a lead writer is that easy. Why, you could probably make the show while sitting in a vest in a darkened caravan from which one vlogger pretended that he had already seen the Special.
Others felt that Chibnall had taken on board their words of witless wisdom and had used Resolution to address their concerns. He didn’t. Resolution was made at the same time as the rest of Season 11.
The relationship between Resolution and the preceding season was a little curious. Usually, a ‘Special’ stands alone, a bit like a comic book annual or an issue of Giant-Sized Man-Thing. But it doesn’t have to. As my friend noted, the story of Resolution suggested that, among other things, the main arc of Season 11 had been Ryan’s chaotic family life, his search for a family to call his own. Fine, but that is the kind of story arc that needs more foreshadowing or any foreshadowing. Arcs aren’t something that to be added on as a PS. The script for Resolution was faced with establishing Ryan’s Dad as a character that we cared about, while setting the groundwork for the heart-stopping climax. Daniel Adegboyega was great as the father: he even managed to deliver barely credible Californian emoto-babble about ageing and self realisation with a sense of conviction.
As for Ryan, I think the dyspraxia boat sailed in The Ghost Monument, in which he effortlessly took out some alien robots and failed to even get close to losing his sea legs and falling in the lake of flesh eating bacteria. I suppose that threat might have seemed exploitative. There’s a real difficulty here around dramatising disability: do you focus on the individual’s position of disablement or do you celebrate the fact that it has little or no impact on the individual. “Not bad for a boy with dyspraxia!” Ryan announced at Resolution’s dénouement (or words to that effect). I suppose so. I have no idea how dyspraxia impacts on trying to pull your Dad from clutches of a Dalek on his back while a dying sun’s gravity tries to pull both of them out of a time machine.
The Recon Dalek (named ‘Resolution’) was a key attraction for the story. The montage during which the Dalek creature assembled itself in a blacksmith’s yard recalled The Doctor’s efforts to recreate her sonic in the first episode. The resulting Dalek casing of bits iron and the odd missile system left lying around (in a Black Archive) was fun to see and the creature inside was something of a revelation (cough, cough). There were plenty of call backs to earlier Dalek stories with scenes variously recalling Revelation of the Daleks, Dalek and Remembrance of the Daleks.
To be honest, I thought we weren’t going to see a Dalek in its casing at all. In fact, that might have been better, as it would have forced the script to sustain the creepiness of the cellar scenes. It might have been more credible if the creature had been thrown out of its case when it first arrived on Earth, too – then I could believe tribespeople could have defeated it… just.
Despite criticism aimed at the show by Vloggers Chibnall remains resolute, telling the Radio Times recently, “I think you want to be writing about the world that we live in. The show is not a standalone thing, it’s a response to the times that we’re living in and the world that we’re in. And when it comes to things that affect people’s lives – I think particularly things that children and young adults are going through – that feels really important”.
And it does to me. This just needs to be approached with more finesse. Not every story has to fulfil every one of the many aims that Chibnall has set for the show. For example, the Doctor’s explanation of the relationship between volts and amps wasn’t exactly an electrifying educational moment. Neither was Graham’s amazement that New Year’s celebrations originated in Iraq. Even Walsh had difficulty delivering that line with any conviction.
A brief scene in Resolution in which a family realise that they will have to talk to each other now the Internet was down seemed stale and inauthentic, but a Brexit gag about UNIT loosing the funding of Britain’s overseas partners worked better. I am sure that the dissolution of UNIT wasn’t just done as a gag. Without their immediate support, The Doctor appeared even more vulnerable and her “fam” (yuck!) even more important to her.
Companionship is important, including the companionship of fellow fans. Doctor Who fandom needs to also be active in challenging cookie cutter arguments borrowed from the alt.right and wilfully deployed of some YouTube channels. Personally, I don’t intend to be “owned” and even though I have received threats and innuendo intended to shake my snowflake globe, I remain un-rattled and, instead, am more further stirred to the work of criticism – linking the media to its context in society, culture, the economy and history. Have a Happy Decade, when Doctor Who, as promised, returns!
Oh, and I understand that the scripts for 2020 have already been written.
A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide. His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip. He reviewed comics and films in posts and podcasts for the Mindless Ones until he became a net diva and forgot to name check the rest of the team at a San Diego Comic Con panel. The Mindless Ones gave him the nickname ‘Tymbus’
• BBC – The Making of Resolution
• BBC – The Daleks are back!
• The Daily Express attempts to generate outrage over the disappearance of UNIT, unaware of its own history – during the days it published “Jeff Hawke”, the paper’s then proprietor, Lord Beaverbrook, ordered the winding down of the space hero’s United Nations links in favour of focusing on theRAF
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