Doctor Who’s New Year special mirrored Jodie Whittaker’s initiation in the best way

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Doctor Who’s New Year’s Day special, “Resolution,” is the only new televised 13th Doctor adventure we’re getting until 2020’s Series 12. That sucks, but the explosive episode puts the TARDIS on a trajectory for building on Series 11’s successes and learning from its weaknesses — just as the sci-fi staple always has done.

(Spoilers follow.)

In “Resolution,” a Dalek reconnaissance scout incapacitated on Ninth Century Earth awakes and goes on the warpath, taking over a woman named Lin (Charlotte Ritchie, Call the Midwife) who is excavating historical artifacts in a sewer on the site of where some of its remains fell. The Doctor’s U.N.I.T. allies have been sidelined by terrestrial politics, so she and the TARDIS fam are on their own against one of the most destructive and desperate creatures in the universe.

After stealing some black-market Dalek weapons from a shady corporation, Dalek-controlled Lin sets to work building a somewhat more traditional Dalek casing, taking over a farm’s workshop and banging on metal and using blowtorches in a scene very reminiscent of the 13th Doctor’s montage where she builds her new sonic screwdriver in Jodie Whittaker’s debut episode, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth.”

You can see a bit of Dalek-Lin’s efforts in this “Making the Dalek” behind-the-scenes featurette:

Dalek-Lin’s metal-making montage is a great reflection of the new Doctor’s own sonic-crafting scene. The device has become an iconic and indispensable part of the Doctor’s character, and its upgrades have always mirrored the regeneration of the Doctor and the TARDIS in the new incarnation of the series that started in 2005. (The original ran from 1963-89 and is set to repeat on Twitch this month.)

The tentacled-mutant Daleks’ exterior shell, likewise, is iconic (recognizable even to those who have never watched Doctor Who), and has changed cosmetically to the point where recent episodes have struggled with alternately embracing and hiding the great diversity of Daleks through history. The “new year, new me” crucible of “Resolution” lets the lone scout strip away all but the most essential elements, resulting in a Dalek that’s terrifying because it’s so raw and wrong-looking. This deconstruction and reconstruction turns out to be a great way to reinvigorate something so quintessential that’s traumatized toddlers and adults alike with its alien brutality and fascist overtones for more than a half-century of television.

The Doctor came out of a Sheffield workshop with more than a reforged tool, but also a steely dedication to “sorting out fair play throughout the universe.” The Dalek came out of its cauldron with old weapons and ideas, and lost everything. Doctor Who has taken a lot of flak in recent years and months for taking both not enough and too many risks — it just can’t win. But with a return to its roots here, the show is resolving to do what it does best — reinvent itself without sacrificing the core of science fiction adventure and optimism that we need now more than ever.

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