Resolution (Of the Plotlines...Of the Dalek)
by James Wylder
The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos wasn't the real ending to Doctor Who series 11, this was. Where in the past the Christmas specials have acted as either stand alone romps, codas to the series finales, or goodbyes/hellos to Doctors, now we have a New Years special that gives us the real end to the arcs we saw built over Series 11. Bodily autonomy? Organic things and mechanical things mixing? Ryan's fractured family relationship? The gangs all here. But also, there's a big theme that I missed. Really, as it turned out, it was the theme behind the whole series, and it's one that I missed. So that's why this essay is coming out so much later than the episode: after watching it I was struck by the fact that I'd missed something important right in front of my nose, and then it hit me. I'd pulled apart bits of what the season was trying to emphasize, but only after Resolution did the obvious hit me.
Series 11 is all about technology, and our relationship to it. Specifically, Series 11 is about our belief in technology. It informed every decision with the show, especially with the Doctor's characterization.
Looking back on the series, there were only two episodes whose resolution didn't involve Team TARDIS modifying or creating a piece of technology to solve the problem ("Demons of the Punjab" and "It Takes You Away") both of which still feature Team Tardis building or messing with technology as part of the main plot. From the Doctor messing with Tim Shaw's DNA-bombs in "The Woman to Fell to Earth", to the somehow overt and yet highly muddled messaging of "Kerblam!", to "The Battle of Ranskoor av Kolos" with it's mirroring of the Doctor and Tim Shaw as builders, we've seen it a lot.
However, Tim Shaw was a broken funhouse mirror. He was trying to be the Doctor's mirror image, but failed. In the end he simply wasn't the big bad he thought he was. He was not a visionary, merely a copycat.
So if the next episode we see a new character mirrored with the Doctor, and that character is the Doctor's true equal and opposite, one would be be forgiven for revising a few earlier assumptions.
In Resolution we're introduced to a Dalek, buried under the earth in reverse of how the Doctor fell from the sky. The Dalek is injured, and needs aid to survive, as the Doctor did, but it takes that help by force and subterfuge. It's host/companion is it's hostage, the Dalek tapped into her nervous system and moving her around like a puppet. This Dalek is the Doctor's true mirror, not an imitation but a reversal. Equal and opposite.
And nowhere is this more true than in the way the Dalek builds it's new shell, just like the Doctor built her own sonic. The parallel scenes, with an added bit of Sheffield steel, cement the parallel, as well as the themes.
Because sure, its' cool they're compared, but what does that actually mean?
The answer is in the ideology of Series 11 as a whole. We've seen episode by episode that the Doctor's relationship to technology is largely positive, but technology is also the cause of tons of her problems. But to the Doctor, it's never the technology itself that's the problem, but the people using it. This is an incredibly optimistic take on technology, essentially the optimism that Elon Musk can save the world with technology. Not, to be clear, that the Doctor is Elon Musk, rather that she shows that same kind of wide-eyed faith that if you keep making newer cooler things that we will reach something like utopia. Even when the Doctor is confronted with technology doing evil in front of her (such as when Kerblam murders Kira) she takes the kindest look at it, the most forgiving. Here, even as she and the Dalek become opposing sides of the same die-cast coin, she keeps that faith.
There's an element of cognitive dissonance with the Doctor here: she clearly draws a line between "weapons" and "technology" (for example, take how she is fine with luring all the spiders to suffocate to death in the safe room in "Arachnids in the UK", but is opposed to Jack Robinson shooting one. Or, how Graham shooting Tim Shaw isn't okay, but giving him an eternal living death in a stasis chamber is in "Ranksoor av Kolos"). To quote a bad tech support agent, it's not a bug it's a feature. We're explicitly told in Ranskoor that the Doctor knows she sometimes breaks her own rules, and that these rules are self-imposed. The Doctor has constructed a worldview around technology, and it is this that show has been picking at.
Whether or not this worldview is good is a different question, but it's certainly *there*.
The Doctor, for all her independence, is just as reliant on technology as the Dalek in it's casing. She needs her sonic and her TARDIS, and she's heavily reliant on them. But this incarnation's technology isn't entirely her own: her sonic is built partially from Stenza technology, and her TARDIS has mimicked the look of Stenza crystals after being on a Stenza occupied world for millenia. But she's not alone on this reliance, Resolution has several gags based on our current reliance on technology and it's failings when intertwined with humanity, from the family who can't use the internet to the Doctor's tech support hotline phonecall.
We're all cyborgs now, whether we want to admit it or not. And heck, this series started with Ryan on a youtube video, giving us our first glimpse of him filtered through website. The microwave that Ryan's dad has (paralleling the microwave the Doctor has in "Woman") is through this lens a symbol of his father trying to turn a new leaf: the microwave is him finally taking the step to adapt, and it's presence allows the Doctor to build something to destroy the Dalek in the end.
As usual, we've saved the day with technology! And we're left with a strange look into it: while there have been questions and prods at whether technology's integration with life is good or bad, the Doctor's stance is unchanged, and there's no real growth to it. It remains a static part of her, even when the narrative questions it. Time will tell if Resolution was the end of this, or if this will continue in series 12. I'll see you in 2020 to find out.
* * *
But, let's veer off. There's one more thing to talk about here, and it's a bit harder.
Um, trigger warnings for discussion loosely of abuse and sexual assault?
So, that Dalek and bodily consent, huh? This was really the big climax to this recurring theme, and...well, I was disappointed it wasn't really paid of strongly in "Ranskoor" but...well, it was paid off here. We've seen Daleks in a lot of forms before, being all sorts of evil, and holy cannoli was this Dalek evil. It does all the usual Dalek things, it's filled with pure hate, it murders anyone in it's way, it's an evil bastard.
But this is a new route for it to take. Cause we've never had a Dalek as abusive rapist kidnapper before? It's certainly some real body horror, and it's the cold and calculating answer to Tim Shaw's sloppy frat-boy sexual predator nature. This Dalek is a different kind of violation. The Dalek invades a woman's body, and forces her to do horrible things for him, lie to the people around her, and then discards her when it doesn't need her anymore. It's...one of the most messed up things we've seen on Doctor Who, and it's done carefully for a family audience.
Chris Chibnall did a lot of work making sure that Broadchurch Series 3 was accurate and respectful in it's rape storyline, well, so I've heard. I couldn't get through the first episode because it was indeed too real. Like watching a weird re-enactment of memories played out by famous actors. So, yeah, I'll just take everyone's word that it was well done.
And for a family show on Sunday nights, this is the closest you'll get to that. The Doctor is very kind to Lin after everything, and reassures her it's not her fault. It's good. It doesn't overthink it and stop the adventure or lean so hard into the obvious allegory going on that it gets uncomfortable for most people. But it's there. It's really there. And it's well handled, in my opinion.
I don't really know what else to say about it. This isn't a topic I can write about separated from my own life, and I don't like to go back to that place in my mind. We paid off the bodily autonomy arc, and...whatever criticisms I may have of this series or this episode, this was well done and deft, and I'm thankful that Chris Chibnall did a good job with it. So...I don't have a good Resolution to all of that. And I'm okay with that, but I apologize that I don't. But we have a lot of time till series 12, so hopefully these themes are built on further.
Thanks for reading. I'll see you here for series 12. <3
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.