For the first time since the series was rebooted in 2005, Doctor Who didn’t have a Christmas special in 2018. Instead, there was a New Year’s special to kick off 2019. Although “Resolution” will be the only episode of the year, showrunner Chris Chibnall makes up for it by pulling all of the stops.

One of the most surprising changes to last year’s season 11 was that no recurring aliens from the show’s history made any comeback. “Resolution” ends that trend by reintroducing the series’ most iconic villain: the Dalek, voiced by series mainstay Nicholas Briggs. It’s always an exciting event when a new regeneration of the Doctor meets a Dalek, but with the entire hour-long special centering around their confrontation, it gave both characters ample time to show their hatred of one another.

After witnessing 19 New Year’s firework shows throughout time and space in the TARDIS, the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her companions land in present day Sheffield. There, two romantically interested archaeologists Lin (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mitch (Nikesh Patel) encounter an odd, squid-like creature. 

In a highly unnerving sequence, the creature attaches itself to Lin, taking over her mind and body, eventually revealing itself to be a Dalek with a human shell instead of its normal metal case. Ritchie expertly transitions between the petrified Lin and the manic hatred of the Dalek as it uses her to destroy and kill anything in its path. Accompanied by the Dalek is a new theme using the electric guitar, which is a bit jarring for Doctor Who, yet perfectly captures this Dalek’s terrifying ability for carnage.

As the Dalek tears through the U.K., Ryan (Tosin Cole) finally reunites with his father Aaron (Daniel Adegboyega), a character often referenced in last year’s season for abandoning him as a child. Ryan has one of his best moments as a character with a lengthy monologue, telling his father what it would take for him to forgive his father’s actions. Graham (Bradley Walsh) also confronts Aaron after accidentally being left behind by the TARDIS in an equally moving scene. Aaron himself is clearly torn by his past mistakes, but isn’t sure of himself or how to make things right. He’s an interesting character that has a lot of room for development in future episodes.

In a scene that unmistakably parallels the Doctor creating her own sonic screwdriver, the Dalek uses old artifacts and Earth scrap to make its own shell. The following confrontation between the Doctor and the Dalek is one that is well earned, with both fearing yet hating the other. The stakes continue to grow from there, eventually combining all the subplots for an exciting and surprisingly grim showdown.

Beat for beat, “Resolution” is an excellently crafted episode of Doctor Who, one that celebrates the show’s history more than any episode within season 11. When the series returns in 2020, we can hope that season 12 will strike a better balance between the previous season’s march towards the future and this special’s leanings towards nostalgia.

Doctor Who will return in very early 2020.