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Doctor Who, Series 7, Episode 1: “Asylum of the Daleks”
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Nick Hurran
Airs Saturdays at 9pm (ET) on BBC America
This week, on Doctor Who: The Daleks hijack the Doctor, Amy, and Rory to save them from their most crazed brethren.
I have a confession to make. I don’t like the Daleks. I understand and respect their history with the show, their origins as a clear parallel to Nazi Germany, and their role as the ultimate antithesis of the Doctor’s philosophy. But after 10 episodes in 6 seasons with them as the main antagonist, including 3 two-part season finales, not to mention their uneven track record in Classic Who, I’m Dalek-ed out. They’re no longer interesting, they’re no longer scary, and they’re certainly no longer surprising. A mysterious force has come perilously close to destroying the Universe? It’s probably the Daleks, regardless of the fact that they tend to get genocided each time they appear (4 out of 6 modern stories end this way). So when the premiere’s title was announced, along with the revelation that it would feature an appearance from every type of Dalek ever seen on Doctor Who, I did not have the enthusiastic reaction the PtB were assumedly hoping for.
Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. “Asylum of the Daleks” is a solid season opener for Doctor Who and a fantastic tease for what’s to come. With striking visuals, fun musical choices, and a couple very memorable guest turns, this is definitely the best Dalek story we’ve gotten for quite a while. Moffat takes a lot of short cuts, and throws canon out the window in a few cases, undoubtedly frustrating some of the fans, but overall, this is an exciting, interesting, and entertaining episode that manages to avoid most of the pitfalls the Dalek-centric NuWho stories tend to fall into.
First of all, it takes a page from season one’s “Dalek” and presents our heroes enemies that are severely weakened. This stops the regular Daleks from being negated as a viable threat when the Doctor and co. outsmart their foes once again. Secondly, the story doesn’t repeat past history. The Daleks start out the episode completely reconstituted, Parliament intact, finally cementing that the Time Lords lost the Time War. We waste no time dwelling on the Doctor’s angst over this and instead the characters dive into the problem at hand, quite literally. At the end, there is a tremendous paradigm shift, or perhaps return to early Classic Who, with the erasure of the Doctor from their collective memory bank. This can only be a good thing. No more Oncoming Storm, no more living off his reputation. Even better, no pathetic plot-driven excuses for why the Daleks don’t just Exterminate the Doctor on sight.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they aren’t the main antagonists. As in most zombie movies, the threat and drama comes from within the group with the mindless killing machines functioning only to add pressure to an already heated situation. There are two main threats- Amy’s potential Dalek-ification (pesky nanogenes!) and the pending dissolution of Amy and Rory’s marriage. Neither hold up to particularly close scrutiny, but in a 48-minute standalone mini-movie, they work. These new humanoid Daleks are a clear improvement over the previous incarnation (can we all agree that “Daleks in Mahattan”/”Evolution of the Daleks” didn’t happen?) and the initial reveal is undeniably creepy. The “science” of this doesn’t really make sense, but then again, Doctor Who has almost always been closer to speculative fiction than true sci-fi.
Amy and Rory’s estrangement is a harder sell. The actors give it their all and the reasoning behind the split is significant enough to be believable, but rather than go the more interesting route, having Rory struggle with Amy’s inability to bear more children, this very real potential conflict is shown to be little more than a manifestation of Amy’s grief and fear of abandonment. That’s perhaps too generous- we aren’t given a woman in pain at the horrific results of her imprisonment and torture, we’re given a woman who makes a foolish, rash decision because she doesn’t communicate with her husband.
Amy and Rory should both be emotional basket cases after what they’ve experienced. Even a moment or two of reflection and honesty would go a long way towards addressing what has been a seasons-long weakness in characterization. (Also, how the discussion of children can come up *yet again* with these Companions without any mention of Melody is utterly beyond me.) There is one character beat in this exchange, however, that is excellent and overdue. The seeming inequality in the Ponds’ relationship has been a point of annoyance or concern to many since Rory joined the TARDIS crew. It’s nice to have that notion, that Rory loves Amy more than she does him, utterly squashed at last.
Unfortunately, there are a number of story flaws that may take some of the sheen off this episode upon rewatch. How did the Daleks get the TARDIS? How did the Doctor teleport straight into the TARDIS, when it’s been clearly established that shouldn’t be able to happen? If Oswin maintained her personality through the conversion, how many other good, trapped people did the Doctor allow the Daleks to explode? If the Doctor can bring Amy back from partial mental conversion, why can’t he find a way to put Oswin’s mind into a different shell? Why doesn’t he even try? Amy is barren- why doesn’t the Doctor hook her up with some proper nanogenes and sort that out in a matter of moments? The list continues.
There are those that won’t like this story and though its charms outweigh its flaws for me, I’d have a hard time arguing with those for whom they don’t. Many may not like this Doctor, who can grin while he speaks of mass killing, but while it does raise a red flag, for now at least, Moffat has earned the benefit of the doubt and I’ll be interested to see where he’s going with this as we move towards the 50th anniversary and the Oldest Question. This season, or at least this half-season, the audience has been promised, to quote Steven Moffat, “big standalone blockbuster[s,]… slutty titles and movie-poster plots.” If that means more like this, more action-packed episodes with funny, fast-paced dialogue and incredibly winning guest stars, I’m all for it. Next week- “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”. Geronimo!
What did you think of this episode? Was anyone else stoked to see Skaro? Are you pro or con these new sleeper-agent humanoid Daleks? What are you most looking forward to, or dreading, in the next few weeks? Post your thoughts below!
A special congratulations has to go out to the entire Doctor Who cast and crew for keeping the identity of this week’s guest star, Jenna Louise Coleman, known to any Whovians who haven’t dug their heads in the sand over the past year as the actress playing the Doctor’s next Companion, a secret. As her character was described by Moffat as a computer genius, my money’s on the Doctor pulling some timey-wimey badassery to save Oswin and take her off to see the stars and I, for one, can’t wait!