Who Review: Asylum of the Daleks
And so New Series Season 7 begins: the season that will take us into Doctor Who’s 50th year. And this is quite an opener. The Doctor meets up with his most famous foe once more, but this time there’s a twist. Instead of trying to thwart some evil Dalek scheme, the Doctor has been summoned (i.e., lured via trickery) by the Dalek Parliament to help them–save them, even! They have a planet called the Asylum on which they keep all the most mentally unstable Daleks. They’re a danger even to their own kind, hence they are trapped on this planet, surrounded by a force field that prevents their escape. However, a ship called the Alaska recently crashed on the planet, rupturing the force field, threatening the escape of these looney Daleks. The obvious solution would be for the Daleks to go down and destroy them. But the Daleks can’t bring themselves to destroy such “beauty” (i.e., beauty as they know it, which is pure, unadulterated, hatred and evil) face-to-face. They could destroy the planet remotely–except that the force field has only been ruptured. It would need to be completely deactivated for them to blow the place up. The Daleks are too scared to go down themselves to do it, so they want to send the Doctor. And since it is a fact that “the Doctor always has companions,” they’ve summoned Amy and Rory to help. At the point of their summoning, Amy and Rory are separated, and have just completed the paperwork to finalize their divorce, and the Doctor is presumed to be dead (see last series’s finale, “The Wedding of River Song”).
Added to this mix is the fact that there are nanogenes hovering around the planet (remember the microscopic bots that recreate matter, as seen in Moffat’s [i.e., Steven Moffat, show-runner, and writer of this episode] first New Who story, “The Empty Child”?). These threaten to turn any living thing that visits into a Dalek. To protect them, the Dalek Parliament give our trio bracelets to wear that will fend off the nanogenes. Furthermore, there is a survivor on board the Asylum: the entertainment director, who also happens to be a genius–Oswin Oswald. She offers to help them turn off the force field, in return for being rescued.
Can the Doctor save the Daleks, save Oswin, and save Rory and Amy’s marriage? That’s the basic set up…
SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!
Moffat rested the Daleks last series, which is not a bad thing to do. As the Doctor’s most popular enemy, they tend to get wheeled out fairly regularly, and Moffat’s not the first to appreciate that audiences need a break from them every once in a while. In the Second Doctor story, “The Evil of the Daleks” in 1968, they were supposedly destroyed. The Daleks didn’t reappear until they were brought back by popular demand for the 1972 Third Doctor season opener, “Day of the Daleks.”
Asylum is Steven Moffat’s first attempt at a Dalek story, and I think he did a really good job. He didn’t take away any of their malice, even though they were calling on the Doctor for help (an interesting twist). The Parliament of Daleks was well realized (if you didn’t know, every form of Dalek from 1963 to the 2010 re-design was represented on the Parliament), and I think it was a good premise for the story.
I’m not a fan of Amy Pond. Sorry, I know she has a large following, but I much prefer Rory; and frankly, the way she treats Rory is one of the reasons why I don’t think much of her character. I’m glad this episode rocked her world a bit. She started out afraid of nothing, and ended up clearly petrified. Rory’s speech to her when he thought she was going to be Dalekified by the nanogenes was passionate and honest. And also showed the loyalty and love in his heart, which, for me, makes him one of the best male companions the Doctor has ever had. Rory will face things he doesn’t like (e.g., the fact that his love for Amy is not equally reciprocated), but not indulge in self-pity because of them. He gets on with what needs to be done. Which to me, frankly, makes him a heck of a lot braver than Amy.
And what about the surprise in the first ten minutes? I did a double-take. Isn’t that…? Yes… Jenna-Louise Coleman?! But isn’t she…? Indeed, Moffat, with an unusually complicit press, managed to surprise us by introducing the new companion at the beginning of episode one! She wasn’t playing the companion this time, rather, she was the helpful Oswin. And at this point it’s hard to see how she might become the new companion by the time the Christmas special rolls around. As you might expect, Moffat is keeping tight-lipped about that. All we know is that we’ve seen her. The TARDIS crew don’t know what she looks like. And… we’ll have to wait and see how that plays out. But 10-out-of-10 to Steven Moffat for a well-executed piece of deception, and perhaps a clever companion introduction in the making!
Remember the bit when the Doctor walks past all the Daleks who survived battles with him, and a series of planets are named? Did anyone else pick up on the fact that all of those were from classic Who stories? I recognized a couple (Exxilon from “Death to the Daleks,” Vulcan from “Power of the Daleks,” and Spiridon from “Planet of the Daleks”), and the others I looked up (Kemble from “The Dalek Master Plan” and Aridius from “The Chase”).
And what about Jenna-Louise Coleman? I thought she did a fine job in the role she had. Will this be her character at Christmas? Part of me hopes not. She’s a bit too sassy and brainiac. I’ve had enough sass from Amy to last many lifetimes, and the Doctor has been upstaged by his assistants one too many times for my liking. The show’s called “Doctor Who,” after all. Let’s remember who’s supposed to be the hero and the smartest one in the room. Please?
It seems that Moffat has a story arc in place now, and it’s one he hinted at with last series’ finale: the Doctor is supposedly dead, and he is now the mysterious Doctor Who? roaming around the universe. With the Daleks’ memory banks wiped of all references to the Doctor, he has become Doctor Who even for them. At the end of last series, he wanted to be forgotten, but there’s still unfinished business. In that story, the Dorium–the head in a box–warned of prophecies, including “the fall of the Eleventh.” I suspect this will factor into the coming series. But hopefully not too much. I hope Moffat keeps the story arc loose and light, and focuses on giving us some great individual stories, regardless of how they fit into his master plan.
Did you see Asylum of the Daleks? If so, what did you think? Share your insights, loves, hates, or anything else you want to share about Doctor Who in the comments!