Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks

Posted: September 7, 2012 in TV reviews
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Ok first things first, this review will include SPOILERS so if you haven’t seen it yet, for god’s sake stop reading now!

So, after what feels like too long a break (and really it was just Christmas Day) Doctor Who is back with Asylum of the Daleks, written by show runner Steven Moffat, and despite the pre episode hype suggesting we’d see every kind of Dalek ever built, and the trailers which suggested the Doctor and his companions would be facing off against a giant army of Daleks, in the end this is a quite low key, smaller scale Dalek story, and actually is all the better because of that.

That doesn’t mean it’s low budget, or that it isn’t epic, because in places its grand and sweeping—we get to see the battle scarred surface of the Dalek’s home planet of Skaro, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Daleks in the Parliament, a whole heap of Dalek saucers, and the shielded asylum planet itself—but what makes the episode, its beating heart(s) mostly isn’t found within these parts.

At the start the Doctor is kidnapped by the Daleks, as are his companions Amy and Rory, and we also learn that they’re on the verge of divorce (although those of us who watched the ‘Pond Life’ web episodes the week before already knew this.)

The Daleks don’t want to kill the Doctor however, they need his help…for some reason, and here the story does fall down somewhat, because it all feels very contrived, and the McGuffin cited by the Daleks as their reason for needing the Doctor is iffy to say the least, not to mention their reasons for bringing Rory and Amy along, and in fact Rory and Amy’s breakup, which feels a bit like an excuse to give them something to do—it pains me to say it because I love them both, but it’s probably a good thing they’re leaving soon because it really feels like the writers are running out of things to do with them.

Still, even in the weakest part of the episode there are some golden moments. The Dalek Prime Minister explaining that the Daleks find hatred beautiful, and then intimating they’ve never been able to kill the Doctor because he hates them so much. Then there’s Amy’s assessment of the Doctor as he strides around the room, counting all the Daleks, identifying all the exits, and noting that Amy and Rory are standing too far apart, it’s wonderfully observed, especially the moment he straightens his bow tie. The humans who’ve been converted to Dalek puppets are a nice riff on the 60’s Robomen too.

“You want to fire me at a planet? That’s your plan?” says the Doctor, highlighting the ludicrous nature of the Dalek scheme in what could be construed as Moffat indulging in a bit of lampshading (the practice of a writer intentionally highlighting the plot holes in his/her own story). It’s almost as if he’s saying “This is daft, you know it’s daft and I know you know it’s daft, but let’s choose to ignore it and get on with the story anyway.”

Which is fair enough, especially given that from this point on the episode is a corker.

For starters buried in the heart of the Dalek Asylum is a young woman named Oswin played by Jenna Louise Coleman…the same Jenna Louise Coleman who’s signed on as the Doctor’s new companion, the same Jenna Louise Coleman who we weren’t expecting to see until Christmas…In this internet age it’s easy to become jaded, and far too easy to know what’s coming in advance, so to have the new companion turn up out of the blue was a surprise, a very pleasant surprise as it turns out  because she’s great, almost as bonkers and hyper as Matt Smith’s Doctor.

The Asylum itself is suitably moody and creepy, from the crashed escape pod full of decomposing bodies that are still functioning as Dalek zombies, to the narrow corridors deep below the surface where dusty, cobweb covered old Daleks sit like long abandoned manikins…until they start to wake up. And of course there’s the look on Amy’s face when she’s told that, not only will she become a humanoid Dalek, but that she’s been told this four times already.

Rory’s failure to understand that eggs is just the Dalek’s stutteringly trying to say Exterminate is both funny, and also keeps in our mind the conundrum of where Oswin’s getting the milk and eggs from to keep making soufflés?

Despite being unarmed, the Doctor manages to take out a gaggle of Daleks by turning their own insane desire to destroy him against them, but not before there’s a wonderfully surreal scene of Amy seeing the Daleks as dancers (which makes sense when you think about how Skaro’s finest glide about.)

Soon Amy and Rory are reconciled, and despite the contrived nature of their breakup it’s still a sweet moment. The same cannot be said of the reveal of Oswin’s true nature. She was human, once, but now she’s a Dalek, not even a puppet, a full on Dalek, and for all her boundless energy and quipping of earlier, Coleman does a wonderful job of going from a woman brimming with confidence to one who’s  broken, a small girl scared of the dark, and the horrible truth of her existence. It’s heart-breaking, yet also heartening, because it implies she’ll make a great companion…the only question remains is, will she be playing Oswin, or someone else?

On the whole this is a very good episode, but not quite a great one, not a classic. On the plus side the cast are wonderful, in the case of Smith, Gillian and Darvill this is just par for the course, but Coleman is icing on the cake. The Asylum is a wonderful notion, and this is perhaps the most original Dalek story since “Dalek”, interesting to note that they don’t exterminate anyone, at all, a first?

There are some great lines (Rory gets most of them) and when, in the end, Oswin wipes all trace of the Doctor from the Dalek’s hive memory, this opens up all sorts of interesting future storylines, imagine a universe where the Daleks no longer fear the oncoming storm, truly Moffat seems to be trying to take the Doctor back to his roots as a mysterious character, rather than a god like being who everyone knows…the Timelord equivalent of James Bond. “Ah Doctor, your reputation precedes you.” This is a welcome change.

It’s just a shame the Dalek’s reasoning behind kidnapping the Doctor didn’t make more sense, because if the opening hadn’t been so jarring this could have been a classic. Still, if every Doctor Who episode was only as good as this I’d be more than happy to keep watching forever.   (Though let’s face it I might do that anyway!)

Next up, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship!!

  1. neil says:

    The daleks reasoning of getting the Dr to do their dirty work is justified though, as he suceeds in doing what they wanted !

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