TV Review: Doctor Who ‘Asylum of the Daleks’

jason stives looks at the premiere episode of series seven…

The Reintroduction of the Review Series: I learned a lot from covering Series 6 for Pop-Break last year and one thing I learned is crowd control in regards to my views. I was a big fan of the previous season despite many peoples’ complaints of the overall arc being too big and complicated. That being said I am not one who doesn’t have gripes with the show periodically but I am also easy to please. I know the continuity of Doctor Who very well and unless some huge blemish is made in the narrative I don’t fret even if it’s an obvious one within the season that probably for the majority can be overlooked. I decry greatly against fandom and get bothered when hardcore fans nitpick flaws in logic within a show that is illogical because none of it is real. That isn’t to say you don’t have the right to nitpick but I choose not to and I find it ridiculous when I have been called out on for being too overly fan boyish in my reviews. If I was overly fan boyish I would tear the show apart, but I don’t. So this season I have chosen to change the structure of my weekly review by including stray observations, pros and cons, and the generalization of what did and didn’t work. Now that that’s out, let’s climb into the asylum.

Well gang, I’m back with my Jammy Dodgers and Fez in tow…at least for another four weeks. It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year since we last had regular airings of Doctor Who but from what I can see (and what I know) we are in for five blockbuster weeks that began this weekend with the broadcast of “Asylum of the Daleks.”

It’s very hard for many fans new to the show to understand the overall appeal and fear factor of The Daleks. They are by appearance very dopey looking and their voice is inherently goofy and annoying. It also doesn’t help that, save for their initial appearance in the amazing “Dalek” episode from Series 1, The Daleks have been relegated to popping up once each season with a huge scheme that The Doctor almost always defeats. So it’s understandable that the fear that many classic fans and even younger new fans see doesn’t translate with the current adult audience who watches the show.

To me, the Daleks of the sixties and eighties display greatly the fear of their presence and how humans react to their involvement in their lives. It also develops a strong moral dilemma in hating the biggest hate mongrels in the universe. Showing hatred towards those who hate is a reflection of us as people.

Thankfully I can say with complete honesty that those aspects are displayed greatly in “Asylum of the Daleks.” Not only is it a knock out season premiere but it’s also one of the best Dalek stories in a mighty long time. The great thing about this story is that while it doesn’t leave much on a complicated plot it creates a lot of commentary for its psychological elements helped in part by some clever ideas and truly fantastic CGI and set designs that create a moody and horrific world for the Daleks to run rampant through.

After being captured by some resourceful Dalek agents, The Doctor, Amy and Rory are brought on board a huge Dalek spaceship where they learn that the Daleks need the Doctors help. The Daleks have a planet that they have christened their asylum, a dumping ground where all the Daleks that go wrong are sent to. The trouble is a ship full of humans have infiltrated the force field around the asylum indicating that if they can get in than all the Daleks can seemingly get out. The Doctor and company must get into the asylum to shut down the force field so that the Daleks can wipe out the planet. They are given wristlets that will protect them from the planet’s nanogenes that if exposed to can slowly turn their minds into the conscious of a Dalek. In doing so, The Doctor and Amy are separated from Rory but are assisted along the way by a faceless computer hacker named Oswin who guides them through the many treacherous levels of the asylum.

Many of the elements involving the Daleks and this asylum world come about in horrifying details and creates a new dynamic to the Doctor’s greatest foes. First, the Daleks have new human Dalek agents that have the mind of a Dalek and can produce creepy eyestalk protrusions in their foreheads. Anyone can be a Dalek agent if exposed to the nanogenes even the dead and in one utterly creepy scene there are literally zombie Dalek agents stalking the Doctor and Amy.

It’s an excellent twist and nice new take on the infamous Robo Men of the sixties Dalek stories. Then you have a greater glimpse into the psyche of The Daleks, displayed in the scenes involving the Parliament of the Daleks where the Doctor comes face to face with the mutant Dalek Supreme. The Supreme explains that they can’t destroy what they consider beauty which is divine hatred, something that the Daleks know all to well and the reason the Supreme believes as to why they have never been able to kill their greatest enemy. It seems almost ridiculous to believe that the Daleks have any concept of humanity or even hatred but it’s a great way to fuel the canon of the Doctor and the Daleks relationship. Technically the notion that they can’t kill their own is stupid mainly because in their last appearance Tthe Dalek paradigm killed three of their own for being “inferior.” Pish posh let’s move on.

The asylum itself is quite brooding and creepy to look at and special recognition must go to the set designers of this episode because it really added to the atmosphere. In the asylum you have maniac daleks who are broken down and deranged just wandering aimlessly through the facility and the worst ones are in an intensive care unit which I’m not too sure how that works but it sounds creepy enough for the Daleks.

While the Daleks no doubt were all business and chills, the bulk of the story did serve more for showcasing the relationships in the TARDIS crew in particular Rory and Amy’s failing marriage. The revelation that the Ponds are in the middle of a divorce truly felt out of left field and while I can understand doing this it just felt unnecessary.

While I have always liked Amy I have never been a fan of how she treats Rory. For someone who many viewed as another version of Mickey, Rory has truly grown as a character over two seasons going from bumbling fiancé to the stronger link in his relationship with Amy. His speech to Amy about how they both have known he loves her more than she loves him hit really at home and for many fans probably put into act what we have all thought. I don’t think this has ever been the intention of Amy but while she can be very strong she is also weak and naïve at times. For someone who claims to love her husband so much she spends a lot of times making him feel inferior to their time travelling friend. In a way that’s why her telling him that the hardest thing for her to do was give him up feels a bit forced but also shows her true feelings. We should assume that the remaining episodes of this block will focus on Amy trying to strengthen her love for Rory which is a great way to end their time on the show.

It was also nice to see that The Doctor has stuck to his word of staying in the shadows of the universe. The Doctor literally had to be forced into helping The Daleks and when it was all said and done they had forgotten who he was thanks in part to Oswin erasing their information on him. Not only does The Doctor not exist in the universe but his greatest enemies don’t even know who he is. To top it off he stayed (for the most part) out of the affairs of his friends and their failing marriage instead allowing themselves to figure out their problems. Amy’s declaration that there are some things The Doctor can’t fix puts into perspective his pension for interfering in the affairs of others but he chooses to stay keep his word. We have a more civilized Doctor it seems but this doesn’t mean it will last.

*MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD*

No doubt the main reason this review is here is to talk about the big secret of this episode which was the appearance of Jenna Louise Coleman as Oswin Oswald. For those of you who don’t follow Who news on a regular basis, Coleman is set to play the Doctor’s newest companion, believed to be named Clara Oswin, beginning with the Christmas special in December. Kudos goes all around to not only Moffat for keeping this secret very hush hush but to journalists like myself who saw this episode at a prior screening and were sworn to secrecy. Her appearance is very much a surprise and how exactly she will fit into the rest of the season remains to be seen and I’ll be curious to see if her character IS the actual companion or someone related to her. Regardless, one thing Moffat is very good at doing compared to his predecessor is tying loose threads together (most of the time).

In the meantime, what did we think of Ms. Coleman’s debut? Well, assuming that she is playing the same character down the line we are in for a real treat. Oswin is a fire cracker of character but very attractive and a real smart ass (can I say that? Yes it’s my column). Her ability to keep up with the Doctor and be both cheeky and light hearted instills some great qualities that separate her from being either another love interest or another clueless companion. In this day and age those kinds of companions don’t fly and the romantic elements of The Doctor’s life seem to have been exhausted of all its potential this point. The surprise twist that Oswin was actually a Dalek whose former sub conscious was alive in the asylum was shocking and heartbreaking all at once. For a character that was so likable to have her suddenly be something else entirely was done beautifully thanks in part by both the script and by Coleman’s excellent range of emotions. Again, it will be interesting to see what happens with her from here on out but with that little taste we should expect a great double act between Smith and Coleman hopefully in the vein of Tennant and Tate.

The Pantheon of Gripes: When “Asylum of the Daleks” is advertised as containing “every single Dalek in the show’s history” that means a lot. That means every design that the cantankerous pepper pots went through are present. Even Doctor Who Magazine covered this by having all them present in a computer generated form. Like I said The Daleks are present but not as prominently as you would hope and the one thing that doesn’t feature that much are the classic Daleks. Yes, in brief flashes you see the ’60s grey and blue ones, the Resurrection and Genesis-era Daleks, and you even bump into the special weapons Dalek but this is it. The Daleks that do most of the grumbling are the modern era Daleks in all their rusted glory. This is more an uber fan gripe so we will close the Pantheon this week very quickly.

*Special note: I’ve only recently discovered that this was done as a publicity tool, but still, C’MON!*

Stray Thoughts/Huge Props:

Not too crazy about the Daleks’ latest nickname for The Doctor: The Predator. Predator would indicate he is trolling for Daleks but we know that is not his style. However, LOVE all of Oswin’s nicknames for the Doctor and Rory especially “The Chin.” I’m also pretty sure there are now hundreds of people trying to make their Tumblr or Twitter handles: Soufflé Girl.

While not as many classic Daleks present there were references to planets The Doctor visited that the Daleks invaded including: Kembel (The Daleks’ Masterplan), Aridian (The Chase), Exilon (Death to the Daleks), Spiridon (Planet of the Daleks), and Vulcan (Power of the Daleks). Only downside here was the intensive care Daleks from said planets were all modern era ones and not the classic ones. Again, excuse the uber fan gripe.

Best line? The Doctor to a frustrated Dalek: “You’re a tricycle with a roof!”

Loved Rory confusing the Dalek bumps for eggs and not knowing what they wanted.

So Skaro looked amazing and I was very happy to see it back but if show history serves me correct, wasn’t Skaro destroyed in ”Remembrance of the Daleks” back in 1988?

Did anyone else get a Twin Peaks vibe when Amy started hallucinating those people in the asylum? I was waiting for a midget in a suit to saunter across the screen snapping his fingers.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (Excellent)

 

 

All Photos Credit: BBC America