Episode 7.01 “Asylum of the Daleks”
[All photos: Adrian Rogers, © BBC]
Hello Ladies and Gentlemen!
My apologies… your Mr. Harvey has been hard at work of late, with his time consumed by planning and executing the production of the latest IAMEVE video. If that sounds familiar somehow, it’s because I interviewed Miss Tiff Randol about her IAMEVE album for this very site, and that was the beginning of what turned into the “Temptress” video shoot this last weekend.
Consequently, while I have watched the first two episodes of the new season of Doctor Who, I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write reviews… until now.
Actually, I kind of like reviewing these together, because the ways in which both succeed are quite interesting, and the things I didn’t like in the first installment of Season Seven, compared to what I didn’t like about the second, are as well. Wait, what? I’m writing a review about the season premiere of Doctor Who, and I’m saying there are things I don’t like?
Yes, dear reader, ’tis sad but true. Let’s see why, shall we?
SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT!
“Asylum of The Daleks” does have a lot going for it, and frankly, it’s about a half a brilliant episode. In brief, when the security of the planet the Daleks dump the members of their race too out of control even for them is breached, they kidnap the one person they know can face a whole planet of insane murder machines and come out unscathed to go in and fix the problem: The Doctor. And since their records show that the Doctor works best with companions, the Ponds find themselves snatched up as well. The Daleks have been dumping their insane brethren there instead of destroying them, because even though the Daleks of the Asylum are deemed too damaged to let roam free, the Daleks are loath to destroy such perfect hatred, which they view as a kind of beauty.
Still, with the forcefield keeping the mad Daleks in breached, the just-standard-psycotic Daleks decide to destroy the planet in fear of what would happen if the insane ones were to get out. Too afraid to do it themselves, they send the Doctor and the Ponds down to the planet through a small breach in the force field to shut down the planetary field, so they can destroy the planet and its crazed inhabitants remotely.
There, while at risk from not only the Daleks of the Asylum, but also the nanogene cloud that causes all those who might somehow get to the planet’s surface to become a sort of low-grade Dalek, they will encounter a young woman named Oswin, who seems to have done a remarkable job of keeping herself alive in what can only be considered a really bad neighborhood. Yet all is not as it seems…
Right, first the good news: As I said, half of this episode is excellent.
Consider the Daleks’ definition of beauty for a moment. Their admiration of hate has become the closest thing they have to appreciating beauty, and, in fact, it’s basically what they consider to be beautiful. Now consider the Doctor, whose own hate for the Daleks has been quite clear since the series returned to television, and then ponder this exchange:
Prime Minister: Does it surprise you to know that Daleks have a concept of beauty?
The Doctor: I thought you’d run out of ways to make me sick. But hello again. You think hatred is beautiful?
Prime Minister: Perhaps that is why we have never been able to kill you.
Interesting yes? The Daleks have a hard time killing the Doctor, because his hate for them is one of the most beautiful things they’ve ever seen. His battles with them over the centuries have driven them to more and more feed off that hatred, and in a perverse way, the more he’s fought them, the stronger they’ve become. Of course, with the chance to use their greatest enemy/inspiration to destroy their greatest fear, well, if you can kill two birds with one stone, in a quite literal manner…
Then there’s the Asylum itself. Think on that for a moment too. Our favorite pepperpots of death have set up a planet they have filled with the members of their race that scare the hell out of them. Tell me that isn’t an incredibly cool idea?
Also impressive is Miss Oswin Oswald, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, and giving us the big twist of the episode. A nice and intriguing touch with her is that she is also the new companion, replacing the Ponds around the mid-season mark, although she seems to be called Clara Oswin according to several sources. One wonders how the two characters will be connected, as it really does seem unlikely that they can’t be, with those names and the same actress playing both. Is it the same character? That’s a really interesting question, as Oswin’s fate, first turned into a Dalek, then killed in the destruction of the Asylum, is hardly a happy one. Are we looking at a Companion that the Doctor knows will die? Whatever the connection, Oswin is funny and sexy and if Coleman is playing the other role the same way, she looks to be a lot of fun.
Matt Smith gives us a nicely dark Doctor here, with all the hate and disgust for the Daleks just flowing out of him in every scene. His bit with the Dalek-ized human trap at the beginning of the episode is actually quite mean, and yet it fits. Then there’s the moment we saw in the trailers, where Rory asks who killed all the Daleks, and the Doctor replies, “Who do you think?” The look on the Doctor’s face, that grim satisfaction, reminds us again that while the Doctor doesn’t carry a gun, he can and will kill without a second thought if he thinks it’s warranted.
But then there’s the lighter moments, with Amy and Rory, and his genuine concern about what’s happening between them. His slipping his nanogene bracelet onto Amy’s arm, and telling the two of them to focus on love as a way to hold off the conversion process is quite sweet in fact, as is the playful way he interacts with Oswin, well, up until he discovers what she’s become, when it becomes the sadness of someone who realizes that there’s nothing he can do to help someone, and we get an echo of the 10th Doctor in his “I’m so sorry.”
And as for the Daleks, well, here they get a much better treatment than the last episode, “Victory of the Daleks”. You know, the one with the new candy-colored ones? Yeah. Here though, with the many variant designs on display, they look like they are actually a race of beings, instead of a bunch of cookie cutter robots. They haven’t been this well handled since “Dalek” I’m thinking. The revelation that hatred is their beauty and that they fear something other than the Doctor is also nice, since I felt like we’ve had something added to their actual culture… which we haven’t had happen in a long, long time.
You may have noticed that I didn’t mention Amy and Rory much in the preceding text. It’s not that Arthur and Karen don’t do a great job here, because they do, it’s that the whole Amy/Rory relationship is handled so awkwardly here. That the two of them are signing divorce papers is bad enough, but the explanation is really odd. It actually falls into the category of what was wrong with last season, in that it also deals with Amy’s pregnancy, and as in last season, it falls a little flat. There it was not enough reaction, emotionally, from either parent, both to the taking of River, and to the aftermath of losing her. Here, it’s not enough to the revelation that since Demon’s Run, Amy had discovered that she isn’t able to have any more children, and knowing that Rory wants kids, she sets out to end the relationship, so he can have someone who can give him what he wants.
This… is stupid.
Not because people don’t do that sort of thing; they do, in fact. No, it’s stupid because Rory is the freaking Last Centurion. As he less than tactfully spells clear here, he loves Amy with everything he is, and you’d think that would have sunk in by now. Oh wait, it did, last season. So, yeah, great performances from these two, but shame on you Moffat, for trying to do that kind of relationship story in about 15 minutes.
Then there’s the Asylum itself. Cool idea, and yet our crazy, scary, insane Daleks just sort of laze about. It’s really anti-climactic. Oswin’s fate, converted to a Dalek physically, but retaining her human mind is scary… half-catatonic Daleks isn’t. Although, the shout out to earlier episodes is nice, as is the idea that many of the insane Daleks are there because of the Doctor… hmmm. The Doctor faces off against the Daleks that survived their previous encounters, driven insane and dangerous as all hell. That story I want to see.
And c’mon. A forcefield that can let a starliner crash into a planet, but won’t let bombs or energy weapons in? Really? They can drop our heroes down to the planet, but not a whole lot o’ bombs? A prison where the locks are on the inside, where the crazy Daleks are? What?
Sigh. Like I said, some really neat stuff here, side by side with some real missteps. Not that I wasn’t entertained, because I was. I’ve been looking forward to the return of Doctor Who just like the rest of you, perhaps more, seeing as I am quite the geek, and I grinned a LOT watching this. It’s just made the dumb stuff stand out all the more.
So! Coming up is part two of this set of reviews, covering the second episode of Season 7, “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.” Can you guess what I thought about that episode?