Asylum of the Daleks: In Perspective
Guest contributor Michael Coats on the Series 7 opener.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that most Whovians had an idea of what to expect from the Series 7 opener by the distinctly troll-like hand of showrunner Steven Moffat when certain details were announced last summer. The news that the the episode would contain ‘every Dalek ever’ was met with enthusiasm from most quarters, and fans swiftly began to form ideas about an all-out Dalek action blockbuster, based on clips from the Series 7 trailer. This unfortunately did not materialise, and the Classic Daleks played second fiddle to the plot. As a result, there were accusations of the fans being short-changed, and even lied to, which I think is just a tad unfair.
In part, I do believe Moffat was genuinely excited as a fan himself, but I also think it was used to add a smokescreen to a certain twist that the press might have otherwise leaked. Regardless, I think expectation still has a big impact on how people view this episode, particularly as I went into the episode having read reviews which stated that while it may not be what fans were expecting, it was very good. So then, not just as a standalone story; but also its place in the larger narrative of Series 7, what was Asylum of the Daleks all about? I ask that you let go of your expectations, and we’ll find out. Open your mind. Let us begin our quest…
Half of All Marriages End in Divorce
That’s not as bad as it sounds. The other half ends up a Dalek. Ahem. It had been well publicised Amy and Rory’s time in the TARDIS was coming to an end. I was therefore surprised that Moffat had utilised them in such a way that it felt extraneous to the story, unlike the Doctor, Oswin and the Daleks. It seemed that Moffat had struggled to include them, and as a result had come up with the idea of the divorce. I will stop just short of suggesting that Amy and Rory would have been better off not making their reappearance until Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, though.
The are some positives to the divorce subplot itself, even if it feels out of place. Whilst it could have been executed better, it is really not as contrived as it might first seem. Firstly, Frances Barber has stated that she portrayed Madame Kovarian as not being able to have children. It is perfectly believable therefore, that after snatching River, she would be so bitter as to strip Amy of another chance at motherhood.
Some critics have claimed that it has never been shown that Rory wanted kids. This is not true. It is an interesting call back to Amy’s Choice, where in Rory’s dream he has everything he wishes for; his dream job, his dream house, possibly even his dream baby. In other words, his dream life. Pretty unequivocal for me. It has also been said by some that P.S. invalidates the reason for the divorce. These people are unfamiliar with British adoption procedure, which involves rigorous checks, including a full examination of medical history. Amy’s biting of four psychiatrists when she was a child would likely cause her to fail this examination. I am not familiar with American law in this matter, but without any medical history (due to Amy and Rory not having actually being born yet as well as being in a different country) it would not have been an issue.
What the subplot does give us is worthwhile character development for both Amy and Rory; Amy, having once been unsure of whether or not she loved Rory, has progressed to loving him so selflessly that she is prepared to put his happiness ahead of her own, foreshadowing the finale of The Angels Take Manhattan. She is also, to borrow a term that originated from anime, tsundere (meaning to run hot and cold, derived from the Japanese terms tsun tsun (aloof or irritated) and dere dere (lovestruck)) towards Rory. To protect her vulnerable emotional core, she acts hard and angry when she’s around Rory, but shows considerable concern for him when they are separated. It’s very effective at establishing pathos, especially when Rory shatters her armour and we see the vulnerable side underneath. Speaking of Rory, he gets the lion’s share of the character development, though (in-universe) it’s not necessarily good. Rory assumes that he loves Amy more than she loves him, based on the events of The Big Bang; something which if it was truly a selfless act he should not have brought up because it was not something Amy asked for or expected him to do. Amy by comparison does not bring up the fact she was prepared to risk death rather than be without him (Amy’s Choice). This is a good thing for Rory as a character though, as he had been so far unrealistically portrayed as without flaw in his humanity, except perhaps naïvety. This made him more three-dimensional, but without derailing him as a character.
The Amazing Oswin
Whatever went awry with Amy and Rory, Moffat can be forgiven. Oswin’s characterisation more than made up for that. But first, that twist. I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t the only person whose thought process immediately after the Live at the Apollo inspired titles was ‘But…isn’t that…how…what…MOFFAT!’ It was a true stroke of genius, that cannot be soured, unlike Oswin’s imaginary milk (unless it’s imaginary UHT milk, but there’s no demand for that because it’s ser, awful).
Whilst most people who aren’t members of Hermits United are aware of the whole soufflé-eggs-exterminate connection by now, what you may not have noticed is that nearly everything about Oswin is a clue to her true nature and/or eventual fate. For example, look at Oswin’s room. Does the little control panel area of her room seem familiar to you? No? Then I shall ELUCIDATE. Hmm. That’s never happened before. Moving swiftly on. The control panel could very easily be mapped onto the interior of a Dalek’s casing; the roof is dome shaped, the camera display is right where you’d expect the other end of the eyestalk would be, and there are two controls either side that match up with a Dalek gunstick and a sucker arm, respectively. In addition, when shown on the scanners, Oswin’s escape pod also resembles a Dalek. Well, if it looks like a Dalek, works like a Dalek and accesses technology like a Dalek, it probably is a Dalek. And so it proved. You have to wonder with how quickly the Doctor picked up on the milk whether he suspected this all along.
The depth to which Moffat has thought about this is admirable. He’s certainly done his research on Carmen, knowledge of which provides us with clues not only about the the nature of Oswin, but also later events of Series 7. Perhaps the most obvious of the clues can be derived from the French lyrics of the Harbanera Aria, the song which is playing in nearly every scene in which Oswin makes an appearance. The most notable of these given Oswin’s flirtatious nature is from the chorus: Si je t’aime, prends garde à toi! (If I I love you, you’d best beware!), but the second verse not only provides clues to Oswin’s fate, but Clara’s appearance and similar fate:
L’oiseau que tu croyais surprendre
battit de l’aile et s’envola …
l’amour est loin, tu peux l’attendre;
tu ne l’attends plus, il est là!
Tout autour de toi, vite, vite,
il vient, s’en va, puis il revient …
tu crois le tenir, il t’évite,
tu crois l’éviter, il te tient.
The bird you hoped to catch
beat its wings and flew away …
love stays away, you wait and wait;
when least expected, there it is!
All around you, swift, swift,
it comes, goes, then it returns …
you think you hold it fast, it flees
you think you’re free, it holds you fast.
The bird in this analogy is Oswin, who in dying, beats her wings and flies away. When the Doctor is least expecting it, she reappears in the form of Clara in The Snowmen (not that he knows this until she too dies). When the Doctor thinks he has Clara held fast, in that he’s accepted her as a companion and that she’s going to travel with him, she is killed. Then line ‘It comes, goes, then it returns’ is applicable to both Oswin’s appearance, death and reappearance as Clara as well as Clara’s appearance, death and reappearance in Series 7 Part 2. The Doctor’s referring to Oswin as the eponymous Carmen is also foreshadowing of her nature and fate: the gist of the Harbanera is that Carmen is unreachable and unattainable, just as Oswin turns out to be. In addition, Carmen is a tragic figure in that she dies at the end; just like Oswin and Clara in their respective episodes. We may as well call Series 7 the Carmen arc.
I’m also quietly confident that given the characterisation of the Doctor as ‘The Lonely God’, the meaning of Oswin and Oswald (God’s friend and God’s power respectively), now Clara’s middle name and surname, will be of further significance, particularly when Clara (which means light in Spanish) is appended. One possibility is that Clara is the light and the Doctor’s friend that has the power to lead ‘The Lonely God’ out of the darkness he was in following the Ponds’ departure. But sure, what do I know? Moffat could surprise us all and say that she was the Doctor’s pet tortoise in a past life.
(Moff, if you’re reading, please don’t do that).
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