Asylum of the Daleks Review

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Clint Hassell reviews the Doctor Who Series 7 opener.

Doctor Who certainly seems to be building up to the 50th anniversary as the Doctor again visits Skaro – first seen at the end of the very first serial – though Skaro looks much more menacing being pummeled by acid rain than it ever did in sunny black-and-white. Points to the production team for remembering that Skaro is predominately red, as established in its most recent appearance in the Doctor Who TV movie.

There were several other references to continuity that enhance “Asylum of the Daleks” for me:

  • Matt Smith’s Doctor mentions the number 11.
  • Rory’s question, “What color?” is derided as ridiculous, mirroring many fan’s comments that the superficial recoloring of the new Paradigm Daleks was similarly meaningless.
  • Amy’s line, “Scared? Who’s scared? Geronimo.”
  • All of the Daleks named by Oswin are from classic Doctor Who serials.
  •  Rory gets nicknamed “the Nose,” again.

First evidenced in “Closing Time,” Amy’s modeling career is revisited. Karen Gillan looks stunning in her opening photo shoot, which cleverly provides an in-story reason for Amy’s hair and make-up looking flawless for the rest of the episode. However, I feel that Amy’s initial assertion that “[she doesn’t] have a husband!” seems severe, considering how little Pond Life (see my review on the next page) foreshadows the dissolution of Amy and Rory’s marriage. I am glad to see her hesitate and then call out for Rory as he leaves with the newly-signed divorce papers – the signature on which proving that, despite the Doctor’s insistence, Amy’s last name really is “Williams.”

I appreciate the continuation of the series’ new overarching “Doctor who?” theme from the Series 6 finale. “Asylum of the Daleks” begins by examining the flip-side of the Doctor remaining “dead” in the eyes of the universe – the Doctor can no longer be a symbol of hope to those who are being oppressed. However, despite the inherent triumph of seeing the effects of Oswin erase all knowledge of the Doctor from the Dalek’s pathweb, ending an episode with the line, “Doctor who?” officially wears out its welcome with this episode.

Speaking of Oswin, what was the exact moment you fell in love with Jenna-Louise Coleman? Mine was the line, “Happy birthday, Mum. I did make you a soufflé, but it was too beautiful to live,” her form-fitting dress-with-sneakers showing her character to be cut from the same quirky cloth as Amy. (Note that Oswin mocks the Doctor’s chin, just as Amy did in the first “Meanwhile in the TARDIS” additional scene.) The point I fell in love with Oswin as a companion (versus Oswin as a character)? This exchange:

Oswin: “[Is] there a word for ‘total screaming genius’ that sounds modest and a tiny bit sexy?”
Eleven: “’Doctor.’ You can call me, ‘The Doctor.’”
Oswin: “[I] see what you did there.”

For a while, I considered that the appearance of Jenna-Louise Coleman as Oswin might be similar to that of Freema Agyeman or Karen Gillan, both of who played minor characters in Doctor Who before debuting as new companions. However, Oswin’s line, “[I] joined the Alaska to see the universe. . . . Rescue me, Chin Boy, and show me the stars!” seems too ideally-suited for a new companion to be mere coincidence. Also, notice that at no point in “Asylum of the Daleks” does the Doctor see Oswin in her human form, thus setting up the future companion’s story arc. (As an aside, I wonder how recently Jenna-Louise’s scenes were filmed. Since the majority of Oswin’s scenes feature an actress, acting alone on a single set, wearing one outfit, the entirety of Ms. Coleman’s filming could have been completed within one day.) The final nail in the coffin of my theory that the character of Oswin may not be the next companion, comes with Oswin’s final line: “Run, you clever boy. And, remember.” At this point, Jenna looks to the camera, breaking the fourth wall in a telling nod that her final command is directed to the audience, who can expect to see her face again, in the near future. . . . .

The way the Doctor entices a Dalek to self-destruct, thus destroying an entire room full of Dalek hostiles, is clever – not since the defeat of the Silents in “Day of the Moon,” have I been impressed by Eleven’s cleverness – though I wish the self-destruct sequence mirrored that from Series 1’s “Dalek.” Also, after the self-centeredness exhibited in Pond Life, I am thrilled to see the return of the selfless Doctor, as Eleven gives up his nanocloud-blocking wristband for Amy. (Does the Doctor’s wristband reverse the effects of the nanocloud already suffered by Amy, or is she – and possibly the Doctor – still semi-Dalek?)

As for those titular Daleks, why do they need to use humans as “Dalek puppets” in the first place? The Daleks teleported 27 planets – and the TARDIS – across the universe in “The Stolen Earth”/”Journey’s End”; surely, the Doctor and two companions wouldn’t be any more difficult! And, why the forehead-piercing eyestalk, since the Dalek puppets still have human eyes?

Of course, the real reason the Daleks use humans as puppets is because it makes for good television. It’s much more thrilling to worry for Amy as a Dalek-controlled make-up assistant enters the room, causing the lights to flicker ominously, than to see her merely teleported away. And I’d be fine with that . . . if it wasn’t so nonsensical.

Actually, my biggest complaint about “Asylum of the Daleks” may be the presence of the Daleks themselves. This episode is ideally suited to feature the Cybermen, instead. Admit it: if you were told that the Series 7 opener featured monsters that converted humans into terrifying killing machines by first removing all of their emotions, robbing them of their humanity, you’d totally have predicted the return of the Cybermen. Heck, this episode even borrows a plot device from “Closing Time,” as Rory and Amy try to overcome the effects of the nanocloud with “love.” Utilizing the Cybermen would have followed on a plot point from “A Good Man Goes to War” (that the Mondasian Cybermen still exist), and still allowed for the new-companion-as-future-converted-victim storyline to unfold, without Moffat having to steal the nanocloud concept from his own, earlier work in “The Empty Child”/”The Doctor Dances.” Instead, the bracelets could work similarly to those worn by the crew of the Teselecta, protecting wearers from cyber-conversion by the asylum’s internal security system –  the asylum planet now housing victims of failed Cyber-conversions that retained traces of their humanity, thus also explaining Oswin’s final act of mercy towards the Doctor.

Head to the next page to read Clint’s thoughts on the prequel Pond Life.