Unpopular Opinion: Asylum of the Daleks
Guest contributor Daniel Massey gives an alternate viewpoint on the Series 7 opener.
Asylum of the Daleks ruined the Daleks for me. Which was a shame, because from what I remember of the marketing I’m fairly sure it was supposed to do the exact opposite. It was meant to bring the Daleks back – make them scary again, while at the same time pleasing Dalek fans by using old models. Unfortunately, it failed at both of these goals on a pretty catastrophic level, and set a trend that would run for the rest of the series all the way up until The Time of the Doctor, at the very least (The Time of the Doctor being the most recent episode at the time of writing). In this article, I’d like to examine exactly what went wrong with the episode, the Daleks, and how Moffat or future writers could fix it.
Lack of threat
Quite a big part of being scary comes from being threatening. If you don’t pose any real threat then why on earth should we be scared of you? Well, in Asylum of the Daleks, I wasn’t scared of the Daleks. Not even close. In fact, I found them really quite funny and in some cases, very cute! I mean, the Oswin Dalek “They hate you sooo muchhh” – that line coming from a Dalek is just adorable. Then there’s the spinny Dalek when Amy has the hallucination, I just want to hug it! It must be getting really dizzy, I can picture a little Dalek mutant with his eyeball spinning around as he tries to get control of himself. Both of these scenes are meant to be dark and frightening, but they’re just not.
But the scene that really ticked me off was the one with Rory, stuck in a room with a bunch of insane Daleks. That should have been one of the scariest scenes of Series 7, but alas, the ‘powerslide through a slowly closing door’ cliche prevails over all. All the Daleks have Stormtrooper aim, Rory manages to roll and dodge like some kind of ninja, and the whole thing is just straight out of a Michael Bay film (and a bad one at that!).
But this problem goes back further – all the way back to Series 5! Have a quick think to yourself; since the Paradigm Daleks were introduced in Victory of the Daleks, how many people have the Daleks actually killed on screen? I mean killed in the classic Dalek way, with the extermination effect and everything. The victims also have to stay dead, so the Doctor’s extermination in The Big Bang doesn’t count.
I’m counting two. Two. Two! And both of them were from Victory of the Daleks, both being nameless canon fodder. Wow.
‘Plothole’ seems to have become a bit of a dirty word recently, but it’s really not. Plotholes are a pretty good judge of how well a story is written, as the more of them there are the less well thought out the story tends to be, and the flimsier it becomes. This would probably explain why I like to joke that Asylum of the Daleks doesn’t have a story at all, because the plotholes rip through it like a machine gun.
Firstly, I’m fairly sure Skaro was destroyed – twice! In Remembrance of the Daleks and the Time War. It’s also very illogical that the Doctor would go there in the first place and still be surprised when it’s a trap. Secondly, Dalek missiles cannot penetrate the Asylum’s shields, but a random starliner can? Those are some pretty crappy shields, and some even crapper missiles. Then, Oswin has the cure for the Daleks in intensive care – just make them forget about the Doctor! If that’s what’s wrong with them, and it’s that easy to make them forget, then why don’t the Daleks just cure everything in intensive care by making them forget? On the topic of the whole Oswin thing, why are the insane, angry Daleks connected to the Pathweb in the first place?
Finally, and this one’s the real nail in the coffin, the forcefield can only be disabled from inside the Asylum… where the inmates are. Just think about that for a second. It’s in the one place where the ‘prison warden’ can’t disable the forcefield, but the inmates can. They’ve locked the insane, murdering lunatics in their cell with the key. Yeah, these Daleks are pretty stupid.
Hey, remember when there was all that buzz about how the Doctor Who team had basically raided the BBC warehouses to dust off all the old Dalek models for use in the new episode, and that massive cover shot of all the Daleks, and Matt saying how much he loved the sixties Daleks and all that? Oh yeah, those were the days. Unfortunately, all that hype was for nothing, as the Dalek everyone really wanted to see back (the Special Weapons Dalek, in case you were wondering) got literally a second of screen time. Wonderful. Thanks Moffat for your brilliant nostalgia trip.
There’s a scene which particularly annoyed me, and that was the intensive care scene. All of those Daleks are from classic series episodes, and they even go to the trouble of naming the planets, just to be sure that fans knew these were the real deal. Unfortunately, the team decided it would be a good idea not to actually use the classic Daleks from those stories, and instead plonked in some bronze Daleks. This is a literal example of Moffat just googling some classic series names and then putting little to no effort into actually going all the way with the reference. I know this sounds minor and nitpicky, but it really annoyed me on first watch. You’ve gone to the trouble of rooting out all of these Daleks and getting them on set, you’ve got fans excited, why not use the darn things when the situation calls for it?
This episode breaks Dalek continuity more times than I can count. I’m going to focus on the Dalek Parliament for this segment, but bear in mind that there are little things scattered throughout this episode that just cripple any chance I have of enjoying it.
So, Dalek Parliament. What? Since when did Daleks have a Parliament? Weren’t they supposed to have an Emperor or something? Since the last one died I presumed they’d replace him rather than create a parliament and a Prime Minister. I’m pretty sure Daleks are all interconnected by the Pathweb anyway, so why is there any need for a parliament? Not to mention that the Dalek Prime Minister looks awful, it’s just some random tube with a horrible over-lit Dalek mutant inside. But let’s move on to what was actually said in this scene:
- “Save us.” So the Daleks go from hating and desperately wanting to kill the Doctor, in some cases even fearing him… to this. I don’t have a problem with the Daleks using the Doctor to their advantage, but did they have to do it in such a pathetic and pitiful way as to beg for his help?
- “It is offensive to us to extinguish such divine hatred.” Anyone remember Victory of the Daleks when the new Dalek Paradigm destroyed the old models due to their inferiority? Because Moffat certainly didn’t…
- “Does it surprise you to know the Daleks have a concept of beauty?” In case it wasn’t already obvious, in Doomsday the Daleks mention that they have no concept of elegance. I’m fairly sure elegance and beauty are pretty much the same.
- “Perhaps that is why we have never been able to kill you.” Okay, this lines actually kinda cool. It’s built upon completely nonsensical rubbish, and it’s not expanded upon at all, but hey, credit where credit is due.
- “The Asylum must be cleansed!” Hang on, I thought hatred was beautiful! This parliament is already contradicting itself. It’s like the Clegg and Cameron of Daleks…
How to fix it
Good question. Firstly, the Daleks need to be actually threatening. The easiest way to do this is by making them actually exterminate people, so I’d recommend a big massive two-parter with a Dalek war of some kind with lots of supporting characters who can be developed then killed off. Have the Doctor escape just by the skin of his teeth, and have the Daleks win in some way. Secondly, we need to fix all these continuity problems. Give a definite answer to all of these running questions so that no writer ever gets confused again and accidentally ends up doing something stupid. Finally, don’t make promises you cant keep!
Well, that’s that. I have to say that I don’t like hating episodes, it’s just that Asylum of the Daleks makes it so easy to hate it that I just can’t resist. I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it, please leave your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!