TV Review: Doctor Who – Asylum of the Daleks [SPOILERS]
Doctor Who – Asylum of the Daleks
Season 7, Episode 1
Though I prefer more serialized stories, this plays towards the frantic pacing that the rebooted Who has always been comfortable with. One of the best things about Doctor Who is how it remains one of those rare shows in the post-post-postmodern, seen-it-all-before, saw-it-coming world of television that can really surprise an adult audience. Between spoilers, casting news, and entertainment websites like this one, it’s hard for anything to surprise you anymore. The fact that it’s fun for the kiddies is a bonus.
The Daleks is one area where the kids and I disagree. I credit Moffat for avoiding them so much after becoming a crutch in the Russell T. Davies era. Unless you count the caveman in An Unearthly Child, the Daleks are the oldest of the Doctor’s enemies and it’s safe to say at this point that every Dalek-based story that can be told has been. Certainly after watching the Doctor defeat them again and again and making it seem so very easy for him (that is his schtick after all), they haven’t been especially intriguing for a good, long time.
But the idea of sympathizing with Daleks has been hinted at almost since the beginning of the new series from the self-exterminating title character in 2005′s Dalek to Dalek-Sec to the Dalek-created Professor Bracewell. That idea is taken to it’s logical conclusion of a truly sympathetic Dalek in the form of the converted Orwin.
The main problem with Orwin Oswald is how few problems she has throughout the episode. Though the Doctor (and any viewer who thinks about it) realizes something is off with how perfect this girl is. She crashed alone on a Dalek prison planet, sealed her room to protect herself from Dalek-converting nanobots that even the Doctor can’t defeat, and lived in peace for two years baking the cutest ruined souffles. Moffat was certainly walking the line of dumping a Mary Sue in our laps. She was arguably as smart as the Doctor, able to confuse and confound the Daleks both on and above the planet. She was funny and cheeky and beautiful, impressing the Doctor and Amy and Rory, and isolated as the seemingly omnipotent master of the asylum. But that lingering doubt and an honestly engaging performance by newcomer Jenna-Louise Coleman saves the character and the episode itself. The sorrowful reveal (helped with some tremendous editing) that Orwin just dreamed herself a life and she was in fact a fully converted Dalek redeemed her supposed awesomeness without invalidating it. And it’s the tragic conclusion I’ve come to expect from the writer of The Girl in the Fireplace.
If nothing else, I appreciate that she solved the rut the Dalek stories had fallen into. The idea that the Doctor is SO TOTALLY AWESOME that he inspires his enemies to be even better villains has mostly been explored with the Silence, but it fits for the Daleks too. The only thing as easy as him defeating them has been some Dalek escaping certain defeat to trouble him again. Hitting the reset button when Dalek-Orwell wipes out all of the Dalek’s knowledge of the Doctor is a nice moral victory to wrap up the episode.
One of the main problems with Orwin though relates back to what we mentioned before about how informed the audience is to the behind the scenes information. [Skip this paragraph if you're one of three people that honestly haven't heard any casting news for later in the year.] We know Coleman will be back at Christmas as the new companion, and that undermines her sacrifice. While it will probably be a River Song-esque situation where the Doctor meets her earlier in her timeline and we know someday her mind will be wiped and she’ll die on that prison planet, I personally would be thrilled if the Doctor had a freaking Dalek for a companion, probably with some modified perception filter so Coleman can interact with Matt Smith. Either that or it’s a twin sister. I’m hoping for either of the first two options.
The Amy and Rory subplot is apparently the Doctor Who version of the storytelling trope where a couple is too perfect for one another to be together. They broke up out of love! See Sam-Diane, David-Maddie, Ross-Rachel, Jim-Pam, etc. At least Doctor Who kept it’s reputation as one of the most frenetic-paced shows ever and couldn’t drag that plot out for more than 40 minutes. While the idea that Amy can no longer have children does throw a tragic twist on it all, with just the one-off episodes remaining I think Moffat really finished their story in The Wedding of River Song, and might just have Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill along for the ride for a few more episodes. And since I’ve loved those companions and Gillan and Darvill’s performances (even in sub-par story lines like this week’s split), I can get on board with four more weeks of the Ponds.
The fact that we’re looking at another fractured season with five episodes followed by a break until the Christmas special followed by the remaining episodes sometime in 2013 means I’ll be feeling a lot like Amy when she mentions that she “really missed this.” But with a strong opening episode, it’s definitely good to have the Doctor back.