[Review] - Doctor Who, Series 7 Episode 1, "Asylum Of The Daleks"

[Author's note: if you've read any of my other reviews, you may find my thoughts on Doctor Who longer by comparison. Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad are programmes I respect. Warehouse 13 and Eureka are shows I enjoy. Doctor Who is a series I love. Properly, love. No matter if my thoughts are positive or negative, they will always run deeper and stronger then for anything else. This is the only excuse I can give. Enjoy.]


Courtesy of the BBC
 Here I was, thinking that in this age of camera phones, internal leaks, and instantaneous updates, that spoilers had robbed us of our ability to be surprised. And then that happened. And I remembered rule one: Steven Moffat lies. Or, at least, carefully omits. Or, is aggressively vague. So, good bye Victorian era "Clara", and hello Oswin Oswald. Thank you for teaching us a very clear lesson on making assumptions. Suddenly, I'm very much looking forward to Christmas, and seeing how this is going to work.

But that is months away yet, and we've only just begun. Series seven, the series of mini movies, as promoted by Mr. Moffat, and the unofficial kickoff of the 50th anniversary celebrations. And return of the Dalek, a defining element of the series, as inseparable as Klingons from Star Trek, or wookies with Star Wars. And yet once again, we are given proof that Dalek episodes are rarely the best the show has to offer, and that Moffat might be letting the little notions interferer with his big ideas.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that were changed on a molecular level into something more sinister.

My biggest problem with this episode, easily the weakest of Moffat's premiers, is that it is an intriguing idea, supported by the unnecessary and the contrived. There is too much, and it's all meant to seem very grand, until a better idea came along and the last was completely forgotten.

So, where to start? For me, I always start with the thing that drew me out of the action the most, the thing that broke my suspension of disbelief, which on shows I really and honestly love, like Doctor Who, is incredibly strong. And for me, in this episode, it happened nearly straight away. The parliament of the Daleks? Really? A parliament is a democratically elected representative body composed of officials from all districts of a whole, usually broken into sub sections based on political ideologies, racial or ethic backgrounds, or whatever foundations are primary to the culture doing the electing. A prime minister is the leader of the subdivision which control the majority of elected positions, and acts as the leader of the parliament.

None of that is Dalek. They have had Emperors, Commanders, Creators, Gods, and even Zealots. Those are all positions of worship and subjugation. The Daleks have no political ideologies; even when they were at civil war, it was about racial purity, not motivation. The Daleks all work towards a single goal: extermination of life not Dalek. An assembly assumes debate. Daleks do not debate, Daleks obey. Even if this is a symptom of the new paradigm (which the Doctor's familiarity would suggest not) it still goes against the fundamental rules of Dalek. These are the sort of creature, as the opening shot of the episode reveals, that force cultures to build massive idols of them, to induce fear. If David Cameron wanted a ten mile high stature of himself built in the middle of Glasgow, the parliament would stop him (I would hope). A Dalek parliament is redundant, or at the very least, would be the most succinct government in history (Dalek: "Mister speaker, in relation to the honourable gentleman's amendment concerning the people of Surrey North, I raise the motion that we EXTERMINATE" Speaker: "All in favour?" The entire house: "EXTERMINATE" Speaker: "So agreed.")

Add on to that a, and I'm going to use a technical term here, metric crap load of stuff that simply doesn't have a purpose being in this episode. Whose presence is riddled with inconsistency. Who presence is distracting. I kept looking at the clock, wondering when the episode was going to actually begin, and was shocked to discover on ten minutes were left. And, above all else, for an episode about Daleks, insane Daleks at that, there was very little Dalek action in the episode. Certainly nothing that fulfilled the preshow hype about every Dalek, from every era, returning. They might well have done, but barely so.

Lets start with Rory and Amy. When we left them, things were fine. Time passes, now things aren't. Except when we leave them again, everything is fine. You know what that is called? Contrived drama. That's the technical term for when you can't figure out something for the character to do, so you have something happen to them for no clear reason, so they can have something to worry about. It also results in the worst piece of writing I've every seen credited to Steven Moffat: the breakdown at the teleport. It was over written exposition, and worse then that, it was terribly cliche. I don't know which is the worse crime: breaking the "show, don't tell" rule, or having all of this drama occur over something that appears on the first page of the "contrived drama" handbook. This is a conversation that Amy, or Rory, should have had with the Doctor. You know why? That's the purpose of the companion. It always has been. The fundamental DNA of the character archetype is that they are there for things to be explained to, so the audience can learn them. This wasn't that. It's pretty obvious that Rory knows what Amy is telling him, at least the logistical bits. In an conversation, in real life or in fiction, people do not summarise the previously stated, unless their doing so to catch someone up.

Let's stick with Amy, and shift over to the Daleks. The nano cloud. Why is it in this episode, at all? It plays no role. Let me repeat: it plays no role. Do not try to defend it. It is pointless. Amy gets infected, why? For contrived drama. Once again, Dalek technology can be defeated by emotion, even though that's not how technology works (Bracewell deactivating a bomb with the power of humanity was bad enough, but Moffat really confuses a metaphor with science here). But after she's infected, she has a bit of a loopy vision and then... nothing. Nothing happens. The Doctor gives her his bracelet thing, and all is well. Expect, what about the bits of her that were already changed? Did the bracelet change her back? And does Amy's completely baseless, off hand comment that the Doctor probably didn't need on anyway prove true, since he was exposed as well? It doesn't matter, because it is never mentioned again after the Exposition Breakdown, as noted above. Little notions interfering with big ideas.

Here's a trick I'm going to try, when rewatching the episode. Ignore the opening scene about the divorce papers. Ignore the scenes about nano cloud. Ignore the hell out of the exposition sequence. Does it change the episode at all? No. The episode is shorter, but better. Not great, but better. So, why are they there? Why did they make it past first edit? They are the killer of all fiction: padding.

And why are Amy and Rory even there? The Daleks say it is because the Doctor needs companions, but these two don't do anything in the episode. They are unnecessary. You know who does stuff? Oswin, and what an introduction. She proves herself useful, and necessary, and funny, and someone the Doctor takes in interest in, like Rita in The God Complex last year. This is someone that can help the Doctor. Amy and Rory are distractions here. Oswin is the true companion.

Lets move onto the Daleks. The internal inconsistencies of the episode fall mostly on them. They say that the asylum was created because destroying that particular kind of hatred was analogise to blasphemy. Except, no, the Daleks have no problem destroying anything that does not serve the Dalek cause, be it beautiful or not. The new paradigm wiped out the old in Victory, the entire species has gone to civil war over the idea, and within this very episode, they wipe out the whole lot of them. Is this the Dalek version of murder vs genocide, that doing something face to face and small is worse then doing something large and impersonal? That suggests Daleks have morality, which they do not. So, the entire episode exists based on a false premise, which is later totally abandoned. OK, moving on. The converted humans, which I don't understand why Moffat, a big fan on canon, didn't imply use the duplicates already established in Resurrection of the Daleks (and which I pointed out last week). And why do they exist, at all? And why do they look ridiculous, with eye stock growing out of their heads? On the planet, they act as security. Except, why do they need security? The Daleks can't escape, and wouldn't it serve the Daleks better if the mad mutants all killed each other? Little notions interfering with big ideas.

And then there is the hive mind, and the ultimate reveal. What the show calls the Path-Web, something the Doctor claims to have tried to hack before. Except, he hasn't. Because it hasn't existed before now. Because it was dreamt up to make the end of this episode possible. I'm fine with adding new elements to a character, in fact it is necessary, in order to keep characters seem fresh, especially those that have been around for fifty years. Except, in fifty years, the Daleks have never expressed anything resembling a Hive mind, or internet, or whatever this thing is meant to be. They are individuals. They share a common goal, a unified agreement of all things Daleks, but that is based on shared, common belief, not a Borg-style super mind. And you do not fire Chekhov's gun as you introduce it. That is lazy. That is saying, you knew how you wanted things to end, but couldn't figure a way out, so you just made something up without putting thought into it. You can tell because if it had meant something, if thought had been put into it, it would have received a mention nearer the start of the episode. Little notions interfering with big ideas.

So, that was quite a lot about what made this episode disappointing. What about what shined? Well, Oswin for one. I'm looking forward to her time on the TARDIS. She's saucy and manic, and as self congratulatory as the Doctor. Rarely is he joined by companions that are on a similar intellectual level as himself, so I expect that will create some wonderful tension between the two of them. Most importantly, she has chemistry with Smith, all the more impressive because they don't actually share a scene together. I'm curious how they'll compare height wise. Not that it matters, but in her press pictures she looks quite short. Anyway, I'm glad to see the new companion is at least interesting, though not as interesting as something completely different might have been.

The highlight of the episode was Rory. Arthur Darvill nails everything he's asked, from the very aware "What colour?" line, to the best scene of the episode, combining Moffat's very best talent of merging humour with horror, the "Eggs" scene. I've come to appreciate Rory more and more as his role has increased, and I honestly feel that he has surpassed Amy in the role of companion. He certain conforms more to the traditional role of the companion, while also being more sympathetic then Amy has ever been. As much as I hated the scene, his side, the painful admission that he loves Amy more then she him, and his reluctance to use his time as a plastic as a way to defeat her arguments were wonderfully acted. And I loved his delivery of the moment he can't remember his name after the Dalek attack.

While the Daleks in the parliament above weren't anything special, the Daleks in the asylum below were as Daleks should be. Which was why I was so upset when they were pushed to the side for all the other nonsense. They were properly frightening, as they were in their original appearances. The "Eggs" scene in particular, is exactly what you think of when you think Dalek, but never actually see when the Daleks are around.

And now a word about the ending. Not Oswin's, though I'm interested to see exactly how Moffat will resolve that issue (though I could have done without the sideways glance. Thank gods she didn't wink). I'm talking about the unsubtle way Moffat confirmed this year's arc (and then immediately overplayed his hand). Now that the Daleks have no memories of the Doctor, they have nothing to fear. This seems unwise to me. Though the Daleks are able to cripple entire civilisations simply by arriving in a solar system, the presence of the Doctor has always been their Achilles Heel. Moffat comments that they are the Doctor's most consistently defeated enemy, but their defeats only come by his hand. Off screen, they succeed unquestionably. And they, being able to identify him in any incarnation, using him to prove their own identity in their previous appearance, fear him more then anything. His presence keeps them humble. Without him in their memory, they believe there is nothing in the universe that can stop them. They believe they are unstoppable (though one suspects they'll suddenly notice a lot of gaps in explanations as to why they've failed too many times, and start asking questions). That being said, I hope not to see them for a long time. The classic series had it right when they went to a "once per Doctor" pattern with Dalek appearances, and I hope we are well into 12 before we see their eye stalks again.

Fab new credits, though. The "DW" logo seems superfluous now, and the BBC shoehorning their logo into the credits seems petty. But, next week there are dinosaurs!
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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