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Posts Tagged ‘Asylum of the Daleks’

If the exposition of Asylum of the Daleks had taken the form of a letter:

‘Dear Doctor,

As you may have heard, we Daleks practise rigorous quality control and regularly prune our ranks of individuals who just aren’t up to scratch. Now, you would think that as famously homicidal space Nazis who normally punish failure with instant death, we would slaughter these insane, battle-scarred or otherwise dubious Daleks out of hand. I mean sucker. You know what we mean.

But no. Instead we pack all these especially dangerous Daleks (whose special status is betokened by their being really sleepy and even worse shots than usual) off to a special planet, which exists outside of normal continuity (which is why all the Daleks there survived not only the universal-Dalek-delete from the end of The Parting of the Ways, but also the Time War, and also individual stories where every on-screen Dalek definitely died), and is surrounded by an utterly impenetrable forcefield.

Unfortunately a space liner has accidentally managed to penetrate our utterly impenetrable forcefield and so now we would like you to go on a special mission to the planet of the insane Daleks we couldn’t bring ourselves to blow up and switch off the forcefield (which is utterly impenetrable again now, thanks for asking), so we can blow up all the insane Daleks there.

Love,

Dalek Prime Minister (Skaro South, Con.)’

Well, I mean, really. I hate to be the guy going on the internet sniping at Doctor Who, but honestly, you call that a plot?!? There is a long and glorious tradition of doing stories which don’t actually hang together if you look at them too hard (even the wonderful Pyramids of Mars has more than its share of astounding plot holes), but you can only get away with this if the central idea and imagery of a story, not to mention the dialogue and performances, are good enough to grab the audience anyway. I’m really not sure this story does that. It seemed rather too obvious that the idea of the Dalek Asylum came first, and the rest of the episode was written around it.

‘So long, suckers’, etc.

Liked the pre-titles sequence a lot, I have to say – even if it did appear to confirm my suspicion that the whole ‘The Doctor is officially dead’ plot device is going to be the 21st century equivalent of the Randomiser: just as the Doctor’s first Completely and Utterly Random Trip was to somewhere he’d already visited several times before, so the first adventure of the ‘everyone believes the Doctor to be dead and gone’ era kicked off, whichever way you cut it, with someone specifically tracking him down to get his help.

Even at this point, I was wondering – and I know I’m not the only one – why there are still bronze Daleks knocking about, when the humped Daleks were supposed to have eradicated and replaced them. I suspect the official line is going to be that the Daleks are a diverse civilisation and that various different specifications of shell operate in concert. Hmm. Colour-schemes aside, that’s barely been hinted at before, and it seems to me that the very homogeneity of the Daleks is part of the central concept of the race.

Anyway, on we went, and like (I suspect) many people I enjoyed several minutes of bemusedly wondering ‘Is that or is that not actually JLC?’ Considering the episode kicked off with a woman talking about her daughter being held by the Daleks, and then cut to a girl apparently being besieged by them and talking to her absent mother, I think a spot of confusion is only to be expected, before we even get to the whole meta-show thing of wondering how she’s going to be the new companion, given she’s a) a Dalek and b) dead – I say meta-show as I imagine there are some people who watched this with no idea who JLC is, for whom this was just a standalone adventure with no special significance.

(If I was churlish I would comment on how fortunate it was for the purposes of the plot that Oswin’s voice over the intercom was her original human one, rather than the traditional Briggsian squawk she used in person.)

As to how this will all tie in with JLC’s full-time arrival, I am almost afraid to speculate. Steven Moffat’s never exactly been averse to dipping into his own Greatest Hits bag for ideas, but having the Doctor meet a companion on the day they die, prior to an out-of-sequence relationship? How very not unfamiliar. Whatever the gimmick turns out to be – and I’d argue it really is just a gimmick – my heart sank at the realisation we were in for another timey-wimey backstory.

And possibly I’m just becoming a disagreeable old git, but I wasn’t overly struck by Oswin’s characterisation: I’m not suggesting the ideal companion is a quivering, inert mass of deference distinguished only by their coffee-making ability, but it’d be nice to have someone who doesn’t appear to possess a massive ego, fanboy-friendly flirtatiousness, and whose default mode of communication appears to be to rattle off wisecracks. Curious how Rose was lambasted as an obvious Mary Sue and other characters much less grounded in everyday reality get an easier ride.

Hey ho: also on companion watch, consider this. Did you honestly believe for a moment that Rory and Amy’s separation was actually going to last? No, me neither. Which means the Pond-line in this story boils down to this: Moffat busted them up off-screen solely to bring them back together on-screen, and thus give Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan something meaty to do. I firmly expect their separation to have no long-term consequences and never be mentioned at length again. Even soap operas don’t plot character relationships that way.

Oh, dear, I’m being so negative. The central idea of this episode seems to have been to revisit some of the imagery and themes of Dalek (still by far the most effective and satisfying episode with them in this century), and there’s nothing wrong with that: let’s not forget, as many years separate Dalek from Asylum as separate Day from Destiny. There will have been kids watching this episode who weren’t even born during Eccleston’s tenure. However, despite some nice visuals and moments, and the usual sterling work from Matt Smith and Arthur Darvill, I thought the episode didn’t hang together at all, in virtually any area.

I’m aware that this is the third time in a row I’ve been really lukewarm about the first episode in a run of Doctor Who. More than this, I find myself more nostalgic for the Rusty Davies era than I would ever have imagined myself being. And that’s a real surprise, because I was getting heartily sick of the unrestrained sentimentality and cutesiness of much of David Tennant’s latter days. But at least the show didn’t seem as wrapped up in and in love with its own cleverness and complexity the way it does now: even when the cleverness is not much in evidence and complexity is not necessarily a positive thing. Oh dear.

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