Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks

Oswin: 'Run, you clever boy. And remember.'

Well, there goes the fourth wall, and a big hello to television's best kept secret. You remember the horse manure they've been feeding us all summer about Jenna-Louise Coleman's debut being in the Christmas Special? Well it was all a big, beautiful, pepperpot shaped lie. Not only did she turn up within the first five minutes, she also managed to flirt with Rory, poke fun at the Doctor's chin, and then save the whole bally lot of them. Brilliant! Now, if I could fathom out how they're going to bring her back.

In an age where television plot secrets are as rare as respectful cats, seeing Jenna's mush a full five episodes before schedule was an indescribable pleasure. It wasn't that I managed to ignore all spoilers—there simply weren't any. Remember back in the 90s, before the internet, when the Borg assimilated Picard, and it came as such a surprise that all you could do was whimper and go crying to your mum? I had the exact same reaction to this episode—before taking to Twitter and thanking Steven Moffat for his shameless lies. Oswin's appearance was a genuine surprise. Why can't it always be like this?

Compared to the 'The Eleventh Hour' and 'The Impossible Astronaut,' tonight's episode was a simpler, more linear affair, with no timey wimey nonsense to wrap our heads around, and no arc-heavy narrative over which to stress and form hasty, increasingly inaccurate conclusions. Which, considering the revised structure of season seven (five episodes now, one at Christmas, and then the rest next year), may in fact turn out to be a blessing. Hopefully the focus of the next five episodes will be on Rory and Amy's imminent departure, and the (re)introduction of Oswin. (A name which even now evokes memories of Cadfael's incompetent sidekick). With the introduction of a new companion, there's always a brief period of rebuilding, but haters of Moffat's convoluted plotting will no doubt be overjoyed to hear that this season will consist of mostly stand-alone stories. Or so the Moff says.

The return of the Daleks, without being particularly spectacular, was functional, and served as the perfect backdrop to the unfolding human drama. I've been saying for years now that The Moff should rest the Daleks before bringing them back in one really epic story. This wasn't that story, but tonight's yarn was more about the companions than it was the Daleks, and Oswin's shock arrival, alongside Amy and Rory's crumbling relationship, quite rightfully dominated. It's no secret that Amy and Rory have just four episodes left to go, so it seems only fitting that the heartstring tugging should begin in earnest.

It's an axiom of the modern show that Rory loves Amy more than Amy does Rory. We all know it. There's probably even a mathematical equation for it. She just has this weird, shifting relationship with the Doctor. Remember that attempted kiss back in season five? The almost kiss at the end of season six? The incessant flirting? The constant slapping of Rory's face? So virtually everything that Rory said rang true, yet Amy's 'I didn't kick you out, I gave you up' line tore a hole right through that particular misconception, revealing some unexpected depth to her character. Demon's Run has evidently robbed her of the ability to have more children (let's not forget they already have one gun-toting mop-head), but rather than deprive Rory of a second chance at fatherhood, she instead chose to set him free. Which makes Rory's two thousand years of waiting for her seem like a walk in the park. (Even if he did spend the bulk of it kitted out in a girly Roman dress.)

Despite coming somewhat out of the blue, the divorce storyline does go some way to explain why Rory and Amy left the TARDIS three quarters of the way through season six. From a story point of view, I guess they needed time away from the Doctor for their relationship to flounder. I always imagined any domestic conflict would arise out of Amy's inability to stay away from the Doctor. Amy's always seemed better suited to the life of a space adventurer than Rory—even two seasons in, Rory still looks like a rank amateur. Shushing a Dalek? I mean, when did that ever work? If not for bi-curious Dalek, Oswin (I'll never get tired of saying that), he'd have been toast. Or possibly soufflé. And Amy clearly misses the adrenaline rush the near constant threat of evisceration seems to provide. The last thing I expected was a genuine human, non-timey wimey problem to arise. And Oswin being a Dalek, obviously.

Speaking of which, I thought Jenna fared admirably in her first outing. Her character was confident, smart, and dished out the one-liners like a consummate pro. (My favourite being 'The nose and the chin—you two could fence'.) But how do you come back from turning into a Dalek and then being blown to smithereens? I'm guessing a clue lies in the opening quote—will the Doctor (presumably at some point just before Christmas) remember Oswin and somehow alter time in order to change her fate? The Daily Mirror 'revealed' that Jenna's character in the Christmas episode will be called Clara Oswin. Assuming that's true, is her full name Clara Oswin Oswald, or are Clara and Oswin two different people (a la Martha Jones and Adeola Oshodi?) Whatever the answer, it was a terrific twist. Let's hope the resolve does it justice.

A minor gripe would be my slight disappointment at not seeing more of the Daleks, but since Dalek-centric stories (apart from 2005's 'Dalek') are generally shite, maybe I shouldn't complain. Oddly enough, I found the asylum Daleks more unnerving than their louder, gaudier counterparts. Them being semi-dormant seemed to work in their favour—although, I'm not sure it excused their abysmal aim at close range. But the introduction of the nanocloud, the asylum, and the Dalek Parliament, all added something new to the Dalek mythology, and provided a fascinating insight into the Dalek's inability to kill the Doctor.

So, a strong opener in what promises to be an emotionally fraught season. Karen and Arthur absolutely rocked the emotional stuff. They weren't given much to say, but their dialogue towards the end carried such weight, and the characters themselves have become such favourites, that it was hard not to be moved. Jenna-Louise Coleman also turned in a solid Freshman performance. I can't wait for her to become a full time companion. And Matt Smith owns his character so completely these days that it's hardly worth mentioning his brilliance. Except I just did.

Next week: dinosaurs... on a freaking spaceship!

Other Thoughts:

—If only they hadn't cancelled Doctor Who Confidential. Who could say no to more Jenna and more Daleks? Thanks a bunch recession!

—Good job they restrained the Daleks with those really strong chains.

—I think the Pond Life prequels would have been better served setting up Rory and Amy's crumbing relationship. They hinted at it, but it still came as something of a shock. The prequels can be viewed on youtube.

—Shame on the Doctor for walking into such an obvious trap. No Jammie Dodger for you.

—What kind of a dumb-ass would grab hold of a Dalek's head, give it a twist, and then stand there trying to have a conversation while it powered up? Oh Rory! You're going to die again aren't you? Great egg gag, though.

—I love the way burning a soufflé means you have to throw everything in the bin—including the dish! Dishes are expensive, Oswin. Thank goodness it was an imaginary bin, soufflé and dish.

—The Daleks really need to stop explaining their plans. All they had to do is initiate self-destruct and then keep their traps shut, but—no—they just had to explain their own cleverness, thus giving the Doctor time to come up with a cunning plan.

—Is Amy cured? No side affects after being infected by the nanocloud?

—More 'Doctor Who?' questions being asked I see. Feeble joke or Dorian continuity awesomeness? I'll leave you to decide.


Quotes:

Doctor: 'Well, this is new.'

Doctor: 'What have you been doing, on your own against the Daleks, for a year?'
Oswin: 'Making soufflé.'
Doctor: 'Making soufflé? Against the Daleks? Where did you get the milk?'

Doctor: 'Don't be fair to the Daleks when they're firing me at a planet.'

Amy: 'Scared? Who's scared? Geronimo!'

Oswin: 'Bad combo, no sense of humour and that chin.'
Amy: 'Is that her again: soufflé girl?'
Doctor: 'Yeah, she... Oy, what is wrong with my chin?'
Oswin: 'Careful dear, you'll put someone's eye out.'

Oswin: 'Hey there, beaky boy.'
Rory: 'If it's a straight choice, I prefer Nina.'

Amy: 'Is it bad that I've really missed this?'

Dalek: 'The Predator must be destroyed.'
Doctor: 'And how are you going to do that? Dalek without a gun; you're a tricycle with a roof. How are you going to destroy me?'

Oswin: 'Rescue me, Chinboy, and show me the stars.'
---
Also posted at The Time Meddler.

14 comments:

Mark Greig said...

You are a sneaky one, Steven Moffat. You get us all worked up about mad Daleks and Pond marriage drama, and then you go and sneaks Jenna-Louise Coleman in while we're not looking. And, to paraphrase a former Doctor, she was absolutely fan-freaking-tastic! We haven't even said goodbye to the Amy and Rory yet and I'm already head over heels in love with the new girl. Well played, Moffat. Although I am still pissed that we didn't get more of the Special Weapons Dalek.

Josie Kafka said...

This was lots of fun, although I spent the entire episode asking myself if somehow I'd misunderstood the new-companion casting spoiler. (That sorta lessened the impact of the ending, but it was still neat.) Oswin is adorable! I hope she's just adorable when we see her (or her ancestral doppleganger, or whatever) again.

Paul, I love your Doctor Who reviews. I read a few last night after watching the episode, and yours is the best of the internet.

inspirejenny said...

YAYAYAY for Oswin!!!! I am loving the character and can't wait for more jenna-louise...

did love rory and amy's re-declaration of love (after the doc tricked them into communicating again, natch!)

so excited for a new season....

was so impressed with the end twist. did. not. see. that. coming.

well-played Moff!

topher darling said...

Very well done premiere! It was fun, well written, and made me just glad to see the Doctor again instead of filling me with strife like last season's.

Also, great review, Paul. I love that the part of the episode that gave you pause was when Oswin threw out the soufflé dish. :)

Also, I agree that the sleeping Daleks provided more tension than the screeching, ridiculous Daleks.19 So, can we be done with Daleks for the rest of the season now, especially since Oswin deleted the Doctor from their collective memory?

Sooze said...

Wonderful opener - great review Paul! Jenna is adorable. It was a bit of a relief to not have the timey-wimey stuff..which is funny for me to say because even though it confused the heck out of me, I did enjoy it.

Joanne Askey said...

I agree with Mark, now Moffat's whetted out appetite for Jenna, I want more. Great opener, splendid surprise, great review. 5 episodes just isn't enough. For shame, BBC!

Billie Doux said...

Best Dalek episode ever. Let's hope it's the last. :) And I agree that Jenna was great; very touching reveal at the end. Great review, Paul.

Anonymous said...

Sadly the Daleks will be back..Will they find a way with the timey wimey to un-Dalek Oswin? What will become of Amy and Rory? Can't wait to find out. Great review as ever.
Anna

Aly said...

Great review Paul, thanks!
(came looking right after I watched it, but ehh, I watched it the same night it was aired on the BBC, so duh, even I get that you cannot write it that fast ;))

I didn't know they cancelled Who confidential - rats! - was wondering what happened to that, so thanks for mentioning it. Too bad, I really enjoyed them.

I was also wondering if Amy really was okay, since she was already in the transfer fase.. maybe she will turn into a Dalek in the 4 eps they have left? ;)

PS. I am a bad not-robot, had to re-try the code 4 times - 5

Sooze said...

Oy, Aly, I am glad I am not the only one. It usually takes me at least twice, and sometimes more. I do think they get easier the more times you fail...taking pity on us???

Kenneth Serenyi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kenneth Serenyi said...

Great episode! Of course the Oswin switcharoo has been done before which slightly spoiled it for me (she was a little too good to be true). I was kind of hoping they would take Oswin-Dalek with them and set her up as the new Queen-Dalek who remembers her humanity. Luckily I'm watching these episodes much later so I don't have the gossip playing with my expectations.

Bea said...

This was a cool opener, if not perfect.

I'm not exactly sure why the Daleks would build an asylum with a shield that can only be taken down from the inside of said planet, but I'm willing to let that one go.

I liked JLC mostly, although I wish she'd gotten more than one-liners for dialogue. She sounded fun and sweet, though, so here's hoping that the actual companion "Clara" retains that personality (I'm completely unspoiled for this season, even if I'm late, so I'm excited to see how they go about making her a long-term companion). I will admit, though, that for a surreal second I actually thought it would be cool to have the Doctor's companion be a Dalek.

I wasn't very sure about the Amy/Rory stuff. We basically spent all of season 5 and 6 defining their relaionship and deterining that YES, THEY LOVE EACH OTHER. They've had some emotional episodes, and I think the chemistry between Karen and Arthur works quite well, so the divorce plot came a bit out of left field for me. It wasn't very organic, and if they wanted conflict, I think it would have been more natural for them to argue about maybe Amy wanting to continue her adventures with the Doctor and Rory wanting to fully settle down, or something of the sort.

As it was, I thought they both came off as shelfish and a bit immature. Rory throwing the 2000 years wait was unfair, because Amy never asked such a thing from him, and because, after all, he was Auton Rory, and not actual Rory (there's been so many doubles, futures and alternates for these characters through seasons 5 and 6 that it's hard to tell what really counts and what doesn't). As for Amy, she came off as a child who simply made the choice for her husband instead of talking to him about the baby issue. I actually think that part would have made more sense if they had explored the consequences of Amy and Rory loosing baby Melody at all during the past season. As it was, they only left the audience to infer whatever we pleased, so it didn't make a lot of sense to me.

They got back together anyway, and it was romantic in some crazy way, but it felt a bit meh for me.

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous review. Thank you.