Doctor Who Series 7 Episode 1 review: Asylum of the Daleks

Posted: 19 September 2012 in entertainment, television
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Asylum of the Daleks poster

Undoubtably one of the darkest series premieres Asylum of the Daleks saw the mutated denizens of Skaro in a visceral tale of horror that featured them at their most malevolent since the classic era’s Revelation of the Daleks.

It is offensive to us to extinguish such divine hatred.

Steven Moffat’s first script for his third series as show runner heralded a change in direction from the complex temporal intricacies that characterised the two parter The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon that opened the previous run. For the five stories comprising the first half of the 2012/2013 series Moffat promised a blockbuster-movie-of-the-week. And in Asylum of the Daleks he most certainly delivered. From the original cyborgs of The Daleks to the Special Weapons Dalek of Remembrance of the Daleks all the varieties were represented. In the chilling Intensive Care scene the Doctor encountered insane Daleks chained in the darkness. From Spiridon (Planet of the Daleks) to Kembel (The Daleks’ Master Plan), Vulcan (The Power of the Daleks) to Exxilon (Death to the Daleks) the battle-scarred survivors of confrontations with The Oncoming Storm.

The Russell T Davies era re-established the Daleks to their glory days as one of the great monsters of science fiction and as British national icons, but the stories tended toward spectacle rather than horror. Aliens rather than Alien. The aforementioned Revelation of the Daleks and 1975‘s Genesis of the Daleks (the greatest Dalek story ever) examined the pure heart of darkness of the cyborgs with creeping tension and gathering dread. By entering the Dalek Asylum the Doctor found himself at close quarters with the Daleks in a way not seen on screen since his visit to Necros many incarnations before. More importantly the story portrayed the Time Lord as being genuinely afeard of the Daleks. When the Doctor is frightened of an enemy then the stakes are increased many fold.

Whilst Asylum of the Daleks plundered and resonated the near 50 year history of Dalek stories Moffat also expanded the mythos of the children of Skaro with the introduction of the Parliament of the Daleks and the Dalek Prime Minister. The concept of a parliament implies a democratic hierarchy whereas previously the structure for the Daleks was one of dictatorial empire. Perhaps the events of The Big Bang changed aspects of Dalek history and they now have elections and corruption scandals…

For the first time since Journey’s End the acclaimed bronze Daleks took centre stage, supplanting the much derided redesign introduced in 2010’s Victory of the Daleks. By the production team’s own admission the New Dalek Paradigm is the biggest misstep of the Matt Smith era to date and Moffat subsequently decided to retain the bronze Daleks as the standard soldiers and positioned the Paradigm Daleks as an officer class in command of them. The scariest concept introduced by Moffat (and one required in order to justify the non-destruction of the Asylum) was that of the Daleks allowing the continued existence of their insane brethren as they found “divine hatred” beautiful.

Don’t be fair to the Daleks when they’re firing me at a planet!

The unheralded appearance of Jenna Louise-Coleman immediately after the title sequence likely caused millions of brains to explode as Moffat played one of his timey-wimey tricks.The actress is not due to appear as the new companion until the currently unnamed 2012 Christmas Special yet there she was in the guise of Oswin Oswald (highly unlikely to be the name of the future companion) baking soufflés, flirting with the Nose and the Chin, and keeping the Daleks at bay with the assistance of hammer and nails. Naturally there was a trademark Moffat twist that meant she could not be the character everyone thought she was. Presented in horrific flashback came the revelation that she had been an innocent working on a pleasure cruiser that had the misfortune to crash into the Asylum. Her identification as a genius lead her conversation into a full Dalek with her human manifestation a way of her mind blocking out the horror that had been enacted upon her. But why the appearance of someone that will be significant in the Doctor’s future? Does Oswin Oswald encounter the Doctor and his new companion at some point in the future and her appearance is retained for some reason? Interestingly the Doctor never became aware of her appearance – only the audience. So what is the Moff up to? Doctor Who is at its best when a grand mystery is afoot, spoilers under wraps, and the audience left to theorise wildly.

Whatever they did to me at Demon’s Run, I can’t ever give you children. I didn’t kick you out…I gave you up.

As proclaimed by the writing on Amy’s knuckles in the pre-credit sequence Asylum of the Daleks was a tale of Hate and Love.

Amy’s decision to free Rory from his obligation to her after the events that culminated in A Good Man Goes To War left her barren was a threat that transcended all their previous shared terrors. Death and the end of all existence is as nothing compared to the pain and loss involved in the divorce of two wedded souls predestined to be together forever. The Daleks may be capable of communication via their telepathically-shared knowledge but never will they be capable of the love inherent in the species they exterminate across time and space. As long as true love is present in one party then it can never be extinguished and no matter the actions of one half of the equation the togetherness can always be rekindled and burn even brighter.

Hate was played out via the animosity that the Doctor and the Daleks possessed toward each other through the accumulated rage of the centuries following their first encounter on Skaro. Neither party seemingly capable of existing anymore without animosity for the other. The Doctor is ruthless with the Daleks in a manner beyond anything he feels for any other foe. Yet now the hatred evaporated thanks to the twist ending of Asylum of the Daleks where all knowledge of the Doctor was expunged from the Daleks’ hive mind. Steven Moffat is a mission to return the series to its 1960s roots when to all he encountered throughout time and space the Doctor was “Doctor who?”

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