TV Recap: Doctor Who – Asylum of the Daleks
Season 7, Episode 1
By Edwin Davies
September 3, 2012
Probably the greatest surprise was the introduction of Oswin, played by Jenna-Louise Coleman. For anyone unfamiliar with Coleman, you won't be for long since she is due to become the new companion once Amy and Rory make their exit at the end of this five-episode run. Her presence in the episode was kept under wraps; quite an achievement in our spoiler-addicted age, and it was a delightful introduction. She played Oswin as a Doctor-calibre genius whose inability at baking souffles was inversely proportional to her ability to hack Dalek technology. Her rapid-fire exchanges with The Doctor were one of the highlights of the episode, though if she keeps talking that quickly I imagine the scripts for later episodes will start to get increasingly phone book-like. It does raise the question of how exactly she'll factor into the later episodes, considering this one ended by revealing that she was actually a Dalek who had imagined that she was still human, but if Moffat can keep cramming Amy and Rory into every episode, I'm sure this won't be too much of a problem.
Incidentally, whilst the show managed to eke out plenty of the more conventional creepiness from having the characters stranded on a planet full of insane Daleks – a hell of a proposition to begin with – there was nothing in it quite prepared me for the sequence in which Oswin remembers being turned into a Dalek. Though not graphic, the few inserts of her fighting for her humanity, coupled with the knowledge of her mental breakdown as a result, was genuinely pretty disturbing. It’s good that whilst Moffat seems to be drawing back from the well of darkness that consumed the show last season, he’s still more than happy to throw some in there for contrast. Which, thinking about it, might be why this was so effective.
Ah, yes, The Ponds. They proved easily the biggest problem with the episode, even if they did allow for some good individual moments, most notably Rory stumbling through the room of "sleeping" Daleks. Whilst I like both Amy and Rory as characters and think that both Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill have done some great work over the course of the series, they don't really seem to serve a purpose on the show anymore, and haven't for a while. Their relationship formed a nice backbone to season five, which disappeared once they got married, and the kidnapping of baby River was the driving force behind much of season six, but their character arcs have remained pretty static throughout that time. It's a classic case of characters staying on long after they have served their original purpose, even if the writers can't come up with something new for them to do. (The worst case of this phenomenon in recent years being Ben Linus, who spent much of the first five seasons of Lost being the main antagonist, and an awesome one at that, but spent the sixth season as a vestigial limb flopping around by the movement of the plot.)
Having them be kidnapped along with The Doctor felt like a fairly weak excuse for bringing the old crew back together, as well as a pretty obvious way to start what looks like Amy and Rory's own farewell tour. Whilst I don't begrudge Moffat the chance to say goodbye to his own characters in his own time, it seems like a more clearly defined break with the past would have fit the change in direction for the show, especially since the end of seasons six seemed like such a natural endpoint for all the old characters.
If the next four episodes are as entertaining as "Asylum of the Daleks", this slight awkwardness probably won't matter, but it feels like the show is spinning its wheels until the real changes can begin, and I'm more excited by those than the chance to spend another few weeks with characters who have overstayed their welcome.
--Speaking of how much I like Gillan and Darvill, that scene in which they argue over who loves who most was just great. Not merely because it recalled Rory's role as the Centurion, which remains one of my favourite things from Moffat's run, but because it really drew upon the history between the characters. There was something quite raw about it which felt un-Who, but in the best possible way.
--Skaro looked very, very cool. The show sometimes shows the limitations of its budget in its depictions of alien worlds, but that was not one of those instances.
--Even though the show moved back towards grand and epic this time around, it was interesting that they still worked in elements of rebooting the show, most notably by having Oswin wipe The Doctor from the collective memories of The Daleks. Hopefully this will continue going forward, allowing the show to build new interactions between the characters without being beholden to the established relationships.
--Since there doesn't seem to be a big master-plot this year, there doesn't seem to be much room for speculation, but when has that stopped anyone? I reckon that Oswin will be reintroduced in some past version of herself, which might interrupt the natural flow of time and cause all sorts of mischief or, since we only heard her referred to by her surname, Jenna-Louise Coleman could come back to play this Oswin's sister. It worked for Martha Jones, after all.