Monday, September 3, 2012

Review: Doctor Who, The Asylum of the Daleks

I finally watched this!

I sort of wish I hadn't read the mini-reviews different friends wrote calling it "brilliant" and "game changing." I found it a good, even a very good, episode, but not quite "brilliant," which is ok. I don't really expect "brilliant" every week, and I suspect I'd hate "game changing," especially if it happened once a week.

Anyway, the episode. Overall, it was a good episode and a promising start to the season. It had a good dose of Moffat-creepiness, a nice bit of snarking from everyone's favorite lone centurion, and some extremely silly tension between Amy and Rory.

So, tackling things in reverse order: The Amy and Rory subplot. What was it in aid of? If it was to put us in suspense, it's a total dud: It was (mercifully) scarcely a blip: Slightly over a minute in Pond Life: Episode 5, plus a tiny segment of the much more exciting Asylum. If it was to tell us that Amy loves Rory, no, really she does, we already know that. It came up a few times last season. So did the fact that he loves her. Or was the point that Amy is overly-dramatic and doesn't always think things through very clearly? We already knew that, too. Or maybe Moffat thinks love needs to be quantified and measured, that "giving up" someone can and should be weighted against a couple thousand years of guarding your beloved's not-quite-dead body?

Wait, why are we having this conversation? There are Daleks over there! Yes, let's talk about the Daleks. They're much more interesting, and creepy. There's a really good moment there when the Doctor tries to appeal to a human-form Dalek's emotions by reminding her that she had a daughter. "I know," she replies. "I read my file." Very, very nice, in a nasty monster kind of way(1). The human-puppets as a whole are a creepy new addition to the Dalek arsenal. It's going to be interesting wondering just who the bad guys are in future episodes (2). Anyone, anywhere, can be a Dalek, and they won't even know it until they're activated. It's not exactly a new idea, but that doesn't make it any less creepy.

Even better, the Daleks are scared. They've got an enemy they don't want to face, so they haul in the even scarier Doctor and his companions to do the job for them. That sets up the asylum itself as truly terrifying, and the Dalek's reason for maintaining it rather than simply eliminating their uncontrollable units adds a new, nasty twist to their natures: They have an aesthetic appreciation for hatred, which makes the asylum as much an art gallery as a prison.

And, for viewers, the asylum is an art gallery. There are Daleks from all the show's different eras in there. Most of them, I don't recognize, but I admire it as an undertaking and appreciate that other viewers can, and have, seen familiar figures down there in the shadow. Other aesthetic moments are scattered through the show: my favorites are the amphitheater of Daleks, ruined Skaro, and that opening shot of the petrified Daleks.

And then there's the surprising appearance of Oswin, who is either the Doctor's future companion, or her double, or her alternate, or her descendent. Meeting her this early was a surprise. I'm not sure what I think of her yet. At this first look, she seems rather like River, and one River is enough, thanks. Then again, we barely met her, and she may not be her, so it's back to wait-and-see.

In any case, it is good to have Doctor Who back again.

Edit: So my brother read this and asked "What about the ending?" I'm not sure about the ending. When I first watched it, I was too busy wondering if that meant that Oswin could actually have taken over the Daleks, and if so, would that have created a race of hyperactive, genius, souffle-making beings, and would that have been better or worse than the bubbling lumps of hate we have? I'm still wondering.


(1) Though quite why the Daleks feel the need to dress their human puppet in a cloak and ridiculously high heels is beyond me. Their newly discovered sense of aesthetics must be getting the better of them.
(2) At least, when I'm not wondering how and why they stash Dalek eyestalks in their skulls. Said skulls are also presumably still containing the original's brain if memory and emotion can be turned on and off at will (neat trick that). Also, unfortunately, the effect of the eyestalks popping out just isn't as effective as it should be. The gas masks in The Empty Child, those were creepy. These just look strange (No, I wouldn't want it happening to me, or anyone I loved, but that's an abstract thought rather than a visceral reaction).
(3) By the way, my reviews of the Pond Life episodes are up on The Geek Girl Project. Our very own Rebecca is reviewing the Doctor Who episodes themselves; her review of Asylum of the Daleks is up now. She's also been going back to the beginning and reviewing the First Doctor's episodes.


  1. I wouldn't have minded the subplot with Rory and Amy as much if it had carried on for a few episodes. But it felt really forced and stupid to have it show up for the first time at the start of the episode, and then get resolved by the end. Blech.

    1. Technically, it showed up in Pond Life, but there was still no lead in or logic to it.

      And, theoretically, it would have been better to have it spread out, but I'd rather it not be there at all. Rory & Amy have already had a whole series of ups and downs through seasons 5 & 6; another bit of drama, and a pointless divorce plan, seems quite out of place.

      And the reason is just silly: Amy has never heard of adoption? Thought of the fact that the Doctor has access to lots and lots of really good medical facilities? Rory hasn't been able to get the information from her (she's really not Ms. Reticent). Bleh.