"So tell me, what do the Daleks do when they're too scared?"
IN THIS ONE... The Dalek Parliament ask the Doctor to help destroy their asylum. First appearance of Oswin Oswald.
REVIEW: One of the strange things about this episode when it was first broadcast, and I realize it's complete meta-text, was the surprise at seeing newly-announced "next companion" Jenna-Louise Coleman in a role that couldn't possibly be the one she'd take on in the Christmas special. Or would the Doctor meet her out of order, events which Dalekisation might have erased from her mind? And then her name was released as "Clara" and all your theories flew out the window. Moffat, probably even more than RTD, loves to engage the audience this way, keeping the speculation and interest going whether the show is on or not. Of course, a couple of years on, after all the necessary reveals, the mystery gets taken out of the equation, and I have to admit Asylum of the Daleks is much weaker without it.
What begins here is the "kitchen sink" half-season that throws all sorts of crazy ideas at the screen, usually without context. We're presented with sights and sounds and we just have to take things as presented, and that whatever doesn't mesh with past continuity is a result of stuff that happened off-screen during the 200-year gap. A cheat, if that's how Moffat justifies it (I don't actually know), and it can sometimes strain credulity. For example, what the hell happened to the Daleks? Obviously, the new paradigm didn't stick because there are plenty of Time War-era Daleks around. Why weren't they exterminated as inferiors by the Rainbow Daleks, where do they even come from, and how did the Daleks reorganize as a Parliament? We don't know. Nice to see a destroyed Skaro, but what the heck is that giant Dalek people can walk around in? If the Daleks were originally wiped from history, why is their asylum planet still there, with lots of mad and battle-scarred Daleks imprisoned there? Why are the ones that survived the Doctor, on planets whose names we recognize from old stories, look like Time War Daleks? Were the mutants eventually transplanted into new shells, or have the Daleks messed with their own history so much, we scarcely recognize it anymore? I mean, they could have been a little more vintage; we do see older styles here and there, and even a Special Weapons Dalek. So that's probably it - the Daleks interfered with their own history a whole lot in unseen adventures. But none of that is mentioned. We're just shown a (or should I say, yet another) new Dalek paradigm, and expected not to ask questions. And that's frustrating.
The newest Dalek innovation, the idea that they're now "infectious" and can turn people into Dalekinised puppets, while more or less necessary for the plot to work (though I can think of various alternatives that would work as well or better), isn't one I like very much. First, it's a question of keeping your alien species separate and distinct. Cybermen convert, Daleks exterminate. The result is at once silly and grotesque anyway. I don't like the look of the Dalek puppets at all, with that stupid eye coming out of their foreheads. Why do we need this when Daleks have already been shown an ability to create human duplicates bent to their will (as in Resurrection)? Some kind of hypno-toxin would have done just as well for Amy's dilemma, and Oswin's full conversion is possible thanks to continuity established way back in Revelation.
But that's all plot and production. What about the characters? Amy and Rory's break-up, vaguely seen in Pond Life and now heading for divorce, is at the center of the story. It's one of the boxes the Doctor needs to tick, and as important as defeating the Daleks or rescuing Oswin. While the conflict is well-played, with Rory particularly resentful and even cruel, its source is a bit of a straw man. She left HIM because she can't give him the kids he's always wanted, forcibly setting him free? Sure, ok, but it sounds forced and melodramatic. What works here is Rory telling her that everyone knows he loves her more than she loves him, a conclusion most fans had come to as well. And how it hurts Amy to hear him say it; she disagrees. She merely manifests it differently. Both expose their resolve and companion traits: He suffers through, she sacrifices. And it also feels very true of relationships. Insecurity often makes people believe they love their partners more than they do them, even though that may not be the case (and should we measure such things anyway?). So I don't buy the break-up, but I do buy the getting back together again. Also full props to Jenna Coleman as Oswin. The character isn't Clara, but it is, and she shows such charm and cheek as "soufflé girl", we likely can't wait for her to get on the show for real. Speaking of cheek, her last look in the camera's direction is cheeky indeed. It may even go over the line. If that doesn't, then the final moments actually do. The Doctor, whose existence is now erased from the Daleks' intranet, starts chanting "Doctor Who" over and over in the console room... Plugging the show's title in dialog has been overdone in the new era, but under Moffat, it's reached new heights of cringe-worthy absurdity. Please, please stop. (And I'd be more forgiving if it was ACTUALLY the question that makes the Silence fall, but that turns out to be a bit of a red herring.)
ADDITIONAL MATERIAL: The prequel included on the DVD shows the Doctor getting contacted by a monk-like figure inviting him to Skaro. It's a pretty fun sequence right out of Inception, and has a bit more meat to it than the usual prequels.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Oswin/Clara's introduction is a highlight, but Asylum also has strong scenes for the Ponds and neat references to the show's past. The unexplained new continuity of the Daleks, however, is a major sticking point. If anything can happen, then why should we care what does?