Doctor Who #902: Asylum of the Daleks

"So tell me, what do the Daleks do when they're too scared?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.1 2012.

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.)

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.

- 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?


LiamKav said...

(I will now do that thing of focussing on one specific part of the show rather than the whole episode)

I strongly disagree with the Zombie Dalek things. Mainly for the reason you say (it mixes up the Daleks and the Cybermen and stops them being distinct), but also because I thinks it goes against the Dalek ethos to much. They are violent xenophobes. They are a race that have such strong ideas of racial purity that they've had extreme civil wars over it. If they were going to use other races, it would be in the same way that humans treat cattle. They wouldn't try and make every else into a Dalek, because they would view the results as inferior. (Notably, in the old series it was mainly Davros who did this sort of mucking about, not the Daleks themselves).

The Daleks aren't the equivalent of some anti-immigration groups, or anything like that. They are the KKK taking to an extreme. They don't want to convert people. They want to kill them.

Siskoid said...

I completely agree. It's an entirely unDalek thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Really, this whole episode as ass as far as I am concerned. I don't even like Clara in this episode now that I realize this was just another time-fragmented version of her, and not some poor sweet random victim whom the Doctor couldn't save.

But yeah, Rory and Amy were way the hell out of character here, and I will never buy that they got divorced over not being able to squirt a second child out.

There have been some episodes of Moffat's that I haven't liked, but this is the only one that makes me want to pull the batteries out of the remote and whip them at the TV.

Brian said...

I spent the whole time while Amy was whining* about not being able to have children thinking, "Couldn't you adopt? Couldn't you adopt from literally any point in time & space?"

(*I'm the rare sort that never actually liked Amy -- LOVED Rory more and more as the series went on, but just got turned off by the character of Amy more and more by every appearance)

I really wonder how much of the 'Zombie Dalek' and Dalek Conversion issue on the Asylum Planet may actually have been PART of the asylum issue -- was that Cyberman-like assimilating of inferior beings into the Dalek species part by those insane Daleks (whether as Time War reinforcements or to restock the species, depending on the vintage of each involved) why they were they? Was that a atavistic throwback to some Davros DNA or programming imprint that shouldn't have been 'genetically' active?

BTW, it seems like a lost opportunity that the Doctor couldn't somehow have commented on how, of the two worlds he'd destroyed, Skaro was the one that had somehow returned and repopulated over the years (as he had previously commented as Ten about the Daleks coming back when the Time Lords were gone)...

jdh417 said...

My only Dr. Who review post briefly goes over this episode and the rest of this series. I was holding out a lot of hope for future episodes then.

Given other reviews of this episode I've seen, I may be the only one person who liked it and I've yet to be dissuaded from this opinion. I've seen it many times and still get an emotional charge from it.

If it has one fault in my eyes, it ruined the character of Clara. Jenna's performance here just wrung out the tragic emotion. Bringing her back, even as a somewhat different character and then with everything else they threw in with her, I could never warm up to her again.

This would have worked so much better with Jenna only having this single appearance, like Cary as Sally Sparrow. Instead, this was just something of a meta-trick to have fanboys speculating about how they were going to bring her back.

Siskoid said...

I'm not bothered by this Clara echo, but I agree it doesn't have the same punch with hindsight.

F. Douglas Wall said...

The whole Amy/Rory divorce thing felt like false drama. Along with the announcement of the new companion, I think Moffat wanted us to go into this episode thinking we were supposed to be watching the changing of the guard, but then the twist was that Amy and Rory reconcile and Clara dies.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Nice to see a destroyed Skarro... but not as destroyed as it ought to be after Remembrance. A little Time War changing of history, perhaps?

The strength of this story, I thought, was making the Daleks intimidating again- not as effectively as RTD's 'Dalek,' but still a much-needed boost in their villain status after the latter RTD overuse and absurd 'they all died, no they're all back, but they all died again, but look one survived and they're all back' era- and then, of course, the Amazing Technicolor Daleks. I liked this one for that- and for the discussion between Amy and Rory (and of course, as an unabashed romantic, the ending). Plus, to me, the zombie-skeletons were a good menace(*), and the Pathweb retcons a LOT of problems from 70s Dalek stories that talked about them being programmed and referred to them like robots.

But, it wasn't perfect. The old Daleks (such an exciting list of names, second only to Night fo the Doctor! ;-) ) were a great touch, but why the new casings? It was nice to see the older, better-looking Daleks back, but why did that happen? A Dalek mutant again, okay, fine- so why didn't he look as good as the ones from 2005? And that's not to mention plot holes with Clara and the like.

There are definitely elements I like here, and I wouldn't call this the weakest of 7a... but I do wish the parts that were strong were in a better story.

On Amy and Rory- I didn't find him cruel, per se- or at least, not cruel to be cruel, but lashing out from the level to which he's hurting. The covnersation you cite is one I fixate on as well. I, too, felt like Rory was speaking truth about loving her more. Amy's retort, that she loved him enough to give him up- and portraying her divorcing him as an act of love to unilaterally end their relationship, prompted an eye-roll from me... but as per my wife, she feels like that's an accurate bit of female psychology. To me, the conflict does feel very real based on the characters involved and what they've been through- it's only the offscreen onset of it that feels sudden and forced. As you say, "I don't buy the break-up, but I do buy the getting back together again."

The Prequel was great. The "Doctor Who" ending, meanwhile... that was just awful.

*I thought these zombies/controlled people were Moffat's attempt to update the Robomen, circa Dalek Invasion of Earth, and to a degree... the Davison one. (Ressurrection? I always get those titles mixed up). There is precedent for controlling people- here, they've just streamlined the process to a less clunky version.

So to me it worked as that- a higher-tech Robomen, much like the Cybermites being higher-tech Cybermats.

Siskoid said...

I'd rather call Time War on everything than some of the convoluted fanwank I've seen in the novels to explain the Skaro timeline.

As for the zombies, I know they come from Robomen and duplicates, but I still hate them. The design just doesn't work for me. They should leave the body horror element to the Cybs.


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