This review contains spoilers.
With Doctor Who being having been off air for the longest period of time since its cancelation in 1989, it could be argued that Asylum of the Daleks was to be one of the most anticipated episodes of the show since its initial comeback in 2005. The chopping and changing of airing time, season structure and general settings for the series in the recent Moffat era are elements that have oddly come to define it but here at least it’s hopeful that after all this kafuffle, the series can carry on as normal from now into its fiftieth anniversary.
Asylum of the Daleks is a relatively strong start to Steven Moffat’s third series at the helm. It seems a straightforward story for the writer of some of the most narratively bizarre fiction on television with only two major plot twists to pivot on. This gives the story an instantly refreshing edge from the last two years which has at times suffered an over abundance of timey-wimey mayhem. What wasn’t to be prepared for was the shock entry of “companion to be” Jenna-Louise Coleman; an actress stated by the producer to not appear until Christmas.
Though well handled, it seems sad that such a major development only really seemed shocking because of a white lie told outside of the program. The reality surrounding the show as well as within the narratives have been starting blur over the last year or two anyway with the likes of the spoiler mentality being engrained into characters as well as the people that make the show. This was no doubt a product of this mentality and, though it worked, it feels a tad hollow.
With a splash of developments early on, the Daleks capture the Doctor, along with Rory and Amy in order to send them to a Dalek asylum; a place where the maddest of Daleks are sent. This is so that the energy field protecting the planet can be switched off allowing the normal Daleks to destroy the planet. The emotional drama of Amy and Rory’s relationship is well portrayed by Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill but there is a sense that they’re given mere caricatures of people with quips and one liners rather than a couple in genuine relationship trouble. Oswin, (the new companion) shares similar issues though it’s extremely hard to judge a character with such little screen time.
Oswin could be any number of female characters from this era or even past eras from stories penned by Moffat. The idea that any female character has to be fiery and only speak in quirky, flirty one liners isn’t empowering. If anything it’s the opposite and plays more like a male geek’s sexual fantasy instead. Coleman however does give a great performance and will hopefully develop further into a well rounded companion.
The second of the two plot twists (the first being that the Daleks want the Doctor to help them rather than just kill him) comes from nowhere and is a brilliantly deployed move in the story. It also packs a real emotional wallop helped along further by the ever brilliant Matt Smith (though it is one twist that won’t be revealed in this review). The ending again hints at the power of memory (a continuing theme of Moffat’s era or a continuing get out clause depending on your point of view) and it was also refreshing for it to be just another plot point rather than saving a character from certain death.
The last point to make is how beautiful the whole show looked. The decision to hide the awful redesign paradigm Daleks and return to the Russell T Davies era designs is a good one. However these aren’t the only Daleks on show and fans were treated to various nods to the past with name dropping of planets from the Jon Pertwee years and even some Daleks from past stories (including the ever cool special weapons Dalek).
Not without its flaws, Asylum of the Daleks was a solid start to the season. Though there are still a large amount of arc threads and ideas hanging loose from over two years ago, the story was an entertaining piece of Saturday night fun. No masterpiece but still a nice slice of frothy escapism.
Images from Den of Geek, SFX and BBC.