Asylum of the Daleks was so rich on good character material that I have not even mentioned the core plot of the episode so far, which is a shame. Moffat has crafted a thumping good suspense piece, one that makes exquisite use of the Doctor’s oldest foes.
The Daleks were extremely scary in their first modern Who appearance (the season one episode Dalek, by Robert Shearman), but they have since been grossly overused, and Moffat wisely decided early in his run to give the characters a hiatus until he found a good reason to use them once more. Asylum certainly qualifies, as it not only unites every prior incarnation of the creature (look closely for all sorts of varying designs), but expands their mythology in new and creative ways.
The Parliament of the Daleks is a nifty idea in and of itself. The production design of the scene is stupendous, and pitting the Doctor against an ocean of Daleks certainly gives Matt Smith some fun material to play. But it’s when the plot gets underway that things get truly fascinating, as the Daleks ask the Doctor to “save” them by disarming the force-field on the Daleks’ ‘asylum,’ a planet where their broken and malfunctioning brothers are imprisoned.
Moffat certainly sells the threat well in the early scenes, but I think that once the Doctor and friends arrive at the Asylum, the concept isn’t explored quite as well as it could be. Don’t get me wrong; there are still some excellent action scenes, several marvelous moments of tension, and a final dramatic run that rivals any climax in modern Who. The Daleks have not been this intimidating for a very long time. But I don’t know if these Daleks ever seemed truly insane to me; they were not more noticeably vicious than ones we’ve seen before, nor did they do any real damage to our heroes. I suppose what they did to poor Oswin qualifies as lunacy, but we have seen Daleks do similarly terrible things in the past.
It is a small matter overall. This is a very busy episode, and it’s unlikely every single element could be perfect. It’s still one of the better Dalek stories I’ve ever seen, certainly the most thrilling of the modern era, and I absolutely adore how Moffat changed the status quo in the final minutes.
One of Oswin’s final actions is to hack the Dalek hive-mind and wipe The Doctor from their memory, a seemingly small action that has far-ranging consequences. When the Doctor returns to Parliament, the Daleks have no idea who he is, which is a massive change from how the characters have previously been depicted.
Given how long the Doctor and the Daleks have been at odds, the general chemistry between the Doctor and the Daleks is fairly familiar at this point. The Daleks view him with fear, the Doctor mocks them mercilessly, and each time they brawl, the Doctor’s reputation (and arrogance) grows.
But if the Daleks no longer remember him, the Doctor can no longer lord his status over them. He will be a stranger, they will not fear him, and for once, the Doctor may have few ways to fight back. Erasing nearly fifty years of Dalek-based history is certainly an audacious move on Moffat’s part, but those are the sorts of moves I like to see. Doctor Who is an intensely malleable show, and changing up the status quo is what keeps things fresh. For the first time in years, I’m actually excited to see more Dalek stories, because with the continuity reset, anything could happen.
“Fellas, you’re never going to stop asking.”
With one great episode under its belt, Doctor Who Series 7 is off to an excellent start indeed. We know the general arc of the season – Amy and Rory leave in episode 5, Oswin return at Christmas, etc. – but on the whole, this will be one of the more unpredictable seasons to date. Will Amy and Rory get a happy ending? Are there more surprise characters Moffat has hidden from us? Just what will the Doctor do with those dinosaurs on that space ship?
It’s never been a better time to be a Doctor Who fan, and I cannot wait to share the rest of this season with you. Come back next Saturday night for my take on Episode 2, and sound off in the comments with your take on tonight’s episode!
Follow author Jonathan R. Lack on Twitter @JonathanLack.
Read past Doctor Who reviews here.Previous