Review: “Doctor Who” Series 7, Ep 1: “Asylum of the Daleks”

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Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

An overlong absence of “Doctor Who” is, well, like sex deprivation. It’s miserable for a while, then you habituate, but your first go at it after the long interim is, well, rewardingly explosive. (Oh stop the Victorian-era gasps; you know how ribald I can get). “Asylum of the Daleks” definitely was, yes, massively orgasmic.

This is, for once, how you do a proper Dalek story; none of that “Victory of the Daleks” or “Daleks in Manhattan” mess. Done away with (at least for now) are the interconnectedness or episodic feel of past series (especially the wonderfully arc-heavy series 6). Series 7 truly is as cinematic as advertised. (The movie posters for the autumn episodes definitely capture the new series’s cinematic direction). Truly stand-alone in a movie-size kind of way, “Asylum of the Daleks” felt bigger than the time it was allotted, yet at the same time fit that allotment perfectly. Steven Moffat got the tone right, with episodic humor downplayed and not too many reminders of the show’s backstory to hit us over the head with.

Moffat’s genius writing is like an old friend whom you wish you weren’t restricted to see only in moderation. It’s almost Dalek-like, his genius. He does it again with his play on eggs and milk, two seemingly trivial mentions early in the game that suddenly grow in significance by game’s end. I love the introduction of another nickname for the Oncoming Storm (“The Predator”), and his idea of nanogenes that transform organisms into Dalek puppets (or make them get all Daleked, as Amy puts it). I also loved his handling of the Ponds’ falling out and eventual reunion; in the beginning, there’s a scene of model Amy flashing the words LOVE and HATE on her knuckles, a subtle hint at the resolution for her and Rory’s storyline in this episode (the formula for Dalek conversion: subtract love, add anger). And how ingenious it was for Moffat to further the Doctor’s retreat into the shadows by having Oswin erase the Predator from the Daleks’ collective memory. Ah, so many felicities in this episode, all stemming from the writing. Moffat’s writing is admittedly the reason I tune in to this show. The day he steps down as head writer will be a grim day indeed.

Jenna-Louise Coleman’s surprise appearance (about five episodes premature) as Oswin Oswald, a junior entertainment manager of a shipwrecked starliner with an uncanny ability to hack Dalek tech, was brilliant. What a coup for Moffat and team to have pulled off the secret and actually properly fool us. Coleman’s insertion into the episode was only equaled by the shocking and nightmarish reveal of Oswin’s true state as a Dalek convert in denial. I’m as in the dark as everyone else as to how Moffat will maneuver Oswin into a full-time companion slot; it will definitely make things interesting having a Dalek as the next Doctor’s companion. (On a minor note, I already love the snippets of what I am presuming is Oswin’s theme that surfaced at select points in the episode; Murray Gold ftw!).

One final note on the modified title sequence:  Though not very radically changed, it’s now more Halloween-y, with spooky greens meshed in with the dark blues of the Time Vortex. The font has been changed and now has a ghost-like ripple fade-out. And the “Doctor Who” logo was customized presumably for this episode with hemis (or Dalek bumps, if you will). I’m sure the Whovian community will be divided over the modifications; I, for one, find them fitting. I love Moffat’s experimentations with the show’s format and look, as controversial or at the least frustrating as they may be. They definitely keep the show from getting stale.

Quotables:

  • “How much trouble, Mr Pond? Out of ten? Eleven.” -the Doctor to Rory, in one of Moffat’s sly nods to this being the Doctor’s eleventh incarnation
  • “I did make a souffle but it was too beautiful to live.” -Oswin on her birthday present for her mother
  • “You think hatred is beautiful?” / “Perhaps that is why we have never been able to kill you.” -The Doctor and the Dalek Prime Minister
  • “What colour? …Sorry, there weren’t any good questions left.” -Rory, in a cheeky reference to the (what many have found ill-conceived) multi-colored Daleks of series 5
  • “Where do you get the milk?” -The Doctor, in wonderment of Oswin’s ability to bake a souffle in the core of the Asylum
  • “Don’t be fair to the Daleks when they’re firing me at a planet.” -The Doctor scolding Rory as they get forced into an Asylum expedition 
  • “It’s life. That thing that goes on when you’re not there.” -Amy to the Doctor
  • “Sorry, what? …Eggs?” -Rory to an awakening Asylum Dalek attempting to say “Exterminate.”
  • “Pop your shirt off, quick as you like.” / “Why?” / “Does there have to be a reson?” -Oswin flirting with Rory to keep him in good spirits
  • “Run, you clever boy, and remember” -Dalek Oswin; she’ll surely be remembered in time for the Christmas special
  • “Titles are not meaningful in this context. Doctor who?” -Dalek puppet Darla von Karlsen to the now mysterious stranger before her and the Daleks