Asylum of The Daleks

What’s It About?: The Daleks need The Doctor to investigate a crash on a planet that imprisons millions of insane Daleks.

I’ll admit outright that I thought it was good. I was entertained and even came close to tears at one point. I felt that this portrayal of the Daleks was the best the Moffat era had done with them so far, and that the Daleks were probably the scariest they have been since the 2005 episode Dalek.

There were some good ideas in this episode, ideas that furthered Dalek technology and mythology. Nanotechnology that converts organic creatures to Daleks was a good idea and an interesting spin on Robomen and human replicants. I enjoy the possibility of seen more “human” Daleks in the future, so long as they don’t take the place of the pepperpots. I enjoy the idea that the Daleks who have survived The Doctor in the past have gone catatonic. And I’ll come right out and say that I don’t mind the idea of The Doctor being wiped from the memories of all The Daleks. It wasn’t until the closing moments of the episode that I realized that I was growing tired of the Oncoming Storm, “I am The Doctor and doesn’t that make you tremble” moments that have popped up in every Dalek episode since the series return. It had its place for a time, and now I’m glad it is over. So, Steven Moffat is still attempting to reset Doctor Who.

Okay, now the not-so-fun criticism. I am tired of seeing Doctor Who still exist in the RTD shadow. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy parts of the RTD era. I’m happy he brought the show back. But so much of what Moffat has done is still in response to what RTD did with the show:

  • Series five was modeled on the structure of the RTD era.
  • River Song was introduced (by Moffat, admittedly) in the RTD era, and has been in every Moffat series so far, present series included.
  • The Big Bang was an attempt to reset aspects of the RTD era. Why does no one remember the giant Cyber Ship in Victorian England? Because The Doctor reset the universe. Why does Amy not remember the Cyberman/Dalek battle at Canary Wharf or the events of The Stolen Earth? Because of the cracks in the universe caused by the exploding TARDIS.
  • The Doctor became mythic under RTD. His existence is told in stories across millions of planets across the universe. He can no longer travel incognito. Thus, under Moffat, he faked his death.

And, unfortunately, we continue to see the lingering effects of the RTD era. River Song is supposed to be back later in the series. The Daleks have now forgotten The Doctor. Moffat is still resetting Doctor Who. I understand his desire; I sympathize with him because I feel The Doctor works better when people don’t know who he is. But it bothers me that we are still looking back. It bothers me that we are still playing a retcon game.

The second criticism: Amy and Rory’s divorce. Let me be clear. I have no problem with this per se. In fact, I love the idea of exploring the lives of companions who have not had contact with The Doctor for a few years. I love the idea that for The Doctor, life continues with excitement and adventures, but for Amy and Rory, life in contemporary London is the norm. There are jobs. There are bills. There are arguments and disappointments. The Doctor doesn’t see them go through this. The Doctor leaves them at point A and picks them up again at point V, but he remembers them as they were at point A. This is a great idea and worth exploring.

Unfortunately, we don’t explore it. In fact, we don’t even see it coming. Yes, in the Pond Life webisodes we see Amy throwing Rory out, but we never see their problems develop. We never see them struggle. Like The Doctor, we only come in at point V. We don’t see the human drama and struggle that Amy and Rory have faced in their years away from The Doctor. And for people who have gone through painful, heart-wrenching divorces, a madman in a blue box didn’t show up to take them on an adventure that re-affirms their love for one another (or, in this case, a human with a Dalek-stalk in the forehead).

I understand that there probably wasn’t time to explore this dynamic. Do people watch Doctor Who for relationships or do they watch it for monsters and action? Setting up Amy and Rory’s separation would take away from The Daleks and the Asylum and Moffat’s new flirty-sexy girl. Or maybe we could have seen the evidence of the separation over the course of the next few episodes, slowly revealing the antagonism between the couple, then culminating with The Pond’s reconciliation and departure. Maybe we will get more of this. But as it stands right now, they divorce quite suddenly and out of nowhere, and reconcile quite suddenly (Despite this, I still think the reconciliation was done well). We, as viewers, get the high of the Amy/Rory relationship that we have come to love over the last two years without being subjected to too much unpleasantness of Amy and Rory not being together. We get the romantic high without really suffering the emotional low. If I were feeling more cynical, I would think I was being emotionally manipulated.

Final Verdict: Fan consensus, at the moment, rates this episode very high. People are giving it 9/10. Some are saying it is the best episode since the series returned. Some are calling it the best episode of the Moffat era and the best Dalek episode of the new series. I’m tempted to think we are all just deliriously excited that Doctor Who is back on television after a longer than normal break. It would be hard—but not impossible—for Moffat to drop the ball right out of the gate. Indeed, he has written a great opening episode that is one of the best Dalek stories of new Who. It was fun. It did a lot of good things and had some interesting ideas. I think I’d give it a seven, maybe an eight. I’ll see how it holds up on the re-watch. However, when it comes to the episode’s direction, Nick Hurran gets a 10/10.

If this episode is any indication of the series ahead, I think we can expect good things.

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7 thoughts on “Asylum of The Daleks

  1. “Series five was modeled on the structure of the RTD era”, yes The Beast Below is essentially Moffat’s version of the story The End of the World.

    RTD managed to establish Doctor Who as an extremely popular television programme once again (maybe more popular than it’s ever been), which has allowed Moffat the opportunity to perhaps be more radical with the format of the show – such as including intricate arcs.

    Of course he’s said that this year Doctor Who will be less about arcs but does this episode suggest that?

    • I think Moffat has been slow in departing from what RTD did because RTD made the show so popular. Honestly, why break something if it works? And Moffat has added his own style and spin to the series. We haven’t had a change nearly as drastic as the change from the Second Doctor to the Third Doctor (or the change when JNT took over the show). Each series brings more changes, which is good, but I think I’d like to see less retconning of The Doctor’s mythic status. He faked his death and now he has been wiped from The Daleks’ memories. Are we going to have a story where The Cybermen forget him? The Sontarans? Couldn’t Big Bang 2 have reset things in one go?

      Thematically, I think “Asylum” is setting up a “Departure of the Ponds” arc. Granted, this will probably be a very loose arc. However, Jenna-Louise Coleman’s surprise appearance in this episode implies that it has a more to it than being a stand alone story. Of course, that only applies if you know she will be playing the next companion. I realized a couple of days ago that in five or ten years the hype about the next companion won’t matter. It was a fun surprise now (if you keep up with Doctor Who news), but in the future she will have just played Oswin and Clara and any speculation about the connection between these two will be moot. And what’s great is that I think this episode is still fun even without the surprise appearance.

  2. I loved this episode. Honestly, it’s probably one of the most exciting episodes I’ve seen since last year’s premiere. However, I was a bit confused by the Daleks’ motivation in this story. They didn’t want to destroy the planet because Daleks don’t kill Daleks, but they bombed the planet anyway? Maybe I missed something the first time around. I haven’t been able to rewatch it yet.

  3. Despite the confused nature of the Daleks I really like this story (and wasn’t Oswin wonderful!?)

    I like your comments on the resetting of the RTD era which I hadn’t taken as far in my head as you have. I am not sure this explains the exploding TARDIS and what this might mean for the 50th anniversary if it has all been reset!

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