New Who Review : Asylum of the Daleks
A new season, a return of an old enemy, a dramatic change to a relationship, and a very surprising casting choice made the premiere episode of Doctor Who quite the rollicking ride. Keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times, mind the spoilers, hang tight to your jewelry (especially bracelets), mind the spoilers and here we go…
ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS
By Steven Moffat
Directed by Nick Hurran
The Doctor, Amy Pond and Rory Williams are all captured by Dalek sleeper agents and taken to their main fleet, home of their Parliament. Rather than Exterminate him, they beg for his help. Their Asylum, a combination hospital and prison for Daleks so damaged or insane they can no longer be controlled, is in danger of being breached after a lost spaceship crashes on it. The Doctor. Amy and Rory are sent down to the surface to shut down the planetary force field defense, so the Daleks can destroy it. At the same time, The Doctor has to save the mysterious Oswin Oswald, who’s staged a single-handed defense against the insane Daleks for nearly a year, as well as fix the relationship of his Companions Amy and Rory. If he achieves three more impossible things, he can have breakfast.
Steven Moffat’s admitted that the Daleks are his favorite Who foe, and had wanted to “give them a rest” for bit, till the right story came along. Well, mission accomplished. He does what needs to be done anytime to you bring back an enemy and expand on them a bit, add to their mythos. Here we see a new ruling structure, a horrifying insight to their concept of beauty, and a look at how they treat their failures. In short, a solid story, with some great dramatic moments. Another chapter in the greatest romance in time and space, and an introduction to…well, maybe not the character, but certainly the actress who’ll be taking the reins from Karen and Arthur as the next Companion.
THE MONSTER FILES
The Daleks have been so much a part of the history of Doctor Who it’s almost impossible to talk of one without the other. Introduced in the second adventure, their innovative design seized the imagination of the children of Britain, and has never let go. Any hopes the series had of being a semi-educational show were blasted off the table when it became clear that the kids wanted scary monsters and super freaks.
Created by Terry Nation, who would go on to create the series Blake’s 7 and The Survivors, he attempted to take his creation to America and pitch a series here. The character Sara Kingdom (played by Jean Marsh and seen in The Dalek Master Plan) was to be their primary enemy in the pitched series, which never came to pass.
While the Dalek Puppets are a new addition to their weaponry, they’re scarcely the first attempt to use bipedal, opposable-thumbed minions. In addition to the endless poor suckers who think they’ll be treated well (or even differently) by the Daleks, they’ve created Robomen slaves of their prisoners, both in The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and its out of continuity film adaptation starring Peter Cushing. Ogrons became a slave race of choice for a while, appearing in Day of the Daleks. Most recently, we saw Professor Bracewell, an android created to aid in The Victory of the Daleks. Indeed, since we’ve now seen how they can completely replace a human’s body with Dalek components, one could wonder if Edwin Bracewell didn’t have implanted memories, but REAL memories, those from before his conversion.
HUGE SPOILED ALERT!
Jenna-Louise Coleman (Oswin Oswald) Jenna’s career is only a few years old, similar to that of Karen Gillan, but what she’s got is cherce. Starting off with a brief run on British soap opera Emmerdale (you thought I was going to say EastEnders, didn’t you?), she also had recurring roles on Walterloo Road and starred with John Goodman on Dancing on the Edge. Most recently she’s starred in the Titanic mini-series, and had a small role in Captain America. She will be heard from again in the very near future.
Anamaria Marinca (Darla / Dalek puppet) is another case of getting the best people for even the smallest roles. Romanian by birth, she’s won dozens of acting awards for her work, including a BAFTA for the series Sex Traffic.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS – Trivia and production details
CREDITS WHERE CREDITS ARE DUE – Another minor tweak to the opening of the series. The effect of the TARDIS flying through the Time Vortex is more blurred, and at the same time more colorful. We see the return of the red and blue, indicating the capsule is traveling forward or backward in time. Also, the logo of the series has changed, and will continue to change in each episode. Here it’s covered in “Dalek Bumps”, next week it’s reported it’ll have scales like a dinosaur. The font for the cast and the episode title match now, no longer using the same font as the logo.
SET PIECES – The design of the Dalek ships have a number of subtle points. The bars in the viewport window match the grille design of a new series Dalek, so it looks like they’re looking out the grille of a giant Dalek. Also note the trapezoidal doors, designed to accommodate their bodies, and of course, the utter lack of stairs. Note also that all the control panels are all shaped to fit the Dalek “plunger” hand. We’ve seen that it can change shape slightly – likely the globe serves as a haptic interface, a hemispheric iPad screen.
Once again, the classic “heart beat” sound effect appears – used since the Tom Baker years (and found on the “Doctor Who Sound Effects” album), the thumping hum of a Dalek base has been used in every new series Dalek episode. It appears as Rory accidentally awakens the sleeping inmates of the asylum.
AND NO ONE HEARD AT ALL, NOT EVEN THE CHAIR – The Beeb will re-use props and background pieces when they can. This week, the chair from Oswin’s little control room is the same one from Jenny’s ship in The Doctor’s Daughter. The Clever Theories have already started rolling.
SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC SAHARA – The sequences on the snowy mountains of the Asylum were originally set to be filed in a set. But when preparing for a trip to Spain to film sequences for A Town Called Mercy, series producer Marcus Wilson pointed out that the Sierra Nevada mountain range was only a hop skip and jump away, and wouldn’t it make more sense (and possibly save money) to pop up there and film the exterior scenes? Caroline Skinner agreed, and off they went.
EVERY DALEK EVER – marked as the biggest conglomeration of pepperpots in the history of the series, the episode did not disappoint. Well…sort of. For all the hype and hoohah they gave the return of the Special Weapons Dalek (first seen in Remembrance of the Daleks and several novels and other off-TV adventures), it was a glorified cameo – it didn’t fire, and barely moved. You got a better look at it in the promotional photos. There were a smattering of old model Daleks – the pirouetting model appeared to be a white Imperial Dalek from Remembrance, and there were a few other “classic” series models. Can you find them all?
More surprising is which Daleks we saw the most of – the vast majority of models we saw were the “bronze” variety we’ve seen since the start of the new series. Considering all the pomp and circumstance the New Paradigm Daleks were introduced in Victory of the Daleks, they were barely there at all. Since they were seen at the center of the parliament, it is most likely that they serve as rulers/generals of the Dalek race, taking the positions once held by Black and Gold Daleks. The bronze models would continue to serve as the soldiers.
ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF BY RORY – Minor production error in Rory’s first scene among all the inactive Daleks – the model he pushes about has a headlamp missing in the above and reverse shots; it has both in the shots from behind Rory.
“Skaro – original planet of the Daleks” Introduced in their original adventure, we’ve seen Skaro itself a few times in the series. The Doctor and his friends traveled back to The Genesis of the Daleks with the help of the Time Lords, with the task of averting their creation. In the far future, the Emperor Dalek ruled over their empire in The Evil of the Daleks, but at another point, it was a virtually dead planet being excavated by the Movellans in Destiny of the Daleks. It was presumed destroyed by supernova in Remembrance of the Daleks, but Daleks are not unlike cockroaches – they seem to be able to survive everything.
“Out of ten? Eleven” More than just the obvious Spinal Tap “Goes to eleven” gag, this is another sly reference that this is The Doctor’s eleventh incarnation, and that Matt is the eleventh (in continuity) actor to play him.
“The Predator of the Daleks will be deployed” – Along with the earlier revealed “Oncoming Storm”, The Daleks have graced The Doctor with a title of their own. As has been pointed out before, names are a recurring theme in the series. Knowing an enemy’s name reduces their power, and increases your ability to hurt them.
“Are you actually, properly real?” Note a very subtle hint to Oswin’s malleable reality – when The Doctor calls her “Carmen”, a rose appears behind her ear. It was not there before, and is gone in the next scene.
“RoRRRYYYYYYYYYyyyyyy!” Throughout the episode, there are tells that Amy still very much cares for Rory. When she awakes, she looks for him, and not The Doctor. And that piercing scream is the same one she used to call to him in Amy’s Choice.
“Nanogenes” Steven Moffat coined that term in The Empty Child for the micro-robots designed to heal injuries, turn people into gasmask-faced monsters, and in this case, convert people to Dalek Puppets. Amy is likely (we hope) right that as a Time Lord The Doctor was immune to their effect, and will similarly be able to reprogram a few to repair any temporary changes made to Amy.
“They’re the ones who survived me” The planets mentioned are all from past battles between the Doctor and his lifelong foe:
Spiridon – Planet of the Daleks
Kembal – The Dalek Master Plan
Aridius – The Chase
Vulcan – Power of the Daleks
Exxilon – Death to the Daleks
Of course, if I were to be very picayune, I’d mention that if that were the case, these should all be older design Daleks, when it looks more like they’re all the modern Bronze variety. But do I look like that kind of person?
“They did a full conversion” – Daleks have converted humans to Dalek beings in the past, although in Victory, it was said that they’d done it so many times, the Progenitor system didn’t even recognize the surviving members as true Daleks. Presumably the automated systems of the Asylum was more interested in enhancing the security system than in the scrupulous worry about purity.
Humans and Daleks don’t usually mix. Dalek Sec attempted it in Daleks in Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks with poor results, and the infection of the Human Factor caused a civil war in Evil of the Daleks, which was at the time supposed to be the final Dalek adventure.
BIG BAD WOLF REPORT While Moffat and the Who production office have maintained that there’s no over-arcing plotline this series, there are clearly themes already appearing. Matt Smith has described this five-episode run as “The Fall of the Ponds”, as it will culminate in their departure at the end of episode five, The Angels Take Manhattan. The prequel series Pond Life provided a look into the Ponds’s home life when The Doctor wasn’t around, ending with a hint of the breakup we saw here. The fourth episode, The Power of Three, is supposed to further that story a bit more.
“Life, just life – that thing that goes on when you’re not there” Most tragic is the revelation that because of the traumas from Demon’s Run, Amy can no longer bear children. That’s clearly a massive blow to Rory, so much so that Amy chooses to push him away, in the hopes he’ll find someone who can give him what he’s always wanted. There’s a clever theory boiling in my head that might well tie more than a couple threads up, but I’ll hold my tongue for the moment.
“Remember me” Clearly one theme that popped up in this episode is that of memory and remembering. From The Doctor’s advice that Amy “Make [the Daleks] remember you” to Oswin’s request of the same to The Doctor, after her ensuring that the Daleks wouldn’t remember him, it comes up more than a few times in the episode.
“DOK-TOR-WHO?” Tying back to the end of last series, The Doctor chooses to allow the reports of his death to remain greatly exaggerated, so he may work more into the background, and safe from those who wish to harm him. It’s backed up in the opening of the episode where Darla believe The Doctor to be dead. And now that the Daleks have now (at least temporarily) forgotten who he is, he’s able to fade back a bit more.
But the real “Question” is one that’s been bouncing through the entire new series – The Doctor’s Name, his real origins, and why he keeps them so secret. It’s been said that on the Fields of Trenzalore, that question will be asked, and he’ll be compelled to answer. When that will happen, and what will happen as a result, we do not know, but Moffat does not lay plot threads higgledy-piggledy.
I DON’T THINK WE’VE BEEN PROPERLY INTRODUCED – Jenna-Louise Coleman’s appearance Oswin Oswald is clearly the biggest surprise this episode had. Already announced as The Doctor’s new Companion (and scheduled to come on board in that capacity in the Christmas episode) she appears here in what is presumed either a different role, or perhaps even from another point of her life. Her Companion role’s name had been rumored to be Clara, but as we know, nothing is guaranteed in the world of Who.
Moffat and the rest of the cast and crew have shared massive accolades to both the press and the thousands of fans and bloggers who all kept this reveal utterly secret through four sneak previews of this episode over the past month.
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – The Doctor is sick of…well, no, he seems quite excited by the idea of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Lestrade finds his division, Ron Weasley’s dad is also Rory’s dad (so…related?) and also Queen Nefertiti. Seven days away…you busy?