Daleks! Amy and Rory on the rocks! New girl! Spooky walking skeletons! The Doctor Who series 7 premier, titled Asylum of the Daleks, had a lot of cool doctory goodness about it. And yet, I was disappointed. Why? Well, read onward, but know this:
You always want to start off on the right foot, as they say, and for most of the run of “NuWho”, that’s been the case. The initial episode, Rose, was pure Doctor at his best. The Christmas Invasion introduced us to David Tennant and his Doctor, very quickly winning us over and setting a new tone. Smith and Jones saw the Doctor on the moon and brought in a smart new companion. Partners in Crime was cute and funny and really defined the relationship between the Doctor and Donna. We sort of skip a bit with the “movies” year, and then jump right back into the thick of it with The Eleventh Hour, which is still one of the best hours of Doctor Who ever written. The Impossible Astronaut opened up a season long story line and started to bring us full circle with the incomparable River Song.
And now there’s Asylum of the Daleks. Well, everyone has a bad day, I suppose.
That’s not to say that the episode was bad. It was not. It just had problems, problems you wouldn’t expect in a series opener. Maybe as time goes on those problems will resolve themselves – this is a show about time travel, after all, but right now I’m left with a less than stellar impression.
The show starts off fine with it’s little bit of the Doctor skulking in the shadows in a giant Dalek on Skarro. The trap is obvious and the Doctor twigs to it immediately in usual Doctor style. And then, directly following that, we go off the rails. We find Amy at a fashion shoot – makes sense, since she had become a famous model since we last saw her. Then we learn that she and Rory are getting divorced.
It’s a visceral jerk to fans, and immediately sets us to wondering what the hell happened. I understand the idea of putting your characters in a jam. You have to torture the little buggers to really make a good story. But this was a little bit too… well the best word for it is contrived. It feels wrong, like the writers needed a way for Amy and Rory to be more than set dressing to the story, so they came up with a highly improbable scenario. I mean, seriously, these two have been through life and death, the end of the universe itself, and time beyond time for each other…and they’re getting divorced?
This story line might have worked if it’d been based on what I call Sarah Jane Syndrome. That is, if they were splitting up because they felt empty without the Doctor and were having a hard time moving on. The problem was, we’ve seen at least a few years of their post-Doctor lives and it’s been sunshine and roses thus far, so this whole divorce scenario seems like a slap in the face of the viewers. I’m sure it was meant to give dramatic tension, but it was just really poorly done.
Next up, though, we’re whisked off to a Dalek mothership and meet the Dalek Parliament. Wait…the what? The Daleks have always been dictatorial. A Parliament doesn’t even make sense. But o.k., we’ll let that go. We learn that there is a girl trapped on a planet full of insane Daleks. A planet of what now? And they were where during the Time War? O.k., nevermind, let’s move on. This girl is on the planet and the Daleks want the Doctor to get rid of her. Now there’s a story we can understand, and as much as people might think that this is the part that doesn’t make sense, it’s actually a very Whovian twist to things. The Doctor is quite often tasked with helping his enemies, though he always ends up coming out on top.
We move on down to the planet and get to meet another crewman of the lost ship. Except he’s a Dalek-person and his dead crew are Dalek-zombies. Oh, now we’re getting to the good stuff! And while the Doctor and Amy deal with that (and Amy being exposed to the nanogene cloud), Rory gets to play with some very old, very derelict Daleks. It’s like a Dalek graveyard, in fact, and really scary in its own right. And Special Weapon Daleks! It’s like Christmas for Who fans!
We also get Ms. Sassy, also known as Oswin, who we know will be the next companion. She’s suitably cute, brilliant and gets the better of the Doctor. Excellent! But wait, there are little hints that all is not well with her. Her outfit, for example, has little Daleky bits to it…and the room she’s in, shaped like the inside of a Dalek head…
Moving on, Amy is starting to freak out and become a Dalek. Here we get to see the best scene in the whole episode as Amy sees a room full of random people. One of them is a little ballerina twirling. There’s a couple dancing, and a man bidding her welcome. However, this turns out to be a hallucination – they’re all Daleks, literally old, rusted Daleks that are malfunctioning. The Doctor saves Amy and blows up all the Daleks, but not before Amy passes out from the nanogenes.
Amy is o.k. and later wakes up in what appears to be a transporter room from Star Trek. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. The Doctor leaves her in Rory’s care, telling him to help her “hold on to love” so that she won’t be converted. And here we get the tear jerker explanation for why Amy and Rory are splitting up…Amy can’t have kids. Whatever was done to her at Demon’s Run, she’s barren now, and she pushed Rory out because she knows he’s always wanted children.
O.k., wait…stop the bus for a second. Amy can have kids, which she assumes makes Rory miserable, so she dumps him, which makes him even more miserable. Yeah, Amy Pond, not the brightest bulb on the tree. Or bad writing, not sure which. In any event, the big thing to come out of the whole catharsis is Rory finally saying out loud what we all already know: he loves Amy a lot more than she loves him.
Perhaps this whole martyr/go marry someone who can carry your seed bit was supposed to make Amy seem less like a selfish bitch, but if so, it failed spectacularly. Seriously, this is the man who waited for you for TWO THOUSAND YEARS, and you’re going to shoo him away because you can’t squeeze out a crotch fruit for him? And worst, you have a friend with a magic box and access to advanced medical technology that can likely reverse your condition. You also have a DAUGHTER who can do the same thing for you! Oh yeah, forgot about that. I mean, one little trip to New Earth and the cat ladies can fix you right up. Or you could get dosed with nanogenes.
Anyway, Amy and Rory have their tearful reunion while the Doctor is off learning the twist ending – cute little Oswin is actually a Dalek. She was human, but they converted her, so she regressed into her mind and held them out all this time. Here we have another good part of the episode where the Doctor is clearly trying to be sympathetic, but his voice is dripping with hate. He just can’t accept that Dalek-Oswin is good.
In the end, the Doctor and crew escape, and Oswin is able to literally erase the Doctor from every Dalek’s memory. Unfortunately, this leads to the ending scene where the Doctor prances around the TARDIS control room repeating, “Doctor who?” Look, we get it, that’s the 50th anniversary/big story line culmination, but if you do it like this, it’s too much. The Doctor should NOT be asking the question.
There’s plenty of little hooks for the future, including Oswin, whose descendant or something will be the next companion, saying “Remember me” and weird stuff with Amy like her vanity light flashing. But overall it was a very weak episode and not really in keeping with the show’s usual strong opener. Let’s hope it’s not an indication of things to come.