Sunday, 2 September 2012

Review - "Asylum of the Daleks"

This has to have been one of the most eagerly anticipated and hyped opening episodes ever. We were promised a "shocking surprise" and a "game changing moment". We waited an awfully long time for this so...did it disappoint? Not in the slightest. It was utterly enthralling from start to finish.

Basically, the Doctor, Amy and Rory are "acquired" by the Daleks via the use of some fabulous Human/Dalek hybrids in order to carry out a mission for them. The mission is to go down to the legendary/mythical Asylum of the Daleks, where all the insane and battle scarred Daleks are held, and turn off the forcefield in order for the Daleks to blow the whole place up. It's rarely as simple as that though.

The opening scenes were superb - we got to see Skaro again and it reinforced the theme from last season with everyone seemingly believing that the Doctor was dead. Amy and Rory's marriage problems were unfurled quickly - before all three found themselves facing the Parliament of the Daleks. Personally, I would have loved for them to have used "Coalition" given the number of different Daleks on display. There's a rather foreshadowing and intriguing piece of dialogue as the Doctor tells Amy to "make them remember you" before the chilling chant of "save the Daleks" starts up. And that's just the pre-credits sequence! Speaking of credits, have to admit that I'm not overly impressed with the new credits - they look a bit cartoony and animated to me.

Straight after the credits we get the "shocking surprise" - and huge thanks again to those who'd previously seen the episode at the various premiere screenings and didn't spill the surprise. Jenna-Louise Coleman makes her "Doctor Who" debut as "Oswin Oswald", Junior Entertainment Manager on the starship Alaska which crashed on the Asylum planet. Obviously, we don't know how this will link to the Christmas episode where she supposedly takes up the mantle of companion - will it be the same character in a different time? Will it be an ancestor? Who knows - but one thing IS certain: it was very clever of the Moff to bring Jenna-Louise Coleman in for this episode. It was completely unexpected - therefore giving us the chance to see her in the show with no real preconceptions. It takes the focus off the actress and what her chemistry with Matt Smith will be like - and plants it firmly on the questions about the character. Clever Moffat.

Oswin is a fantastic character - and most definitely IS the computer whizz that the Moff stated the new companion would be. He didn't actually lie then - just made it very confusing. However, in Oswin, we can almost see ourselves. It's like this was Moffat's little nod to the Who fans. Oswin communicates and interacts via a keyboard - just like we do. She wants to be rescued by the Doctor - "rescue me, chin boy and show me the stars" - just like we dream about. And her dream world is a block against a harsh and appalling reality. Who amongst us would deny that our dream worlds, our fantasies are much more appealing than the world around us? On the reverse side, the nitpicking actions of Who fans were highlighted in the Doctor - with his obsession about where Oswin would get the milk to make the souffles from.

I could go on and on about Oswin - the flirting, the fun banter - but the main thing that really stood out was her strength. The Dalek hive mind - the Path-web - had been trying, in best Borg fashion, to "assimilate" her mind for a year. A YEAR. And not only did she hold them out...but she found ways to undermine them and hack into the Asylum controls to help the Doctor, Amy and Rory.

I honestly cannot go through the episode scene by scene or this review will be practically endless so I'll go for the salient points instead:

Zombie Dalek/human hybrids - fabulous! More please - so much better than the Robomen of old. This is probably the closest Who can get to having proper honest-to-god Zombies on the show so we should make the most of it.

Eggs - really funny. Rory offering up that Dalek ball to the Dalek thinking it was an egg was priceless. Lovely touch for the children who often call out "Eggs-terminate".

The shout-outs for Classic fans - yeah, not only did we have the Classic Daleks (briefly, admittedly) we also got planet mentions including two of my favourites: Spiridon (Planet of the Daleks) and Exxilon (I love Death to the Daleks).

Amy and Rory - come on, we all knew we'd get moff-fucked by this one. Divorce for the Ponds after all they've been through? I know there are complaints about this but it was a good, believable reason. We know Amy's character - she runs away. She ran on the night before her when encountering something like this - about not being able to have any more children after the events of Demon's Run - what was the thing she would be most likely to do? Run. She ran by pushing Rory away because he's always wanted children. Explaining it to herself that she was "giving him up". Amy was still stuck in the grieving stage - thanks to the Doctor switching wristbands and Rory's belief that he loved her more than she did him, Amy fought back.

Oswin - oh, it was heartbreaking. Oswin turned out to be a Dalek. Oswin Oswald had escaped from the crash of the Alaska ... and the Daleks had recognised her genius and turned her into one of them. But she fought them - she didn't give in. She still believed in her humanity. And she retained that humanity until the end by letting the Doctor escape. That little "run you clever boy...and remember" with the glance at the camera certainly smacks of a whole lot more to come with this story.

The Doctor - oh, we saw it all from the fun and crazy side and the genius to the sheer terror when trapped by the Daleks in "intensive care". That sent shivers up the spine. The Doctor was terrified - utterly terrified - and that is something guaranteed to scare the audience too. Follow that up with the very next scene when he realises that Oswin is a Dalek and the terror turned to anger and heartbreak. Beautiful.

The Daleks - scary again? Oh yeah. I wonder how many children would take their Dalek toys to bed after that? Not many, I bet.

So, we had the surprise...what about the game-changer? Oh, we got that too. Oswin wipes the memory of the Doctor from the hive mind. They no longer know who he is. The Doctor is very smug about that - ecstatic really with his comment of "'re never going to stop asking" and subsequent dancing around the console a la "Doctor's Wife" whilst saying "Doctor Who?" over and over. You can't help but feel this is going to come back and haunt him. It's been such a huge theme - trying to step back into the shadows, let everyone think he's dead and now having the Daleks not remember him at all - that one wonders if there will come a time in this series where he actually NEEDS to be remembered for who he is.

To summarise - a pretty spectacular episode. The cast, crew and writing were all on top form. The Moff made the Daleks scary again - please have a go at the Cybermen next, Moff. Matt Smith just proved once again that if anyone was born to play the role of the Doctor then it was him. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill were as good as ever but the hats off for this one must go to Jenna-Louise Coleman. Just a great performance which laid a lot of fears for the future to rest.

Episode Rating: 10/10 - because I have nothing but love for this episode.