Doctor Who – The Asylum of the Dalek’s
Doctor Who has always been an out there kind of show, one that tells the kind of stories that you can only get away with if you’re a guaranteed commercial success which this show has been since the beginning. Each episode doesn’t just bring with it a new setting but a new planet and period, it’s also not just a new set of characters that get to tell their stories but brand new species; the show continually shuffling through entire ecosystems with each episode where most stick to a single town for their entire series run.
So it’s always a little disappointing to hear that yet another episode is going to be based around the Daleks; a species who have failed to hold my interest for a single episode, let alone justify their constant return. They’re not particularly interesting, inventive or dangerous; their only boon the way in which they effect the Doctor emotionally. So Asylum should have been a boring and bland return for the show, retreading that old familiar ground (better than risking stairs) and yet it is the inverse of that; showing that whatever Davies can’t do Moffat can do much better.
While I would still argue that they are one of the less interesting races in the New Whoniverse this episode took steps towards changing that, because while it is a Dalek episode it uses the old tin cans in a new and inventive way. Rather than just having them roam around a quarry or abandoned industrial complex Asylum dual parliment and prison settings allows the show to use the Dalek’s for dialogue (Yes, they have more than a one word vocabulary), exposition and drama besides the usual laser based antics. On top of that the episode also introduces human and Zombi-Dalek’s; the former people emptied out and used as slaves by the race, the latter zombies with stalks and a desire to Exterminate. Even that old catch phrase is given a bit of a twist, stretched out as it is by the beasts low power reserves.
Admittedly I do think that the episode missed one major opportunity to make the main villains more interesting and that is by not introducing any kind of individually interesting Dalek character. The idea of a prison planet where this war-bound race send those too driven by destruction for the common good is a fascinating one and the perfect place to put a Scar-style distinguished Dalek; one that we could care enough about to root against. Instead though the Daleks down there were all much the same as the ones that we’ve seen all series, just a little less shiny. Of course this conversation must seem incredibly ironic to those who have seen the episode, but I won’t go into that any deeper though it is the real reason that I liked this episode.
Moffat is now known for a number of things, among them tricky twists and witty banter both of which Asylum had in spades and both of which came mostly from Oswin. Oswin, again ironically, was the heart of the episode; her scenes the most interesting, her lines the most hilarious by far and the end of her story smart, insane, sad and all the other things we want from a good episode of Who. Only is it the end? Because as Oswin was played by Jenna Coleman she either is or isn’t SPOILER FOR THOSE WITHOUT INTERNET the next companion…right?
Because the third thing for which Moffat made his name is crazily complex mythologies I imagine that this isn’t a simple slip of casting but a clever twist on what has now become a series trope: namely companions being cast in small roles much earlier on in the show than their starring turns. The way that Oswin turns her head to the camera before calling out “Remember Me” seems as clear a cry to the audience as “Is it wrong I missed this?” was.
Whatever the reason behind the first quote the second is the one that stuck with me most. Who has always been a hit and miss show for me – episode by episode and season by season I can either love it, hate it or struggle to find the drive to watch it at all – but these latest seasons have been smoothing over all the bumps in a bold way. It’s good to see this kind of unrepentant imagination again, this taking of risks that far outweigh the reward, this throwing every idea at the screen to see what sticks even if this was one of the sillier realiations of it with one of the weaker villains. Right now I’m happy to have Who back.