Season premiere review: ‘Doctor Who’ – ‘Asylum of the Daleks’

Senior Television Writer
09.01.12 52 Comments


“Doctor Who” is back for a new season, and I have a review of the premiere, “Asylum of the Daleks,” coming up just as soon as I have an escape plan where I survive 4 seconds longer…

“Well, this is new.” -The Doctor

As someone who came to “Doctor Who” with the Christopher Eccleston/Russell T. Davies revival, there are certain aspects of franchise lore that have never done much for me, and the Daleks are right at the top of that list. I was pleased each time Davies seemed to render them extinct, frustrated when he inevitably brought them back, and disappointed in the one Dalek-heavy episode of the Steven Moffat era (“Victory of the Daleks”). So I had to temper my excitement at seeing Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill again with the knowledge that they’d be bringing the single-minded, screechy pepperpots back with them.

Fortunately, “Asylum of the Daleks” had enough non-eyestalk material and Moffat-scripted witticisms to keep me engaged.

On the continuing story front, we return to Mr. and Mrs. Pond as they are on the verge of being Miss Pond and Mr. Williams again. Amy and Rory’s relationship, and the way that Moffat slowly but surely revealed how secretly awesome Rory was, has been one of the most appealing parts of the Eleventh Doctor saga, and Gillan and Darvill were terrific in the scene where the ex-spouses argued over who loved the other more. I’ll miss these two when they’re gone soon, but it’s a pleasure to have them around for now.

And speaking of the future, a very interesting casting move by Moffat in introducing Jenna-Louise Coleman to the audience this soon, and in such an unexpected fashion. It’s been well-publicized that Coleman had been cast as the new companion, and most of us understandably assumed Coleman wouldn’t appear until right before or right after we said farewell to the Ponds. So when I saw Coleman as Oswin, the genius junior entertainment manager, I was surprised that Moffat was bringing her on stage this early. And then I was very pleased as we got to know her, as Oswin is unlike any previous female companion of the modern era. (Though she’s a bit like Captain Jack Harkness in both her knowledge of the universe and her flirtiness.) Coleman was very appealing, and if it meant the TARDIS was going to be crowded for a few episodes, so be it.

But then we got to the heartbreaking, very Steven Moffat reveal that I should have seen coming but didn’t: the Oswin we’d been watching all episode was living inside her own head as a coping mechanism after being converted into a full Dalek.  Good people are being turned into monsters all the time on “Doctor Who,” and on occasion they’re made aware of that horror; because “Asylum of the Daleks” had done such a good job of establishing Oswin as a character we liked – and, if we’d been paying attention to casting news at all, a character we thought would be sticking around for quite a while(*) – that this one hit extra hard.

(*) I’ll be curious to see whether the character Coleman plays down the line is in some way related to Oswin. The Davies era of the show occasionally used actors twice – Freema Agyeman died as a Torchwood employee before being cast as Martha Jones (who was identical cousins with the previous character), and when the Doctor and Rose met Gwen Cooper from “Torchwood,” they recognized her as a descendant of the character Eve Myles had played in an early Eccleston episode – and in this case, there’s clearly a plan. In chatting about the episode with Mo Ryan, she suggested the possibility that Oswin will be the companion – just from earlier in her lifetime, with some timey-wimey used to keep her from remembering the Doctor by the time she crashes on the asylum planet. We’ll see.

Davies killed off the Daleks often enough that I wouldn’t believe it for a second if Moffat had attempted the same. On the other hand, having Oswin wipe the entire race’s memory of the Doctor is a change that I could see more easily sticking. It won’t make the Daleks themselves any more interesting to me, but it will at least liven up the relationship between them and our hero the next time they appear.

What did everybody else think?

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