by Catriona Mills

Live-blogging Doctor Who Season Seven: "Asylum of the Daleks"

Posted 7 September 2012 in by Catriona

So, here we are finally with the new series of Doctor Who. Has it felt like twelve and a half years to anyone else?

For this live-blogging, I’m going to follow the pattern I used for the Christmas special (right here if you didn’t read that one at the time), because people seemed happy with that, and it saves me a little stress on a Saturday night.

So, “Asylum of the Daleks”, anyone?

Synopsis

After the Oodness of the “Pond Life” prequel (see what I did there?), this episode begins with the Doctor, Amy, and Rory all being drawn into the parliament of the Daleks (along with the TARDIS, which turns out to be convenient). It seems that the Daleks have a secret asylum planet for Daleks who’ve gone insane. Which is something of a terrifying thought. But something’s gone wrong with the asylum planet, as evidenced by the bursts of Carmen that the Daleks have been intercepting. These turn out to come from the entertainment officer of a crashed ship, who has been trapped on the asylum planet for a year, whiling the time away making soufflés, playing opera, and wearing the kind of frock that isn’t really suitable day-time wear.

Since the Daleks are all too terrified to go down themselves (I guess they’re not keen on soufflés? Me neither), they’ve recruited the Doctor and his companions (because their records indicate the the Doctor needs companions) to head down and turn off the planet’s shielding, so the Daleks can destroy it.

They fit the three of them out with bracelets to protect them from the planet’s nanobots (which will otherwise turn them into Dalek slaves), throw them into a beam of light, and we’re down on an ice planet. Well, Amy and the Doctor are down on an ice planet. Rory has fallen straight down a shaft into the asylum itself. Fortunately, Amy and the Doctor are assisted by a nice astronaut. Unfortunately, he turns out to be a nice dead astronaut, as are all his crew. So Amy and the Doctor flee through a hatch, with Amy conveniently losing her protective bracelet, and into the asylum.

Thanks to the intervention of Oswin (the soufflé-obsessed entertainment officer from the crashed ship whose crew are now bracelet-stealing Dalek-zombies), both Rory and Amy and the Doctor are (separately) led through the maze of insane Daleks to a transport platform. Here, they can beam back to the Dalek ship, once Oswin drops the planet’s shields. Of course, as soon as the shields drop, the Daleks will blow the planet to smithereens, so Oswin doesn’t trust them to wait for her to come to them. She wants the Doctor to come to her.

Through Dalek intensive care.

Now there’s a scary phrase.

While the Doctor heads off, Rory and Amy have an emotional reconciliation over the fact that Amy’s going to become a Dalek soon. Except that she isn’t, because the Doctor’s slipped his bracelet onto her arm, apparently arresting the progression of the nanobots. I’ll complain about that below. (Hint: you’ll find it under “What didn’t work for me in this episode”). Still, Rory and Amy have a chance to argue about who loves whom more and why Amy kicked him out in the first place, and for more information on that, see “What didn’t work for me in this episode.”

The Doctor, having set up all this emotional dialogue because he can’t stop meddling, makes his way through Dalek intensive care, but his presence wakes up these insane Daleks, because these are the ones who’ve survived encounters with the Doctor. So we end with the Doctor pressed up against a steel door and screaming for Oswin to open the door because the Daleks are about two feet from him. But she doesn’t—instead, she hacks into the Dalek mainframe (the pathweb, it’s called, from memory) and wipes out all Dalek knowledge of the Doctor. And for my take on that, see “What I’m uncertain about.”

So now the Doctor can rescue Oswin and they can all beam happily back up to a ship full of homicidal pepperpots and then live happily ever after.

Right?

Wrong.

Because Oswin is a Dalek. All the soufflés, all the after-five dresses, all the cosy hammocks and keeping herself safe from the Daleks for a year? All delusions, brought about by her determination to remain human after being forced through a full Dalek transformation. She’s just a Dalek chained to a wall in the depths of the intensive care unit, because she’s one of the most insane Daleks of all.

So the Doctor can’t save her, but she can save him: she drops the shields, and as the Daleks begin to destroy the planet, the Doctor, Amy, and Rory beam right back into the TARDIS control room (is that possible? I guess it is for the Doctor) and away.

What didn’t work for me in this episode

Call me hard hearted, but Amy and Rory’s emotional turmoil didn’t work for me at all. It felt forced, since they’ve been nothing but mutually besotted through all sorts of long hard times, and yet here they are divorcing for … what? The ‘what’ was the least convincing part of this sub-plot, for me. Why, after all the various travails they’ve been through as a couple, why on earth would Amy just kick Rory out (sorry, “let him go”) rather than talk to him about the possibility of their not having any more children? I know they’re very, very young, but I don’t see her letting him go as a noble sacrifice: I’m afraid I see it as rather selfish (he gets no say in this?) and a bit dim (just talk to him!).

Then they get back together by the end of the episode anyway. Which always makes me cranky. Commit to your relationships, television writers! Commit! Breaking the characters up randomly is much more common than actually going whole-hearted after a relationship, so break the mould a little.

That said, I do actually like both Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill very, very much, so they were both touching in the actual reconciliation scene—I just didn’t think there was much narrative reason for us to be there.

The other aspect of the program that really didn’t work for me was the nanobots. I admit to something of general scepticism about nanobots anyway, but in this case, they seemed to be inconsistently applied. I understand that the Doctor was meddling, and wanted to provoke a reconciliation with Amy and Rory, so I see why he’d think it was a good idea not to mention that he’d given his own bracelet to Amy. But, then, if the nanobots were such a risk, why would he wait that long? Why wouldn’t he give his bracelet to Amy as soon as they saw the creepy dead astronauts waving her bracelet around in front of the hatchway? Why the big emotional scenes about Amy’s transformation, if he could have stopped it almost immediately? Why the fretting about the bracelets if it turned out that the Doctor didn’t need one anyway?

So many whys.

And, to add to the whys, a “how” and and “are”. How many times can “well, he’s a Time Lord” be used to patch over a slight hole in the plausibility of a narrative? And are there going to be any pay-offs down the road for the fact that Amy was exposed to the Dalek nanobots for what seemed like an unnecessarily long time? I mean, the satisfaction of Rory and Amy reconciling might be undercut if she grows a Dalek eye stalk out of her forehead. Not to mention what that will do to her modelling career.

I’m also moderately uncertain as to how Oswin was playing section of Carmen, under the circumstances, but I’m willing to accept that it might have something to do with being able to hack into the iTunes account of the crashed spaceship. Or the future equivalent of iTunes. Which is probably iTunes.

What worked for me

Maybe this is me being naive, but I did not see the fake-out with Oswin actually being a Dalek coming. Perhaps I should have, but I didn’t. And they even hinted at it by having the rudiments of Dalek props in her utility belt, and I still didn’t see it coming! My reward for being narratologically naive is that all the emotional pay-off of the episode rested in that one section, for me. That was far more satisfying than Amy and Rory’s reconciliation, as I mentioned above. I’m sure much of my shock at this moment was because I knew Jenna-Louise Coleman is to be the new companion, so when she turned out to be, you know, dead, it did come as something of a surprise.

Jenna-Louise Coleman was also completely adorable, which set my mind at ease about the change in crew. Nick and I are currently arguing about whether the forthcoming companion will be Oswin or not, and about whether this counts as unique in the history of introducing new companions.

(We know, before you start commenting, that it’s not quite unique: we’re just not sure whether they’re going to follow the River Song pattern of character introduction or the Princess Astra/Romana II pattern.)

I also found the Daleks in the actual asylum quite terrifying.

What I’m uncertain about

I had to add a whole new section to the live-blogging for this bit, but here’s my concern: I’m really not sure that the Doctor would be happy that the Daleks can’t remember him. I just … I’ve been watching many years, and I’ve seen many, many Dalek stories come and go, and I just … I’m uncertain. I’m distinctly uncertain that this would be something the Doctor would treat with glee.

I could be wrong, of course. It’s been known. On occasion. Not often.

Share your thoughts [10]

1

Wendy wrote at Sep 8, 11:36 AM

I am not going to miss the Ponds really and totally agree with your comments bout the weird situation with their divorce/ reconciliation in this episode….waste of time and energy

Dalek intensive care creeped me out as well though. And I liked the Oswin character and didn’t see the twist coming either.

2

Matt wrote at Sep 8, 11:46 AM

At work we’ve been discussing how good it was to see some horror elements coming to the forefront in this episode. The crowded room of seemingly dormant daleks that you just know are going to wake up and the eyestalk forehead thing. The moment where their new friend says “That’s right, I died on the surface” sent shivers down my spine. As did the big reveal as the Doctor meets Oswin and the look on his face as he says “Oh, I’m so terribly sorry, does it seem real to you?” and you’re thinking, oh shit, what can he see.

Leading up to this episode, I was a bit apprehensive that the show is jumping the shark but at least with this episode, I got the feeling that the writers have some new tricks up their sleeves. Erasing of the daleks memory may point to less episodes where the doctor is treated like a universal celebrity which annoys me with the new series.

I agree with all your points on the Amy and Rory plot. Way off target for me. I think it was an attempt to do something new with them but it just didn’t come off. Perhaps trying to set something up for later on. I hope not, please just leave them to their domestic bliss and drop an ood on them occasionally.

3

Catriona wrote at Sep 8, 12:19 PM

Matt, what made you worried that it was going to jump the shark? I admit, I’m not ecstatic about the Doctor as intergalactic celebrity, but it makes more sense here, after the Time War, than it would have in the original series. (And they sort of led up to that in the first season of the new series, when the fact that everyone knew who the Doctor was rested on the fact that he’d basically frakked each and every one of their planets.) But I’m not worried about shark-jumping—and I’d rather have the Doctor as intergalactic celebrity than the Doctor as solipsistic messiah. Any day.

That said, it’s almost certainly impossible for Doctor Who to jump the shark with me. You get the odd “Timelash” or “Vengeance on Varos”, then you get “Caves of Androzani” or “City of Death” or “Talons of Weng-Chiang”. You get “the End of Time”, then you get “Blink” or “Vincent and the Doctor” or “The Unquiet Dead.” Swings and roundabouts—and the show will still hit its fiftieth anniversary next year. Beat that, Star Trek.

(I love you too, Star Trek! Just not as much.)

Wendy, I quite like Rory and Amy. I especially think they’ve done fascinating things with Rory’s character. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who wondered why Amy had picked him when we first met him in “The Eleventh Doctor”, but he’s grown as a character in the most fascinating and yet the most organic ways. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching that.

4

Wendy wrote at Sep 8, 11:04 PM

Out of the two of them I much prefer Rory…I agree his character has had the most interesting journey out of any of them. I just don’t think I will ever enjoy a companion as much as I enjoyed Donna Noble.

I loved that moment when the Doctor arrived in the white room where Oswin was as well Matt…I was desperate to see what he could see

5

Deb wrote at Sep 9, 02:14 AM

I didn’t see the twist coming either despite the foreshadowing with the “where does she get the milk” repetition.
I must admit to be totally enraged by the ‘just a phase’ treatment of Oswins sexuality reveals.
All in all a troubling episode of limited enjoyment for me.

6

Catriona wrote at Sep 9, 06:16 AM

Yes, there was quite a bit of rage about that, and it is troubling. Combine it with the Dalek slave-woman’s shoes, and you’ve got a bit of an insight into some of my concerns with Steven Moffat’s sexual politics. (And this is the man who wrote Lynda Day! I’ve been a fan of his for ever so many years!)

I’m not automatically outraged at the description of experimenting with a particular gender (either your own or the opposite gender) as “a phase”. I can see instances in which that wouldn’t be a hurtful or unpleasant description.

But I don’t like the use of the idea or the phrase as a throwaway joke. That’s not particularly clever, thoughtful, or sensible stance to take in the current climate. And Doctor Who’s been quite good with sexuality in the new series, in some ways: Captain Jack was like no character we’d ever seen before. But that doesn’t usually extend to lesbian characters, though we did have Madame Vastra and Jenny.

I don’t know. I’m not entirely sure what to think about that line.

7

Tim wrote at Sep 9, 07:43 AM

I don’t know about jumping the shark, but this episode hasn’t done much to allay the concerns I had by the end of the last season — the show has gone for speed and quirkiness and bright colours rather than plotting or coherence. I enjoyed the episode, but not much of it stands up to close inspection afterwards.

8

Catriona wrote at Sep 9, 09:56 AM

I had a feeling you’d have concerns about this one, Tim. I don’t know if you’re watching via iView, but I dread to think what you’ll say about the next one.

9

Drew wrote at Sep 12, 09:56 PM

Oh I think Dr. Who jumped the shark decades ago, probably some time in the 70s and has been doing somersaults over said shark repeatedly since then. Doesn’t mean I don’t love the show, I absolutely do, but there are episodes and then there are episodes. I can’t help feeling that the show is getting weaker, but just when I think that they do something great. Neil Armstrong’s foot alone last season made up for any of the other weaknesses during that season. I do wish that the writing was consistently better though. “Swings and roundabouts” as you said Treen.

Doctor Who has always been much better than Star Trek, Trek is fundamentally flawed, literally, and can’t break away from that failure of outlook.

10

Catriona wrote at Sep 13, 06:32 AM

Really going to disagree on the idea that the show jumped the shark in the ’70s, Drew. I hate to disagree, but I do. I know plenty of people on the Internet think that John Nathan-Turner was the worst thing that ever happened to the show, but I remain devoted to the Seventh Doctor’s era. It has a couple of weak stories, too, but it had some absolutely magnificent ones.

I don’t think the show is getting weaker, necessarily. I think it’s what it’s always been at it’s core: inconsistent. Most serialised stories are inconsistent. It’s the nature of serial publication and the nature of a single text with multiple authors. The last couple of seasons have produced some disappointing episodes (that bloody disappearing pirate!), but are they really, really any weaker than, say, “Timelash”? (Apologies to any “Timelash” fans out there.) Or a handful of other stories?

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