DOCTOR WHO: 7.01 “Asylum of the Daleks”
KT is pleased to have her returning favorite back.
We seem to have dropped any vestiges of RTD-era surprise at finding yet more Daleks after supposedly wiping them out on multiple occasions. That’s a relief, since there are plenty of other things that need explaining, such as why the Dalek race (motto: EXTERMINATE) has set up a whole planet for individuals who pose a danger to society. Take a moment to think about what the Dalek standard for that would have to be.
And who better to deal with the possibility of a mass escape of insane Daleks than the “predator” who keeps (all but) exterminating the exterminators? Being fairly genre savvy little pepperpots, they’ve even done him the service of providing his companions as well.
As we saw in the BBC’s Pond Life vignettes, the Ponds seem to be in trouble. Not just the usual run-for-your-life, threatened-by-evil-aliens kind of trouble—although, that too—as the episode opens, they’re actually filing for divorce. Fortunately, though, the papers Amy signs at the beginning don’t seem to make it through the episode. Even legal documents can’t stand up to a visit to the Dalek own insane asylum.
What can hold up is the cheeky humor of one junior entertainment manager. Oswin Oswald may be the best part of the episode, though she dances on the verge of being just a little too perfect. Maybe that’s what makes her such obvious monster bait—we all so desperately want her not to be because she is made of win. But in the meantime, she’s brave, she’s funny, she has a stunning red dress, and she’s terribly handy with Dalek technology…
Perhaps the most interesting twist that comes out of the episode is that, in order to get the Doctor out of a tight corner, Oswin manages to wipe all reference to the Doctor out of the shared Dalek consciousness. Clearly, they won’t be hauling him over to come fix their problems for a while. I wonder if this is also Moffat’s way of telling us that he’s going to put the Daleks away for a while. Props for that, if so.
That said, this was probably my favorite Dalek outing since season one’s “Dalek”—which also featured a fairly atypical Dalek in a prison-like setting. The usual Dalek personality (shouty and over-confident) doesn’t have much range, but when a story pushes them out of their usual limits, the storytelling possibilities open up.
The other thing that helps this episode is that the Daleks are mostly used as window dressing around the more human characters while the Doctor engineers a situation in which Amy and Rory will start really talking again and Oswin tries to engineer an escape for them all.
There’s also an unusual graying of the line between human and Dalek, starting with the messenger puppet who meets with the Doctor at the beginning of the episode. For once it’s impossible to tell who’s really a Dalek, while it is possible to turn into one. Amy’s hallucination—the well-dressed people in the dingy room who all turn out to be Daleks, even the little the little dancer doing pirouettes—is fascinating and heartbreaking. And of course it’s all a clue to what’s really happened to Oswin.
Sharp-eyed viewers noticed that, of course, Oswin is played by Jenna-Louise Colman, who has been announced as the next companion, starting in this year’s Christmas special. My bet is that the companion will be a different, though possibly related, character (along the lines of of Martha’s identical cousin, Adeola, and of course she’s not the only one). Of course there’s also the possibility of meeting up with Oswin prior to her crash on the Asylum, but I think one River Song scenario is really enough for one show.
One last note for a clever bit of writing—and for once I don’t mean a good joke or a snappy bit of dialogue. Notice that there were an awful lot of eggs in this episode? I really liked the way that Rory’s confusion with the rustily awakening Dalek (“Eggs? Uh, is this your egg?”) was echoed in the question that the Doctor latched onto (“Where did you get the milk and eggs for the souffle?”). And, of course, there are no eggs, because that’s only the first syllable…