REVIEW: Asylum of the Daleks (SPOILER ALERT!)

Written by Adam Tye

SPOILERS AND SUCH.

 

So earlier this year I wrote an article for RTPProductions Eleventh Hour fanzine about the episode ‘The Eleventh Hour’ in which I proclaimed it to be the best series opener we’ve ever had – and I was right. It did pretty much everything right all whilst supporting the phenomenally tricky task of introducing new, well, everything. It would appear now, though, that the torch of ‘best opener ever’ has been handed over to another story. ‘Asylum of the Daleks is here’. And it’s absolutely glorious.

 

Now for the unwitting humans who’ve yet to read my Series 6 Inspected review (which at the time of writing should be everyone as it hasn’t even come out yet) will find out, I was a bit at odds end with Series 6. For every great episode that came out (Day of the Moon, The Doctors Wife), there was another (Flesh two parter, TCOTBS) that stunk things up so bad, even Daleks would be wondering who’d had a few too many beans for breakfast. I began to wonder whether or not I was being too cynical and that I’d forgotten to embrace the show in the same childlike way that I did when it first burst back onto or screens. I was convinced this was the case until I realized that the reason it was doing this was everything had gotten more serious; everyone was trying to copy Moffatt’s style of story with overly complex plots and dark scary monsters and even philosophical reflection (which I’m all for by the way, but there’s more elegant means of doing it). There are many problems with doing this but that’s an article for another time so I’ll cut to the main problem. By doing all these things – the show lost it’s sense of fun a little bit.

 

Enter Asylum of the Daleks.

 

If anything this episode just proves how much of a genius Moffat is when it comes to writing as he deftly leaps from light to dark to emotional to mad all within 5 minutes of each other (and sometimes all together at once) without once making things feel like a mess. It’s genuinely incredible. It also managed to work as a series opener, reintroducing us to the main characters, and conjuring up a story that was dark whilst never letting it overpower the ‘fun-factor’ (which, let’s be honest is why most of us like this episode; it was fun.).

Anyway there’s a lot to talk about in detail so lets get on with it.

 

We might as well start with the story itself which, for a Dalek episode, was spot on. I love the idea of the Dalek nanogenes, as well there implementation. Not only is the thought of turning into a Dalek from the air freakishly weird, but the way it added emotional stakes to the story was a little stroke of brilliance. The episode also shows how you can tackle complex themes of humanity without being really ‘in your face’ about it (are you reading this Flesh episodes?) However, one thing that I noticed with this episode was how similar the whole thing was to Bioshock. [1]

Seriously though, here me out. Both involve walking round a hideously unsettling environment full of people/Daleks gone mad. Both involve the hapless protagonists being sent down the planet via a transport system. But most notably, both involve the use of an unreliable narrator. Now I know these similarities to Bioshock are only at a basic plot device level and that when it comes to themes the two things are very different, but I feel it’s interesting to point them out. Plus being compared to Bioshock in a favourable way is definitely not a bad thing.

So all in all a great story and it featured one of the best plot twists we’ve had yet. Which leads me to the next thing.

 

Okay, for anyone who doesn’t keep up to date with Who-related news, Jenna Louise Coleman’s appearance mere minutes into the episode will have flown completely over their heads. For the rest of us however, it was a true WTFOMFGETC moment as we realized that Steven Moffat had played us. Again.

It was a great surprise, as was the revelation at the end that poor Oswin wasn’t actually a human at all but a converted Dalek too terrified to accept the truth. Even ignoring these two massive surprises and focusing purely on what we saw, she still stole the entire show. I do worry that she might be a little too much for the audience to be able to relate to her, but then that’s just me speculating. What matters is what I thought of her in this episode and from what I saw she was pretty damn good. Plus she’s fr**king gorgeous.

Just saying.

 

Then there’s the Daleks. I’m putting it out there; as far as a Dalek story goes, this ranks up there as one of the best there is, serving as a very welcome reminder that the Daleks are the maddest and most dangerous beings in the universe whilst also building upon their mythology. In fact I’d say it was one of the most effective uses of the Daleks since they returned in 2005 – for the first time since that episode I actually felt as if the Daleks could really ‘win’ (despite the fact that it IS the first episode of the Series and so logic dictates that they probably won’t)[2]. Plus, the fact that now none of the Daleks know who the Doctor is was a great way to end the episode. Once again I’m struck with an image of Steven Moffat laughing maniacally over his keyboard as he types up the scene in which an entire Parliament of Daleks Screech “DOCTOR WHO?!” over and over again. Plus, as an aside, now the Daleks have nothing to fear, which should make them more dangerous than ever.

 

There’s so much more to talk about that I haven’t mentioned yet; the blockbuster quality production and special effects, the superb acting from EVERYONE involved (Matt Smith still proving he’s a force to be reckoned with) and more but I’ll cut it off there. You know it all was awesome anyway and if you didn’t, then seriously you must have been watching the X Factor instead.[3]

Basically, this episode reminded me why I love Doctor Who so much and in the way I do and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

 

Now me bring me those Dinosaurs… on a spaceship.

Adam Tye.

 

[1] For those of you who have never heard of Bioshock and have a PS3, 360 or PC – get it now. It’s an absolute masterclass in storytelling and atmosphere. Plus if you somehow don’t care about story (you weirdo) then you still get to play as a superpower-wielding, shotgun-toting badass and if you don’t like that then we need to talk. It’s probably not for people of a nervous disposition though.

[2] Yes I am aware this is Doctor Who and that Steven Moffat could easily timey-wimey the hell out of the plot so that the Daleks could win. But ignoring that, logic dictates it probably wouldn’t happen.

[3] Easy mistake, the X Factor does feature screeching aliens and epileptic inducing effects. Both of which Doctor Who did better.

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