Doctor Who series 7 episode 1: Asylum of the Daleks - Spoilery Review
Air date: UK: 1 September, 2012, BBC One
It does, of course, look brilliant – as we know from the trailers that have been running almost around the clock since the beginning of August – Matt Smith has never been better, how–the–fuck–did–they–manage–to–keep–that–quiet?, the new title sequence is very chic… but still…
Don't get me wrong, I love Doctor Who. The first thing I can remember as a human is an 'armless' Dalek circa The Power of the Daleks in 1966. Yes, I remember the show, when it, and possibly the world, was in black and white. Through thick and thin I've stuck with it, through the wilderness years of the 1990s to the triumphant return in 2005; oh, how we danced in the streets. I remember turning somersaults when I heard that Sir Steven Moffat was taking over from RTD. How could the show, and possibly life, get any better?
And now here we are in 2012, with Series 7 upon us. On the strength of Asylum of the Daleks, it backs up my feeling that Moffat's a brilliant writer, but not necessarily a great show runner. I loved Matt's first season, but the second half of his second was worryingly repetitive; really, someone should have said at a script conference that Night Terrors, The Girl Who Waited and The God Complex were basically the same story and, well, wouldn't it be a good idea to think of something else? Or not show them one after the other.
Hence the problem with Asylum. For all it's individual moments of brilliance – the Dalek zombies, Oswin, the stylish set design, the signature Moffat sparky dialogue – the central premise doesn't make any sense. The Daleks grab the Doctor and his companions and coerce him into turning off the force field around a planet that apparently houses a multitude of Hannibal Lecter Daleks that the 'real' ones are scared of. So far so good, but once the Doctor's trio are there, the legendary rogue Daleks… shuffle about a bit. Eh?
Also, why stick a "morphic field" around a planet that turns everything thing into a Dalek when it's a prison colony? Okay, okay, I may be being overly critical and spoiling the party, but the plotting of The Empty Child and Blink was so watertight that it's hard to believe Asylum is by the same writer. It's almost as if Moffat's so carried away with being in charge of Doctor Who that his writing logic has taken a back seat. Here's another one: why would a fascistic race like the Daleks need a parliament in the first place? Didn't the idea of a parliament develop from a democratic society?
Alright, so I've given the story three and a half stars and I can sum up why in three words: Jenna Louise-Coleman. One thing Moffat is brilliant at is writing female characters, and from the moment Oswin appears on screen, her wit, charm, humour, intelligence and pathos make such an impression that, even without the pre publicity, JLC's performance screams 'POTENTIAL NEW COMPANION!'
It also makes the didn't-see-that-coming twist that she's a Dalek dreaming that she's still human pack a real emotional punch (though I have to say, it's obvious that Mr Moffat has seen the film Source Code, which had a very similar idea as its centre). I can't think that there's ever been a more dramatic and more intriguing introduction for a companion in the whole history of the series. And, as she's been apparently killed off in her first story, the eventual resolution to that is guaranteed to make you keep watching. And full marks, too, for bringing in a companion who's not from the 21st century.
And what of the Ponds? Weirdly, after Oswin's debut, they already feel like history, and in the acting stakes JLC's entirely natural, at ease performance shows up the limitations of Karen Gillan's range: she's never been that convincing at the emotional stuff. Having said that, the revelation that Amy's experience at Demon's Run made her infertile and drove her to split with Rory so he could find someone else to have children with, is a sobering reminder of how emotionally mature this series has become.
It's curiously appropriate that this season is being marketed as mini movies, complete with an individual film poster, as Asylum of the Daleks is like a high concept feature film in that it's got a fantastic selection of set pieces that, once you've finished watching and start thinking about them, don't really hold together as an organic story. Having said that, like a lot of high concept feature films, the focus is on individual moments of startling brilliance. Look at it in that way, Asylum is a success.
Will I keep watching? Hey, it's Doctor Who.
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