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Saturday, 1 September 2012

Doctor Who 7x01: Asylum of the Daleks. (SPOILERS!)

Is it bad that I'm now kind of wishing that Jenna Louise Coleman (Oswin) isn't the new companion? Not because I disliked her or anything like that, but purely because I'd find it funny if the entire photoshoot/announcement/etc turned out to be a complete fake-out. The Doctor Who team tried to do that with one of the previous companions (Donna, maybe?) but in reverse, although the casting info got leaked early so everyone knew it was her anyway. I just enjoy the idea of them being able to pull one over us, although of course there have been tons of photos of JLC in the newspapers and so on so I can only assume that she'll be playing a different character (Oswin's... identical twin...?).
As for the actual content of the episode... I have mixed feelings. The latter half of last season was kind of a mess, and starting off this season in what felt like the middle of another storyline may well have been a mistake. Amy and Rory's divorce, an adult and complex topic, was handled and wrapped up in one episode, with the entire problem being solved purely by the Doctor leaving them alone together to talk it out. I feel like we've already been through this kind of conflict several times with Amy and Rory, and it seems pointless to rehash yet another variation on the same old song right at the beginning of a new season. The issue of Amy's infertility was handled convincingly by the actors, but the fact that it was introduced and then cleared up withing about ten minutes cheapened it entirely. As a card-carrying sap I was 100% onboard with every hackneyed emotional cue when Amy and Rory predictably reunited at the end, but up until then I was unimpressed by the decision to throw in a break-up subplot for what may or may not have been no good reason at all.

Regarding the Daleks, well, this show needs to cut down on them. I didn't feel any real sense of threat at any point during the episode, partly because the danger level inspired by the Daleks has gone way down. Daleks are tricky to include in the first place because they're near-indestructable killing machines and the Doctor and his companions are squishy humanoid pacifists, making it less and less convincing every time the Doctor defeats them. And in this particular episode there were several moments where a character would just sort of stand there while the Daleks failed to kill them. When the Doctor was first told that he was being sent down to a planet full of "insane" Daleks, I thought this was a brilliant idea because what would seem insane to a Dalek? Love. Compassion. A desire for peace and debate rather than war and genocide. I assumed that the Doctor was going to be confronted by something almost incomprehensible to his mindset -- Daleks who are deemed unfit by their race because they can feel something other than hatred. But instead what we got were more of the same Daleks we've seen since forever, except these ones had been mouldering in a soggy dungeon so they were too rusty to kill anything properly. The end result was a repeat of what we've encountered in multiple earlier Dalek episode: miraculous escapes all round, and the Doctor yelling about how much he hates Daleks -- which is beginning to pall a little. Particularly since the Eleventh Doctor was originally a fresh start to counteract the tragic, rageful, post-war darkness of the previous two incarnations.
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The revelation that Oswin was a Dalek was brilliant -- especially if you're a kid, I should think, and therefore less likely to have picked up on any of the foreshadowing. Honestly, I'd have loved it if the Doctor had freed her instead of leaving her to die. I think we're getting to the point now where the Doctor's hatred of the Daleks is making him seem bigoted rather than the grieving war veteren he was in earlier seasons. It seems weird to complain about "bigotry" against Daleks because they're so obviously written as beings of unadulterated evil, but what we basically had here was the Doctor being sent down to an "asylum" full of mad and/or traumatised aliens, and then tricking one of them into blowing itself up before blowing them all up. And these are the only Daleks in the universe who weren't any threat to anyone else. Hopefully the whole memory-wipe thing will mean that we're due a Dalek-free period for at least the rest of the season, because the way this Doctor is written is a far cry of the kind of compassionate, violence-avoiding characterisation I'd prefer. It would've been excellent if Oswin had been set free in her new Dalek form and proved to the Doctor that not all "Daleks" are 100% bad -- but c'est la vie.
Perhaps if one or two of the Daleks inside the asylum had seemed like more of a threat then I would've been more taken by this episode. As it is, I give it a solid 6/10 but wouldn't rate it as a season opener, particularly when compared to the epic mystery and emotional hook of "The Impossible Astronaut" (an episode which unfortunately never received the payoff it deserved). Aside from the sudden launch into emotional conflict between Amy and Rory, this seemed like a mid-season filler episode. For me the main high points were the visuals (almost movie-level in parts, building on the increasing quality of the special effects in the previous two Moffat-led seasons), and the handful of little jokey Doctor Who moments like Rory's bafflement at the Daleks calling out "Eggs... eggs... eggs-ter-min-ate".
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Oh, and a little postscript regarding Oswin. I don't look at Doctor Who spoilers AT ALL so I haven't much clue about Jenna Louise Coleman's involvement outside of a couple of publicity photos, but I'm pretty glad that the Oswin character appears to have died a death. She's great for a one-off episode, but maybe not so good for a full-season run. I love the idea of a genius who has the ability to hack a bunch of Dalek supercomputers but chooses to be a cruise-ship entertainment manager because she's so naturally perky and that's what she enjoys. I LOVE IT. Doctor Who companions are one of the very few roles where I can accept Butlins levels of enthusiasm and Blue Peter-esque behaviour in what is generally regarded as a high-quality sci-fi show, but I don't really trust Steven Moffat with this type of material. When Oswin first appeared I was already a little "uh-oh", because here was a stunningly beautiful woman who'd been trapped in an escape pod for a year and was wearing a cocktail dress and had shaved her legs?? I mean, I can explain that away by her being just so mind-numbingly bored that she got dressed up for herself now and then, but I was still relieved when it turned out she wasn't trapped in an escape pod after all. Under a prolonged period of Moffat's direction, I can only imagine that such a character would have quickly veered off into Manic Pixie Dreamgirl characterisation. 

11 comments:

  1. I was really hopeful to see some interesting Daleks in the asylum too... I thought we'd finally get some Daleks with real emotions, perhaps ones who believed they were human or something :/

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  2. ... we did get a Dalek that believed it was human.

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  3. When the Doctor was first told that he was being sent down to a planet full of "insane" Daleks, I thought this was a brilliant idea because what would seem insane to a Dalek? Love. Compassion. A desire for peace and debate rather than war and genocide. I assumed that the Doctor was going to be confronted by something almost incomprehensible to his mindset -- Daleks who are deemed unfit by their race because they can feel something other than hatred.


    YES THIS EXACTLY THIS. I thought that's what was going to happen! And then when the reveal that Oswin was a Dalek happened, I thought that was going to become the central point - she's a Dalek with humanity. But it was way too quickly wrapped up.


    However, I'm hoping it's more explored if she does become a full-time companion. Maybe she'll be a Donna situation - she travels with the Doctor and then forgets (hopefully not forced by the Doctor as with Donna...). I think this might be the case if my season theories end up being true. Anyway, hopefully it's more explored in detail.


    As far as the Doctor's bigotry, also, YES. There was a kind-of plot line about the Doctor become too mean, too harsh last season (remember when River calls him out in Good Man Goes to War?). I'm hoping to god that his bigotry is tied with that, and will be something more fully explored later.


    Overall, the episode except the last five minutes was so-so. The last five minutes were fantastic though.

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  4. Yes to all of this. Seriously.

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  5. Didn't peg you for a Whovian but yes I agree to all of the above. I love the cinematography of this one, in fact you can tell the new seasons got a significant budget boost.


    The first Ep itself though... Honestly it's a room full of Daleks and the Doctor can still traipse around, took over the PA and not be in under any danger at all (seemingly). The asylum Daleks seem more menacing in comparison (Dalek + small space = win).


    Honestly I thought Amy and Rory had gone through the "am I worth it" phase so many times it's not worth returning to. If they really must though at least they could've spread it over a few episodes (at least). Unfortunately that's not gonna work either since technically they aren't living with him in the TARDIS anymore and that wedge wouldn't really be felt. But 10 minutes of talking and it's all resolved? Humm, not very realistic methinks.


    On JLC: Not sure if you know but Jenna is playing the next companion after the Ponds. I hope to god the connection between Oswin and this new companion isn't as convoluted (or rushed) like River Song was... Also hoping she'd tone down the bubblyness...

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  6. not a whovian? haha, why not? i LOVVVVE doctor who although i'm quite leary of spoilers so i tend to steer clear of online fandom. a "real" whovian would probably scorn me. also this is the first series where i've been able to watch it in a remotely analytical mindset, because up until about halfway thru season 6 i habitually went into a doctor who trance and pronounced everything PERFECT because i love it so much and found it impossible to be critical. sadly, steven moffat put paid to that. ://

    flinging the divorce idea in at the beginning of the series was a mistake, particularly since it appears to have been cleared up so quickly. i wonder how much of this will remotely make sense to younger kids (ie, the target audience), because big emotional beats like "they've reunited, now kiss!" tend to work with children but the concept of divorces being "healed" in 10 minutes is problematic.

    yeah, i knew that JLC was the new companion! but i thought they were keeping her for the xmas special. i'm impressed that they managed to keep her appearance in this episode a secret! a bit of cursory tumblr browsing indicates that she's credited as "clara oswin" in later episodes, so presumably she's playing a different character, a la Martha and her cousin, or gwen and her great-great-etc-grandmother.

    re: the bubbliness, i agree. but i think there are different hooks to longterm and short-term characters. when donna first appeared in her one-off episode i thought she was godawful, but in her slightly altered role as full-time companion i loved her at once, and continued to love her.

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  7. apparently the big deal was that they included every dalek model ever shown on doctor who, but i didn't pick up on that because it's not rly my area.

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  8. i really want this! HUMAN-FEELING DALEKS ARE CONSIDERED INSANE, BUT AREN'T EXECUTED BECAUSE THEY'RE STILL PART OF THE MASTER-RACE. might actually write some fanfic to that effect...

    i think maybe JLC's character will be someone other than oswin? she's credited as "clara oswin" on imdb, although imdb does lie... and i think re: forgetting, we've already had too many memory-loss stories on DW for the time being. so i hope it isn't that. i was surprised when they included that in this episode as well, considering how they included it in the first (second??) matt smith season as well.

    ooh, yes, i would enjoy it if the doctor's rage/bigotry was included intentionally! altho quite frankly i'm getting tired of dark-doctor stories, so quickly after david tennant's season-long montage of weeping and wailing (much as i enjoyed it).

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  9. I'm actually pretty sure it's going to be the same character, I don't know how but Moffat did say that the Doctor would first know the companion as "Oswin" and then come to know her as "Clara." I liked her at first in the episode and then later on some of her quips had me rolling my eyes at Moffat. Manic pixie girl is exactly what I'm afraid of. That would be annoying. But I'm optimistic that I will like her a lot, though I do have some reservations about her.

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  10. I wouldn't be surprised if the 'Oswin' character in this episode is the one that'll be the new Companion (as opposed to just being coincidentally played by the same actor). Fans have already speculated various ways of writing around her apparent death in this episode: maybe the Doctor returns to save her at the last minute; maybe she somehow escaped by 'uploading' herself; maybe she has a clone or copy somewhere; or maybe, as with River Song, the rest of her story will take place 'earlier' in her timeline. Or maybe the Doctor will just save her earlier and change history, it's not like he hasn't done that before. However they do it, I doubt they'd spent so much time on establishing her personality in this episode if we weren't going to see the character again somehow.



    And... well, it would be wrong to judge the character based on one episode, but I do hope she's a bit less annoying when she turns up 'for real'. Here, she just felt too self-consiously quirky, flirty and cheeky to me. (Also: compare her to River Song and Irene Adler from Sherlock. Is it just me, or can Moffat only write one female character? Even Amy isn't a million miles away from those three, she's just a little younger and more vulnerable...)


    But as you said in these comments, Donna became vastly less annoying when she became a regular character (she's my favourite companion of all, actually) so hopefully the same will happen here.



    As for the rest of the episode: eh, given that they apparently have to have a Dalek episode every season or so, this one wasn't too bad. At least we didn't have the brightly coloured ones this time. I agree that the Amy/Rory relationship stuff was rushed and fumbled a bit though (having them break up over her infertility felt painfully stereotypical). And I don't think the plot actually made all that much sense, but when does it ever? Still, the important thing is, Doctor Who's back; and apparently Neil Gaiman's writing another episode, so there's that to look forward to...

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  11. I kind of liked her, and thought that the relentless chirpiness was a bit of Dalek bleeding through--instead of blind anger, she had total unconcern, like that lady who trapped Eleven in the first place. I'll be sad if this turns out to be the end of her arc as Companion, though.


    That said, I would watch the hell out of a season, or even a few episodes, where the Doctor had a Dalek Companion. The expressions on people's faces when they met her would be AMAZING. There's your solution to the Moffat Mary Sue! XD

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