It’s nice to have The Doctor back in our Saturday evenings, isn’t it? They just haven’t been the same without him.
Steven Moffat certainly didn’t waste time easing us back in, either: Asylum Of The Daleks was a brisk, tight, breathless episode, and one which zipped through a hell of a lot of plot while still finding the time to stop for punctuating, quiet, character-focused moments. Let’s have a look at the episode in a bit of detail.
Before the credits had even rolled we saw The Doctor and the newly estranged Amy and Rory being abducted by extremely cool Dalek hybrids, whose eye stalks emerged from their foreheads like… well… you know, knobs. The trio were whisked to the Parliament of the Daleks to assist in the small matter of an entire planet stuffed with Daleks who’d gone completely mad. Madder.
The idea of a Dalek asylum is such a fantastic one it’s surprising it hasn’t been explored in detail before. A signal was being emitted from a planetary facility housing Daleks too considered just too evil, even for the pretty-evil-anyway race of mechanised pepperpots, and the Daleks themselves were afraid to go and find out just what was going on. So they press-ganged The Doctor, Amy and Rory to do the job for them.
The signal is the work of Oswin, who many people know is lined up to be The Doctor’s next companion. She claimed she’d been marooned on the planet for a year but, this being a Steven Moffatt episode, all obviously wasn’t quite as it seemed.
The ensuing reveal was a neat twist, even if you had your suspicions that something was awry, and it wouldn’t be Doctor Who without a little bit of tragedy and sacrifice. It does obviously leave fairly large obstacles in the way of Oswin becoming The Doctor’s assistant, namely (a) the fact she’s a Dalek, and (b) the fact that she’s a dead Dalek. All will be revealed, it seems.
Arguably, and despite the grand scale of the story, the episode’s primary focus was the re-establishment of Rory and Amy’s relationship, and these scenes were given enough time to breath for them to pack the necessary punch.
Bloody hell, the pre-credits sequence alone must’ve reduced every other BBC show’s budgets by a third, and this was before all the glacial vistas and locations, myriad explosions, and the lush and detailed interior sets of the Asylum.
As ever, the goose-pimply score was on hand to add huge dollops of grandeur to proceedings, but special mention must go to the special effects which, for a programme of this budget, were genuinely excellent. The Dalek Parliament was vast, actually giving the impression that these odd little things are a race rather than a few blokes in wobbly trolleys on wheels, while the human-to-hybrid transformations managed to be both effective and more than a little unsettling.
You’ve got to applaud the show for having the bare-faced cheek to have thousands of Daleks shouting (or wheezing, or whatever it is they do) ‘DOCTOR WHO??!!’ It was brilliant, and could so easily have been awful and trite. The Doctor putting the self-destructing Dalek into reverse was also fairly cool; sure, if the Dalek hadn’t stupidly yelled ‘SELF DESTUCT!’ it probably wouldn’t have happened, but so what, nit picker.
Yet it was a few of the smaller moments that really stood out. When The Doctor was pressed against the door surrounded by Daleks we got to see him cowering in genuine fear, and it’s rare we see him this vulnerable - it’s moments like this that help restore a bit of fear into the show’s most unashamedly pantomimic villains.
Also, Karen Gillan’s performance when coming clean to Rory was up there with her very best. She knocked it out of the park, and The Doctor’s resulting problem-solving bowtie twiddle was just a lovely touch.
Where does it leave us?
We dealt with the breakup and restoration of Amy and Rory’s relationship, which came about as Amy’s way of saving Rory from a childless existence, and this will surely be a plot thread that will be picked up again later on in the series. We also have Oswin’s inexorable return to the show to think about, however the hell that eventually happens.
Most intriguingly of all, the Daleks are left as less pantomimic and more intriguing foes. They have no recollection whatsoever of The Doctor, which will make their future appearances much more interesting (all that ‘Predator’ stuff was getting a bit silly), and the humanoid hybrids throw up some interesting possibilities in future episodes.
All in all, Asylum Of The Daleks was a strong an opening episode as we could’ve really hoped for. It didn’t have the baffling open-endedness of The Impossible Astronaut and Day Of The Moon, instead choosing to tell a more focused and condensed standalone story. It still left a few threads flapping in the breeze, but the tight plotting in this instance was a huge plus, drawing us into the series with excitement instead of a slew of unanswered questions. Hopefully, Asylum Of The Daleks is an indicator of the quality of what we can expect in the coming weeks.