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Barking Mad

September 4th, 2012

My viewing of Doctor Who‘s series 7 premiere, “Asylum of the Daleks,” was less than ideal. Remnants of Hurricane Isaac tumbled through Illinois that evening, intermittently knocking out my Dish Network signal. (All things considered, my Isaac-related inconvenience doesn’t rate.) The first two times I tried to watch, I missed large chunks of the middle third of the story. Fortunately, the 2am repeat came through fine, and I was able to fill in the blanks.

It made a lot more sense the third time. Though not as much as I would’ve liked.

Producer/writer Steven Moffat has a reputation for writing intricate, clockwork narratives, but for me, becoming showrunner for Doctor Who has thrown him off his game. In his effort to craft “timey-wimey,” paradoxical puzzles, he sometimes forgets the obvious.

To wit, the Daleks had created a planetary asylum for their most insane brethren.* When a crashing starship barreled through the facility’s force field, they were so terrified of the prospect of the inmates’ escape that they shanghaid the Doctor to “save” them.

Where were the only controls for the allegedly impenetrable force field? Inside the asylum. Because that’s what you do when you have a planet full of homicidal geniuses: give them the keys.

This won’t be the only thing that fails a simple test of logic. But more about that in the spoiler section.

However, before I get there, I will say that overall I enjoyed the episode. The scenes aboard the massive Dalek saucer and amidst the snow fields of the asylum planet (shot on location in Spain) gave it a grand feel. The exchange between the Doctor and the Parliament of the Daleks** was fascinating; I appreciate any attempt to make the Daleks more than merely lunatic conquerors. The dialogue crackled, especially that of the new gal, Os– wait…we’ll get to that.

The shout-out to various classic Who episodes were fun, of course, though anyone  hoping for a bit of action with the Special Weapons Dalek had to be disappointed. I liked that “intensive care” was reserved for the Daleks who’d survived their past encounters with the Doctor.***

The dreaded asylum itself seemed more like a haunted house walkthrough. With all of the vintage Daleks on display, I was reminded of my visit to the Doctor Who Experience. The scariest bit didn’t involve the pepperpots at all, it was the scene with the Dalekized zombies who forgot about dying.

Okay, at this point there’s not much I can write about this episode without getting into major spoiler territory. So, if you haven’t seen it, STOP READING NOW.

When Doctor Who was reintroduced in 2005, it centered largely around the lives of decidedly ordinary characters. Rose and her mom Jackie weren’t journalists, scientists or warriors, they were downtrodden women looking forward to little more than a lifetime of fish and chips. They were a safe point of entry for a mainstream audience who might be otherwise turned off by sonic screwdrivers and Cybermen. While the Doctor has claimed that he doesn’t “do domestic,” I think that these down-to-Earth aspects were responsible for much of the reboot’s early success. But the show ultimately wasn’t about their domestic travails; the doings at the Powell Estate were there mostly for contrast.

Much of “Asylum of the Daleks” revolved around the disintegrating marriage of Amy and Rory, the Doctor’s current travelling companions (and his in-laws, but that’s a long story). It was revealed that the reason Amy drove Rory away was because he wanted kids and she had been rendered infertile by the events of the past year (again, long story). So, rather than asking him what he thought about it, she made the decision for him and kicked him out. Speaking as someone who originally wanted kids and who (knowingly) married someone who couldn’t have them and didn’t want them, this gives me another reason to dislike Amy.****

Leaving aside real-life alternatives to infertility–adoption, surrogacy, accepting that you don’t get everything you want and that love is the thing that matters most–there’s the big, blue elephant in the room. The Ponds have a son-in-law with a magic box that can take them anywhere in time and space. Surely there’s a really awesome interspecies gynecological clinic out there somewhere.

The reality inhabited by these characters is one in which you can take a pill to destroy a terminal blood clot. In this very episode, there are “nanogenes” that can rewrite the DNA of any living or dead matter into a cybernetic organism complete with Dalek eyestalk.***** The problems that real-life marrieds have simply don’t apply here, so why are we wasting our time with them?

Now we come to the best thing about this episode, a gal named Oswin. She was played by Jenna-Louise Coleman, who earlier this year had been announced as the new companion that would be introduced in the upcoming Christmas episode. In a display of post-Twitter legerdemain, Moffat managed to keep her early appearance secret until airtime. And Coleman knocked it out of the cricket park in her first outing; fun, flirty and more than just a little bit sexy. Amy who?

Now, it’s unclear whether she was actually playing the companion-to-come here. Given that it turned out that she wasn’t really a smoking hot girl in a tight, red dress with a Carmen fixation,****** rather the maddest Dalek of the asylum, I’m thinking that there’s either some future timey-wimeyness in store, or else the Doctor’s new friend is going to have a hell of a time with stairs. At least she’ll never twist an ankle.

Perhaps we’ll be introduced to her distant ancestor or identical cousin Noswin. I kinda hope not, in that I really liked Oswin as presented. Though it would be awfully depressing to meet her knowing her eventual fate.

I do like where this episode ends, with the memory of the Doctor erased from the Daleks’ collective consciousness. Not only does it continue the idea of the Doctor lying low for a time, it allows for the potential of a different relationship between them when next they meet.

*When the Doctor inquires why the inmates aren’t simply exterminated, he’s told that the Daleks appreciate the divine beauty of their extreme hatred. The Dalek Prime Minister gets in a good dig when he suggests that this is the same reason they’ve never killed the Doctor.

**Really? The Daleks have developed democracy? DO-WE-HAVE-A-QUOR-UM?!?

***Okay, I know that the various reboots of reality have effectively rendered all attempts at reconciling past Doctor Who continuity pointless. But I thought that the Time War had retroactively removed all of the old-school Daleks from the universe. How is that these survivors of Kembel and Spiridon are still around? Not to mention the Dalek homeworld Skaro itself? (Granted, no one ever stated that Skaro was sealed inside the Time War as was the Time Lords’ planet Gallifrey, but it’s a reasonable inference.)


*****And for Rassilon’s sake, let’s consider for a moment the ramifications of the Daleks having access to this technology. It’s game over for the rest of the cosmos; all the Daleks need do is seed these devices into the atmosphere of any planet they want to conquer. No exterminations required.

******Another thing that doesn’t make sense: why does everyone else hear Oswin as a woman? Are her delusions audible? And where did the recording of Carmen come from? Not from the Daleks, as it presumably wasn’t in their “pathweb.”

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