Saturday, 13 October 2012

We're Back! A Dalek Story

Doctor Who
Asylum Of The Daleks
Series Seven, Episode One

Those blurry Daleks, the ones with no lines?
Totally worth that redesign.
Ah, Daleks.  Not long ago, Doctor Who couldn’t seem to get enough of them, showering us with angry pepperpots every year, regular as Christmas.  Then came Victory Of The Daleks, an episode seemingly only there to reintroduce them, followed by… nothing, cameos notwithstanding.  “A rest,” said Steven Moffat, pointing out (not without reason) that as the universe’s most reliably defeatable bad guys, absence might make our hearts grow fonder.  Okay.  That renders Victory even more pointless, what with the expensive redesign, but fine.  Then what? 

The plan is to make them scary again.  (As with most of Moffat’s secret plans, we know this because he said so.)  Behold, the Asylum: a planet filled with all the deranged Daleks that survived the Doctor over the years.  That’s a good start.  Less of the grand invasions and barmy plans, more of the scary killing machines that are gonna get you, harking back to what’s scary about them in the first place, their relentlessness.  The Asylum is dimly lit, filled with creepy corridors and the sound of scraping, rusty, not-quite-dead Daleks.  10/10 for atmosphere.  That scene with Rory, and the eggs, and the ter...min...ate?  Loved it.

But lighting and set dressing can only do so much.  What about the Daleks?  Er.  Aside from some seriously menacing creaky noises, they mostly advance slowly towards the Doctor yelling “Exterminate” whilst not actually doing anything exterminatey.  Not exactly breaking with tradition, is it?  And the Daleks outside the Asylum, so incredibly powerful that they’re able to scoop up the Doctor, Amy and Rory with no trouble whatsoever?  They bottle their umpteenth chance to live in a Doctor-free universe, and send him to do their dirty work because they’re too scared.  Huh.  Scary?  This lot?  Who now refer to the Doctor as “The Predator” and won’t kill him because it’s just too much fun hating him, and – after losing their memory of all things Doctor, including their fear – still don’t shoot him on sight?  They’re Daleks!  See a thing, kill it!

As any child knows, human + Dalek = looks-like-a-thingie face.
As if giving up on the idea of bona fide scary Daleks, Moffat concentrates on diluting the brand.  It’s now possible, using nanobots, to turn someone into a Dalek.  And not just the gooey betentacled monster inside the pepperpot, which started out human-shaped anyway, but a Dalek: bumps, egg whisk, Mini lights and everything.  Right.  As well as trespassing distinctly on the Cybermen’s turf, and limply reversing the Dalek-into-a-human story that was Rob Shearman’s Dalek, this is also a pretty obvious re-do of The Empty Child.  And frankly, as nanobots-that-turn-you-into-things stories go, that one – with its brutal, inexorable transformations into mindless zombies – beats the slow crawl of “You’ll eventually become a Dalek if you don’t wear this bracelet” miserably to the ground.  (And about creating a Dalek by subtracting love and adding hate?  Aww!  The scary Daleky-waleks don't have any love!  Ahem, terrifying.) 

Still, the remote-control zombies are successfully creepy, and the Doctor’s chats with Dalek spy/corpse Darla Von Karlson-sounds-like-Dalek are a highlight.  Matt Smith gets to do his awesome don’t-mess-with-me thing in these scenes, including a superbly menacing chuckle, and Darla gets the delectably cold response to “You’ve got kids” of “I know – I read my file.”  This stuff still detracts annoyingly from the menace of the Daleks, and it’s far from original, but taken on its own: not bad.  This year’s busload of doe-eyed newcomers ought to enjoy it.

If I appear to be skating around the plot, well, that’s because Asylum Of The Daleks basically hasn’t got one.  After a whizz-bang opening where our three heroes are kidnapped by Dalek agents, it takes about ten minutes of Nicholas Briggs yapping for the Daleks to explain why it was necessary.

Okay, say the Daleks: so there’s an Asylum full of mad Daleks, and we won’t kill ’em because hate is beautiful (just go with it); but there’s a hole in the Asylum where a ship crashed, and we think the bad (er, worse) Daleks might get out (though at no point in something like a year have they made any attempt to do so, and anyway they have no transportation); so forget that beautiful hate bit, let’s blow it up anyway.  O…kay.  The Doctor is needed to switch off the planet’s forcefield from the inside (he what-what-what?), and Amy and Rory are there because apparently the Doctor usually has companions (seriously?), and… yeah, this doesn’t hold together at all.  Even the Doctor seems confused.

So the plot’s taking a backseat to the scary Daleks, regardless of how well that worked out.  What else?  Well, Amy and Rory have some character development this week: they’re divorced.  Wait, they’re… what?  After all they’ve been through, including death, marriage and having a love strong enough to rip through time?  Divorced, as in past tense?  We skipped the fighting, the separation, the times when they would have inevitably thrashed all this out and considered the consequences, straight to the papers being signed?  So no build-up, no context, and absolutely no sense of emotional weight.  Cheers.

I know couples often split up because of breakdowns in communication, but this is ridiculous: Amy can’t have kids so she kicks Rory out (because no way could they adopt, or keep trying, or see a doctor, or see the Doctor), and he, bewildered, never asks why?  Yeah, right.  To make matters even worse, all it takes is a brief conversation in this episode, the same day they got divorced, to put everything back together again.  Yeah.  Right.

The couple divorced, citing "easily reconcilable differences".
Just no.  If you’re going to completely wreck a character’s relationship out of the blue (though here’s a bright idea: don’t!), especially one that has proven itself time and again, there needs to be a good reason.  Skipping ahead because of timey-wimey doesn’t work.  And absolutely don’t then patch it up so easily that we’ve no idea how things got that bad in the first place.  But hey, at least it’ll lead to some character development in future, as they discuss how they got divorced, and then got re-married!  Once again: yeah, right.  I know they’re leaving soon, and Moffat’s obviously run out of stuff for them to do, but plumping for the desperately ridiculous is not the way to go.

So.  Stupid plot, stupid character development, silly Daleks, pretty good lighting job.  What else?  Well, there’s Oswin, the companion-in-waiting, who’s got a bad case of the Dalek bumps.  Jenna-Louise Coleman is a bright and fun presence, and attacks her slightly-too-smug dialogue ("Chin Boy"?) with admirable vigour, but she spends the whole episode in a little room talking to herself, so it hardly seems fair to judge.  Plus, sad as her story is – and knowing she’s coming back rids it of most of its pathos – it’s just another mark against Operation: Make Daleks Scary.  The thought of Nick Briggs sobbing into his vocoder won’t send me behind the sofa.  At least, not for the right reasons.

Asylum Of The Daleks looks great and has some admirable aims, but there’s just no real commitment to any of it.  (They don’t even live up to the much-publicised appearance of Every Dalek Ever, shoving all the ancient Daleks into the shadows with nothing to do.  You’d need a magnifying glass and a spotter’s guide to tell the difference.)  Pretty much the only important bit is Oswin’s nifty deletion of the Doctor from the Dalek memory bank, but that won’t make much difference in the long run.  Oh right, so now they’re going to exterminate him for realsies?  They get the chance right here and now, and still don’t do it!  And that’s before we get onto the what-were-they-thinking horror of the Daleks chanting “Doctor who?” like a bunch of nitwits.  Plus the Doctor saying it over and over, to the vomitous horror of this fan, worried sick they’re going to turn it into a catchphrase.  Bleurgh.  Please no.

There are worse Dalek episodes.  There are better ones, too.  Better luck next time.


  1. Darla Von Karlson? Are you kidding? Was that written by a three-year-old? That's as silly as calling a werewolf Remus Lupin, or a villain Nefarian Serpine. When did people just give up on character names?

    1. Further proof the Doctor's going to wind up being called Dokter "Doctor" Who.

  2. I only just noticed that. I wondered why it sounded so silly...

    Korvin M

  3. I just put it down to a typically ill advised EU directive and moved on. What she added was negligible enough without paying the slightest attention to her name.

    As my wife asked during the viewing, "why is so much time wasted on her? Has she been in it before? Is she someone in the UK? Why?"


  4. I'm pretty certain daleks don't actually know what 'exterminate' means. Possibly they think it means 'hello' or it's just a nervous stutter, like 'um' or 'er' or humming a little tune to oneself.

    Anyway this episode sounds rubbish so i certainly shan't be watching it.