Saturday, September 01, 2012

Doctor Who 7.1--Asylum of the Daleks

Whew! That was fun!

So! Asylum of the Daleks! Let's dig in, shall we?

Synopsis: Doctor meets with shady ginger lady who claims her daughter is trapped in a Dalek prison camp and she's been told the Doctor might be able to help. He's suspicious--how did she escape? No one escapes Dalek prisons. And they are meeting on Skaro, the Dalek home planet, which appears to have been rendered uninhabitable even by creatures hermetically sealed into tuna tins. (Sure, they are high tech tuna tins, but tins nonetheless). Shady ginger lady grows an eyestalk out of her forehead, and "the Doctor is acquired."

Amy Pond is on a high fashion shoot, interrupted by the appearance of her husband ("I don't have a husband!" she insists--wait. What?) with divorce papers for her to sign. We can see her sign "Williams." Rory leaves, and Amy's make-up assistant grows a blue eyestalk out of her forehead--"Amelia Pond is acquired!"

Rory's busdriver also has a blue light on his forehead--do you suppose the Daleks have replace all the London busdrivers?

Our brave trio reunites on a Dalek spaceship, which turns out to house the "Parliament of the Daleks." You can call it a parliament, I call it "Too Many Daleks."

This is quite a feat Moffat has pulled off. This may be more Daleks than even Russell T. Davies had ever assembled during his running of the series, and I don't think there was every a plot difficulty that Rusty didn't think could be solved by throwing more Daleks at it.

The Doctor screws his eyes closed, waiting for the fatal blast, but once again the Daleks have a surprise and a plan (cf. Victory of the Daleks from series 5): "You will save us" they say. They have an asylum, a planet where they dump the most damaged and ungovernable Daleks. The Daleks that all the other Daleks are scared of--that's how damaged they are. The Doctor asks "Why don't you just kill them?" Reasonable questions--Daleks kill everything. Daleks were prepared to eradicate reality just to get rid of non-Dalek lifeforms--what's to stop them from killing these criminal Daleks?

The answer comes out of the kind of twisted love that one would expect from this species--there is a terrible beauty in such hatred, and they will not destroy such a thing of beauty. And here the Doctor thought the Daleks couldn't possibly have found a new way to make him sick: to confuse hatred with beauty. "Perhaps that is why we are unable to kill you, Doctor." Oh snap! You kids, you're the Sam and Diane of the time vortex--just admit it.

Anyway, the ostensible plan is to launch the Doctor and requisite companions to the planet and lower the impenetrable force field so the mothership can explode the planet because there is someone (or something) down there who keeps playing Carmen at them and they don't like it. Should we nitpick the logical inconsistencies? How did something land on the planet through the impenetrable nano-techbabble-shield, and why (if it is impenetrable) do they think this thing could come back out? And how do they expect to get Doctor and Ponds through this impenetrable shield? And if it can only be turned off from the inside, how did it get turned on in the first instance?

No, let's just assume this was Moffat's hat tip to the dodgy science that is one of the hallmarks of this series, and move on. He's working in the venerable tradition of nearly half a century: don't stop to think, just keep running.

Screaming and falling, coming to in snow, meeting a guy in a white snowsuit who helps them look for Rory, until he and all his dessicated crew grow forehead eyestalks; seemingly dead Daleks of all shapes coming back to life, and "Souffle Girl"--Jenna-Louise Coleman in a well kept surprise appearance months before she was expected as the sole surviving member of the spaceship crash, Oswin. Oswin is a brilliant hacker who has tapped into the Dalek systems and guides Doctor and Ponds to safety, and asks to be rescued. Of course, she can't be. She wasn't just turned into a human puppet/zombie Dalek--she was brilliant so she got the full conversion. She is the maddest of the mad Daleks, kept in a solitary confinement even within the asylum, insisting on her own humanity and resisting the Dalek programming.

In a last ditch effort, she accesses the Dalek central control pathway and wipes all memories of the Doctor. She sends him to join the Ponds on the transporter deck and lowers the impenetrable shield, assuring the destruction of the planet. The Doctor transports the three of them inside the TARDIS back on the mother ship, and pops out to gloat. But wait! The Daleks don't recognize him. "It's me! The Doctor!" No information on any such being in their banks. No Doctor, no "Predator," no "Oncoming Storm." Oswin wiped all the Dalek memories. Epic series reboot for the win!

The Awesome:
  • Forehead eyestalks. Creepy!
  • "How much trouble are we in, Mr. Pond? On a scale of one to ten? [Beat] Eleven." I love when Eleven calls himself out like that!
  • Zombie skeleton Daleks reminded me of the victims from Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead
  • Oswin's dress has to be a call back to Lt. Uhura's uniform from Star Trek: TOS. Where else would that asymmetrical neckline have come from?
  • Oswin.  
  • "Making souffles? At the Daleks?"
  • Love the newest most empathetic view of Daleks ever--Amy sees them as just people, including a little girl pirouetting in a pink tutu and tiara. At first, I thought these were people from her past--the assistant from the photo shoot, for example, or herself when she was still Little Amelia. Daleks have inner lives maybe? They can be more than just implacable Bad Guys?
  • Amy's anger and hurt erupting in her declaration "I didn't kick you out. I gave you up." Ponds 4 evah!
  • Daleks with their Oswin amnesia: "Doctor who? Doctor who? DOCTOR WHO?"
The Questionable:
  • Too many Daleks. Honestly, large numbers of Daleks are not necessarily scary if they are all refusing to attack. One homocidal Dalek is scarier than however many thousands of inert ones.
  • Why do Daleks have a parliament? Do they debate whether or not to exterminate? Is there a Loyal Opposition that has been elected on a platform on No Extermination? What are the political issues in Dalek life anyway?
  • Have Daleks abandoned their superiority and adopted Cybermen tactics of assimilation? Oswin's "conversion" looked a lot like Craig Owen fighting off his conversion in Closing Time last season. (I love you, Moffat, but keep your villains straight, okay? 
  • Also, Steven Moffat? I love you. I love what you are doing with Who, as well as Sherlock and even Jekyll. But you need to drop a couple of writing tics. "Wibbly wobbly timey wimey" was brilliant, but let it go. Seeing both "humany wumany" in The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe right before the broadcast of Asylum where you inserted "explode-y wode-y"--you are diluting the brilliance of the first outing. Stop using it. It's not cute, and it's retroactively degrading the brilliance of Blink. Don't do that.
Fun things to notice:
  • All the Daleks in the Parliament are the same make/model--gold and sleek--none of controversial iDaleks from Victory of the Daleks apparently were electable.
  • The pre-airing promise that the episode would show "every Dalek from every era. EVER." is apparently technically met in the various Daleks kept in the asylum. But since most of them are basically stage dressing, there isn't really any kind of debate over which one is the *best* Dalek, which I would have enjoyed seeing played out. But this is why we have DVRs and the ability to freeze images. (But I think I spotted a camo painted WWII era one from Victory of the Daleks in the Intensive Care sequence.)
  • Oswin is definitely giving off The Girl Who Waited vibes. Which is great--I really liked The Girl Who Waited. 
  • Is Oswin's designation of Rory as "The Nose" and the Doctor as "The Chin" a payback to the time in The Impossible Astronaut when he called his companions "The Nose" (Rory), "Legs" (Amy) and "Mrs. Robinson" (River Song)? Now they all have "code names."
Finally--did anybody see this? My new favorite game is now "Dalek Bingo."


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