Recap and Chat: Doctor Who 7×01–Asylum of the Daleks

And as if no time has passed, we’re back to our very favorite wibbly-wobbly show, which manages to run in a rather linear fashion this time. It is only the premier, though, so I’ll cut the Doctor some slack here. One of my favorite shows has returned, stronger than ever, with promises of new characters and cherished villains, and I know I can’t wait to talk about it. To the Asylum!

Episode Summary

With the Pond Life web series and the first five minutes of the episode, we know that everyone’s favorite whimsically hipster couple Amy and Rory are filing for divorce. However, not to be outdone by trivial matters such as paperwork, the Daleks zap them up using Dalek Cylons, with the Doctor, and demand that their race be saved.

Meanwhile, our attention is drawn to an erstwhile young woman chronicling her days. Were that we lived in a news-free world, we might suspect she’s just another guest star; however, because we live in the Internet, we know that she is someone to be remembered, as she is, indeed, the Companion to replace the Ponds come the Christmas special. Revealed to be Oswin Oswald of the Starship Alaska, she is the last remaining survivor of a crash into the Asylum of the Daleks, a planet containing millions of more-insane-than-usual Daleks. As the aliens themselves are too afraid to visit the planet in order to turn off the forcefield and blast it all to oblivion, they naturally kidnap the Doctor, aka The Predator in their language, and fire him at the planet. No, literally. They slap safety bracelets on the trio and send them all plummeting down a beam of light. Once arrived, Amy and the Doctor are found by Harvey, a wary but confused traveler (presumably an unknown survivor from Oswin’s crew); however, Rory has fallen down a deep, deep hole into a cave of apparently empty Dalek shells. After a horribly revealing chat with Harvey, they escape his crew-turned-Cylon-attack-force and are once again chatting with Oswin, whose knowledge of and ability to control the Dalek database is suspiciously uncanny.

Our heroic duo work with Oswin and against the clock to find a solution, thinking doubly hard once it’s realized that the Cylon Daleks slipped Amy’s safety bracelet off her wrist. Rory, meanwhile, is wandering the Dalek cave, with little success. Cut back to the Doctor and Amy, whose mind is starting to go as she’s asked him four times what’s going to happen to her. Surely we aren’t going to lose Amy’s impenetrably strong memory, which has saved us many an episode thence, but so it would seem.

Finding themselves under a Dalek attack that Amy is unable to recognize as such, some quick Sonic work causes an explosion of the Daleks in the room and the duo free to run. The trio is finally reunited and Amy is down for the count, trying to ward off the Cylon Dalek brain coming to her. As Rory and the Doctor kneel over her, Oswin muses that the way to make a Dalek is to “subtract love, add anger.” Once again, the Doctor is vastly suspicious of Oswin’s capabilities and how she’s stayed herself so long on the planet. She seems to have an answer for everything, but he won’t be satisfied until he learns, finally, where she gets the milk for the souffles she tries to make regularly. Still, no satisfactory answer, but it’s determined that they need to rescue her and escape via the teleport pad, saving Amy’s life and the Pond marriage in the meantime.

While the Doctor dashes off to grab Oswin, Amy and Rory have an emotional breakdown over what happened to them. Short version: She can’t have kids because of Demon’s Run, so she made him leave because she knows he always wanted kids. Both in tears over how much they are still in love (and maybe my tears, too, shut up), they realize the Doctor slipped his bracelet onto Amy’s wrist because he doesn’t even need it. Slight detail that you have River Song as a child aside, I guess this is kind of understandable. A bit of a letdown in the face of the Epic Relationship that’s been set up for the pair of them over the last two seasons, but it seems like a predictable plot twist. Mothers in Moffat’s Who, you know?

Anyway, back to the plot. As the Doctor nears Oswin, we realize that she’s managed to crash right in the center of the ICU of the Asylum, which actually means the Daleks who have survived the Doctor. Cue one massive eye roll from me, but I guess that’s what happens when you spend most of the last season playing tiddly-winks on Earth instead of surveying your time and space continuum prowess. As Oswin curiously notes that these Daleks don’t usually wake up for anything, they start closing in on a very nervous time lord. She works some quick hack magic and makes them all forget the Doctor forever (we’ll see about that one), but then when he enters, he realizes she’s dreamed the entire world up because the truth was too terrible. And when he turns, we see…that Oswin is, in fact, a full-fledged Dalek.

We see, in a short flashback, that the rope ladder was Oswin’s, that when she tried to escape the crash, the Daleks found her and gave her the complete transformation rather than making her a Cylon Dalek. They needed a genius, someone who could control the planet from the inside, and when the opportunity presented itself, it was too good to exist. Little did they know, however, that she would retain so much of her humanity that she would someday find a way to defy them as much as she could. Run, Oswin tells the Doctor, run, and remember that she is still in control of her brain and that she is still human, though she may be stuck in the Dalek shell. And so he runs, back to the teleportation hub, where Rory and Amy wait, proclaiming they’ll wait together for the rest of their lives, whether that’s four seconds or until the end of time itself. And so they teleport back into the TARDIS, where the Daleks as a whole have no memory of him, uttering over and over the first question: Doctor Who? We end with the Doctor quickly dropping the reunited Ponds back off at their TARDIS-blue doorstep and sets off on his next adventure, still in awe of the girl genius who saved them all.

And there we are, off to a rollicking good start to the season. Given Moffat’s love for mind-bendy plot twists, I had hoped for something a little less obvious than Oswin’s Dalek self, but now I’m curious about how she’s going to be the companion and, you know, not be a Dalek. Unless she will be, of course, which sounds expensive, but I guess they could do it.

Lest it sound like I hated this episode, let me say that I actually really enjoyed it. I will say that though it feels less episodic than I’d hoped, it does feel a bit more season five (which I maintain is one of the best seasons of television ever aired). It seems to be more on track with the mythology of the series and, with any luck, will steer a bit clearer the wanted-desperately-to-be-told story of River Song (which I loved, but perhaps could have been less heavy-handed). Let’s dig a little deeper into some of the specifics.

Pond Life, Revisited

Though the Ponds are reunited by the episode’s end, their divorce proceedings were heartrending, if a little too contrived. I chalk the plausibility up to Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan’s acting abilities more than the laughable motherhood plot, but it did give them something to do while the Doctor rushed off to save Oswin. All I’m saying is that they had better have a lot to do this season before they leave, because we didn’t all fawn over season five for it to end badly.

And the quote of the episode, for me: “There’s nothing you can do. It’s life, just that thing that goes on when you’re not there.” There Amy goes early on in the scene, breaking my heart again with her eyes full of stars and the suspicion that the Doctor might abandon her again, wondering what her life would have been like if it had been five minutes instead of twelve years. The injustice of it all is that this can never be undone, and Amy’s going to depart likely never knowing what could have been. At least she’ll always have Rory, the pair who waited and with who in this episode it is understood that they will always wait, for each other and for the Doctor. Amy, dear Amy, whose life has been one letdown by the Doctor after another, including her sterility gained at Demon’s Run–will he ever really make it up to her?

Return of the Daleks

It’s about time, isn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I’ve missed the Daleks somethin’ bad. They aren’t my favorite classic villain, but they’re pretty terrible. I’ll admit, I don’t know much about the Daleks other than what I know from NewWho, but I loved the idea of an asylum where the worst, most dangerous Daleks go. I mean, they’re all pretty out of control on a good day, so this seems like a pretty terrifying place. I thought it was going to be a bit more dangerous on the surface of the planet, but the idea of the assimilation security system was pretty terrifying, too. Poor Harvey, never stood a chance, I guess. He was great while we thought he was human, right?

Oswin Oswald, The Girl Who Can

Though I figured out the plot twist pretty quickly (I mean, really, that giant round screen? Okay.), I found Oswin thoroughly enjoyable. First of all, her name is Oswin, which is glorious. Second, she’s a young woman whose first voyage on a spaceship crashed into a planet populated by the smartest and most deadly alien warriors, and she’s so smart that they assimilated her directly to be a leader, rather than destroying her memories to use her body as a pawn. Of course, that plan backfired on the Daleks, as most of theirs do, but it gave me nothing but greater respect for the character. I don’t think we’ve really figured out her character or the role, since I imagine she’ll be somewhat modified by the time she becomes a series regular.

Now, let’s try to figure out where exactly Oswin’s going to come into play. Is the Doctor going to find her in her previous life and try to save her from becoming a Dalek? He can’t, though, because that will destroy Amy and Rory’s chance of reconciliation (or will it matter, after their “departure”?). The official name for the companion is allegedly Clara Oswin, but I’m not sold on it being a totally different character–or maybe it is. We’ll see soon enough, I’m both excited and sad to say. Regardless, I loved her and I think she’s going to bring equal quantities of sass and genius to the TARDIS (which seems to be fueled by companion sass, anyway). Sad as I am to see the Ponds go, I think Oswin is going to be just the right one for the job.

A Return to Classic Moffat?

One thing that really struck me with this episode was its reminiscence of the Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead two-parter from season four, Donna Noble bless us all. We enter a world that exists inside a stored brain, one that is so very real and yet is nothing that it appears to be. Those who would seek more are cut down, destroyed by the natural inhabitants who felt they were being attacked, and made to serve those purposes instead. Once again, the Doctor’s most vicious enemies are not stupid; in fact, both the Vashta Nerada and the Daleks are repeatedly adaptable (if the Daleks are a bit slower). Anyone who would remain an enemy of the Doctor would have to be practically unparalleled. And last, last, we have the tragic heroine, whose life is cut short by those who seek instead to destroy the Doctor. Since it’s probable that this was the end of Oswin’s life, Dalek or otherwise, the parallels to River’s own quasi-demise are practically palpable.  In fact, it kind of freaked me out how similar the story arcs were–but I loved it. The season four episodes are two of my favorite of the entire series, and if that’s the kind of episode we’ll be getting this season, I’m more than thrilled.

Will this outshine last year’s lackluster season? Too soon to tell, of course, but it seems we’re already off to a good start. Last year’s two-part opener was one of my favorites of NewWho as a whole, but the rest of the season–in the words of the good David Tennant, “Weeeeelllllllll.”  Next week promises a very good Dinosaurs! On A Spaceship! story, guest starring everyone’s favorite Rupert Graves, so I know I’m looking forward to it. Thoughts on this week? Thoughts on Jenna-Louise Coleman?

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About Bailey

I'm a writer and a feminist. I read a lot of books and I watch a lot of television.

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    [...] Recap and Chat: Doctor Who 7×01 – Asylum of the Daleks (abigpicturewindow.wordpress.com) [...]

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