Asylum of the Daleks
Narrator: First there were the Daleks…
Production Code: 3.1. (Footnote .)
Doctor Who Season: S33 (Ep1).
Story Number: 226.
Doctor Who begins again.
It starts with astonishing imagery. That’s a Dalek, but a huge, massive, stonking SKYSCRAPER Dalek. A voiceover tells us the story so far. It’s the story of Doctor Who – Doctor Who and the Daleks. The Doctor meets the narrator, the legend steps out the story to meet the storyteller.
And they’re in the head of a massive Dalek, peering out of its eyestalk. Remember that imagery for later. (And also note it’s very similar to the Doctor we saw at the end of The Wedding of River Song, peering out of one the icons of the show. That is, himself, in that earlier story.)
“First there were the Daleks. And then there was a man who fought them…” Anyone who’s never seen Doctor Who gets a good primer of what the show’s about. (So this is Skaro. Is it a new Skaro? There’s no time to ponder the intricacies of Doctor Who continuity as the story is non-stop.)
The Daleks actually assemble the component parts of the programme before the theme-tune sequence.
“It is known that the Doctor requires… companions”.
Before Amy and Rory are zapped to join the Doctor, there’s a re-emphasis of what we knew from Pond Life – that the Ponds are no more, they are no longer wife and man. It’s an emotionally turbulent beginning, but it’s a rollercoaster of plot-twists from here-on in.
After the theme-tune, wham, the reveal of the actress we all “know” to be joining the show at Christmas is stunning. STUNNING.
Jenna-Louise Coleman plays Oswin with a rapid spark that Moffat has expected of his female leads since Press Gang, and she increases anticipation for the rest of the season in 2013 with her beguiling performance.
There’s something very Classic Doctor Who about the way she’s guiding them through this “planetoid that’s been cracked open and filled with the battle-scarred, psychotic Daleks even the Daleks have come to fear” (as Moffat described the episode for the Radio Times), she’s like a Greek chorus for the story, in much the same way Alexei Sayle’s DJ provided a running commentary over Revelation of the Daleks.
Before Amy and the Doctor can join Rory in the scary core of this planetoid, they have to brave a scene of creeping-terror scary that hasn’t been seen in Doctor Who since, well, Moffat’s The Doctor Dances. (Oswin’s dead shipmates rising up as Dalek puppets.) It’s about the Daleks too though (not just puppets), making them properly scary again. Making the Doctor properly scared: there’s even a callback to the first scared-by-the-Daleks person in Doctor Who, Barbara (the classic Serial B cliffhanger), with the imagery matching that plunger-only-on-screen classic moment.
A big thing of the publicity for this episode was the parade of Classic “old” Dalek designs – in the end this isn’t what the story is really about. It’s about characters, including the trio we knew of.
“Amy, basic fact of our relationship is that I love you more than you love me” – the emotional turbulence continues for Amy and Rory with the scene that explains their divorce, and it’s actually another dark scene, darker than even the scary monsters we saw before. Amy and Rory make it through though, and we cheer. (And the Doctor congratulates himself on one of his objectives.)
The programme Doctor Who had a new state of play after The Wedding of River Song which continued with the enjoyable interlude of The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe but has only really been tested with this episode: the Doctor as a legendary figure.
(The situation of everyone and his dog across the universe knowing the Doctor was alive and out there had changed. It’s a running theme of the Moffat era also, remembrance and forgetting.)
The Daleks though are going to remember, if any monster are going to remember the Doctor. Oswin’s “Dalek Path Web” trick means it really is Doctor Who beginning again once more, as like Serial B, the Doctor’s leaving having encountered Daleks who don’t really know who he is.
The audience though, if they’re new, will have got a very clear knowledge of what Doctor Who is: the Doctor and his companions, against the Daleks.
Rollercoaster plot-twists continue. If this recalls Serial B, it also recalls Dalek – an emotional wallop with one Dalek at the core of the story, buried under, in a bunker. All the more curious elements of the story – why is she so knowledgeable on Dalek sound and vision technology? Everything slots into place with this thrilling, moving, Science Fiction spectacular.
So instead of us marvelling at Daleks from previous decades, the episode launches with an amazing mystery for us of how Oswin will feature in future stories.
And the astonishing reveal of the story was there was from the beginning – she was in the head of a Dalek.
Well, that’s the natural progression from the production codes of the 2010 season at least.