Sunday, 2 September 2012

Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks (Episode Review)

Doctor Who returns to UK TV screens. He facing off against his old foes in huge numbers in a big budget pilot with drama between his old companions, all of which climates in a triumphant ending and leaves you thinking one thing - This really needed to be a multi-part story.
Having been back for a good few years now since the revival, people have gotten used to the writing styles of the creative minds behind it and the fast paced nature of its episodes. However, the pilot to this latest series just highlights a lot of its flaws and everything feels like it’s been crammed together.

The story behind this one is that the Doctor himself has been abducted along with Amy and Rory, taken to the Parliament of the Daleks (nope, no emperor any more) and are deployed to a planet used as an asylum for insane daleks. A human crashed ship fell to the planet one year before and its only survivor has been fending off their attacks for about a year, now the inmates are at risk of fleeing the world. Too scared to do it themselves, the Doctor is sent in to deal with them, lower the force field, and allow the orbiting fleet to obliterate the planet. Forced to comply with their demands for the greater good, the Doctor heads for the world trying to find a way to both end the insane threat and escape before the world can be destroyed.

Now from this brief description you can likely see one rather pressing question which the episode never answers – Why don’t the daleks simply shoot the insane ones on sight? They kill practically anything which shows deviation from their genetic code, individuality or rebellion – What makes these daleks so scary and threatening that they not only refuse to kill them but won’t even approach them? The answer given is fairly dumb, even by the standards of this show, and there's no real reason the daleks couldn't take them on themselves. Those shown in the prison are in a state of disrepair and barely working. If the story took more time to set up its premise and give a better reason why they're not dead, they might feel more threatening but instead it rushes in at full Moffat speed.

Similar problems arise from other things brought up. When they are introduced we quickly learn that Amy and Rory have split up, something which should be a major thing considering this show’s focus upon them. While this is actually addressed in one of the episode’s strongest scenes, it feels like there should have been much more time spent with it – like almost everything else in this. It never quite manages to find that balance between drama and action because it doesn’t spend enough time building up the former to give its events meaning. This especially becomes problematic with the scenes focusing upon the human trapped on the ship, Oswin. We’re only given a very brief introduction to her and most of her scenes rely upon the actress to give us reasons to care about her. Thankfully Jenna-Louise Coleman’s acting manages to do the character justice and her eventual fate is one of the episode’s big shock moments, though you might see it coming long before it happens.

But all this is just dressing to the episode’s main attraction – Daleks. How to they hold up? 
Actually pretty well, but they’re not properly used. One of Steven Moffat’s big aims behind this story was to try turn the daleks into tin-plated terrors once more. In a previous interview he stated that he felt they had become the "most reliably defeatable enemies in the universe" due to their frequent appearances and wanted to make them scary like when he watched them as a kid. It might have been for this reason he chose to bring back the bronze plated versions of the Russell T. Davies era as the minions of his more colourful brand.
While it could be argued that Dalek and Prisoner of the Daleks already did make the villains scary, it’s an admirable goal and they manage to pull it off. Despite being in a state of disrepair and low power, the daleks here are far more intimidating than many of their previous appearances – almost taking on the role of zombies within the episode. Where this fails is that it doesn’t take full advantage of what they had on hand.

The BBC’s Doctor Who blog boasted that they had every type dalek the Doctor had ever faced turning up: the originals, Imperials, black ones, blue ones, silver ones; the lot. The problem is that most of the time they’re either in the background or you can’t distinguish them from the modern ones due to the lighting. Even when they do make fleeting appearances you’re likely to miss them to give one example they had the Special Weapons Dalek for this episode, a fan favourite! What do they do with it? Have it sit immobile in a corner for one fleeting scene. It’s things like this which really drag the episode down because you can tell they could have easily done something good with them.

Overall the episode isn’t bad, it’s just severely disappointing. There is far more potential to this story than the episode ever takes advantage of and it’s nowhere near as strong a series opener as The Impossible Astronaut two parter. The most exciting moment for the future comes at the last minute and actually provides some interesting opportunities for the future, but otherwise treat it like Die Hard 4. Explosive entertainment to watch with your brain switched off.

Or if you're reading this after watching the episode for some reason, here's a more humorous take on the episode's plot problems.



Doctor Who and all related characters and media are owned by the BBC.

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