Review: Asylum of the Daleks

I was pretty excited for this run of Doctor Who, I have to admit. I’ve been a big fan since it was rebooted in 2005, and though I’m not crazy about how the last couple of seasons have been spread out over the year, the promise of ‘blockbuster-style’ episodes promised an interesting and fresh new take on the Who format. My appetite whetted with the mini-episode preview that showed companions Amy and Rory in dire relationship straits, I tuned in with great anticipation.

And I was disappointed.

I should have seen some of this coming; I had been vaguely conscious of the fact that, despite the ‘blockbuster’ style of these episodes, they would still only be 45 minutes. Something would have to be lost in the crush of content, and unfortunately it was any semblance of buildup or development. The characters were shunted off onto their adventure without so much as a by-your-leave, and before you know it they were struggling to survive on a planet filled with insane Daleks. Amy and Rory’s estrangement was also dealt with in an unsatisfying, brusque fashion which undermined any emotional impact their separation might otherwise have had, ignoring the issues behind it. After such a long absence from our screens, the rushed exposition and plot leaps felt a little jarring, and once on the planet the admittedly cool premise wasn’t played around with too much. Promo images promised multiple generations of Daleks, but really there were just one or two of the recent copper-style with the same old schtick.

The inclusion of these ‘copper’ Daleks is itself a point of contention,; a couple of years ago, the series made a big deal, and a whole episode around remodelling the Daleks into larger, more colourful interpretations, to some derision from the viewers. This reaction seems to have had an effect, as for the most part the new design has been shelved, with no explanation. This may just be nerd rage, but it really bothers me; even outside of the Daleks, this episode was full of continuity problems, to the point where it detracted from the enjoyment of watching the show.

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And then there was Oswyn.

It had been widely reported for the last few months that Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill were on their way out, with a new companion for Matt Smith’s Doctor arriving at Christmas in the form of Jenna-Louise Colman. Well, in an unexpected curveball from showrunner Steven Moffat, she’s here early; and is a Dalek. Cool, if not entirely unexpected twist; but my god if she wasn’t annoying, full of mind- gratingly ‘zingy’ back-and-forth with the Doctor. It’s a style that Alex Kingston’s River Song makes seem mysterious and sexy, but from Coleman just felt like a 15-year old flirting on Bebo. Here’s hoping she tones it down when her somehow un-dalekked self returns.

Maybe my expectations were a little too high, but this was, in my opinion, a rare miss-step from Steven Moffat on writing duties. There was still a lot to love- zombie Daleks, some fun playing around with catchphrases and game-changing events that will presumably have a big impact on the future – but really, I hope the rest of this series can deliver where this episode failed.

(Though the child in me finds it impossible to be cynical or unexcited about an episode called Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.)

2 STARS