REVIEW: Doctor Who - "Asylum of the Daleks"
I’ll admit, I didn’t know what to expect with the series seven premiere of Doctor Who. The finale of series seven answered (albeit messily) a lot of the major questions that had lingered through much of Matt Smith’s tenure as the Doctor. So coming into “Asylum of the Daleks”, it felt like a chance to start out fresh with a new challenge for our favourite time-travelling alien.
What we get is a premiere with a rollicking, confident pace and a number of interesting developments for future episodes. But “Asylum of the Daleks” still feels more like a one-shot episode than the starting point of a series arc. It isn’t as bold with its narrative like the series six opener “The Impossible Astronaut”, and so the direction of the coming series remains up in the air. Read on for my full review!
The episode opens with a dramatic scene on the creepy planet Skaro, where the Doctor (Matt Smith) is kidnapped by a group of Daleks. His companions Amy(Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) are soon snatched as well, and we learn that it’s not the usual Dalek plot to exterminate the Doctor (well, not entirely).
The Daleks are worried that the titular asylum planet is on the verge of a breakout, which would release millions of insane Daleks into the universe. The Doctor only agrees to help them because of a young woman named Oswin (Jenna-Louise Coleman), who has apparently crash-landed on the planet a year ago. With the help of Oswin, the Doctor tries to prevent the prison break and figure out who his new friend really is.
The episode has an infectious feeling of excitement; it’s great to see these characters tearing about in a story that feels like an instant Whovian classic. There’s enough decrepit spaceships, squawking Daleks and witty one-liners to satisfy any long-time Doctor Who fan. And the added tumult in Amy and Rory’s marriage proves that we should still be paying attention to them.
The introduction to Oswin Oswald was just as unexpected as the direction of the premiere. Since Jenna-Louise Coleman was announced as the Doctor’s new companion several months ago, I assumed that the first time she appears, we’d go through the ritual of bringing her character into the TARDIS, and seeing her and the Doctor go on their first adventure together.
Something very different happens in “Asylum of the Daleks”, and it left me once again admiring Steven Moffat’s bold approach as Doctor Who’s senior writer and executive producer. More than anything, Oswin’s future seems to be the newest puzzle in the show. The questions about Oswin may not rival the mysteries of the Silence last series, but it’s clear that Oswin will not be some clone of a previous companion.
It was also intriguing to see a fresh addition to the threat of the Daleks: the Dalek puppets, beings who are infected by breathing in microscopic nano-robots. They’re not, however, the most menacing of the Doctor’s rogues’ gallery, and I found myself wishing that Moffat had done more with the danger of the Doctor’s team turning into Daleks. But they were more effective than the insane Daleks, who seemed more broken-down than crazy.
The episode still left me wondering what big themes the series would tackle. With the Silence out of the picture for now, I hoped that we’d get a hint of who the Doctor’s main opponent will be, or what major obstacle he’ll have to face in series seven. By contrast, series six had many: the identity of River Song, the Doctor’s death, the motives of Madame Kovarian, and the question of Amy’s child.
As entertaining as the premiere was, it didn’t complete the key function of an opening episode: to set up the major conflicts and give us a sense of what the characters will have to struggle with. As entertaining as it was to see the show back up and running, I’m still waiting for the next Doctor Who episode that really blows me away. “Asylum of the Daleks” gets three stars out of four.
What did you think of the series seven premiere? Were you impressed? Excited? Were you disappointed that Moffat didn’t do more to set up the coming episodes? How did you feel about the introduction of Jenna-Louise Coleman’s character? Join the discussion in the comments section below! If you liked this review, share it with your friends and followers, and if you’d like to catch up on my reviews of the last series, browse through the posts here:
Doctor Who: Series 6 Reviews