Saturday, 1 September 2012

Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks

Oswin: 'Run, you clever boy. And remember.'

Well, there goes the fourth wall, and a big hello to television's best kept secret. You remember the horse manure they've been feeding us all summer about Jenna-Louise Coleman's debut being in the Christmas Special? Well it was all a big, beautiful, pepperpot shaped lie. Not only did she turn up within the first five minutes, she also managed to flirt with Rory, poke fun at the Doctor's chin, and then save the whole bally lot of them. Brilliant! Now, if I could fathom out how they're going to bring her back.

In an age where television plot secrets are as rare as respectful cats, seeing Jenna's mush a full five episodes before schedule was an indescribable pleasure. It wasn't that I managed to ignore all spoilers—there simply weren't any. Remember back in the 90s, before the internet, when the Borg assimilated Picard, and it came as such a surprise that all you could do was whimper and go crying to your mum? I had the exact same reaction to this episode—before taking to Twitter and thanking Steven Moffat for his shameless lies. Oswin's appearance was a genuine surprise. Why can't it always be like this?

Compared to the 'The Eleventh Hour' and 'The Impossible Astronaut,' tonight's episode was a simpler, more linear affair, with no timey wimey nonsense to wrap our heads around, and no arc-heavy narrative over which to stress and form hasty, increasingly inaccurate conclusions. Which, considering the revised structure of season seven (five episodes now, one at Christmas, and then the rest next year), may in fact turn out to be a blessing. Hopefully the focus of the next five episodes will be on Rory and Amy's imminent departure, and the (re)introduction of Oswin. (A name which even now evokes memories of Cadfael's incompetent sidekick). With the introduction of a new companion, there's always a brief period of rebuilding, but haters of Moffat's convoluted plotting will no doubt be overjoyed to hear that this season will consist of mostly stand-alone stories. Or so the Moff says.

The return of the Daleks, without being particularly spectacular, was functional, and served as the perfect backdrop to the unfolding human drama. I've been saying for years now that The Moff should rest the Daleks before bringing them back in one really epic story. This wasn't that story, but tonight's yarn was more about the companions than it was the Daleks, and Oswin's shock arrival, alongside Amy and Rory's crumbling relationship, quite rightfully dominated. It's no secret that Amy and Rory have just four episodes left to go, so it seems only fitting that the heartstring tugging should begin in earnest.

It's an axiom of the modern show that Rory loves Amy more than Amy does Rory. We all know it. There's probably even a mathematical equation for it. She just has this weird, shifting relationship with the Doctor. Remember that attempted kiss back in season five? The almost kiss at the end of season six? The incessant flirting? The constant slapping of Rory's face? So virtually everything that Rory said rang true, yet Amy's 'I didn't kick you out, I gave you up' line tore a hole right through that particular misconception, revealing some unexpected depth to her character. Demon's Run has evidently robbed her of the ability to have more children (let's not forget they already have one gun-toting mop-head), but rather than deprive Rory of a second chance at fatherhood, she instead chose to set him free. Which makes Rory's two thousand years of waiting for her seem like a walk in the park. (Even if he did spend the bulk of it kitted out in a girly Roman dress.)  

Despite coming somewhat out of the blue, the divorce storyline does go some way to explain why Rory and Amy left the TARDIS three quarters of the way through season six. From a story point of view, I guess they needed time away from the Doctor for their relationship to flounder. I always imagined any domestic conflict would arise out of Amy's inability to stay away from the Doctor. Amy's always seemed better suited to the life of a space adventurer than Rory—even two seasons in, Rory still looks like a rank amateur. Shushing a Dalek? I mean, when did that ever work? If not for bi-curious Dalek, Oswin (I'll never get tired of saying that), he'd have been toast. Or possibly soufflé. And Amy clearly misses the adrenaline rush the near constant threat of evisceration seems to provide. The last thing I expected was a genuine human, non-timey wimey problem to arise. And Oswin being a Dalek, obviously.

Speaking of which, I thought Jenna fared admirably in her first outing. Her character was confident, smart, and dished out the one-liners like a consummate pro. (My favourite being 'The nose and the chin – you two could fence'.) But how do you come back from turning into a Dalek and then being blown to smithereens? I'm guessing a clue lies in the opening quote—will the Doctor (presumably at some point just before Christmas) remember Oswin and somehow alter time in order to change her fate? The Daily Mirror 'revealed' that Jenna's character in the Christmas episode will be called Clara Oswin. Assuming that's true, is her full name Clara Oswin Oswald, or are Clara and Oswin two different people (a la Martha Jones and Adeola Oshodi?) Whatever the answer, it was a terrific twist. Let's hope the resolve does it justice.

A minor gripe would be my slight disappointment at not seeing more of the Daleks, but since Dalek-centric stories (apart from 2005's 'Dalek') are generally shite, maybe I shouldn't complain. Oddly enough, I found the asylum Daleks more unnerving than their louder, gaudier counterparts. Them being semi-dormant seemed to work in their favour—although, I'm not sure it excused their abysmal aim at close range. But the introduction of the nanocloud, the asylum, and the Dalek Parliament, all added something new to the Dalek mythology, and provided a fascinating insight into the Dalek's inability to kill the Doctor.

So, a strong opener in what promises to be an emotionally fraught season. Karen and Arthur absolutely rocked the emotional stuff. They weren't given much to say, but their dialogue towards the end carried such weight, and the characters themselves have become such favourites, that it was hard not to be moved. Jenna-Louise Coleman also turned in a solid Freshman performance. I can't wait for her to become a full time companion. And Matt Smith owns his character so completely these days that it's hardly worth mentioning his brilliance. Except I just did.

Next week: dinosaurs... on a freaking spaceship!

Other Thoughts:

—If only they hadn't cancelled Doctor Who Confidential. Who could say no to more Jenna and more Daleks? Thanks a bunch recession!

—Good job they restrained the Daleks with those really strong chains.

—I think the Pond Life prequels would have been better served setting up Rory and Amy's crumbing relationship. They hinted at it, but it still came as something of a shock. The prequels can be viewed on youtube.

—Shame on the Doctor for walking into such an obvious trap. No Jammie Dodger for you.

—What kind of a dumb-ass would grab hold of a Dalek's head, give it a twist, and then stand there trying to have a conversation while it powered up? Oh Rory! You're going to die again aren't you? Great egg gag, though.

—I love the way burning a soufflé means you have to throw everything in the bin -- including the dish! Dishes are expensive, Oswin. Thank goodness it was an imaginary bin, soufflé and dish.

—The Daleks really need to stop explaining their plans. All they had to do is initiate self-destruct and then keep their traps shut, but—no—they just had to explain their own cleverness, thus giving the Doctor time to come up with a cunning plan.

—Is Amy cured? No side affects after being infected by the nanocloud?

—More 'Doctor Who?' questions being asked I see. Feeble joke or Dorian continuity awesomeness? I'll leave you to decide.


Quotes:

Doctor: 'Well, this is new.'

Doctor: 'What have you been doing, on your own against the Daleks, for a year?'
Oswin: 'Making soufflé.'
Doctor: 'Making soufflé? Against the Daleks? Where did you get the milk?'

Doctor: 'Don't be fair to the Daleks when they're firing me at a planet.'

Amy: 'Scared? Who's scared? Geronimo!'

Oswin: 'Bad combo, no sense of humour and that chin.'
Amy: 'Is that her again: soufflé girl?'
Doctor: 'Yeah, she... Oy, what is wrong with my chin?'
Oswin: 'Careful dear, you'll put someone's eye out.'

Oswin: 'Hey there, beaky boy.'
Rory: 'If it's a straight choice, I prefer Nina.'

Amy: 'Is it bad that I've really missed this?'

Dalek: 'The Predator must be destroyed.'
Doctor: 'And how are you going to do that? Dalek without a gun; you're a tricycle with a roof. How are you going to destroy me?'

Oswin: 'Rescue me, Chinboy, and show me the stars.'

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