PROCEED WITH CAUTION, HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
Since the end of Doctor Who’s sixth series, plenty of promises have been made regarding this year’s fiftieth season, (New!Who’s seventh)–most including words like “blockbuster” and “cinematic”. Saturday brought the premiere episode to BBC America, and while those promises were upheld, it was at the expense of some arguably more precious elements of the show.
For the week leading up to “Asylum”, BBC America released mini episodes online which they titled “Pond Life“. These episodes were supposed to let us know how the Ponds have been adapting to life without the Doctor and they featured an element of Steven Moffat’s writing which I have previously dubbed emotional whiplash.
Then “Asylum” began and, as my iTunes season pass has informed me, there’s even more of a prequel to this episode which is only available by subscription on iTunes or Amazon (or if you can find it on the youtubes…) None of this is new–every season of New!Who has had bonus content that isn’t properly part of the series, but this is the first time that you miss a major plot point if you’re not caught up on the bonus stuff. And that kind of bugs me. By the time “Asylum” starts, the Doctor has already been warned about Skaro and Amy and Rory have broken up, and so we begin in medius res, unless you’ve been paying very close attention.
The episode itself, from a plot standpoint, falls rather close to genius. It might even be fair to call it brilliant. The Daleks have been reimagined and this time they’re hiding inside human shells. This season they present a real threat, albeit in conjunction with the nanocloud and rather limited to Dalek-run planets; but finally we get to see why everyone runs screaming from one of the most innocuous sci-fi villains of all time. Classic Doctor conventions abound–plenty of running, catch phrases and yelling, unexpected enemies and eleventh hour plot twists. Top it all off with a companion who’s only a ticking clock away from certain death and “Asylum” could be considered textbook for a Doctor Who season premiere. That is, if it hadn’t been for Oswin.
Anyone who knows my Doctor Who watching habits knows my pattern–whenever a new companion or Doctor is announced I stubbornly dig my heels in and back away from the series, proclaiming I could never love them as much as I loved their predecessor. Almost every time with one GLARING exception (oh, Martha.) my mind is changed within a few episodes and I’m eventually almost completely converted. Never have I ever loved a new character faster than I did with Oswin. Perhaps the episode was designed this way, and in fact I think this might be part of its brilliance, but every scene with Oswin endeared her to me in direct opposition to how little I enjoyed Amy and Rory’s scenes. All right, if I’m being fair, it was in direct opposition to how little I enjoyed Amy’s scenes–I still can’t get enough of Rory.
We know Oswin’s going to be the Doctor’s new companion, and we were promised a companion unlike any other. So far, that promise has been upheld. Not only will she be an intellectual equal to the Doctor himself, but he’s going to have to do some fancy footwork to get her before she’s dalek-ified. I’d go so far as to consider this episode her premiere rather than the series’. By the end, she’s saved the Doctor’s life rather than the other way around, and not only that she has somehow held off the effects of the most powerful evil force in the universe for over a year. Even after he tells her what has happened, she maintains her humanity from within the Dalek body, and manages to understand both the “real” reality, and to uphold the one she has created in favor of the truth. In the mean time she wipes every memory of the Doctor from the Daleks’ consciousness, forcing them to ask the question that will apparently bring on The Silence from the end of season six. Compared to any other companion’s first episode, the rest look a bit like limp noodles.
Speaking of the Silence, while we’re on the subject, we will have to wait until later in the season to know if Moffat used the final call of “Doctor Who?” from the entire race of Daleks as a light-hearted pun, or truly intended for it to be the beginning of the end. If the former comes to pass, I will be massively disappointed.
And on the topic of disappointment, I’m going to return to the Ponds, and I’m only going to say this once: I wish they had stayed broken up.
I love the Ponds, in fact they’re the only couple I ship as hard as Rose/Ten, but I think their break-up was not only interesting, it was inevitable as long as the Doctor kept being involved in their lives.
Amy was too torn between him and Rory, Rory was justifiably jealous of the connection between Amy and the Doctor, and Amy was stuck in her childhood as long as the Doctor would enable her. We already know the Ponds are on their way out and the fact that their break-up made it all the way to divorce made me hope it would take the rest of their episodes for the full story to unfold. In fact, in a perfect world, their story-arc would end with the two of them getting back together, or in an even more perfect world, we’ll find out what happened at Demon’s Run, the Doctor will somehow reverse it, and then Amy and Rory will ride off into the sunset with a new baby in tow…or something domestic like that.
Their reunion at the end of “Asylum” minimizes their breakup and doesn’t make the two struggle all that hard to return to semi-utopia, even while Amy is off declaring how much she missed TARDIS-related adventures and Rory is still declaring his love for her. It felt more like “Asylum” would be their last episode rather than the beginning of their last story arc; now that the Doctor has saved them one last time, what’s left for them?
“Asylum of the Daleks” may have left me with something to complain about, but it’s done several things that few other episodes of Doctor Who can claim–namely introducing a new companion that I can’t wait to get to know. For a season premiere I’d say it’s pretty close to perfect. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the crew this time around and to find out how Oswin returns from her Dalek-y fate. Now that the Daleks have been reset and the Weeping Angels are nowhere to be seen (so far), I’m excited to find out who the big baddie will be this time around. If every episode is treated with the same feature-film level quality, I’d say we’re in for a pretty spectacular season, I just hope that Moffat and co. don’t let their character development slip in favor of exciting new sets and millions of monsters. And after two seasons of ups and downs, I hope the Ponds get the send-off they deserve.
Tune in next week when I recap “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship”, single-handedly my favorite episode title ever.