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Sunday, September 2, 2012

DAMN Good Television -- DOCTOR WHO: "Asylum of the Daleks"


The Series Seven premiere featured a number of mysteries and surprises, so River Song Spoilers are in full effect.  Consider yourselves warned.

It's been far too long of a wait since the last full Doctor Who episode, "The Doctor, The Widow and The Wardrobe," aired last Christmas.  Whovians all over the world have been forced to survive on BBC America Best Of specials, talk show interviews, convention appearances, blog posts (Cheers, everyone!), Doctor Who Magazine, Big Finish audio adventure CDs, podcasts, YouTube videos, Twitter, Tumblr, and other assorted whatnot for the past eight months, so was all of that worth it just for another Dalek story?

Oh, yeah.  Totally worth it.

We open "Asylum of the Daleks" on the planet Skaro, homeworld of the Daleks, that was previously thought to be destroyed by the Seventh Doctor in "Remembrance of the Daleks," only to turn up again at the beginning of the 1996 TV Movie, and then was supposedly devastated during the Time War as revealed in "Daleks in Manhattan."  So okay, the Eleventh Doctor turns up on Devastated Skaro inside a giant monument of a Dalek (No monument for you, Davros) and is captured by a new Dalek Puppet humanoid agent capable of extending Dalek eyestalks from their foreheads.  And because the Doctor needs companions, Amy and Rory Pond are abruptly interrupted from their angsty, uncomfortable divorce paper signing and captured by Dalek Puppets as well.

The opening credits are tweaked a bit with mixed results.  Now with a slight greenish tint to the temporal vortex, the whooshing block letters listing the lead actors' names have been replaced by a more mysterious font that materializes into view on screen.  The annoying DOCTOR [DW] WHO series title graphic has finally been replaced with just DOCTOR WHO, but for some silly reason, the letters now feature a look designed to fit the episode theme, this time with Dalek bumps.  The [DW], meanwhile, now appears right afterward by itself and still spins into the TARDIS resuming her journey through the vortex as the episode title materializes into view.  So you win some, you lose some.

Anyway, it turns out that the Parliament of the Daleks have gathered together on a spaceship for DalekCon or SkaroCon or whatever and want the Doctor, Amy and Rory to go down to a planet called the Asylum.  A ship called the Alaska has crashed there, rupturing the planet's force field that prevents the Really Insane Daleks from escaping.  The Parliament now want to turn off the force field so they can destroy the Asylum, but because they're apparently total wusses, they want the Doctor and his companions to do it for them.  Everybody got that?

Well, it seems there's a survivor from the Alaska crash, a smart, sassy young brunette named Oswin Oswald, played by actress Jenna-Louise Coleman.  But wait a second, wasn't Coleman supposed to debut as the Doctor's new companion in the 2012 Christmas episode?  And wasn't her character supposed to be named Clara Oswin instead?  Surprise, here she is in the season's first episode...or is she...?  So here's Oswin, who has somehow managed to fend off the Daleks for an entire year and has a fondness for "Habanera" from Georges Bizet's opera Carmen as well as baking soufflés without actually having any milk.  What the--?!

The Doctor and Amy are separated from Rory during transport down to the Asylum, so that they can be attacked by Dalek zombies while Oswin flirts with almost-single Rory over an intercom.  Amy loses her Dalek Puppet Virus protection device in the process, which causes her to gradually lose her memory.  After she and the Doctor reach Rory, the Ponds argue over who loves the other more, with Rory playing his "I waited for you for 2,000 years" trump card and Amy confessing that she is unable to have more children after "A Good Man Goes to War" and knows that Rory wants kids, so she gave him up.  Awwwww...

The Doctor, meanwhile, ventures through the "Intensive Care" section that contains Daleks that fought him in classic Doctor Who stories and hate him the most.  It's here that writer Steven Moffat attempts to restore some of the lost sense of menace to the Daleks, making them feel creepier and more threatening at a single moment.  Just as things look grimmer than grim, Oswin saves the Doctor by deleting the Daleks' memories of him (More memory stuff, hmmm...)  And then, Moffat throws out a Major Plot Twist by revealing that Oswin, it turns out, was actually converted into a Dalek shortly after the Alaska crashed.  Oswin deactivates the force field, with her final words to the Doctor (and us, with a knowing smile) being "I am Oswin Oswald.  I fought the Daleks and I am human.  Remember me.  Run, you clever boy, and remember."

So the Doctor, Amy and Rory escape the Asylum just in time for the Parliament to blow it to bits, but back on the spaceship, the Daleks are all "Doc-tor who?  Doc-tor WHO?"  Yes, Oswin not only erased the memories of the Intensive Care Daleks but all Daleks everywhere.  The Doctor drops Amy and Rory back off at their townhouse in London, at least until the next episode, and then goes off in the TARDIS alone, reveling in the Daleks' question -- The same question that must never be answered -- "Doctor who?"

Once again, Steven Moffat is playing the long game with Whovians.  Did we see the ultimate end of Clara Oswin Oswald before we actually meet her, just as we did with River Song?  And why is remembering so important?  I mean, I'm sure there were some villains that had something to do with memory, if only I could remember them...

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