Doctor Who News The Doctor encounters an old enemy in Asylum of the Daleks

Published on September 2nd, 2012 | by Elton Townend Jones

Asylum of the Daleks Reviewed!

The Doctor encounters an old enemy in Asylum of the DaleksDoctor Who is back and Asylum of the Daleks is its best season opener in a long, long time.  This might even be the best opener since the series returned in 2005.  Not only was it 50 minutes of exciting, thrilling, scary, stylish, tense, colourful and utterly brilliant television, this was Doctor Who looking mythic and shameless, expensive and bold, confident and cocky.

[pullquote align=right]Wasn’t there some foreshadowing last season about the ancient question that will lead to the Time Lord’s ultimate fall?  The question is being asked: “Doctor… who?”

So has that sequence of cascading dominoes begun to fall?  Let’s see…[/pullquote]The Daleks are back, bringing with them all kinds of fannish thrills and new continuity that include a visit to Skaro, a Dalek shaped building, a parliament with a prime minister (!), ‘duplicates’ with eye-stalks and that eponymous asylum.  The parliament sequences were impressive in terms of sheer scale and design – how many Daleks?  How many flashing lights?  But then the planet sequences and the asylum itself were tremendously pleasing on the eye (if a little cold on the spine…).  The production design and colour palette seems to have leapt on somewhat since last season, and the flashes of bright burnt orange, red and green lifted the images right out of the screen.

Following a very poor Christmas special and now the delightful comedy high jinks of Pond Life, this new story was a complete and powerfully told slice of sci-fi drama; quintessential Doctor Who, I would suggest.  It moved at a cracking pace using multiple environs, it had meaty dialogue (notably in the sequences of the Doctor pouring out his disgust at the Dalek love of hatred and their response that this love has thus far prevented them from killing him), atmospheric and genuinely spooky, nay, downright scary sequences (see the zombie ‘duplicates’ in the claustrophobic shipwreck or the mad Daleks that Rory makes the mistake of getting chummy with); utterly magical moments (the Doctor’s first appearance in shadow, the dancing ballerina or Oswin alone in her mind cage); wonderful special effects; perfect lighting and stellar performances from regulars and guest cast alike.

Matt Smith is always brilliant, but he may not have been very well served by his stories.  This story didn’t let him down at all.  Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill were also quite splendid, especially the latter in his asylum sequences.  The biggest surprise was the earlier-than-anticipated arrival of Jenna Louise-Coleman as Oswin.  Almost instantly one is thinking the best thing would be for her to turn out to be a nano-machined dupe who doesn’t know she’s a Dalek agent.  The reason we don’t get too carried away with this notion is that we know she’s going to be the new companion, so what transpires is jaw-droppingly wonderful but also a shocking tragedy that brings a tear to the eye.  A real tear, mind, brought on by a good story and a human moment, not a tear you’re sledge-hammered into having because the music’s nice and the script is yelling ‘Cry now!  Cry now, you buggers!  Cry, I tell you!  Cry!’, as has been the norm in Doctor Who of late.

Jenna Louise Coleman as Clara Oswin in Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks

Oswin-Dalek’s involvement leads of course to questions of whether or not the Doctor will meet her earlier in her time-stream come the Christmas special and prevent this future from happening and also to questions regarding his removal from the Dalek memory systems (and the consequences of altering that too).  ‘Doctor who?’ ask the Daleks.  ‘Doctor who,’ laughs the Doctor.  Doctor … who?  Hang on.  Wasn’t there some foreshadowing last season about the ancient question that will lead to the Time Lord’s ultimate fall?  The question is being asked.  So has that sequence of cascading dominoes begun to fall?  Let’s see…

I feel like an old curmudgeon (and I ought to because I am one), but it’s been a long time since there wasn’t something to criticise about an episode of Doctor Who – usually a minor niggle here, a lost opportunity there or a bloomin’ great reset button all across space and time – but Asylum of the Daleks was probably without fault.  I – and many others like me – grinned the whole way through (except perhaps for the occasional thrill of dread or terror).  A lot of the time I found myself saying to myself that this was proper, proper Doctor Who, and I’m not the kind to make that sort of ‘distinction’, but this felt so like the ‘classic’ series (or a dream of the ‘classic’ series) in terms of atmosphere and plotting that such a moment of thrilled joy was probably unavoidable.

That said, I know that this is but an illusion created by a production team at the top of its game.  Sometimes you can watch this show and feel like you’re watching the best Doctor Who episode ever, even if you know it’s not really, but the journey is so thrilling it can’t feel like anything else.  It may not be true that this is the best ever story, but boy did it feel it was – all the way through – and this hasn’t really happened for a long time.  This was definitely Steven Moffat’s best story, certainly as a producer and possibly even as a writer.  He does Daleks very, very well; so well that they are without doubt once again Doctor Who’s premier villains.  Big thanks to him and director Nick Hurran.

So, Doctor Who’s back and it’s in great shape.  If they can keep this up for the rest of the season then things are going to be wonderful.  This is the stuff of future legend.

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About the Author

Elton Townend-Jones is a journalist, playwright, actor, theatre producer and philosopher. He does ‘80s zeitgeist at www.25yearstoolate.blogspot.com.




18 Responses to Asylum of the Daleks Reviewed!

  1. Mugen Pharoah says:

    The Christmas special “very poor”? Must have missed that memo….

    Asylum is obviously good, but I can’t see how it tops Moffat’s ‘Blink’ as you suggest. A strong season opener but even more confusing for a new viewer jumping on board than last year’s.

    I’m sure it’s not Ms Coleman’s fault but I found her character smug and irritating. I think I’d rather have the Doctor bumbling around with a fully fledged Dalek as companion if she’s like this in series 7b.

  2. TimeChaser says:

    Moffat is truly a master of the season opener now. Each one just gets better than the last. Rose, New Earth, Smith & Jones, and Partners in Crime feel positively quaint and homely compared to Asylum of the Daleks. Epic, dramatic, tragic, and creepy (Dalek-nanite animated corpses, yikes!).

  3. Esterath says:

    What is wrong with the Doctor’s left hand finger before the thumb in the picture?! There’s a ball coming out of it?!

    • Josh Clarke says:

      From other images on the official website, it appears to be a plaster on the Doctor’s finger.

  4. Ian says:

    Sorry but this was a big let down. Having watched it twice it fails to live up to they hype. In Victory of the Daleks we were led to believe that the Paradigm Daleks were the only Daleks left, so where did all those (excellent) bronze Daleks come from? All those Daleks in the Parliament didn’t do much at all, in fact we didn’t see much of the Daleks at all. Save the Daleks, yes someone please do, I want to see a story where the Dr turns up and they have taken over some planet. We were promised (and it was not a publicity stunt) EVERY Dalek ever, how many classics did we see? Four, Emperor guard Dalek, Genesis, Remembrance and the Special weapons Dalek.

    I want to watch a sci fi drama, not some soap opera with Amy and Rory getting divorced.
    And then the Daleks forgetting who the Doctor is??? For the last 49 years they have been his number one enemy, now they got amnesia.
    On the positive side, great effects, great acting. My favorite bit is when Rory wakes in the Asylum.
    I hope next weeks is better!

  5. DavidF says:

    Just because a story covers the personal lives of its characters, doesn’t make it a soap opera. Is Anna Karenina a soap? Is Citizen Kane a soap? It’s called storytelling. And as much as I love old Doctor Who, it would have carried more resonance had it paid attention to rounded characters the way new Doctor Who does. I’ve never seen a soap feature a scene about love that balanced subtlety and punch as well as the Amy and Rory make-up scene. If Moffat has such moments up his sleeve, what would be the benefit to the drama of withholding them?

    It’s true the premise of Victory of the Daleks was uncomfortably abandoned, when there should have been some explanation for the continued existence of older models. And I’m not a fan of these long, rambling five-minute pre-credit sequences, which often serve nothing except to drain the budget. This story would have been equally effective (perhaps more so) had it opened with the Doctor and his friends landing in the Dalek parliament. We don’t need to see all the pieces being moved into place before the first real scene. Cut to the chase. Blink didn’t start with Sally brushing her teeth, having a chat with someone at work, and having an amusing adventure with a map as she tried to work out where the house was. It just went straight to the heart of the story.

    Small gripe, as I will always love Doctor Who and could never be moved to criticise it harshly. The price we have to pay for its loose, flexible format is that it sometimes misses the target and always will, but it will never a dealbreaker. There’s always a good episode round the corner. This was one of them.

  6. stlshawn says:

    Fantastic Review! You hit every point me and my wife were discussing after watching it. Really wonderful work Elton.

    Although i personally found the Christmas episode a nice “romp”, i did think it’s ending had a bit to be desired.

    Anyway, I agree that it was truly fantastic. It was a wonderful story to begin the new season with. I have actually avoided speaking of it until i digested it fully to figure out if i liked it because it was amazing, or because i was starving for new episodes.

    I like the idea that the “technocolor” daleks are now council members, and they brought back the brass daleks as “normal” daleks. I also like the idea that they are a real threat to the universe as a “fascist tank-like army”, not as a shadow or ghost of themselves.

    Also, the reset of them forgetting the Doctor,,, pure genius. the doctor hiding in the shadows nowadays,,, so mysterious and wonderful. A bit of confusion for those of us who recognize the new companion,,, what a wonderful twist.

    Really a fantastic episode, and really a wonderful review.

  7. Anthony says:

    Nothing tops Blink, you got that? Ever, its just got too much heart along with cleverness and scariness. And besides, haven’t you noticed that Moffy is started to recycle his ideas just a little frequently..? Hello? River Song in the computer dreamworld anyone?

  8. TonyS says:

    No this wasn’t the epic it was hyped to be. The Daleks were underused. They were not as scary as in the past. That they were scarier than recent outings is not much of a boast. What on earth are the Daleks doing with a parliament? When did they parley? The suppoesd insane Daleks showed no evidence of madness.

    Okay that’s the negative stuff out of the way. Matt Smitth, Karen Gillan and especially Arthur Darvill were brilliant. Jenna-Louise Coleman was excellent also.

    A good story. Possibly the best season opener since 2005. It could have been so much more.

    • Leo says:

      I agree that if we where expecting some huge Dalek epic, then yes it could be viewed as a let down.But on the other hand as a piece of (DW) story telling I thought it was quite wonderful and clever.

      The Dalek’s have always had some form of society with a hierarchy. There have been (and continue to be) Dalek Supreme’s, presumably there is a new Dalek Emperor somewhere, I am sure high councils have been mentioned in the past, and of course in the McGann movie, it was stated that the Master had been put on trial by the Daleks, so presumably they have some sort of justice system, other than extermination.

      It remains to be seen whether the Doctor Who? question now links the Dalek’s into the the whole Silence thing, rumours are flying around the web that this is some build up to a season final or anniversary special and I hope for one that this is the case.

      All four regular (yes four including JLC) where on top form!

      • TonyS says:

        I agree that the Daleks have always been a hierarchical society. The problem I have with a Dalek parliament is that parliament is essentially a debating and decision making chamber. This seems at odds with a totalitsrian society. Unless it is just paying lip service to democracy… Nope, still doesn’t sound like Daleks to me.


        • Perhaps the paradigm Daleks are the only ones allowed to speak? After all, we know that Daleks have/had different factions, a theme recalled as recently as Victory

          • TonyS says:

            Yes that’s a possibility

  9. Victor says:

    It’s three smashing seires openers out of three for Mr Moffatt. I’m not sure this was THE BEST opener he’s produced, did it mach the giddy, magical ‘newness’ of Smith’s opener? Or the sheer excitment and ambition of The Impossible Astronaut? Possibly not quite, but it was very, very good Doctor Who.

  10. Steve Andrew says:

    I had a few problems with the story. The Asylum itself was incredibly atmospheric but somewhat underwhelming. This could have easily been stetched-out to a big Die-Hardish two-parter with loads of running down corridors and fiendish puzzly set-pieces. And to be honest, I spotted maybe 2 pre-2005 Daleks, not the EVERY DALEK EVER that we were promised. But I’m old and I miss things. Repeat viewings, here I come…

    One or two possible plot-holes can be explained, if that’s important to you. I don’t think the ending of Victory Of The Daleks was necessarily abandoned. Yeah, at the end of that story there were only 5 new Daleks, but when they escaped they could have travelled anywhere in time and space. There could easily have been hundreds of years between the end of Victory and the start of Asylum, plenty of time to build up a new army many times over.

    I found it odd that Skaro appears to have returned, but perhaps the 7th Doctor’s destruction of the planet was re-written in the Time War?

    And as for the abundance of bronze Daleks… It’s probably inaccurate to describe them as “Time War Daleks” anymore. The ones destroyed in Victory were “inpure” ones created from Davros’s own cells in Journey’s End. The new ones we see in the Parliament are “purebloods”, grown to be a pure as the New Paradigm, they just sit inside the bronze casings. Maybe it was seen as a perfectly practical design of casing that didn’t need upgrading? Or maybe it’s a bog-standard, easy to mass-produce casing for the grunts? The Paradigm were always intended to be more of an officer-class Dalek, bigger, shinier and more full-of-themselves.

    I never had much of a problem with the New Paradigm. They could do with slimmer back-sides, but as a concept they’re fine (as ever, Your Mileage May Vary). I especially like the new darker paint-jobs on the blue and red Daleks, but that could be just nice lighting. I also like the really pompous tone Nick Briggs has given the Supreme.

    All in all, a flawed but magnificent opening to the new series. And well done to everyone for keeping JLC’s appearance secret. Nicely played, Moffat.

  11. James says:

    A very well made story, a great new direction to take the
    Daleks, the best writing Moffatt’s done since taking the head-honcho job. Only quibble, where were the much vaunted older Daleks, when they mentioned survivors of Spiridon, Vulcan etc., we were only shown the clunky RTD design of Dalek. The only old one I recognised in the show was the Special Weapons Dalek and he didn’t get anything to do.

  12. scott says:

    So Asylum of the Daleks? Good, bad or ok? Personally I loved it, fast-paced and colourful, and at the same time dark and moody, this is Who at it’s best.

    Yes there are some serious cock-ups in it….name me an episode since 2005 that hasn’t dropped a clanger somewhere. I’m going to point out the fact that someone at the Mill was obviously a bit tipsy when they dropped in the CGI daleks back to front – look closely there’s a whole scene in the Parliament where the old plungers and guns are the wrong way round. I’m also going to ask why the Daleks in intensive care are all bronze new series daleks………..I don’t remember seeing them in The Chase, The Dalek’s Masterplan, Power of the Daleks, Planet of the Daleks or Death to the Daleks, the stories from the classic series that contain the planets that were mentioned by Oswin.

    If this is what Steven Moffat is going to give us every time he writes for the Daleks then bring it on. I loved it and can’t wait for the rest of the series.

    As a final note, did I miss something??? Oswin. NOT the new companion. For a start her name is slightly different from Clara Oswin which is the name we are led to believe is the new companion. Probably a decendant somewhere along the line. If Freema Agyeman can play two people from one family, why can’t Jenna-Louise?????

  13. Amanda says:

    I’m going to have to respectfully disagree that this is Moffat’s best story. It was good, but certainly not better than Blink or his two-parter from Nine’s season. Hands down the best part of this episode was the delightful surprise that was Jenna-Louise Coleman. I’m very excited to see how Oswin’s story will connect to Clara’s, because obviously it will. I’m so glad this show is back. I work late on Saturday nights, so I won’t be watching this season live with everyone else. Fortunately, I can count on my Hopper to have every new episode ready and waiting for me to watch as soon as I get home. It’s a relief to know I won’t be out of the loop when the time comes to discuss new episodes with my Dish co-workers who are fellow fans. I can’t wait to see what else Moffat has in store for the rest of this season.

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