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3 April 2015

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Day 823: Asylum of the Daleks

Dear diary,

This episode seems to be at the eye of two storms that continue to rage within fandom. Firstly was the fact that Series Seven didn’t actually start until September, which means that all the talk about ‘never being more than three months away from new Doctor Who went right out the window, and we were actually treated to the longest gap between new episodes since the programme returned in 2005! Oh, the rage that caused at the time. Three years on, and I still see people complaining on the internet (just imagine) that we’re now effectively a series behind, and all because Asylum of the Daleks had the audacity to start late! From my point of view, I rather welcomed the fact that we had such a long break from the programme - If Series Six hadn’t exactly set my world alight, The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe put the nail in the coffin for my interest in ‘current’ Doctor Who. A nine-month gap was long enough for me to forget my apathy and find my love for the programme again, something which was largely helped by…

The second storm that this episode kicks up. It’s something that I suppose I can understand a little easier. It all started when Steven Moffat commented that “every version of the Daleks” would be appearing in Series Seven, and then Doctor Who Magazine did that wonderful wrap-around cover featuring all the different Dalek models. Now, as it happens, the episode does contain a fair few older versions of the Daleks, but they’re buried away in the back of shot somewhere. For a lot of the time it’s a bit of a fun ‘spot the Dalek’ game. The only time it actively bothers me is when the Doctor encounters the Daleks who’ve faced him in a series of name-checks to old Dalek serials… and all the Daleks in that area are the new ones. Surely if there’s any moment to bring in the older props, it would have been there? Even if they were consigned to the background, it was the one glaring omission that took me out of the drama.

That didn’t really matter, though, because it had done the trick. As soon as you drop the hint that there’s going to be some of the older Daleks popping up alongside the new ones, my interest is piqued. It instantly sounds interesting. And then they went and released a photo of Matt Smith and Karen Gillan with an Evil of the Daleks Emperor Guard Dalek (on April Fools Day, of all times!) and my interest in the programme is instantly rekindled. There’s just something so appealing about the idea!

Right from the off, this episode feels so much better than Series Six did to me first time round. It’s fresh, and new. It’s as visually different to Series Six as that one was to Series Five. There’s a shot of adrenalin. The Daleks are opening a series for the first time in almost a quarter of a century. There’s lots of them, and there’s plenty of other stuff to like, too, because…

People who were viewers in the old days, when the ‘classic’ series was first broadcast, often bang on about how great the surprise at the end of Earthshock Part One was, when we find out that the controllers of the androids are none other than the Cybermen. It’s largely impossible to get that kind of shock and awe these days because things get leaked out in advance (intentionally or otherwise), and the whole medium of television operates differently. I’ve spoken before about how great it was to see the return of the Master in Series Three because although there’d been hints and rumours, I wasn’t ever certain that it was going to happen until just before it did. Well, Asylum of the Daleks is my Earthshock Part One. Jenna Coleman had been announced as the new companion months ago. I think by this point there’d even been plenty of pictures flying around of her filming her episodes. And yet here she is! Months before I was expecting her, and without the tiniest hint (that reached me, anyway) that she might be appearing. Oh it was exciting. This episode gains a whole point extra simply because that’s still one of the best moments I’ve ever had watching Doctor Who. The sheer surprise, and bafflement. Oh, Moffat, you’re a clever one.

For all my raving here, I can’t say that Asylum of the Daleks is perfect, and there’s one thing at the heart of it which really lets the episode down - the relationship between the Ponds. They’re getting a divorce, we’re told. It transpires that it’s because Amy is no longer able to have a child, and while neither of them wants to split up, they both think that the other would. In all honesty, it’s a great bit of drama, and it’s packed with a lot of the stuff I wanted to see in the latter half of Series Six - the aftermath of the events at Demon’s Run, and the way that it affects these two normal people in their day-to-day lives. But the whole thing rings extremely hollow - it seems to come from nowhere (The 5-mini-episode Pond Life in theory sets it up, but even there it comes from absolutely nowhere in the final minute or so without the tiniest hint of build up), and it’s resolved pretty easily as soon as its served its purpose in the plot. It feels like an incredible waste of what should be some great drama for the characters, and it’s a pity - by far the weakest part of the story.

 

 
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