Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks

Posted on September 02, 2012

Never did care for the Daleks.

We figured we’d open with a doozy. After all, how can one claim to be a Doctor Who fan and simultaneously declare, at best, their ambivalence toward his greatest enemies (arguably)? It’s like being a Batman fan but disliking the Joker; like loving Krystle, but hating Alexis.

Put it this way: we like the idea of the Daleks more than the reality of them. The fact of the matter is, the Daleks are almost perfect creations to scare children by tapping into their most primal fears; in this case, seemingly inanimate objects that not only are alive, but consumed with rage and relentlessly devoted to pursuit and destruction. There’s something of the classic nightmare about them; they not only never stop pursuing you, they keep shrieking their rage louder and louder as they do so. Sitting on our couch as adults, it’s mildly scary, but to the average 8-year-old? Terrifying. Since Lo never watched Who at all as a child and T only watched it occasionally, we never really got to know the Daleks until we were adults and by that point, their impact on us was considerably lessened. Rather than being fearful of their escalating rage, we wound up laughing at their egg-beater and plunger attachments, as well as their ludicrous (and highly fucking irritating) voices. It always seemed to us that in order to really get the Daleks as they were intended, one had to be a child when first introduced to them, and it would be incredibly helpful if one was also British, because there’s something quintessentially so about them. We can’t ever imagine any American adventure story introducing a character quite like the Daleks.

So we were very excited for the return of Doctor Who to our TV last night, but not exactly bouncing in our seats at the idea of yet another hour of shrieking fire hydrants. To his credit, showrunner Steven Moffatt had scaled back on the use of the Daleks considerably (in comparison with previous showrunner Russell T Davies, who probably loved them just a little too much), so the draw here wasn’t so much the return of the Daleks as it was watching the 11th Doctor and the Ponds face off against them.

Result? Well, how about that? Those were some of the creepiest Daleks ever. Which, when you think about it, stands to reason, because there are Daleks, and then there are Daleks so crazy that other Daleks are afraid of them. Several fun things played out here; not least of which was the idea of insane and institutionalized Daleks. What was more interesting to us was the expression of their philosophy and how it relates to The Doctor; namely, that they worship hatred as a thing of beauty and thus, they have always found it difficult to destroy The Doctor (whom they call “The Predator,” which is BRILLIANT). In addition, Moffatt seems to have given a little V finger sign to the world of Star Trek, which borrowed heavily from the Whoverse when it came up with The Borg. In a perfect Nerd Storm of causality, The Cybermen begat The Borg, which in turn, influenced the Daleks. We’re not sure what we think of a hive-mind Dalek empire that assimilates and converts other organisms into their collective. On the one hand, it’s not only Borg-like, it’s too similar to the Cybermen. On the other hand, DALEK ZOMBIES, people. DALEK. ZOMBIES. And eyestalks suddenly erupting from random people’s heads takes the creepiness of the Daleks to a whole new level. That “I forgot. I died last year in the cold” moment will rank as one of the all-time creepiest of Nu-Who.

But, as always, the real drama in Who plays out in the lives of the companions. It was a shock to see Rory and Amy angrily signing their divorce papers; so much so that we momentarily wondered if we were looking at an alternate timeline or something. After all, Rory had hair product in his hair and Amy was wearing a lot of eye makeup and those two things, along with the goatee, are the universal science fiction signals for “alternate reality.” But alas, the Pond-Williamses really did divorce. What’s most surprising about that is when they finally explained why they divorced, it actually made a tiny little bit of sense. It also finally (and belatedly, and possibly in response to a lot of criticism) addresses the severe emotional toll their adventuring has taken on the them. Sure, the divorce neatly sidesteps the incredible messiness that River Song has wrought upon their lives, but it references it just enough for you to realize that Amy and Rory, despite their joyful jumping and down in the S6 finale, never really got over what happened to their daughter. As she acidly informed The Doctor when he asked about it, “That’s life. It’s what happens when you’re not around.” Ouch.

Of course, Amy and Rory were tearfully making out before it was all over, and maybe that was too quick a resolution to their marital issues, but the fact of the matter is, their appeal does not lie in their interpersonal drama. The appeal of Amy and Rory is that they’re fun, adventurous, endearing people that you want to know. We think their pain should be explored this season, but we don’t want to see it become a defining aspect of them. What interests us here is the idea that the P-W’s, especially Amy, are seemingly ready to move on from that life. She may have grinned and asked if it was wrong that she missed the insanely dangerous adventuring, but there was no doubt by the end that her real focus is her marriage now.

And in typical Who fashion, he’s lining up the next companion even as he’s wrapping up things with the current one. In atypical Who fashion (but extremely Moffatt fashion) said companion was dead by the end of the episode. We admit, we kind of figured out the big twist at the end before it happened. The staging and dialogue were just a little too … off for us not to pick up that something was not as it seemed.  Granted, we thought she was going to be one of those eyestalk people rather than a full Dalek, but we got the gist of it. Either way, the final reveal was still a jawdropper. And it says something about the insanity of this show that we actually wondered for a minute or two if The Doctor’s next companion was going to be a cute little Dalek in a red mini-dress.

But no, she’s dead, and she went out like so many Companions and potential companions do: by doing The Doctor an incredible favor. In this case, wiping the entire Dalek race of their memory of him. The point was made by Oswin that his relentless war against the Daleks only made them stronger; a variation on the Dark Knight principle that holds that Batman is responsible for the creation of Joker. This new status quo is the first exciting thing done with the Daleks in ages. We have a feeling it’s not going to stick, however. It seems to us that Oswin got the classic River Song introduction; a super-intelligent, super-capable potential companion is introduced only to die in her first story. But The Doctor’s got a time machine and she made a huge impression on him. We suspect we’re going to be seeing Oswin become his companion before she becomes a Dalek, which will give her the same sense of doom that always hung over River. And if The Doctor comes to decide once again that time can be rewritten, he may wind up undoing the favor she did for him in order to do a favor for her.

Ah, timey-wimey. How we’ve missed you so.



[Photo Credit: BBC America]

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