Doctor Who 7.01 “Asylum Of The Daleks” REVIEW

Episode 7.01
Writer : Steven Moffat
Director : Nick Hurran

THE ONE WHERE When the Daleks turn to their oldest enemy for salvation, the Doctor enlists Amy and Rory for a perilous mission into a madhouse. But who is the girl with the Carmen fixation? And where did she get the milk?

THE VERDICT Wait! What? Rewind! Choke! Splutter! Yes, she’s here, and it’s not even Christmas yet – say a somewhat surprised hello to Jenna-Louise Coleman, alias new companion Oswin Oswald, smuggled past the chronic spoiler-flingers of the world in one of the great storytelling coups of Doctor Who . Nicely played, you sly dogs. It’s a winning debut, too – Coleman brings sauce and sparkiness, and while she initially seems a familiar Moffat archetype, all snarky cracks about the Doctor’s chin and throwaway lines about sexual experimentation (“Actually it was Nina – I was going through a phase…”) there’s a deeper vulnerability there too, which makes her eventual fate in this episode genuinely heart-skewering. It’ll be fascinating to see what mind-scrambling narrative physics Moffat employs to bring her back as a full-time TARDISnaut. Sleight of hand aside, this is a strong, cinematically-minded series opener, one with a declared mission to bring a serious dose of scary back to the Skaro tyrants. Director Nick Hurran summons a real sense of unease in the rusted, cobweb-swathed environs of the asylum and trades in some effectively hardcore horror imagery as the corpses of the Alaska’s crew are reanimated as Dalek zombies (the sight of eyestalks erupting from the brows of seemingly innocent humans is another brilliant touch – kids, to the sink plungers!). Elsewhere the icy peaks and huge blue skies of Spain bring a widescreen sense of scale to this adventure. Good to see Amy and Rory earn some emotional beats, too, showing that the events of Demon’s Run had real, ongoing consequences for the Ponds. In the end, this is an episode that’s ridiculously, contagiously high on the ancient thrill of playing Doctor Who Vs The Daleks – as the Doctor spins around the TARDIS, embracing his true name like his own biggest fanboy, it’s easy to find yourself with a smile the size of a small galaxy.

STAR TURN Matt Smith continues to refine his infinitely charismatic take on the Time Lord. He’s still capable of channeling a giddy, boyish sweetness, of course, but he seems newly ancient and suspicious in his opening scenes, convincing as a Doctor content to exist in the past tense, hiding in the outer fringes of his own legend.

FAB FX Some striking visuals here, from the shots of a ruined, storm-savaged Skaro to the wow-worthy pullback of the Dalek parliament in session. The practical FX also impress, particularly the grisly skulls of the undead in the wreck of the Alaska.

DALEK LORE We learn that the Daleks operate a neural “pathweb” that connects them telepathically. They also have a marvelously disquieting concept of beauty, and there’s a truly intriguing suggestion that their love of festering hatred has allowed the Doctor to survive for as long as he has. Though that might just be pathetic spin to cover the fact that they tend to lose all the time.

TRIVIA The vintage Daleks in this episode are a mix of original props, fan-made replicas and Russell T Davies’ pet pepperpot, which for years greeted visitors to his house in Manchester. The oldest surviving BBC Dalek fixed its eyestalk at Patrick Troughton’s Doctor in 1967’s “The Evil Of The Daleks”.

TRIVIA 2 This isn’t the first Dalek-based season opener to be shown on Saturday 1st September. Episode one of “Destiny Of The Daleks” was broadcast on exactly the same day and date in 1979. Ooh, spooky etc.

DID YOU SPOT Shout-outs to past Dalek encounters include the worlds of Spiridon (1973’s “Planet Of The Daleks”), Kembel (1965’s “Mission To The Unknown” and “The Daleks’ Master Plan”) and Exxilon (1974’s “Death To The Daleks”). Are the cracked-up survivors of these skirmishes wheeled out at Dalek conventions to trot out much-loved anecdotes about the time the Doctor broke their brains and forced them to spin like loons? Do they place an inky plunger on copies of The Daleks In An Exciting Adventure With Doctor Who ? Do they chant “MY SIGNING QUEUE IS IMPAIRED!”?

LOGO MAKEOVER OF THE WEEK A fittingly Dalek-themed finish for this episode. And remember: they’re not balls, people, they’re “sense-globes”.

The Doctor (to Dalek): “Without a gun you’re a tricycle with a roof!”

Nick Setchfield

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