Sunday, September 2, 2012

Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks

Woot! Doctor Who is back, and boy is it back in a big way. The season seven premiere delivered on all sorts of levels. My thought processes went something like this: Hey, look, daleks are scary again! No, Amy and Rory, what happened? Oh my God, is that ...? No, it couldn't be. Holy crap, it is her!

Big spoilers ahead.

Stop now if you haven't watched.

OK, let's get to it.

The biggest development by far is the surprise first appearance of Jenna-Louise Coleman as Oswin, who will be taking over for Amy and Rory on companion duties later this season. She's a survivor of a spaceship crash on a planet populated by insane daleks. She makes souffles, hacks the daleks' computer systems and completely out-manics the Doctor -- and she does it all without being the least bit annoying. Coleman absolutely steals this episode, and opening her character's arc in the first episode of the season is a touch of genius by Steven Moffat.

This is Oswin's end, reminiscent of the introduction of River Song, albeit even more tragic because Oswin has been converted to a dalek and doesn't know it. This creates a rich arc for the coming season. The Doctor will, sooner or later, figure out that he and his new companion have crossed paths before (or later, from her point of view) and that he cannot rescue her from her eventual fate. If he does, and she's not on the dalek planet when she's supposed to be, the Doctor, Amy and Rory will die there. I'm pumped to see where the writers take this, and I'm confident now that the role of companion will be in good hands.

Now for the rest.

The Doctor
Anyone who's #newtowho might have gotten a skewed impression of the Doctor from this episode. He wasn't as goofy and childish as he usually is. He seemed to have a lot of anger boiling just below the surface. Granted, he's dealing with his most ancient enemies, the ones who forced him to destroy his own race, but overall this Doctor comes off as older and more weary. The years (centuries?) have worn him down.

The Ponds
Pre-episode, I believed that some outside force had driven Amy and Rory apart -- but, no. They did it to themselves. Seeing them angry and bitter is painful. On the one hand, I'm relieved they reconciled before the hour was out. On the other, divorce is such a huge plot development that it should have taken another episode or two for them to work through their issues, maybe even all the way to episode five in New York. It would be very "Joss Whedon" of the show to reconcile Amy and Rory, only to have Something Horrible happen five minutes later.

The Daleks
In my opinion, the last time the daleks posed a credible threat to the Doctor (or to anyone) was in the first season episode "Dalek," in which one lone little pepperpot wiped out an entire fortified underground bunker and almost killed Rose in the process. The daleks have never seemed the least bit frightening since, until this episode. The "eggs" scene with Rory was chilling; he's lucky that insane daleks don't have very good aim. And what they did to Oswin was truly horrifying.

One last thought on this episode: Unlike last year's premiere, this one stands on its own. Perhaps that means we'll be seeing fewer complicated season-long arcs and more rousing standalone adventures like this one. I hope so.

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