Ten things about Who: Asylum of the Daleks

This post has been edited, tidied up and expanded to form part of my new ebook, TEN THINGS ABOUT WHO, available on Kindle. Buy it now for £1.99More details

I’m not going to do full reviews of the new series of Doctor Who, which started last night on BBC1. But I thought I might try and come up with ten points I liked, didn’t like, or thought worthy of further discussion. Hence, Ten Things About Who.

If you haven’t yet seen the episode, what the hell are you doing here? Go and watch it, and don’t come back to this post until you have done!

1. The changes to the title sequence

“You’ve redecorated. I don’t like it.”

— The Doctor

Except, I kind of do. Big thumbs up from me for removing the cumbersome “DW” Tardis marque from between the words “DOCTOR” and “WHO”, making the display of the series’ name more of a programme title than a merchandisable logo. (Speaking of the logo, were those Dalek bumps? Are we to see customised textures on each episode?)

I also really like the new typography – I’ve never really been a fan of the flying rendered letters that made up the principal cast members’ names. A simple rendering in a classy font feels just a little bit more respectable. As the episode opens and the director and producer names appear, the continuation of the technique by which they fade in and out makes everything feel that little more joined up.

The biggest and most noticeable change, of course, is a slight recolouring. As I said at the time:

On a second viewing, the regrading of the sequence makes it feel less rendered in a computer, and slightly more ethereal. I feel the effect may grow on me, and in a couple of weeks I won’t even notice.

2. Chunky bronze. It’s the new multicolour

Victory of the Daleks introduced a new ‘Dalek paradigm’ – a taller, sleeker Dalek design that, I have to say, looks awesome from the front. From the rear, though, there’s something about the way the skirt and ‘neck’ meet that just makes them look hunchbacked.

In contrast, its predecessor design, first seen in 2005’s Dalek, feels just more weighty. And so it was refreshing to see that it was this design that gained the bulk of the screen time. The Dalek ‘parliament’ was almost exclusively comprised of these ‘bronze’ models, with a couple of new paradigm designs in the background.

There’s just something that little bit more Dalek-y about the bronze model: and it’s nice to see that the production team seem to acknowledge that.

3. Eggs. Terminate

The scene of the Daleks slowly waking up added genuine chills by placing Rory – the most junior of the current Tardis crew, whose only exposure to Daleks up to now being in The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, which hardly counts – at its heart. There’s a real thrill when he, not knowing the Daleks’ catchphrase, misinterprets that first syllable in a way that nobody watching will have done.

Less successful is the implication that the same misunderstanding fulled Oswin’s soufflé-making fantasy. When the Doctor repeatedly asks about the milk needed to cook the dish, the reason he doesn’t ask about the more important ingredient – the eggs – is because we’d cotton on to Oswin’s identity that little bit earlier.

4. Amy and Rory’s fight

I’m not sure I buy the reason for the divorce – the Williams-Ponds may be many things, but being uncommunicative with each other, especially about the effect childlessness was having on both of them, seems unlikely. But if you accept that they did get to the point where divorce seemed like the best option, the scene in which they finally reconciled their feelings worked well.

But speaking of the pair…

5. Why Amy and Rory?

The Doctor doesn’t have two companions at the moment. He has two former companions he is still in touch with, and who just happen to get caught up in an adventure each week. Now, we know that this scenario is going to last only a few weeks more – but even now, it feels that getting the threesome together each week will be a stretch.

6. The Doctor made the Daleks stronger

Fear of the Doctor, as the Oswin-Dalek noted, made the Daleks stronger. This is a nice little counterpoint to Genesis of the Daleks:

You see, some things could be better with the Daleks. Many future worlds will become allies just because of their fear of the Daleks.

— The Doctor

There is a twisted symbiosis going on with the Doctor and the Daleks. In many ways they are much more of a mirror into his own personality than more human, or more Time Lord, foes such as the Master.

Of course, they don’t currently know that themselves. In a universe where they no longer fear the Doctor, what will they be capable of?

7. Humans who are Dalek inside…

The Daleks have, in their television and comic history, always required some form of bipedal assistance, from Robomen to Ogrons. Steven Moffat’s concept of human doubles which, upon activation, sprout eyestalk and gun is an effective one. There’s something about that blue light breaking through the forehead which is genuinely freaky.

8. …beaten by a Dalek who was human inside

And in a story which presents many counterpoints, introducing humans who are Daleks inside kind of makes the opposite an inevitability. I have to say that Oswin’s environment being a fantasy one – not unlike CAL in Moffat’s previous Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead – was something that wasn’t, in itself, a huge shock. That didn’t stop the sight of “her”, chained up in a padded cell, being heartbreaking once the Doctor discovered her.

9. Jenna-Louise Coleman surprise

I have to say that I had heard rumours that Coleman, who has already been announced as the successor to Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill as the Doctor’s companion and who will debut in the role at Christmas, would be appearing in this episode. What I wasn’t prepared for was her role to be so big – and so good.

Oswin Oswald was a fast-talking, wisecracking, hyper-intelligent barrel of laughs. A warm character that matches the Doctor in so many ways, and all achieved by an actress who had to perform against thin air or video screens. As a simple guest role, to have done as well as she did would have brought Coleman worthy praise.

But there must be a reason why Moffat chose her to play that role after she had been cast as the new companion. Hopefully that will play out over the next few episodes. And whatever character her take on the companion has, I hope Coleman gets to bring out some of Oswin’s personality in it – it’ll be a good match for Matt Smith’s own style.

10. Doctor Who?

The end of the last series saw the disembodied head of Dorium ask the question that was hidden in plain sight – “Doctor Who?” It was the latest in a series of nods to the show’s title in a series that normally rations explicit references in dialogue. Not any more – the final minutes of the episode, with a Dalek parliament shrieking it in unison, the Doctor joining in as he prances through his Tardis, was joyous. Certainly it wasn’t something that you could indulge every week, but as we head into a year of celebrations in preparation for the series’ 50th birthday in November 2013, it feels particularly appropriate to paint the whole reason for the show’s title in big, bold, Technicolor letters for once.

Mind you, given that we’ve also told that “silence will fall when the question is asked”, maybe we are witnessing the start of a longer plan regarding the Doctor’s identity? Most of the universe thinks him dead, the Daleks no longer recognise him… there is something at work within Moffat’s mind, I am sure. And I have a feeling I’m going to like where it leads.

Author: Scott Matthewman

Formerly Online Editor and Digital Project Manager for The Stage, creator of the award-winning The Gay Vote politics blog, now a full-time software developer specialising in Ruby, Objective-C and Swift, as well as a part-time critic for Musical Theatre Review, The Reviews Hub and others.

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