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Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks (Review)

You’re going to fire me at a planet? That’s your plan? I get fired at a planet and expected to fix it?

In fairness, that is slightly your M.O.

Don’t be fair to the Daleks when they’re firing me at a planet.

And more wacky structural hijinks ensue.

The sixth and seventh seasons of the revived Doctor Who are strange beasts, for a number of reasons. The decision to split the seasons stands out, but there is also a sense that they are structured in a counter-intuitive manner. The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon served as a two-part season finalé, despite opening the sixth season. In contrast, Let’s Kill Hitler played like a frothy season premiere. (The Wedding of River Song is perhaps the most difficult to place; while certainly not a light run-around season opener, it was nevertheless a bit light for a finalé.)

Things are looking up...

Things are looking up…

The seventh season arguably streamlines the structure a bit. The Name of the Doctor plays almost like a season premiere, revealing the origin story for “the Impossible Girl” and teasing ideas like the War Doctor and Trenzalore relentlessly. In contrast, Asylum of the Daleks feels like a season finalé, teasing a new companion as the existing companions struggle to get on with their real lives, featuring fleets of Dalek ships destroying planets and massive amounts of continuity.

Indeed, the biggest problem with Asylum of the Daleks is that it has not enough time to establish all its core elements. Plot points come out of nowhere. Character beats are established in the same scenes that resolve them. Asylum of the Daleks is a big episode in keeping with the “blockbuster” aesthetic of the anniversary season, but it also establishes the limitations of that approach.

Moffat’s crack at writing a Dalek episode…

In hindsight, the seventh season hangs together quite well. It is certainly a lot tighter than the sixth season, although it tempers its ambitions somewhat; there is nothing quite as showy as the River Song arc to be found in the seventh season, just the faintest hint that things are not quite right chronologically. The seventh season can be watched and enjoyed quite comfortably in broadcast order, but there are some interesting alternatives available for fans that want to go digging.

More than that, the seventh season seems to accept that imagery and theme carry better across a season of television than plot. The origin of River Song was a bumpy ride, one ill-suited to the sort of radical tonal shifts associated with Doctor Who. The series was never going to commit to a six episode stretch of looking for River Song, but there is something tone-deaf in the transition from A Good Man Goes to War to Let’s Kill Hitler. In contrast, the seventh season is not obsessed with continuity of plot so much as continuity of theme and imagery.

"Is that your final answer, Doctor?"

“Is that your final answer, Doctor?”

As such, Asylum of the Daleks is packed full of imagery that seems much more evocative and telling in the wake of The Name of the Doctor. The seventh season opens on Skaro and closes on Trenzalore. It begins in the birthplace of the Daleks and ends at the grave of the Doctor. The gigantic Dalek monument at the start of Asylum of the Daleks harks forward to the massive TARDIS shell in The Name of the Doctor. Both are paradoxical locations. Just as “the original planet of the Daleks” is now a tomb, the final resting place of the Doctor is ultimately the site of his rebirth.

Of course, the idea of graves and death recurs throughout the seventh season. Rory and Amy confronting their inevitable (and fixed) deaths in The Angels Take Manhattan harks forward to the Doctor facing his final fate on Trenzalore in The Time of the Doctor. So opening on the home planet of the Daleks – creatures inexorably and inevitably associated with death and destruction – makes a great deal of sense. Once again, it is a link that has nothing to do with plot mechanics, and more to do with themes and big ideas.

Human Dalek!

Human Dalek!

After all, the first five episodes of the seventh season are fixated on death in a number of ways. Most obviously, the departure of Rory and Amy looms large over the rest of the season. There is a popular fan theory that suggests the first half of the season unfolds out of chronological order – most notably that the Doctor’s big “I’m running to you, and Rory, before you fade from me” speech from The Power of Three might occur after he has lived through the events of The Angels Take Manhattan.

The most extreme version of this theory implies that Asylum of the Daleks could be the last time that the Doctor meets Rory and Amy. Kidnapped by the Daleks, he encounters them. He seems quite nervous and uncomfortable. Ultimately, it is revealed that this is the first time they have seen him since his return at the end of The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. In doing so, it establishes that this is really the last gap in the time line; the last point where he could meet them. As with his marriage to River, time is finite; time runs out.

The Impossible Soufflé Girl...

The Impossible Soufflé Girl…

The opening scene suggests that the Doctor is not in the best of moods when he is summoned to Skaro. “They say you can help,” Darla tells him, recounting a sad story about her child in a Dalek camp. The Eleventh Doctor, a version of the character who typically seems incredibly sympathetic and compassionate towards children, simply responds, “Do they? I wish they’d stop.” The typically joyous Eleventh Doctor seems quite on-edge for the entirety of the half-season. However, there really is not too much concrete evidence to support this theory, as poetic as it might be.

Certainly, the final scene of the Doctor joyously chanting his own name is hard to reconcile. Nevertheless, Asylum of the Daleks makes the point to suggest that the Doctor knows things that Amy and Rory don’t – and that he keeps these things to himself. When Amy figures out that the Doctor gave her his wristband, she observes, “That Time Lord. What’s the betting he doesn’t even need it.” Rory replies, “Why didn’t he just tell us?” The Doctor simply gives a knowing look to the camera; there is a lot he doesn’t tell them.

Kiss and make up...

Kiss and make up…

Still, Asylum of the Daleks nods towards the inevitable departure of Amy and Rory in other ways. Most obviously, there is the inclusion of Clara. A significant portion of the viewing audience knew that Jenna-Louise Coleman would be the new companion; those who did not were promptly informed by on-line media, newspapers and social media in the immediate wake of the episode. Although Oswin dies at the end of the episode, her mere presence underscores the idea that Amy and Rory are living on borrowed time.

(In another example of the thematic unity running through the seventh season, Oswin’s back story is quite similar to that of Clara. “Joined the Alaska to see the universe, ended up stuck in a shipwreck first time out,” she informs the Doctor. This seems quite similar to all the delayed and stalled dreams that the real Clara experienced in The Bells of St. John, a young woman who wanted to appreciate all that life had to offer, but ended up stuck in a less illustrious situation.)

Yep, it's another Dalek armada...

Yep, it’s another Dalek armada…

Asylum of the Daleks also pushes the Time War back to the fore, setting a mood that runs through the seventh season – most notably in A Town Called Mercy, but building towards The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor. Using the Daleks to open the season will do this; the Daleks are inexorably associated with the Time War. This is the first episode focused on the Daleks since Victory of the Daleks early in Matt Smith’s first season, the episode that brought the Daleks back as a major imperial power.

More than that, the climax of Asylum of the Daleks has the Doctor wander into “Intensive Care”, a part of the planet dedicated to the treatment of the most horrifically-scarred Daleks. There is one recurring theme; the Doctor was present on all those battlefields. “These are the Daleks who survived me,” the Doctor reflects – an observation that builds towards the idea of the War Doctor. It also very clearly establishes that many of the encounters from the classic series are back “in-continuity” after the trauma of the Time War.

Lifting their spirits...

Lifting their spirits…

This happens a number of times over the course of the seventh and eighth seasons, as Moffat firmly drags more and more of the classic series explicitly into continuity. Under Russell T. Davies, it seems reasonable to assume that all the Daleks featured in Planet of the Daleks or Death to the Daleks would have been wiped out in the Time War. Starting with Dalek, the only Daleks in existence were a few rag-tag survivors of the Last Great Time War, certainly not those in “Intensive Care.”

Even in the context of Victory of the Daleks, it is hard to contextualise this continuity revelation. After all, it seemed like these Daleks were all entirely new, crafting a new Dalek Empire. However, Asylum of the Daleks firmly establishes that these are the same Daleks that appeared in the classic series, who faced the first seven iterations of the title character. It is an expansive and welcoming approach to continuity, one which suggests that every Doctor Who story is as valid as any other.

Skaros of war...

Skaros of war…

This is an approach that occurs quite a few times in the seventh and eighth seasons. The Cybermen featured in Nightmare in Silver are relics from the same wars fought in Earthshock. The conflict with the Daleks in Into the Dalek seems to reflect the wars seen in Resurrection of the Daleks or Revelation of the Daleks. The Night of the Doctor would explicitly reference audio plays and novels featuring the Eighth Doctor. Time Heist would feature a cameo from comic book character Abslom Daak.

Everything is canon, it seems. Part of healing the rift caused by the Time War in The Day of the Doctor is healing the rift between the relaunched series and the classic series. After all, The Day of the Doctor itself seems to imply that many of the “war in heaven” and “extinction events” that occurred during the Hinchcliffe and Holmes era were simple echoes of the Time War reverberating backwards. The destruction of the Zygon homeworld in Terror of the Zygons was the Time War; much as Russell T. Davies suggested that Genesis of the Daleks was the opening shot.

Dalek unchained!

Dalek unchained!

In a way, this hints at the Moffat era’s broader engagement with continuity as a whole. It is, after all, very difficult for a show about a time traveller to maintain its own internally consistent chronology. Instead, the Moffat era seems to equate memory with continuity. If you can remember it, it happened. After all, it is Amy’s memory that manages to bring the Doctor back into existence at the end of The Big Bang, after the universe rebooted itself with “Big Bang 2.0.” Memory is more important than continuity itself as far as the Moffat era is concerned.

This is even suggested by Asylum of the Daleks. Confronting her own horrific situation, Oswin is able to hold on to some semblance of her identity through memory. “Remember me,” Oswin pleads with the Doctor, suggesting that she lives on in some small way if she is remembered. In a phrase that comes to link Oswin back to Clara in The Bells of St. John, she urges the Doctor, “Run, you clever boy. And remember.” In a way, that feels liek an important sentiment for the start of the fiftieth anniversary season.

Monument of the Daleks...

Monument of the Daleks…

It should be noted that Asylum of the Daleks is Moffat’s first attempt to write a “Dalek” episode. Sure, he’s written stories including the monsters before, like The Pandorica Opens, The Big Bang, or The Wedding of River Song. However, this is the first to focus solely on the genocidal maniacs and (arguably more importantly) the first with a title to include “… of the Daleks.” This is fascinating; if only because, as a writer, Moffat has gravitated rather consciously towards what might be dubbed “his own thing.”

While Russell T. Davies ended his seasons by bringing back fan favourites like the Daleks or the Cybermen or the Master; Moffat has generally used the season finalé to round-out the year’s story-telling, to offer something a bit bold and perhaps a bit less obviously crowd-pleasing. The appearance of the Great Intelligence in The Name of the Doctor hardly counts as an a-list Doctor Who villain. This is what made the inclusion of both the Master and the Cybermen in Dark Water and Death in Heaven so interesting.

We salute you!

We salute you!

With that in mind, it is interesting to see Moffat open a season with the most crowd-pleasing of Doctor Who monsters. The Daleks are rightfully iconic; it is hard to imagine the show without them. They are as recognisable as the lead character. Even though it makes a great deal of sense to open the fiftieth anniversary season with the Daleks, it is very weird to see Moffat doing an entire episode based around a very classic concept, rather than something more distinctly his own.

At the same time, it makes a great deal of sense. One of the features of the sixth and seventh seasons is a willingness to play with structure and expectations. It does not always work – in fact, it is debatable if it even works here – but it is certainly ambitious. Asylum of the Daleks feels more like a season finalé than a season premiere. It has the big headlining monsters, an epic scale, and “every Dalek ever!” all under one fairly standard plot. The odds are impossible, the situation is grim, the story is heavy.

Plunging into a new season with Matt Smith…

Asylum of the Daleks certainly feels a lot less like a season premiere than something like The Eleventh Hour, The Bells of St. John or Deep Breath. Indeed, many of the biggest weaknesses with the episode stem from this sense that Asylum of the Daleks is a season-ender that is opening the year. Running only four minutes over the regular runtime, it feels too bloated and over-stuffed. It could easily be stretched to a two-parter; it would even make good use of a longer runtime like The Day of the Doctor, The Time of the Doctor or Deep Breath.

More importantly, it pays off a whole host of plot points that have not been clearly established. Most obviously, Oswin sacrifices herself to save the Doctor; paying off a set-up that will come in The Name of the Doctor. However, there is also the awkwardness around the divorce of Amy Pond and Rory Williams. Coming out of the Pond Life shorts, the divorce is a very random development, so much that the resolution of the divorce plotline in Asylum of the Dalek feels almost surreal; it is hard to believe that the divorce was happening, let alone that it isn’t any longer.

The soufflé will either rise, or it won't...

The soufflé will either rise, or it won’t…

Still, even outside the logistics of beginning at the end, there is a clear purpose to Steven Moffat writing an “… of the Daleks” episode. It’s very clear what Moffat wants to do here. As he outlined in interviews before the series started, he wants to make the Daleks scary again:

Kids are supposedly frightened of Daleks but they take them to bed. Is there a way we can make them scarier, get them back to being more monstery? I hope they will leave them outside their bedroom doors, was my response to that. There is a tremendous temptation to go kitch and sweet with the Daleks. You shouldn’t. They are insane tanks.

Of course, there’s only so much a writer can do. The Daleks are, for better or worse, almost as deeply engrained in our popular consciousness as the good Doctor himself. You can use the word “Dalek”and everybody knows what you’re talking about.

Graveyard of the Daleks?

They aren’t treated as objects of fear in the collective mind, but objects of ridicule. The very word conjures up a (literal) tinpot dictator screaming nonsense in a shrill voice, often while spinning around uncontrollably. There is a reason that Dalek had to give audiences a shot of Daleks climbing up stairs, even after Remembrance of the Daleks had dismissed that old chestnut. Daleks tend towards kitsch; they will always tend towards kitsch. They are genocidal pepper pots.

It is not impossible to make the Dalek’s scary again. Dalek did a good job of that years ago. The problem is that you can’t keep them scary. The Davies era transitioned from the all-conquering Daleks of The Parting of the Ways and the campy sass-talkin’ Daleks of Doomsday. It really depends on the episode in question to sell the Daleks as a credible and convincing threat. Itis impossible to “rehabilitate” the collective cultural opinion of the monsters, if only because the BBC itself is the one pumping out plush Dalek teddy bears. Squeeze them and they say “Exterminate!”

Shining some light on the matter…

In Hollywood, they say that you are only as good as your last movie. In television, the Daleks are only as good as their last episode. Following this logic, it has been quite a while since they’ve been really good at all. Asylum of the Daleks does a pretty good job establishing the pepper pot maniacs as credible monsters in their own right, to the point that it feels much more like a Dalek mission statement than Victory of the Daleks, the first Dalek episode of the Moffat era. That episode seemed to exist merely to finally reverse Russell T. Davies’ repeated genocide of the creatures.

In contrast, Asylum of the Daleks is about making them actively threatening. Asylum of the Daleks opens with the monsters at their lowest ebb. In keeping with the broader themes of the season, it reverses the arc of most Dalek episodes. In the past, Dalek episodes have introduced the creatures as serious threats, only for the Doctor to undermine them as the clock ticks down. Daleks begin as unstoppable killing machines, but are ultimately stopped. Compare the dread of their arrival in The Stolen Earth to the absurdity of their spinning screaming in Journey’s End.

The impossible girl in an impossible situation...

The impossible girl in an impossible situation…

Asylum of the Daleks opens with the creatures looking almost pathetically weak. Confronting the Parliament of the Daleks, the Doctor is given room to gesticulate and pontificate. “Save us!” the Daleks chant as the teaser fades. “Save us! Save us! Saaaaaave us!” Oswin has been introduced seeming to keep an entire planet of Daleks at bay for over a year using nothing more than a few boards of wood, while being so blaisé about the monsters on her doorstep that she bakes soufflé.

However, Asylum of the Daleks gradually builds up the monsters as a threat in their own right. Both of those opening images are brutally subverted. Our survivor is not who she appears to be, and the Daleks actually plan to save a bit of bother by blowing up the Doctor with their asylum – killing two birds with one gigantic explosion. In a way, Moffat seems to set out the same thing that show set out to accomplish with Victory of the Daleks two years earlier. The Daleks are not only powerful; they are insidious.

One flew over the Daleks’ nest…

Victory of the Daleks also began with the Daleks at their weakest possible point (“WOULD! YOU! CARE! FOR! SOME! TEA?!”) and then sought to reveal them as a grand galactic threat in their own right. The notions seemed to be that you might elevate their stock by allowing the monsters to “win one” for a change. However, the episode was somewhat undermined by the fact that it interpretted “win one” as “produce a bunch of toyetic new models and run off like cowards into outer space.” It was more Stalemate of the Daleks than Victory of the Daleks.

To be fair, Asylum of the Daleks seems to accept that Victory of the Daleks was a failed experiment. The re-modelled Daleks are brushed into the background. While our heroes prepare to visit the planet below, they ask questions about the nature of the creatures waiting for them below. “What colour?” Rory asks. There is an awkward pause. He concedes, “I’m sorry, there weren’t any good questions left.” For all the bombast around their arrival, the “new paradigm” Daleks are a punchline rather than an exclamation mark.

Primed and ready for action…

The ending of Asylum of the Daleks feels a more successful one for the monsters. They don’t get to kill the Doctor, but they do succeed in getting him to do their dirty work. Very cleverly, the Daleks scheme to use the Doctor’s own methods to their advantage. As Rory notes, their plan is essentially the plot of every Doctor Who episode. They accomplish their goals, but just miss out on the perk of killing the Doctor. The Doctor doesn’t “win”by any stretch. He loses a new friend in a rather brutal manner. He just about manages to avoid losing at least one of his companions.

Indeed, the closest thing to a victory for the Doctor is the fact that they don’t remember who he is. Once again, the show returns to the idea of the Doctor gradually managing his own profile downwards; a rejection of the big mythical Doctor figure in favour of something decidedly smaller and more intimate. The Doctor is no longer “the Predator” or “the Oncoming Storm.” He has a clean start; much like The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor will offer. While this isn’t a clear victory for either side, the Daleks emerge as a much more credible threat going forward.

Everything is slightly askew...

Everything is slightly askew…

Of course, other very “Moffat” ideas exist within the context of Asylum of the Daleks to enhance the scare factor of these most iconic of monsters. To be fair, some of these ideas feel a little too unspecific. While episodes like Revelation of the Daleks and The Parting of the Ways focus on the idea of Daleks converting the deceased into the raw material for more Daleks, the “nano-cloud” and the idea of organic conversion seems a little bit too similar to the methods used by the Cybermen. After all, if Daleks now convert the living, what makes the Cybermen unique?

Still, it is not a fatal flaw. The notion of Daleks that have literally hallowed out human beings so that they could live inside is a terrifying one. It’s a creepy image, especially as the eye-stalk does emerge through a clean portal, but instead breaks the skin, evoking Ridley Scott’s Alien for a family friendly audience. Indeed, the line that they attack “still only at night” feels like a shout-out to Newt in Aliens. Moffat would borrow more heavily from Alien for Last Christmas.

They’ve really cornered the market…

While those creepy human-Daleks are introduced early on, it’s the notion of the “nano-cloud” that makes the monsters so unsettling in a way that they haven’t been in a while. The idea that they can animate any matter – “living or dead” – in their own image is much creepier than people on Dalek ships in weird fetish gear. The thought that they can “subtract love and add hate” without the victim being aware of it is unsettling, as is the notion that you might be a Dalek without even realising it.

In fact, the early part of the episode does a wonderful job of exploring the relationship between the Doctor and the Daleks. It’s fascinating how clearly they seem to understand each other, while completely failing to grasp the most essential facets. The Doctor understands the Daleks are bred to hate, and deduces the plan that they have concocted to simultaneously wipe out him and the rogue elements. However, he’s aghast at they “divine hatred” that they see as “beautiful.” They can still surprise him, after all these years.

Tough crowd…

At the same time, they seem to understand him quite well. Perhaps, in some ways, even better than he does himself. They bring Rory and Amy along, if only because, as they state, “the Doctor requires companions.” It’s a truth that the character himself seems to be denying at this point in his life; experience has taught us that he lacks the self-awareness to see that travelling alone is a very bad thing. And still, despite their understanding of him, they fail to grasp that he will inevitably escape because… well, that’s what he does.

So the decision to wipe the Doctor from the memory of the Daleks seems a little strange. In a way, it plays like a weird sort of companion departure story; the Daleks are, in their own perverse way, the most faithful of companions. Nevertheless, it does raise all sorts of continuity issues with episodes like The Time of the Doctor. Do the Daleks on Trenzalore only know the Doctor from their experiences fighting him on Trenzalore? However, the Eleventh Doctor’s final speech to them seems predicated on an even longer and more intimate relationship.

(Eye) stalking their prey…

To be fair, maybe there is a point to this. Maybe that dynamic has played a part in humbling the creatures – making them too casual and too familiar to the Doctor. After all, it’s hard to construct a credible threat when they shake in their little space boots at the very mention of his name. So now they meet as equals. It’s quite similar to how Moffat used the “tear” to quietly tidy up his predecessor’s continuity during his first season. I also love how the Doctor seems almost insulted as he asks, “You made them forget me?!”

The opening scenes set in “the Parliament of the Daleks” with the “Prime Minister” feel like Moffat is being just a little bit cheeky; like the decision to air Death in Heaven the evening before Remembrance Sunday. Moffat has never quite engaged with the political establishment as enthusiastically as his predecessor, by episodes like The Beast Below serve as blistering indictments of certain aspects of British political life. The fact that the Daleks resemble the British government a time when the Tories were talking about cutting BBC funding is a little pointed.

Alone with every genocidal pepperpot…

Still, Moffat does not completely ignore his predecessor’s characterisation of the Daleks. While it is interesting to see Dalek democracy in action, they retain some of the fundamentalist vibes introduced by Russell T. Davies in The Parting of the Ways. When the Doctor asks why the Daleks would not simply destroy dysfunctional Daleks, the Dalek Prime Minister explains, “It is offensive to us to extinguish such divine hatred.” It mirrors the rhetoric employed by the Dalek Emperor in The Parting of the Ways.

In fact, Asylum of the Daleks goes a little bit further. It features a suicide-bombing Dalek; a rather uncomfortable image in the current political climate. In fact, Moffat would return to the idea with Cybermen in Death in Heaven, with Missy acknowledging the practice. Here, it feels like a logical extension of their fundamentalism and hatred; their contempt for the rest of the universe and their unwillingness to accept anything that challenges their perspective. It fits quite comfortably.

If David Tennant were around, I would make a “Beam me up, Scotty” reference here…

Still, the episode’s central twist seems just a little bit familiar. Moffat is quite fond of the “person-who-isn’t-really-a-person” twist; it also appears in Silence in the Library. That two-parter – Moffat’s last script before he took over the show – is another story of a girl interacting with the Doctor’s adventures from a secure location who turns out to be part of some ghastly mechanised operation. Both stories feature an element of tragedy concerning the girl’s transformation in this altered and distorted form.

Which brings us to perhaps the biggest problem with Asylum of the Daleks, the plot involving Amy and Rory. At then end of the Pond Life shorts, it was revealed that Amy wanted a divorce. This seemed to come out of nowhere, with a minimum of set-up. It is a major plot point in Asylum of the Daleks, although it remains quite clumsy in execution. Amy decided to divorce Rory because she could not have children after the events of A Good Man Goes to War. “I didn’t kick you out. I gave you up.”

Come to a dead stop…

There are obviously a few uncomfortable aspects to this thread. There is something rather uncomfortable about how Amy deals with the revelation that the events at Demon’s Run left her barren, and her subsequent refusal to allow Rory to make his own decision about whether it matters to him. Then again, it is not as if Amy has ever been the most mature character; in many respects, Amy is still struggling with her own abandonment issues and her childhood trauma.

The idea of have the Doctor fix Amy and Rory’s marriage makes a great deal of sense. After all, the Doctor is Amy’s imaginary childhood friend who returned after a considerable absence; it makes sense that he would help her at a time of great personal difficulty. However, there is something decidedly clumsy about the execution of it all. Amy only mentions the consequences of Demon Run in the same scene where she ultimately forgives Rory. The plot point is barely introduced before it is discarded.

Carry on regardless…

This is an established storytelling technique in the Moffat era; and certainly a divisive one. After all, The Time of the Doctor does something similar with the revelation that the Eleventh Doctor is actually on his final regeneration; that somewhat important plot point is only mentioned twenty minutes from the end of the episode. However, one senses that The Time of the Doctor was deliberately subverting the epic nature of the “final regeneration” story. In contrast, the plotline between Amy and Rory in Asylum of the Daleks feels positively undercooked.

Again, it is the kind of plot point that one expects to see resolved at the end of the season, rather than at the beginning. Some of the messiness at play feels like a conscious effort to wrong-foot the audience and keep them off-balance. While these decisions can be appreciated, they are hard to endorse; much like the whole story arc around “the Impossible Girl”, there is a sense that the idea is much smarter on paper than it is in execution; it is a very clever trick that comes at a price.

Graveyard of the Daleks?

Still, Asylum of the Daleks works quite well at introducing Clara. The set-up is quite cleverly established; her true nature suggested quite heavily over the course of the episode. After all, you can’t make a soufflé without a whisk, so Oswin keeps one on her belt. As with “the Impossible Girl” arc as a whole, Asylum of the Daleks sets up Oswin as something special and remarkable; the Doctor describes hacking into the Dalek pathways as “impossible.” However, Oswin is not “impossible”; like Clara, she is somebody normal who endured something extraordinary.

In another of the Moffat era’s recurring motifs, it is the intimate details that give the game away. The Doctor figures out something is amiss not through technobabble or exposition, but in the little things. “A junior entertainment manager hiding out in a wrecked ship, hacking the security systems of the most advanced warrior race the universe has ever seen. But you know what really gets me about you, Oswin? The soufflés. Where do you get milk for the soufflés? Seriously. Is no one else wondering about that?”

Run!

Run!

Again, it serves as an effective metaphor for Clara’s seventh season arc. Much of the seventh season works hard to trick the audience into treating Clara as a mystery to be solved rather than a person to be known. After all, it is impossible to work out the nature of “the Impossible Girl” until The Name of the Doctor. Here, the show invites us to wonder about Oswin’s access to Dalek mainframes and databases; however, the answer is something much smaller and more human at the end of it all.

Asylum of the Daleks starts the seventh season as it means to go on. It is a season premiere fixated on endings and death. Given where the season will go, that feels entirely appropriate.

You might be interested in our other reviews of Matt Smith’s third season of Doctor Who:

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