5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS
Well, well, Doctor! Fancy seeing you here! We’d figured you’d moved on to another part of the universe, very possibly one where large publically-funded corporations don’t stuff about with their most valuable properties.
Never mind, he’s back now. How’s he looking?
Thanks to a timely equipment upgrade at Androzani HQ, he’s looking pretty splendid, actually. We’re now watching these things using a projector and screen, and we can report that the adjective “cinematic” which Steven Moffat has reportedly used to describe the new season is no exaggeration. Cinema-sized, it looks gorgeous. In fact, that’s the best thing about it. Gloss! Prettiness! Eye candy aplenty!
But that thing we said? About the best thing? We weren’t kidding. Yes, it’s pretty. It’s even entertaining. But it’s got more holes than a rusty colander.
We start off with a voiceover. Oh dear, that’s never a good sign in Doctor Who. And so much for the Doctor trying to become less famous, because there’s precious little evidence of it here. The trap opens, and he twigs too late, which kind of surprised us. Given Moffat’s thing about mothers, the fact that this woman is a mother (read: madonna) but is wearing non-traditionally-motherly sexy boots is a dead giveaway.
Yep, she’s been Daleked. To which we responded by groaning and clutching our heads. Looks great, yes. The problem, though, and it’s a very very big one, is that transforming people is the Cybermen’s thing. Give it to the Daleks as well, and it’s as if all the Doctor’s enemies are morphing together into one giant squishy evil ball. (We've received a lot of mail about this. Aha! people say. The Daleks have transformed people before! What about the Robomen? And the human/Dalek hybrids? And.... Well, first of all, we don't think they're the same thing. The Robomen, for example, are not supposed to be Daleks; they've just been effectively lobotomised. But even if the Daleks had done the same thing before, that's not what we were talking about. We said transformation was the Cybermen's thing. In the new series, Cyberfication's been the thing they've stressed pretty much above everything else. And in making that the Daleks's territory too, that weakens the characterisation of both.) Alas, that’s not the only indignity he heaps on the Daleks, either: more on that story later.
Hello, Ponds. We’re sad to say that rather than greeting their reappearance with whoops of joy, we just sighed irritably and looked at our watches. Yes, we like them and all, especially Rory, but so much has happened to them and none of it seems to have made any impact. Back to Rory bumbling, for example? Really? After all he’s experienced, he hasn’t gained any clue at all? As a result, we’re casting around for a reason as to why we’d want to see more of them.
And then we convene in the Parliament of the Daleks. Parliament! Of the Daleks! Hahahahahahahaha! We know Moffat claims to be familiar with the classic episodes, but has he actually seen any? Irresistible as the image of Daleks trundling into voting booths is, we can’t imagine anything less Daleky.
So at the end of this scene, what do we have? The Daleks are stupid enough to put have the control for the forcefield inside the asylum. They’re too terrified to face the crazy Daleks inside. They want the Doctor to help them. Ergo: scared, dumb, cooperative Daleks who are merging characteristic-wise with the Cybermen. When we think of how terrifying they were in some of the classic series episodes, it makes us want to weep.
There is a gleam amongst the gloom: we enjoyed the zinger the Dalek manages to get in: ‘“You think hatred is beautiful.” “Perhaps that is why we have never been able to kill you.”’ Oh, snap! Dashing past the fact that Daleks have never demonstrated any compunction before about killing anything including each other, let’s leave this scene of carnage behind us and hurry forward.
Because here comes the companion we weren’t supposed to see for a few more episodes. So pristinely unspoilt had we remained that this was all we knew. We had no idea of the new girl’s name or what she looked like. However, during her first scenes, one of us said: “They’re making a very big deal of this character. Could she be the new companion?”
Then, in the manner of a beaten soufflé batter, the plot thickens. Oswin has been fighting off the Daleks for a year. With soufflés. We were distracted at this point by the Doctor’s query “Where’d you get the milk?”, not just because she’d already said she had plenty of provisions but because it instantly recalled one of our favourite Red Dwarf lines: “Emergency backup supply. We're on the dog's milk….Lasts longer than any other type of milk, dog's milk. Why? No bugger'll drink it”. However, we weren’t so distracted that we didn’t realise from the Doctor’s scepticism that she was actually a Dalek herself, which was annoying as it made the big reveal at the end a trifle underwhelming. What’s more, it’s another nail in the coffin of the Daleks’ scariness, just as it was with Moffat’s Cybermen: if someone can resist the transformation enough to retain some of their humanness, it doesn’t say much for the Daleks’ terrifying all-conquering power, does it?
As for Oswin herself, we liked her. Very much. Yes, we’ve seen this kind of character before, but the difference is that Jenna-Louise Coleman manages to put across all that clever flirty shtick without being insufferable. How they’re bringing her back we have no idea, although they were certainly dropping some heavy hints of the “Remember” variety. In a setting where Amy can recreate an entire universe just by thinking about it a bit, we’re sure they’ll fish Oswin out of the time toilet somehow.
Meanwhile, Rory has landed in a Dalek junkyard. This bit really is proper scary, because despite his best efforts Moffat hasn’t yet managed to defang the Daleks entirely. Trepidation, however, turns to hurling things at the screen as Rory, rather than scarpering toute de suite before the Daleks notice he’s there, instead starts shoving them about like toy bulldozers in a sandpit. Nrrrgh! However, we didn’t need to worry, because these Daleks, the Daleks other Daleks are scared of, can’t even kill Rory. Rory! Lets the air out of the menace of the asylum a bit, doesn’t it?
And while Rory’s chatting with the Daleks about eggs (sadly, this is merely a prelude to the awful eggs-stir thing later), Amy has mislaid her jewellery. This entire plotline sets our teeth on edge. Although it looks like it’s about the nanocloud converting Amy, this isn’t really the story at all, which is a good thing considering Moffat’s wheeled the nano thing out before. What it’s really about is the poor little Ponds, their poor little marriage, and the Doctor playing relationship counsellor. We were suspicious that this was the way it was going to go back on the Dalek ship when Amy comments “Something’s wrong with Amy and Rory, and who’s gonna fix it?”. Knowing Moffat’s glee for puns on Doctor Who, we were betting he was hinting here that the who in that line actually has a capital W.
And so it proves. In a twist all too familiar from the previous season’s finale, any angst you were feeling about Amy about to be converted into a Dalek was wasted, because it was all a lie. The Doctor was going to give her his bracelet all along. It’s clear he’s made this decision immediately, because when they climb down the ladder he’s already taken his bracelet off. But he doesn’t tell her, because apparently the only thing that will make Amy realise she’s been a total idiot about the divorce thing is being brought to the brink of Dalekhood.
It’s so annoying in so very many ways. First of all, if you have to manufacture a crisis out of nowhere, solving it in thirty-eight minutes makes the viewer wonder even harder why you bothered at all. Second of all, the whole “I love you but I’m going to pretend I don’t rather than actually telling you what’s going on” is so infuriating it makes us want to shake Amy until her tiny pea for a brain ping-pongs round her skull and shoots out her nose. Doctor’s intervention or not, her deciding unilaterally that Rory’s better off without her, without ever telling him why or giving him a chance to decide for himself, shows the marriage really is in trouble. (Also, we’re ready for this to stop right now: we’ve had it up to here with Amy slapping Rory. This isn’t cute or some twisted version of girl power, and we’re tired of seeing it presented as a joke. It isn’t.)
Third of all, Moffat’s obsession with women being defined primarily by their childbearing capacity rears its ugly head yet again. To which we say bleargh.
Fourth of all, none of it works anyway because we never believed for a second that the Doctor was going to stand there, bracelet securely ensconced on wrist, while Amy developed a nasty bump on her forehead. There was no point in even trying to sell that. None.
And fifth of all, we’ve already made ourselves clear on how we feel about “the Doctor lies”. Do it if you must, Mr Moffat, but don’t expect us to get sniffly about your emotional scenes when we know the odds are better than even it’ll turn out the Doctor was having us on.
At the end, Oswin realises who she really is. Although it wasn’t a surprise, it still works very nicely and there’s genuine pathos there, perfectly conveyed by Jenna-Louise Coleman. Like we said, we really like this character. It makes us feel all hopeful.
And the Doctor? Actually, this is the least impressed we’ve been by him for quite a while. This isn’t Matt Smith’s fault: it’s just that the writing gives him zero new to do. He’s very good, of course, at what he’s asked to deliver; we just wish those things had been a tiny bit fresher to give him - and the Doctor - a chance to stretch his range. What, exactly, does the Doctor do here? He obeys the Daleks’ bidding, gives Amy a bracelet and quivers with fear outside Oswin’s door. Not very inspiring, is it?
So there you have it. It’s definitely got some good things about it, but it’s deeply disheartening to see Moffat making another round of the same mistakes and tossing a few more in for good measure. The new companion, though, in whatever guise she finally turns up in, definitely makes us feel a bit perkier than we otherwise would be about the future.
MORAL: Don’t put all your eggs in one Dalek.
THREE COLOURS RED
What’s with all the redheads? They put the Dalekified woman right next to Amy so we can’t miss that their hair’s the same colour: is this meant to intrigue the Doctor like Dalek woman pretended she had to? And the ballerina also has red hair.
THREE COLOURS WHITE
We’re always a sucker for pure white sets, and we love the white circular prison cell with the Dalek grille. Nice.
THREE COLOURS BLUE
When they’re talking about how suicidal beaming up to the Dalek ship is, how come nobody mentions the TARDIS, which was clearly visible at the beginning?
IT’S A DALEK THING, YOU WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND
This thing is absolutely full of in-jokes, from the soufflés working in with the Daleks’ eggbeaters (and the whisk Oswin correspondingly wears in her belt) to the Doctor telling the Ponds they’re in an Eleven-worth of trouble. Which is all very nice, but we’d rather Moffat got the basics right before goofing off.
“Oh my God”? UnDoctorly or what?
MAKE IT STOP
The "Doctor who?" thing was bad enough last season, but we were earnestly hoping that after Moffat had got it out of his system he'd let it drop. Uh, no. We had barely recovered from the ghastliness of the Daleks squealing it ad infinitum when the Doctor himself started in. The utter, utter skin-crawling horror!