Sunday, 16 September 2012

TV Review: Doctor Who 7.01 - Asylum of the Daleks


Doctor Who is a programme about change. It's always been critically acclaimed in some form or another, and it's also been a key part of British heritage and culture for many years. But, like the main protagonist himself; the characterised glue that has constantly kept the show stuck together; the time traveler whose personality and appearance has taken eleven different official forms and even more unofficial ones over the past near-50 years, the show constantly changes. It changes with new lead writers, it changes with the times and it most definitely changes with The Doctor himself, not to mention his countless companions. In the midst of all this change a number of problems have popped up over the years: plot-holes, continuity errors and such, which can let the self-proclaimed 'hardcore' viewer down if taken to heart. Fans of classic Doctor Who and even the Russell T. Davies era will find a fair few problems with the recently broadcasted series 7 (or 32, if you will) opener, titled Asylum of the Daleks - Errors which are most evident in the form of issues to do with the Doctor's greatest adversary themselves.

Now let's get one thing perfectly clear: I absolutely adore Doctor Who and I adore it now more than I ever did before current lead writer Steven Moffat took over, but I don't take it too seriously. A lead writer can't write a story of his own based around an adversary that has been present in a show since its second serial without creating continuity issues, and that's a fact, but so-called die-hards feel the need to point out unobvious errors and see them as episode ruiners. Fans who expected SteeMo to watch every Dalek story ever broadcast before writing his Dalek debut are quite foolish, to say the least, because when you look past the slightly botched continuity there is an absolutely fantastic story in Asylum of the Daleks, paired with fantastic production values (especially for a BBC budget) and a personal adoration of mine which comes in the form of some truly phenomenal direction from Nick Hurran, who also worked on two stellar hits from last year, The Girl who Waited and The God Complex. Speaking of last year, Doctor Who's sixth revived series saw a lot more head-scratching than most with its complex plot lines and timey-wimey madness, but thankfully with series 7 Moffat has wiped the slate clean and gone back to the basics with a very sophisticated, easy to understand script that worked wonders on our TV screens. The Doctor is back and he's made his return with a particularly explodey-wodey bang.
The Parliament of the Daleks is one of many impressive sights to behold found within this episode. Look at all'a them Daleks!!
On the build-up to its broadcast, Asylum was pushed as a massive showdown between the Doctor and his greatest foes, featuring quote-on-quote "every Dalek there ever was". While insightful fans will spot the Special Weapons Dalek and the like in the background, this episode really isn't about that at all. What the episode is focused on is hard to describe without giving away a particularly gargantuan spoiler, but let's just say we're introduced to a story element that will cover the whole of series 7, not just the current companions' last hurrah. It's also relevant to the sub-heading I typed up preceding this review (if you got that reference, when can we arrange the marriage?). That out of the way, let's get on with the story; Asylum of the Daleks opens up with a fast-paced pre-intro sequence, which sees the Doctor, Amy Pond and Rory Williams kidnapped by their plunger-armed adversaries through means of the mysterious Dalek 'Puppets' that the Space Nazis have sent to do their dirty work. One initially thinks that these newly introduced kidnappers have come out of nowhere, but at the start of the second act they're explained in a particularly fan-pleasing fashion, with a fantastic reference to one of SteeMo's series 1 stories.

Following their kidnapping, the Doctor and the Ponds are summoned to the 'Parliament of the Daleks', another supposedly new element of Dalek lore that was actually in some way referenced in classic stories but never explored. Man, it seems for every continuity error in this episode there's a bucket of fan-service. The Parliament pleases the eyes of non-fans, too, thanks to Hurran's stellar cinematography. This scene has the story of the episode set up rather swiftly, with us seeing a new side to the Daleks. You see, they're in quite the pickle - Their Asylum, a planet that houses the most insane, uncontrollable of their kind right to the core, has been breached by an unknown vessel. Even the deadliest warriors in the universe find fear in the prospect of a "tsunami of insane Daleks" and seize the opportunity to send the Doctor and his companions to the planet to remove it's forcefield from the inside, so the Dalek ships can initiate a mass-extermination involving both the cleansing of their planet and the demise of their adversary... And a couple of humans in the form of Amy and Rory as a little extra.

The killer plungers are back and deadlier than ever, especially after their last appearance attached to tin-can Power Rangers. I kid, of course, but I'm glad the Daleks are a posable threat once more.
Speaking of Amy and Rory, the Doctor's long-running companions played by Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, they're surprisingly my only real stand-out flaw with this episode. Their acting and dialogue are as brilliant as ever (there's one truly emotional scene later on that sees Karen and Arthur play out their characters better than ever before) but the situation they're placed in seems a little forced. You see, the Ponds' marriage isn't exactly going smoothly. Why? Well, you'll have to watch the episode and find out. But even following the explanation of their rough time I still felt that this inclusion was merely to make the episode that bit more interesting and actually give Karen and Arthur something to do. The highlight of this episode isn't these characters, who are set to leave in the fifth episode of this series, nor is it the focus. And, as aforementioned, The Daleks aren't exactly the focus either (although they're still fantastic inclusions who help keep the story going, not to mention the fact that they're thankfully back to being deadly). No, it's Matt Smith as The Doctor and the episode's big twist that are undeniably the best thing about Asylum's plot, and they really steal the show.

This screenshot is totally relevant.
Another massive highlight is the production. Nick Hurran's cinematography is at times absolutely gorgeous, with one highlight being an astonishing scene that involves altered perception and another just before the closing moments of the episode. The music, which for once doesn't mainly consist of motifs of the long-running theme 'I am the Doctor', is also another brilliant set of epics conducted by the fantastic Murray Gold, who compliments the slow-paced mood of the episode with some brilliant new tracks, not to mention an epic new theme that plays at the 50-minute opener's thrilling conclusion. The writing is also extremely refreshing, as we're finally getting a Moffat story that doesn't feature a mass of convoluted timey-wimey moments that could be too potentially confusing for the casual viewer. Instead, Asylum is a slow-paced, chilling thriller featuring some jaw-dropping, 'I want to swear at the screen' twists that are simply brilliant, and that anyone could understand. Oh, and you will be shocked at the various bombshells dropped in this episode. It's completely unpredictable and stands tall as one of the Moff's finer works, for sure.

If you can look past the slightly botched Dalek continuity (and trust me, it's easy to do so and worth it, too) and the slightly annoying fact that Amy and Rory have nothing to do in this episode but argue about a plot device that makes very little sense following their previous adventures, then Steven Moffat has truly created an absolute tour-DE-force in Asylum of the Daleks... With the help of Nick Hurran's stellar direction as well as Matt Smith and the gang's brilliant performances, of course. They've been pushing this set of episodes as blockbusters, and Asylum absolutely fits the bill for that description. It's an absolute epic that does great things within its 50-minute time-frame, and there's not a whole lot else to add to all of the above. So, in conclusion, Asylum of the Daleks achieves a brilliant rating of...


Tom said...

Brilliant review, Noodle. I really enjoyed that episode too, the twist at the end being slightly predictable but shocking nonetheless. Keep up the great work :3

Noodle said...

I wouldn't call it predictable, I'd call it a lucky guess. Only one thing hints at it and it's very hard to notice. Each to their own, though, I guess.

Tom said...

I think the thing that hinted at it the most was the "Dalek technology" thing. But it was a really brilliant twist though, it was just an inkling and I didn't really expect it to happen, but meh. Good review, either way :3