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Sunday, 2 September 2012

Doctor Who vs. Daleks with Issues in 'ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS'/ Season 7, Episode 1 (2012)

copyright: BBC


Doctor Who's comeback last night in Asylum of the Daleks was all strangely subdued and in the dark, despite the huge themes on show. They even, rather teasingly, kept Pertwee and Baker-era Daleks, amongst others, in the dark, literally, after approx 4 months promoting their comeback in the light of the Radio Times and on the shelves of Forbidden Planet or the BBC Shop for £15 rrp each - so I hope they reappear at Christmas or I'm demanding a refund on behalf of an army of under 10 year olds! The episode wasn't especially about the Daleks, to be fair - but focused more on the strange girl made into a Dalek hybrid.

While the Daleks themselves, both old and new, were more demented and desperate than ever, Dalek-Girl was oddly kooky and unrelentingy sexy throughout, even when cross - so much so that her performance veered dangerously close to being a next day delivery copy of Karen Gillan's outgoing Amy Pond character with a saucy splash of intergalactic Barbara Windsor straight out of Carry On Spacegirl (Dalek-Girl was played by 26 year old, Blackpool-born Jenna-Louise Coleman, the incoming new companion, in a surprise hello and an even bigger surprise of a goodbye). At least, we all thought she was the future new companion, Clara Oswin, until - at the end of the episode, the poor thing appeared to be up 'you-know-what' creek forever, with only an eye stalk and laser weapon for company. She also gets blown to pieces, which kind of sealed the deal. But being Doctor Who, all kinds of alternative realities are valid.

The seriously pretty Blackpool Barbarella (even when half-Dalek) Jenna-Louise soon made the role her own, leaving any Pond or River far behind and creating her very own cheeky geiser for the Doctor to cope with. It was impossible not to like the motormouth chattering of this all-round kooky loopy Dalek-Girl, the crashed ship's 'Junior Entertainment Manager', and her random, incessant talk of liking boys and the odd girl ("..she was called Nina. I was going through a phase") or her thoughts on being a terrible cook and fancying every face she spies on the scanner that remains her only companion over the course of a long, lonely year of being trapped on a crashed spaceship in an asylum on a planet with the most difficult of Daleks out there (a place that reminded of the prison planet stuffed with deranged inmates that Ripley was trapped on in Alien 3). The Daleks that try to bash through the spaceship door that she boards up every night are clearly dreamlike and a clue as to where the episode is going.

The Human-Dalek idea was original for sure, and I also loved the scenes on the asylum planet in the (real and not even made of polystyrene for once) snow and the 'divorce between companions' theme that was completely unexpected (Karen Gillan as Amy and Arthur Darvill as Rory were excellently bickery in this one and it's a sign of the relationship they've developed as companions in the series, that you never once doubted they were still in love - these two will be missed, I think, by Christmas).

The lines given to both companions were fun and witty, but the best line went to dopey companion Rory. Trapped on the Dalek spaceship, about to be sent down to the asylum, it's time for last questions about the dangerous mission from the Doctor and friends in front of the thousands-strong Parliament of the Daleks. The Doctor asks whether the Daleks are alive. Amy asks if they are still armed. Rory quickly thinks, then asks: "What colour?" - to which everyone looks away, clearly embarrassed on his behalf. "Sorry," he says. "there weren't any good questions left."

The main location, of a Dalek underground asylum where ex-Kaled soldiers go to be forgotten about, whether because wounded or driven to despair and madness (perhaps by a Tory government!) was quite unnerving and didn't seem all that far removed from reality - I actually felt sorry for these forgotten about Daleks.

While there was a rush to finish this episode and a killer anti-climatic feel almost from the start, it was refreshing to abandon the story arcs that had previously been derailing the series and some scenes that were slowed down, including the battled, straightjacketed (or as good as) damaged Daleks, sleeping in the gloom because, rather awfully - they were probably bored, were outstanding. Those living things of slimy skin and claws inside thick metal casings that were rusting away - had they just given up on life without a battle left to fight? These forgotten Daleks suddenly reawaken in front of Rory, with a creepy pathetic battle wimper of 'eggs.. eggs.. (Rory asks them what "eggs" they are looking for - groan or cheer as appropriate here) ..eggs-terr-minnn..'.

The opening scenes in the shadows with the Doctor meeting a potential foe as an accomplice despite knowing he is probably walking into a trap, was a complete steal from Tom Baker's 1978 adventure The Invasion Of Time, and also something of a copy of Luke's hooded entry into Jabba's lair in Return of the Jedi. Even the snow scenes and the watchful periscopic eye peering out of the snow and viewing the action through a lens reminded of the opening scenes on ice world Hoth in another Star Wars movie; The Empire Strikes Back (Luke surveying the wintry landscape through a viewfinder). Either Doctor Who is getting more geeky - or I am.

Still, it's taken nearly 50 years for a writer to crack a gag that 'exterminate' sounds like 'eggs-omelette-make', surely that's worth a bonus point, despite the fact that we were all saying much the same thing in the school playground once - probably while wearing the same short trousers that I suspect writer and executive producer Steven Moffat has since forgotten to take off.

After the snow has settled there is one image that remains from Asylum of the Daleks that makes everything worthwhile - Zombie Daleks! Actual, full-on, dead rising, part-Dalek, part-zombie monsters. To quote Matt Smith's increasingly laconic Doctor at the start of the episode as he stood surrounded by all those thousands of Daleks chanting "Save the Daleks!" rather than "Sieg Heil": "Well, this is new." It kind of became a theme over the following fifty minutes.

words: mark gordon palmer


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