Monday, September 3, 2012

Doctor Who - Asylum of the Daleks - A Review (Spoilers)

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of Steven Moffat or his vision of Doctor Who in the slightest. That being said, I still approach each new episode with an open mind, and hope against hope that I'll love it. On Saturday evening Asylum of the Daleks hit our screens, and with it heralded the arrival of a brand new series of the world's longest running sci-fi show. And as usual, there was me, sat on my sofa, hoping I'd be amazed. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Before I talk about just a small handful of the many gripes I had with the episode, for the sake of being balanced I'd like to point out that there were parts of it that I actually liked. The unexpected appearance of future companion Jenna-Louise Coleman, for example, provided a nice "Oh wow!" moment, and was a welcome piece of proof that not all spoilers manage to leak their way onto the internet. Secondly, the scene which reveals just why Amy and Rory have drifted so far apart (she can't have children and didn't want him to have to live the rest of his life without them) was handled absolutely beautifully. I don't think Karen Gillan always gets it right with her acting, but she definitely did in this scene. Arthur Darvill, too, really nailed it with his understated approach to the scene, combining disappointment and sad acceptance with the right mix of heartache.The whole thing just pulled at the heartstrings.

Karen Gillan delivers the episode's most emotional moment.

But then, what ruins - or at least significantly dilutes - good things like that for me are mistakes and misguided assumptions on the part of Steven Moffat. Whilst the inclusion of Jenna-Louise Coleman was undoubtedly a big deal for the ming-mongs, the impact of her appearance will have been almost non-existent for the casual viewers who simply have no idea who she is - and let's not forget that it's those viewers who make up the vast, vast majority of the show's audience. I am aware that Doctor Who always features small elements that only the fans will get, and I don't think that there's anything wrong with that; my problem this time around, however, is that the deliberate inclusion of a future companion is not a small thing. Yes, her appearance in this episode will almost undoubtedly be referenced in a future episode, but that's missing the point. The point is, the bulk of the show's audience was denied one of the biggest "OHMYGOSH" moments of the new series. And to make things worse, I feel that this is indicative of a worrying trend in Moffat's writing. More and more, Doctor Who appears to be descending into a forty five minute spectacle of Moffat trying to shoehorn in as many GIF/Tumblr-worthy lines as possible, often recycling one-liners that weren't all that funny to begin with. Maybe it's just me, but I don't feel entirely comfortable with the idea of Doctor Who being written with its fanbase as its core audience. And this leads on to my problem with the other thing I liked about the episode: the main Amy/Rory scene. I've already established how great I thought that scene was. How awful, therefore, for that to be cheapened by one throwaway line at the end of the episode. The "Yessss!" Rory does right before Amy lets him back into their house? Awful. Why? Firstly, he already knew that they were getting back together - that had been established MOMENTS before. The reaction was redundant. Secondly, that scene had established just how delicate a topic their break-up is; it had clearly caused a lot of pain and damage to both Amy and Rory. And for all that to be resolved and swept under the carpet with a simple "Yessss!" Sorry, I don't buy it. And the worst thing is, I'm willing to bet that Moffat wrote that line thinking about how great a GIF it would make.

The first appearance of Jenna-Louise Coleman

To prove I'm not a Moffat basher, though, I'd like to give credit to the man for canning most of the God-awful rainbow Daleks that were introduced to the show in Series 5. And credit to him also for trying to go somewhere new with the Daleks. I'm not sure how successful that Dalek exploration was, but credit to him for doing it in the first place.

I'm not going to list all the things about the episode I didn't like because this post would go on for ever and I don't want this blog to turn into the Julia Moans About Things website. However, I do think it needs mentioning that even Matt Smith, who's usually nothing less than spectacular as the Doctor, was conspicuously underwhelming in this episode. (Well, his hair looked better than usual - I'll give him that.) It got to the stage where, when he was shouting to the Daleks, "What are you waiting for? At long last, it's Christmas. Here I am." I was focusing much more on how appalling his enunciation was than on what the scene meant in the context of the episode. As an actor, saying your lines clearly is Rule Number One, and I'm shocked that an actor as brilliant he is can get such basic things wrong.

Surprisingly, Matt Smith disappoints in Asylum of the Daleks.

Incidentally, as common a criticism as this may be, it does indeed look like Moffat has, again, made the mistake of writing all of his female characters in the same way. At this stage, Oswin's dialogue, if read in isolation, could easily be passed off as that of Amy's, River's, Sally Sparrow's, etc. However, this is only episode one. This isn't the new companion's introductory episode. We have no idea if Jenna-Louise's companion will ultimately be anything like she was in Asylum of the Daleks. So, until we've seen more of her, I'll not write her off just yet.

So why do I still watch the show if I dislike it this much? Well, anyone who knows anything about me knows just how much the Russell T Davies era of the show means to me - it shaped a lot of who I am and it's what got me so interested in television in the first place - and it's out of loyalty to that era that I still watch. Russell's era made me love Doctor Who and made me realise that, at its best, television doesn't get much better. However, I can't help but feel that this era squanders that potential. Doctor Who could be so much more than it is right now, but it's not. I could never honestly say that I hate this era, because at the end of the day it's still Doctor Who, but I would definitely say that I'm disappointed with it, and episodes like Asylum of the Daleks show why.

(Thanks to for the screencaps.)

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