Another new season of Doctor Who officially arrives with “Asylum Of The Daleks”, the Series 7 premiere, and I have to say, there is a major tonal shift between this episode and the previous one. “The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe” was a fun, whimsical and silly Christmas special, while this episode is gloomy, depressing and filled to the brim with death. It’s certainly a much grimmer way to kick off a season than we usually see, but I admire Steven Moffat’s decision to do something different with this premiere. In hindsight, Series 7 was a significant transitional period for Doctor Who. Series 7 was the beginning of the end for the Eleventh Doctor’s era, with Matt Smith’s final year building up to the circumstances of his regeneration story, “The Time Of The Doctor”. Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill finally left the series mid-way through this season in “The Angels Take Manhattan”, and Jenna Louise Coleman subsequently stepped in as the Doctor’s new sidekick, Clara Oswald, in “The Bells Of St. John” (who would be sticking around for quite a long time herself). And of course, Series 7 was the season that led into the franchise’s 50th anniversary, so it also needed to celebrate the large history of the show and deliver the sort of status-quo breaking revelations you would expect from a series that’s approaching such an important milestone.
Like Series 6 before it, Series 7 was divided up into two halves as it aired: Series 7A with Amy and Rory, and Series 7B with Clara. Series 6 really wasn’t hurt by the mid-season split that year had, because it was still telling the same over-arching story from start to finish. Series 7 on the other hand feels a lot less cohesive. Between Series 7A and Series 7B, there are different companions, different story arcs, different supporting casts, different title sequences, and even a different wardrobe for the Doctor. Series 7 feels less like one full season, and more like two different mini-series that are loosely bolted together with the aid of a Christmas special (“The Snowmen”). In another change from the norm for Doctor Who, Series 7 is completely devoid of two-parters. Much like Series 11 a few years down the line, Series 7 is comprised entirely of fifteen standalone stories, which means a few of the episodes in this season don’t get all the time and space that they need to breathe and reach their full potential (ironically enough, Doctor Who would swing to the opposite extreme two seasons later with Series 9, a season comprised entirely of two-parters). And on top of that, when this season was airing back in the day, the folks over at the BBC decided to stretch it out over a period of two years. Series 7 started with “The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe” in December 2011, and ended with “The Time Of The Doctor” in December 2013, so it’s definitely a season that’s easier to appreciate in retrospect than when it was airing. With so many different things working against it, Series 7 is pretty comfortably the weakest one of Matt Smith’s three seasons as the Doctor, but it’s still pretty good.
In “Asylum Of The Daleks”, the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) and his friends are kidnapped by the Daleks and dragged into the future, because the Daleks need the Doc to investigate an abnormality in their asylum. The Daleks were almost entirely absent in Series 6, so their return in this episode is very much welcome, and it gives us another opportunity to dive into the Eleventh Doctor’s relationship with the evil, geocidal cyborgs for the first time since “Victory Of The Daleks“, early in Series 5. The Doctor hates them for being racist dictators that are everything he personally opposes, and the Daleks certainly fear him and hate him in return, but in a twisted sort of way, they also respect him. He’s not only managed to escape every attempt they’ve made on his life, but he’s been their enemy for hundreds of years and become something of a dark legend to them. And he’s certainly considered a threat to them for a reason. The show once again makes it apparent how the Eleventh Doctor can be pretty ruthless and manipulative when he wants to: in one scene, he tricks a Dalek into blowing itself up so he can use it as a weapon against all of its Dalek comrades in the area. With the pressure very much on, Eleven does a lot of multi-tasking in this episode, trying to keep everyone alive. When he realizes Amy and Rory’s marriage is on the rocks, he takes it upon himself to help them fix their relationship. Mainly because they’re his friends, but also because the Doctor has personally shipped them ever since “The Vampire Of Venice“. Instead of prying too much into their problems, the Doctor sneakily arranges a chance for them to be alone together, under pressing circumstances, so they’ll work it out for themselves.
“Asylum Of The Daleks” builds upon one of the main ideas of the last season: that the Doctor has gotten a bit too big over time as a legendary foe to world-conquering tyrants, and now that reputation is starting to catch up to him – because for better or for worse, people who have fought the Doctor and survived tend to remember him. The Doctor has spent a good portion of his life (since he first left Gallifrey) fighting the Daleks – and after everything he’s done and everything he’s lost along the way, they always manage to come crawling back, they always manage to rebuild their empire again, stronger than ever – which is quite a depressing thought. There must surely be times when the Doctor feels tempted to just throw in the towel and give up fighting the good fight. Throughout this episode, the Doctor receives plenty of help from an unlikely ally – a woman called Oswin – and he becomes quite smitten with her. He’s impressed by her intelligence, resourcefulness and fighting spirit, even if he thinks there’s something odd about her. The scene where the Doctor discovers the truth about Oswin’s condition and reveals it to her is certainly a fascinating one to watch, because there are several different parts of his core nature clashing at once. His hatred for the Daleks is at war with the sympathy he feels for the person she used to be, along with his regret that he arrived too late to save her: there’s nothing anyone can do for her now. The Doctor does recognize her humanity before the end though, and considering that’s all she really has left at this point, that means to world to her. Before she dies, Oswin gives the Doctor a gift: she erased the Daleks’ memory of him, which will certainly help him with his new fresh start to traveling the universe.
The most jarring aspect of this episode is easily the divorce subplot Steven Moffat allocates to Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill): mainly because it comes out of nowhere with no previous foreshadowing (their marriage seemed to be doing perfectly fine the last time we saw them onscreen), it’s resolved in the same story it’s introduced in, and then it’s never mentioned again after this episode, which leaves it feeling like this strange thing that came and went in the blink of an eye in the grand scheme of their relationship. In any case, things are very frosty between the Ponds at the moment. They’re not speaking to each other after a huge fight they had offscreen, but naturally, they’re still concerned about each other’s welfare whenever one of them is put at risk. Amy and Rory get drafted and dragged along on this mission to one of the most dangerous planets in the universe, simply because they know the Doctor, and Rory in particular makes it no secret that he’s not having fun: there’s a scene where he almost gets bumped off by a whole room of Daleks, due to Mr. Pond being thicker than usual. During the latter half of the episode, Amy is put at risk of being converted into a Dalek by the malicious and inhuman technology within the Dalek asylum, which leads her and Rory to finally hash things out and reveal what their problem is.
As it turns out, the consequences of “A Good Man Goes To War” are still taking their toll on the Ponds. When the Silence were experimenting on Amy and her daughter, they rendered her infertile – which is just one more reason why that arc had to have been incredibly traumatizing and violating to her. Amy can never have kids again, unless she and Rory decide to adopt one, and she’s known for years how much having kids means to Rory, so she decided to break up with him, because she figured he deserved someone better, someone who could give him a future. This conflict builds on Amy and Rory’s established characterization for the last two seasons, and their biggest respective weaknesses (particularly what we learned about them in “The Eleventh Hour“, “Amy’s Choice” and “Day Of The Moon“). Amy has always had a bad habit of trying to run away from her problems when things get a bit too personal, Rory can let his insecurities get the better of him, and both of them can be really bad at communicating in a healthy fashion. Amy and Rory are both so strong and courageous, and they’ve beaten so many fantastical foes, but real life problems and their fears of disappointing each other have always been their Achille’s heel. Once they realize how foolish they’ve been, the Ponds reconcile and decide to give their relationship another try by the episode’s end. And for all the folks in the audience who feel bad about how the Silence have screwed up Amy and Rory’s life goals, they do indeed move on from this heartbreak with time and adopt another child after they settle down in “The Angels Take Manhattan”.
“Asylum Of The Daleks” officially kicks off the Impossible Girl arc of Series 7, and it’s pretty much the closest thing we’ll ever have to an episode where Amy and Rory meet Clara. Oswin Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is a cheeky, flirtatious and eccentric young traveler who crash-landed on the Dalek asylum a year ago. She has mad hacking skills, and she’s very confident about what she can pull off with a keyboard. Still, she seems rather odd at times. Every once in a while, her mind will seem to drift off somewhere else, like she’s haunted by something she would rather not speak of. Throughout this episode, we’re given increasingly blatant hints that there’s something not quite right about her and her story: her transmissions to the Doctor are only ever one-way, preventing him from seeing her face; she claims she likes to make soufflés as a hobby, but she doesn’t have any food on hand; and she’s able to easily hack Dalek technology – something that should be way beyond human comprehension. Eventually, it’s revealed that Oswin herself was converted into a Dalek, and she went deep into denial to cope, plunging herself into a fugue state. She’s clung onto her humanity for a year, lying to herself all the while, to block out the Dalek programming, and by now, her sanity is hanging by a thread. This is easily the most tragic and horrifying part of this episode, especially if you’ve already seen the later seasons and formed an attachment to Clara. Oswin dies the way she would have wanted, ensuring the Daleks’ destruction as one last win over them, and she gives the Doctor a parting gift before she goes. It’s certainly a poignant end for her, but her story isn’t over yet by a long shot: there’s a lot more going on with Ms. Oswald than meets the eye.
With “Asylum Of The Daleks”, Steven Moffat aims to write a spookier focus episode for the Daleks than their last major appearance in Series 5, and he certainly succeeds in doing that. In “Victory Of The Daleks”, they managed to escape into time with all the resources that they needed to re-establish their empire – and here we get to see just how much progress they’ve made in two seasons, as their species advances at a frighteningly rapid rate. The Daleks have death camps for species that they deem inferior (i.e. everyone), because of course they would. They’ve managed to create technology that will let them use the deceased corpses of their victims as puppets to set traps for their enemies, turning them into sleeper agents, and on the rarest of occasions, they even convert humans into Daleks (which is the fate that befell poor Oswin). The idea that the Daleks have learned to weaponize the dead is certainly disturbing, though there’s been a precedent set for them doing that since “The Parting Of The Ways” in Series 1. They’ve already stolen your life away from you, and they won’t even let you rest in peace when you’re dead, which is a testament to how callous and evil they are. The Daleks have their own asylum, where they store away members of their kind that have gone insane but are still valuable – and it’s these Daleks that are the main, formidable threat of the episode. They’re a pretty relentless force as they repeatedly attack our heroes in numbers. No matter how many times the Doctor and his friends manage to push them back, or even kill off a few of them, they never stop coming, because they lack the sense of self-preservation that even the most fanatical Daleks usually have. They’re essentially mad dogs running wild, much like the ones from the Series 1 finale.
“Asylum Of The Daleks” is directed by Nick Hurran, who previously worked on “The Girl Who Waited” and “The God Complex” in Series 6, and like in those stories, his vision for the Series 7 premiere is pretty superb, gliding from scene to scene with plenty of confidence and visual creativity. Nick would also step in to direct “The Angels Take Manhattan” a few episodes down the line, so apparently he became the go-to guy for handling creepy episodes in the Matt Smith era. The show’s lighting department once again deserves a lot of credit for how this episode’s final presentation turned out: a lot of the scenes within the Dalek asylum are very dimly lit with shadows casting everywhere, which makes the flashing, blinking lights of the enraged Daleks really stand out whenever the killer cyborgs are on the attack. Compared to many of his recent scores, Murray Gold’s music is very moody and menacing in this episode, to match the darker shift in tone. “They Are Everywhere“, “Dalek Parliament” and “The Terrible Truth” are filled with sharp strings and harsh brass, to instill the viewers with uneasiness and dread, while “Towards The Asylum” has a very different style than most of Murray’s other contributions to the show’s soundtrack, being a rare hybrid of brass instruments and woodwind instruments in his orchestra. We’re given our first taste of Clara’s perky piano theme in the short piece, “Oswin Oswald“, which is then given a tragic, somber reprise in “Remember Me“, creating a musical link between Clara Oswald and her various doppelgangers throughout Series 7. As we officially enter Series 7A, the beginning of the end for Amy and Rory’s time on Doctor Who, Murray introduces “Together Or Not At All: The Song Of Amy And Rory“, a melancholy, slow-burning variation of “Amy’s Theme” that foreshadows the Ponds’ upcoming farewell in “The Angels Take Manhattan”.
As far as season premieres go, “Asylum Of The Daleks” does not make as much of a lasting impact as “The Eleventh Hour” or “The Impossible Astronaut”, but it is a pretty solid start to another new season of Doctor Who, and it plants the seeds for several great things to come in Series 7.
* “It’s my mum’s birthday. Happy birthday, mum. I did make you a soufflé, but it was too beautiful to live”.
* “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 MO” “Don’t be fair to the Daleks when they’re firing me at a planet!”
* “What do you want with them?” “It is known that the Doctor requires companions” “Oh, brilliant. Good-o!” Salty Rory.
* “Rory? Rory?! ROORRRYYYY!!!!” The Doctor was standing right next to Amy when she started yelling at the top of her lungs. Rest in peace, the Doctor’s ears.
* “Of course. Stupid me. I died outside, and the cold preserved my body. I forgot about dying”.
* “Is it bad that I’ve really missed this?” “Yes”.
* “Is there a word for total screaming genius that sounds modest and a tiny bit sexy?” “Doctor. You call me the Doctor”.
* “Egg-egg-egg!” “I don’t know what you want” Rory, use your head and take a good guess at what a Dalek would most likely want, and then start running.
* “Lovely name, Rory. First boy I ever fancied was called Rory. Actually, she was called Nina. I was going through a phase”.
* “Just flirting to keep you cheerful” “Er, okay, any time you want to start flirting again is fine by me”.
* “Okay, I’m scared now” “Hang on to scared. Scared isn’t Dalek” It isn’t? The whole reason why you two are even on this planet in the first place is because the Daleks were too scared to sort out their own mess. They’re hardly fearless.
* “Pop your shirt off, quick as you like” “Why?” “Does there have to be a reason?”
* At one point, Amy starts hallucinating that she’s made a lot new Dalek friends, and it 100% looks like she’s going on one sweet, sweet drug trip.
* “Who’s your daddy?” “You are… the predator!” I saw what you did there, Moffat.
* “Self-destruct cannot be countermanded!” “I’m not looking for a countermand, dear. I’m looking for the reverse switch”.
* “Who killed all the Daleks?” “Who do you think?”
* “Where do you get the milk for the soufflés? Seriously. Is no one else wondering about that?” “No. Frankly, no. Twice”.
* “We’ll beam onto the Dalek ship” “Where they’ll exterminate us on the spot!” “Ah, so this is the kind of escape plan where you survive about four seconds longer”.
* “If it gets too explody-wody in here, you go without me, okay?” “And leave you to die?” “Oh, don’t worry about me. You’re the one beaming up to a Dalek ship to get exterminated” “Fair point. Love this plan!”
* “Why do they hate you so much? They hate you so much. Why?” “I fought them many, many times” “We have grown stronger in fear of you“.
* “I am Oswin Oswald. I fought the Daleks and I am human! Remember me” “Thank you…” “RUN! Run you clever boy, and remember” Oswin breaking the fourth wall.