In the first episode of the seventh series of Doctor Who, the Doctor faces his oldest enemy, but they have a very strange request for him: save the Daleks. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
I have finally figured out a way to describe what it is like to watch Doctor Who when Steven Moffat is running the show.
Largely, I’m just not going to address what’s happened with Moffat on Twitter and online in the fandom. It’s not that it shouldn’t be discussed! But due to Tumblr Savior (I LOVE YOU, TUMBLR SAVIOR, YOU SAVE MY LIFE EVERY DAY), I actually didn’t even know what happened until a week ago. So, my opinion on this matter is:
Seriously, lots of other people have discussed far better than I ever will. So for me, it’s like resurrecting a corpse just to punch it in the face, and that’s fun for no one. Plus, I really want to discuss “Asylum of the Daleks” in and of itself because I have a different complaint than what I’ve seen online in the past week since I discovered what happened in the recent past. The only reason I’m saying anything is because I figured someone would bring it up, and I didn’t want it to seem like I was willfully ignoring what happened just to avoid ~online drama~ or something. That’s not the case! I just wanted to do my own thing and purposely not wade into a fandom war and rip the band-aid off the wound BECAUSE I TEND TO DO THIS A LOT OUT OF TOTAL IGNORANCE. Plus, GOD, who needs another dude’s opinion on this? NO ONE.
SO LET’S TALK ABOUT “ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS.” Look, I just flat out missed Doctor Who. Even if series six didn’t leave me feeling super excited, I still want so much more from this show. I want to see more of Eleven and the Ponds and River Song and CAN CANTON DELAWARE III PLEASE BE IN EVERY EPISODE WHAT IS THIS AUDIENCE OPPRESSION. It’s not that I easily forgive the show or the writers; it’s more that I love this universe and its characters so much that I just want to experience more adventures with them. While I do have problems with “Asylum of the Daleks,” this was one doozy of an adventure. There are so many fantastic ideas crammed into this episode, but it all suffers from the problem I hinted at in my opening sentence.
So. Watching this show is like hanging out with someone who is carrying a huge secret, and they keep teasing you with the fact that they know it and you don’t.
Let me start there and work my way through this story. I do enjoy stories with the Daleks. At heart, they’ll always be a fascinating concept to me, especially since it allows the writers to bring up themes of bigotry and genocide openly. Even here in “Asylum of the Daleks,” there are so many tiny things that Moffat creates that had me shrieking GIMME MORE. MORE. Like, I never once thought that the Daleks might have a place to take care of their own. What do they do with injured Daleks? Defective Daleks? Daleks who are mentally ill? Daleks who fall out of line? So the whole idea of the Asylum is just so awesome. There’s an ICU. AN ICU FOR DALEKS. There’s a Nanocloud that is the best defense system in the world: IT TURNS INTRUDERS INTO DEFENDERS.
And then there’s the absolute best part of this show: Oswin Oswald.
Not since Rita in “The God Complex” have I wanted a guest character to be part of this goddamn show as much as Oswin. I CANNOT DEAL WITH HOW WONDERFUL SHE IS. I like that right off the bat, here is a woman who completely outshines the Doctor. She is wittier than he is, she’s funnier, she is smarter, she upstages him every second, and all of this totally throws him off-balance. Characters on this show, especially companions, are rarely shown in this light. While I’d argue that every main companion we’ve seen on new Who eventually grows to greatness, I enjoy that Oswin starts off that way. (Though I must use this parenthetical to give one giant middle finger to Oswin’s “going through a phase” line. Nope. Nope. Look, it’s not that people don’t go through phases. It exists. Guess how many times this trope has appeared on television and in fiction concerning women? 45 billion times. I know, I’ve counted. So, Moffat, you just used one of the most overused tropes concerning homosexuality. It bores me even more than it offends me.)
And in terms of the atmosphere, this is a creepy and unsettling story. We’re in a new environment (AND THE EPISODE STARTS ON SKARO NOOOOO I WANT TO SEE SO MUCH MORE OF IT!!!!), and the suspense comes from never knowing what the Doctor and the Ponds are going to discover next.
But this is where the very same things I like prove to be deeply distracting because Steven Moffat has a secret. While I admit that “Asylum of the Daleks” is nowhere near as bad as the two-part opener to series six in terms of this issue, half the time I watched this episode, I kept feeling like Moffat was intentionally dangling this carrot of a secret to me, and then laughing at me for being unable to reach it, and then ignoring it as if it wasn’t there in the first place.
1) How can you start this episode with the Ponds getting a divorce and only explain this with like five sentences during an intensely emotional scene? Watching this was akin to missing out on an episode of a show and having to rely on what little canon was in the current episode to piece things together. Except there never was an episode I missed. While I appreciated the lovely acting of Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan during the scene where Rory states that they both know he loves Amy more than she loves him, the entire time I was distracted by the fact that this series jumped forward in time so much that I was left wondering what the fuck was going on. Then, we find out that AMY CANNOT BEAR CHILDREN. Okay, what? What is all of this, and why is it being revealed this way, and why is it getting so little screentime? I don’t think I’d have as much of a problem with the content of this story if I was constantly distracted by the way it was used. This was one of many times that I couldn’t pay attention or I was pulled out of a scene because of this dynamic.
2) This point relies on casting spoilers for this series that were heavily pushed in the press, but I’ll rot13 it in case you are blessed enough not to have been spoiled by this: UBJ GUR SHPX PNA BJFVA QVR VA GUR SVEFG RCVFBQR? Urer’f gur guvat: guvf qbrf abg srry yvxr n pyrire “pyhr” gb zr. Guvf srryf rira jbefr guna fbzr bs gur evqvphybhf fghss va frevrf fvk. Zbssng naq gur OOP fcrag fb zhpu gvzr gryyvat hf jura Wraan-Ybhvfr Pbyrzna jbhyq pbzr ba obneq nf gur Qbpgbe’f arkg pbzcnavba gung V jnf orjvyqrerq gb frr ure urer. Fb jung gur uryy vf tbvat ba urer? Jnf guvf nyy n yvr? Ntnva, guvf qbrfa’g srry yvxr na njrfbzr zlfgrel. Vg srryf yvxr Zbssng vf grnfvat zr jvgu n frperg, naq guvf vf ab ybatre sha sbe zr ng nyy. Vg’f sehfgengvat. V qba’g jngpu Qbpgbe Jub gb srry yvxr V whfg zbirq gb n arj pvgl, naq V zrrg crbcyr jub ershfr gb gryy zr jung gur tbbq erfgnhenagf ner orpnhfr gurl jnag gb ynhtu ng zr nf V rng ng nyy gur greevoyr barf.
3) You know, this might be a continuity issue or it might be addressed soon, but the entire universe thinks the Doctor is dead. How is he able to do anything at all? Again, I feel teased!
On top of this, while it was emotionally devastating to learn that Oswin was actually a Dalek the entire time, I got to thinking about how betrayed I felt by her characterization. So, how much of what we experienced and saw was Oswin’s original personality? What part of it was real, and which was just a projection of a Dalek? I mean, she was a puppet, essentially, even when she became aware of who she was. So… what? How does this work?
I ultimately was glad the show was back and happy that the first episode did not appear to introduce any series-long mythology. The idea behind “Asylum of the Dalkes” was strong, but its execution left me wanting more. You know, I’m aware that this might just come down to taste, but watching RTD’s seasons or even other shows that have serialized stories, I rarely feel like I’m being manipulated or toyed with by the writers, at least not to this extent. When I watch Doctor Who, I want to lose myself in the fantastical and absurd narrative, and this storytelling trick of Moffat’s has gotten tiresome for me. I am constantly pulled out of the story by the dangling carrot, and I’m at a point with this show where I just want to never see a carrot again. Give me more of Eleven being sassy, more of the Ponds being adorable, and less attempts to blow my mind with secrets and plot twists.
Oh, and bring back Oswin, please.
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