It’s been three days since the new Doctor Who episode “Asylum of the Daleks” broadcast on BBC America, over a week since the US premiere, and nearly an entire year since the last non-Christmas Special episode. Despite that, somehow, some way, the surprise that happened in the first few moments of the episode were probably the best kept secret in television since Leonard Nimoy returning to FRINGE. Need we say it? Spoilers, sweetie.
So Jenne-Louise Coleman, the new Companion joining the Doctor in the upcoming Christmas Special (or possibly in the sixth episode of the season, reports differ), actually shows up here. Maybe. Possibly. Probably. True to Who and Steven Moffat form, Coleman’s appearance sets up loopy, surprising questions we didn’t think we would need to ask after the first hour of the season. I guess we should have known better? But still, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The episode opens on Skaro, the home planet of the villainous Daleks. So villainous, in fact, that they’ve started converting humans (and humanoid aliens) into hybrid Daleks with little glowing stems growing out of their noggins. Later, we find that the Dalek nanotech virus can even reanimate dead tissue, leading to some of the more disturbing, and honestly scary visions of the walking tin cans in decades, if not ever.
I will say that I have some trouble (and Whovians, correct me on this if I’m wrong) dealing with the idea that the Daleks would suddenly be fine with hybrids, after such a big deal was made with one going halfsies in “Daleks in Manhattan.” But given that’s a different Doctor, a different writer, and if it works, who cares, I’ll ignore that for the moment.
In any case, the Daleks snag the Doctor, as well as Amy and Rory, who are in the process of getting divorced. Why? Later we find out in a touching scene that Rory thinks it’s because he loves Amy more than she loves him... When it actually turns out she’s leaving him because he wants kids, and after the events of Demon’s Run she can’t have them. Whether physically or psychologically isn’t specified, but either way, it’s a classic Gift of the Magi situation where they’re both thinking of the other one, and also, selling their hair and watches and whatnot.
Right! Still telling this out of order. Our trio find themselves in the middle of the Parliament of the Daleks, which makes us question whether they follow Parliamentary Procedure, and whether a Dalek could be even less scary wearing a white curly wig. The answer to the latter is yes, and the answer to why our heroes are there? To work as a covert team, break into a planet filled with insane Daleks, and bring the shields down so that the PoD can blow up the planet.
Head down to the planet they do, and almost immediately encounter none other than Coleman, making a soufflé. Or rather, they don’t encounter her, they only hear her voice. She’s a pilot from a ship called the Alaska, and has survived the Daleks for over a year. With her help, they manage to pull down the shields, and survive the insane Daleks on the planet. Except, again, not exactly.
You see, Coleman didn’t survive, she was actually fully converted into a Dalek. The reason she’s able to guide our heroes, hacking into systems even the Doctor can’t get into is because... She’s a Dalek. And realizing that, she sacrifices her life to save hers. In the process, she manages to wipe all records of the Doctor from the Daleks neural network, turning him from the “Predator of the Daleks,” into the age-old question, “Dok. Tor... Who?”
Oh, and Amy and Rory get back together.
Lots and lots of big stuff happens in this episode, and almost immediately it delivers on the promise to be a movie in forty-five minutes. This is, in a way, both the greatest asset, and the greatest detriment of this episode - and if it continues for this first grouping of five, will be interesting to watch.
Why is that? It’s because the show is, in fact, very, very big. Everything is bigger, from the effects budget, to the scope of the story, to the emotions. Because of that, though, we miss some of the smaller moments, and quieter stuff that makes the great episodes of Who work. Don’t get me wrong: I like some epic scifi. But because the scale of the action is so huge, the main emotional conflicts and connections between our trio ends up being played a little broadly.
The conflict between Amy and Rory in particular is... It’s hard to describe other than saying it’s cinematic. It’s the sort of romantic complication that would have played out nicely at a slow simmer, or possibly with a bit more understatement. Instead, we get a scene of divorce papers being signed, and forty-five minutes later, they’re kissing as a planet explodes around them. Exciting? Indubitably. A little rushed? That too.
Let’s talk about the bigger plot point, though, the surprise appearance of Coleman, aka Oswin Oswald. Totally dead forever, right? Yup. I mean, seriously though, I’m curious to see how much she’ll play not just in this episode, but every subsequent episode. If she is even MORE heavily involved than expected, which could be as simple as showing up on a monitor at the end of episodes like other sketchy arcs (I’m looking at you, Bad Wolf), I’d actually think that furthers the theory that Amy and Rory aren’t really gone for good; mainly because their goodbye would be short shrift for Coleman’s hello.
The more obvious theory on her return is that the Doctor meets her earlier in her timeline in episode six. That makes a lot of sense to me: her character’s name is actually Clara Oswin, and in this episode, the Doctor never saw what she looks like. So he could start traveling with Clara, find out she was Oswin, realize he screwed up the whole timeline, and have to fix it somehow.
In fact, if we REALLY wanted to blow this theory out, this could tie into the “Question that must never be asked, the one hidden in plain sight,” which if you remember was, “Dok. Tor. Who?” If the Doctor does meet Clara Oswin earlier in her timeline, they meet Daleks - who don’t remember the Doctor - and someone asks that question... Well, a lot of things are going to break.
However, a lot of commenters have pointed out that the Doctor meeting someone as they die and get turned into a computer program, and then end up traveling with them earlier in their timeline is a lot like River Song. I tend to think it’s different enough, and would play out differently that I feel pretty confident that’s how thing will go. Granted, I also felt pretty confident we wouldn’t see Coleman until Christmas, so who knows?
All I do know? If this opener is any indication, we’re in for a wild ride of a season. See you next time, for Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.
- Hey Rory: STOP POKING THE DALEKS.
- The eggs thing really reminded me of the old joke - made famous in Annie Hall about the guy who’s brother thinks he’s a chicken, but he can’t turn him in to an asylum, because they need the eggs. Given the context of the episode? I’m pretty sure there’s some sort of correlation there. Probably just a reference point, but neat nonetheless.
- Coleman was pretty good, too, huh? Good delivery and energy, and I’m curious to see how she relates to Smith. I imagine pretty well... And I also get the sense that he may have a crush on her, and not her on him; a reversal of the old dynamic.
- Has the show had a cold open before? I seem to remember it just going into the credits, but could be wrong.
- Sorry, Daleks have never been, and never will be scary. I’m so, so sorry.