Warning: total spoilers.
I hadn’t planned on watching Doctor Who tonight for the same reason that I didn’t watch the most recent Christmas special, viz: a complete lack of faith in Steven Moffat’s ability to competently write and manage the series. My husband, however, was curious, with the result that we sat down to watch it over dinner. And even though the end result was just as frustrating as I’d feared it would be, having gone to the effort of watching, it seems wrong (or at least, deeply uncharacteristic) not to bother with analysing why.
Thus, I bring you Asylem of the Daleks: a review in three parts.
Part 1: Plot
Amy Pond is still a model, she and Rory are getting divorced, and the Daleks are back: in fact, they’re running prison camps on Skaro, where the Doctor has been summoned to try and rescue an unknown woman’s daughter. As it turns out, however, the woman herself is a trap: she’s actually a Dalek puppet – there’s an eyestalk in her forehead and a laser in her hand, both of which are apparently retractable – and the Doctor is promptly zapped (along with Amy and Rory, natch) aboard a spaceship containing the Dalek Parliament. Naturally, this is cause for alarm, until it becomes apparent that the Daleks actually want the Doctor to save them – a ship has crashed on the Dalek asylum planet, raising the possibility that its mad, bad inhabitants might escape, and because the Daleks are too afraid to go down and turn the force field off so they can bomb it, they want ‘the Predator of the Daleks’ to do it for them. (Amy and Rory are there because ‘the Doctor requires companions’.)
Let’s list the problems in order, shall we?
1) Skaro was destroyed in the Time War – which is to say, declared nonexistent and irretrievable – and nobody mentions this.
2) The Daleks were destroyed in the Time War – meaning they can only show up if they’re listed as having escaped it somehow, which these ones aren’t – and nobody mentions this.
3) Apparently there are human prison camps on Skaro – even though it’s the Dalek homeworld and they exist to exterminate, not enslave – and nobody mentions this.
4) Daleks are not their armour – making the eystalk and laser combination seem deeply weird as a means of indicating Dalek control – and nobody mentions this.
5) Daleks are obsessed with their own genetic perfection: we’ve had multiple episodes detailing their disgust for human impurity, to the point of committing genocide against a human-Dalek hybrid race, and yet apparently they’re OK with manipulating human corpses and putting the resultant hybrid entities in positions of command – and nobody mentions this.
6) Thousands of Daleks, their entire Parliament, the ship in which they reside and the asylum planet have all apparently survived the Time War, even though this is pretty much impossible – and nobody mentions this.
7) The Daleks want the Doctor to help them because they’re all afraid of the asylum inhabitants – and this is treated as normal, instead of absolutely mind-blowing.
8) The Doctor is called ‘the Predator of the Daleks’, a name he’s never heard before, even though he’s known in their mythology as the Oncoming Storm – and nobody mentions this.
9) At no point is the Doctor or anyone else surprised to see so many Daleks roaming about – and nobody mentions this.
10) At no point does the Doctor rail against the existence of the Daleks or even contemplate refusing to help – and nobody mentions this.
In other words: the entire fucking premise is a retcon of epic proportions, undoing a major part of the Doctor’s characterisation and history as established not only since the 2005 reboot, but since Moffat himself took over – and not only is this done casually, in the sense of having no build up or cathartic explanation, but not a single character thinks there’s anything odd about it. Which leaves me to conclude that it was done for no better reason than that Moffat thought the Daleks asking the Doctor for help was such a cool idea that taking the time to integrate it with the existing continuity or explain things at all would only detract from the shiny cool surprise of having a zany madcap adventure that doesn’t make sense. And given the lengthy history of Doctor Who, it strikes me as being supremely disrespectful of the story, world and characters to make such sweeping alterations to the canon out of laziness and ineptitude – as a byproduct of a ‘cool’ idea, instead of to a deliberate, actual purpose.
Part 2: Characterisation
Emotionally, Asylum has four main players: the Doctor, Rory, Amy and Oswin, a perky, flirty, genius girl trapped on the planet after her ship crash landed a year ago (and who’s played by the actress signed as the next companion). We’ll get to her in a minute, though, because first there’s the Amy/Rory dilemma to deal with. We first see Amy posing on a fashion shoot, and when Rory appears, it’s to get her to sign the divorce papers. Later, it’s revealed that the reason for the split is Amy’s inability to have children – or at least, more children – after what was done to her at Demon’s Run: knowing Rory wanted kids, she let him go rather than force him to endure a childless partnership, though until her inevitable damselling forces her to reveal this fact (she lost her special bracelet and was steadily being taken over by Dalek symbiot-eyestalk-implanting nanites or something, of course) he was apparently unaware of why she kicked him out.
And I just… OK. Look. Being as how I’m currently four months pregnant, it’s conceivable (hah! pun!) that I’m more sensitive than usual about plots of this nature, especially when they’re bullshit. But it seems to me that, what with her previous child having been stolen from her and raised by psychopaths after she was mindraped and imprisoned throughout her pregnancy, Amy might reasonably be expected to have a few more issues about getting knocked up than simply being sad that she can’t do it. And not only does no one mention River Song, let alone adoption, but Rory never says anything to the effect of caring more about Amy than about biological offspring – they just magically reconcile when, by all accounts, the actual problem that caused the split hasn’t gone away. And in any case, it strikes me as being excruciatingly cheap to have two characters who’ve literally been to the ends of time for each other break up off screen*, just so your can put them back together again in the next breath.
And then, of course, we have Oswin: a trapped girl who can endlessly hack the Dalek systems, and who has apparently spent the last year making soufles and listening to opera while awaiting rescue. We hear her speaking over the com and playing her music, as do the Doctor, Amy and Rory; we even see her hanging out in her wrecked-yet-cosy spaceship. But in an episode where every other human turns out to have been a Dalek-puppet, the Big Reveal – that Oswin was turned into a full-blown Dalek straight after landing – is as predictable as it is stupid. Even ignoring the overall continuity questions this raises (how did the crazy Daleks manage it? where did they get the facilities? why and how was she allowed to retain her human personality?), there’s a massive goof in the fact that, when the Doctor reaches her, she’s shown as a Dalek chained in a room: her speaking voice is a Dalek voice, and she has no visible access to anything. How, then, has she been speaking to the Doctor in a voice that was recognisibly that of a human girl? Where did the opera music come from? Why is she chained up, forgotten and unguarded, if the point of making her Dalek was to orchestrate an escape? How is she controlling everything when she doesn’t have any access to the asylum’s systems – or at least, no access that we can see? How does any of this work?
The answer is, it doesn’t: characteristically, Moffat has gone for the twist-reveal at the total and utter expense of logic. The solution simply doesn’t make sense – but then, neither did the premise, so what else was I expecting?
Part 3: Conclusion
Asylum of the Daleks is shoddily written, poorly constructed and atrociously characterised, all in the name of Shit That Looks Cool If You Have A Limited Attention Span And Don’t Stop To Think About It. Nothing in the script feels necessary to the plot: there’s lots of running through dark hallways interspersed with Daleks repeating themselves and dead/dying women being sad, but none of it so much as winks at the glaring, legitimate questions raised by the sheer nonsensical retconning and outright illogic of both premise and conclusion, which means that the whole episode feels like a badly-managed segue. Even the pacing is flabby: as difficult as it is to make a half-hour episode of action-drama feel both too short (in the sense of not addressing anything relevant) and overlong (in the sense of consisting entirely of things that don’t matter), Steven Moffat has managed the double whammy with aplomb.
And from what I can see, the rest of Season 7 looks to be more of the same: ideas that are flash and dazzle when glimpsed in brief, but which otherwise make no sense, not because they’re inherently unworkable, but because Moffat can’t be bothered to make them work. If I watch them, it’ll be down to a combination of my husband’s love of crap TV and narrative rubbernecking: I simply can’t believe how badly in need of editing his work is. Which, ultimately, is what it all boils down to: the only explanation for the marked drop in skill and execution between Moffat’s stellar episodes under RTD and what he’s producing now is the absence of anyone with the power to red pen to his scripts and tweak them until they’re presentable. He’s certainly never lacked for exciting ideas, but when it comes to narrative logic, pacing and characterisation, he’s far more miss than hit.
*No, I haven’t seen the Pond Life prequels; yes, I know the last episode ends with Rory walking away and Amy in tears. We still don’t get the reason until Asylum, and after everything Moffat’s put them through, giving them a kiss-and-make-up moment in literally the next episode is still unbelievably cheap.