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'Doctor Who: 7.01: Asylum of the Daleks'

First off, I got to say that I’m not often surprised anymore by TV and movies. The internet age has spoiled everything for everyone, and I’ve been one the biggest enablers as well. It’s got to the point where I’m more fascinated by the information than the actual end product.

As a long-time viewer of Doctor Who –going on 32 years now- I’ve watched the show grow in the United States from a cult program to the “global phenomena” it’s become as the revived series launches into its seventh season. I’ve watched them all, every single episode from TOS not lost to the BBC’s lack of vision (even though I know it was a cost issue that forced the loss of a lot of William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton episodes in the 1960s) and every single episode in this new format.

Over the years, both old and new series showrunners have tried to keep secrets from press, and thus the fans. In the olden days, it was much easier; there were no internet and the fan’s, just as excited as today, were limited to small groups within their home towns, so getting information to each other was difficult.

Now, of course, as showrunner Steven Moffat has pointed out, it’s difficult to keep anything secret on Doctor Who. Due to the availability of the internet, phones that can take pictures that then can be transmitted instantly, and fans who come and stalk location shoots, information on what and who the Doctor is battling is rapidly spread across the world via blog forums and entertainment websites.

But the nearly 50 year-old franchise pulled a bait and switch with the TV viewing audience with its seventh season opener Asylum of the Daleks, and in doing so, provided a spectacular surprise that somehow never got out, despite four preview showings (plus, I think, this twist will cement Steven Moffat as one the most cleverest showrunners the series has ever been given). And as an added bonus, he skillfully rebooted the Daleks –not an easy task considering their long continuity history with the show.

At the end of season six, the Doctor had faked his death.  But what of the other prophecies that Dorium asks the Doctor about: the “fall of the Eleventh” and the ultimate question always hinted about in the long series history, “Doctor who?”

Little of that is addressed in what Moffat claims this will be a fairly episodic season, so no two-parter’s and apparently no huge arcs. So, as Asylum of the Daleks opens, the Doctor has arrived on Skaro, home world of the Daleks after receiving a message from a woman who needs the Doctor’s help in rescuing her daughter from a Dalek prison camp. While the Daleks have used humans before in their plans, they’ve never –as far as I known- had a prison camp. So all too late, the Time Lord realizes it’s a trap (which then begs the question if the Daleks could find him so easily, why all the subterfuge over the years?). Meanwhile, Amy and Rory have split up as the viewing audience is given a glimpse into just how much River Song has ruined their lives. Both are soon captured by the Daleks hybrids (where Moffat, in a sort of screw you to the Star Trek franchises Borg, have made the Daleks a hive mind now. I mean, after all, the Cybermen have always been the precursor to them, so why not for the Daleks?) and brought aboard a ship, where the Parliament of the Daleks takes them to their shielded asylum planet, a place where they keep the most battle-scarred and unstable of their kind.

The Dalek prime minister tells the Doctor that the planet has been penetrated by a ship and someone must go down to the planet and turn off the force field so they can destroy it.

And then it’s here we get to the surprise. Since the announcement of the departure of Amy and Rory was going to be the fifth episode and that the new companion was to be introduced in the sixth story, the Christmas episode called The Snowman, we were given a twist because there she was, appearing five episodes early, and, apparently, (taking a page from the life of River Song) doomed.

This sets up an interesting conundrum for fans, as they’ll have to ponder how Jenna-Louise Coleman’s character –going by Oswin Oswald here- ends up as Clara Oswin in the Christmas episode. The other intriguing aspect is how the Doctor heard her voice so clearly as a woman than a Dalek, until the reveal was made (and who else was reminded of Dalek, the episode from the first season of the revived series, when the Doctor saw who he been in contact with?)

In the meantime, while this episode does have “Dalek” in its title, the episode seems more focused on Amy and Rory’s fractured relationship. Here, both Arthur Darvil and Karen Gillan shine as they explore the repercussions of events at Demon’s Run –Amy was setting Rory free because she can never have kids, and Rory wants them so much (the performances of the actors was fantastic in that scene, but I afterwards, I began to ponder would Amy really divorce Rory without explaining the reason for why she’s divorcing him? I mean, who does that?).

As noted with the Star Trek franchise, continuity has been a hobgoblin to Doctor Who as well, especially with the Dalek’s, who’ve been the Doctor’s foes since its beginning. Here, Moffat gives the Daleks a bit of an evolution not seen in the franchise in a long time, and reboots them back to the menace they once were (and Oswin –in a sort of dues ex machina- has figured out a way to wipe the Dalek’s collective memory of their most deadly enemy, the Doctor). This intriguing development put’s their long-time battle between each other in new and very welcome position.

As we’ve learned, Moffat lies, and it will be interesting to see how this Oswin arc plays out. Also, hopefully, we’ll be given some explanation as why the Doctor heard her voice instead of a Dalek one, how he “saves” her (and she can’t be living in some sort reverse timeline like River Song, as she specifically says she’s never “seen him before.”).

How will she get to the Christmas episode intact? Is she really dead? Is she a ghost, as some rumors have suggested? Has the Doctor’s mind been clouded due to the nanoclouds on the planet, just as Amy’s was, so he assumes she’s a human and not a Dalek? Ironic, if the next companion turns out to be a Dalek, though then, Moffat would be borrowing from Voyager’s Seven of Nine, would he not?

And that, my friends, does not seem to be Steven Moffat.

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