This is a strong opener for Doctor Who‘s new season (airing next Saturday, 1 September) which finds the presumed dead Doctor and his companions Amy and Rory all in different places in their lives, yet re-united in a very unexpected way.
There’s no need to disguise the fact that the Daleks are back (and how!), with the pre-publicity making much of the ‘every Dalek ever’ angle. There’s a lot for fans to spot through freeze-framing and rewatching, but perhaps in deference to the mainstream audience not too much is made on screen of these different varieties of Daleks. There are blink-and-you’ll-miss them shout outs to Dalek adventures of the past (some key planets are name checked, and one is briefly visited in all its wasted glory), but this is essentially just another adventure for the Doctor and the Daleks—perhaps the ultimate adventure (no, not that one!).
Showrunner Steven Moffat has a history of being both a respecter of continuity (where it works in service of a new story) and a sometimes gleeful continuity-buster (usually for the same reason). This episode manages—rather simply and elegantly—to do something with the Daleks that after nearly 50 years of adventures many thought impossible. Well in advance of the 50th anniversary year new possibilities are opened up, and that’s a good thing.
A more mature Amy and Rory are featured in this episode. Amid the fast-paced whizz-bang adventure, wise cracks, and exuberant humour, there are moments of genuine human emotion and anguish for the pair, making them perhaps Doctor Who‘s most deeply explored companions, especially Amy. Both Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill continue to deliver and it is a shame that following this opener they have only four episodes left—although going by the teaser clips screened at the preview of this episode they all look like crackers.
Those who dislike Doctor Who in the Let’s Kill Hitler style may not warm to the current version of the show. The programme is certainly not the same as it was in 1963, 1973 or 1983—indeed, why should it be? The obvious secret of Doctor Who‘s success is the way it constantly changes and renews itself. Asylum of the Daleks may not be to the taste of all fans, but it is modern, popular Doctor Who and that perhaps needs to be celebrated more.
There is much more going on in this episode than may be apparent initially, suggesting that Moffat’s ‘each episode is a standalone blockbuster movie’ pitch for the season has hidden within it a bigger tale. That should be no surprise: Moffat’s M.O. is well-known. Let’s hope he can fulfil the promises made in this dramatic and game-changing episode…
Verdict: A fast-paced, very funny, and downright epic reinvention of the Daleks, packed with fun and surprises—simply fantastic Saturday night TV! 9/10
Brian J. Robb