After a very long absence, the time-traveling Time Lord has returned to our homes like that quirky, weird house guest who sometimes makes your life complicated, but never, ever boring. Last week we were treated to a series of shorts featuring the Doctor’s companions, who, much like the fans, have tried to establish a normal existence in the absence of the Doctor. And again, like the fans, Amy and Rory’s Doctor-lite existence is punctuated by a few sudden appearances that serve to both stun and confuse them. It’s much like getting all those sudden news flashes over the past year….you know, the announcement of the new companion, Matt Smith carrying the torch, the Doctor Who tribute that never materialized during the Olympics, the sneaky TARDIS sound during the opening ceremonies…all of those little appearances that just made you want to crave more.
Sadly, Pond Life is not all sunshine and crickets. Despite the brief addition of their very own Ood (designation Ood Alfred), Amy and Rory appear to be on the outs, and by the last mini-episode they have apparently split up. The Doctor, returning home like a child back from summer vacation, begins to suspect that all is not well with mummy and daddy-in-law. Such is the state of affairs when the curtain rises on the Asylum.
There’s brief prequel where the Doctor receives a message from what appears to be a Headless Monk. The monk communicates in a dream, forcing the Doctor to accept a mission to Skaro, the ancient home of the Daleks. It is there that he encounters a distraught woman who attempts to convince him to rescue her daughter from a Dalek prison camp. Well surprise, apparently the Daleks have taken a page out of the cyberman/borg playbook, and have started to convert human beings into their mindless agents. Two more Dalekborgs kidnap Amy and Rory on the same day they finalize their divorce, and just like that, we are swept into the Parliament of the Daleks.
It seems the Doctor’s oldest enemies have a bit of a problem. Their storage planet of defective models has been breached by a starliner, and since even Daleks won’t fight crazy, they have collected their most deadly adversary and intend to shoot him at the planet so he can turn off the force field that surrounds it, so the Daleks can blast it Death Star style and end their problem.
But wait, there’s more…it seems the sole survivor is a plucky young lass named Oswin, played by *SURPRISE* Jenna Louise Coleman. Remember that new companion they announced? Remember that? Well be prepared to have your mind blown people, because the Grand Moffat has it targeted with a laser set to OMG!!!!
The remainder of the story is filled with action, suspense, and Daleks of every make and model. Each of the main cast members gets to shine, especially Rory Williams, who survives on his own for several minutes and even gets a bit of flirt action from his eventual successor. For her part, Oswin displays a confident charm and intelligence that makes you want to root for her from the get-go.
Regrettably, the biggest problem of the episode lies in the circumstances of Amy and Rory’s divorce. The split between the two is the most traumatic event in the lead-up to the new series, but it is patched up in a few minutes thanks to yet another clever psychological trick by the Doctor. Amy’s reasons for dumping Rory are based on her experiences at Demon’s Run, which were not only a violation of her body but have also resulted in sterility. Her inability to have another child, and most likely her feelings of unworthiness, were the reasons for the split. These are huge problems, and yet they are resolved within a few minutes, completely defusing what could otherwise have been a source of tension throughout the remainder of the series. In the real world, marital problems are not so easily solved, and having the Doctor come in and fix everything is akin to wish fulfillment. One could imagine a child of a broken marriage hoping that the Doctor would come and fix his parents, but the real world is never that easy.
Be that as it may, the first episode has definitely accomplished a great deal. It has, for the first time in a long while, made the Daleks scary again, if only for this one instance. The idea of faulty, deranged Daleks running around in tunnels, accompanied by human husks that have been turned into their servants, makes for some scary moments. In the end, however, the human/Dalek hybrids are no more than a different form of cyberman or borg, with the same underlying fear. The only difference is that rather than being turned into a mindless automaton, their victims retain a level of cold, emotionless personality, unable to remember the things the loved the most. The biggest and best surprise is Jenna Louise Coleman, who not only manages to prove herself as a worthy successor to Amy and Rory, but whose introduction has given fans a bigger mystery to solve than the identity of River Song.
“Asylum of the Daleks” gets 4 acorns out of 5!