In the UK: Saturday, 7.20pm, BBC1
In the US: Saturday, 9/8c, BBC America
Well, here we are again, happy as can be. Doctor Who is back. The Daleks are back. The Ponds are back (although not for long). Steven Moffat is back. Chris Chibnall is back.
But not till next week! Phew.
Murray Gold is back.
Oh. Well, there’s no getting round that one.
Consolation prize: new companion Jenna-Louise Coleman is here!
Hang on, wasn’t she supposed to not be here yet? Oh well, bonus for everyone.
It’s back, basically. Brace yourself for an action-packed first episode, with all the stops pulled out – Daleks firing, Doctors running. You know the form.
Except… rather than an action-packed, all guns blazing intro, our Stevie decided to launch the all-new “that Doctor – he’s not famous, he’s dead and everyone knows it” series with a decidedly low-key, creepy, adult affair that hinges on soufflé. Yes it does.
Was it any good?
Well, lovely as it all was, I can’t help but miss Russell T Davies’s OTT qualities. Yes, his plots didn’t make a lick of sense and largely went from A to C via B, with the occasional visit by letters from a completely unknown alphabet that really shouldn’t have been there, but they were big and fun and thrilling.
Stevie Moffat doesn’t really do big and fun and thrilling, no matter how much BBC America co-production funding he gets. What he does is small and claustrophobic, with intricate plotting, a few things for kids and a few things for adults. And we got all that in spades with Asylum of the Daleks. It just felt like being given a Ferrari and then having to drive it over a neverending series of speed bumps and past numerous school gates, just as the school bell is being run.
Essentially, it was quite a simple plot: Doctor and Ponds are forced to go to a planet of unwanted Daleks, find out where the forcefield that protects it is and then turn it off, all without getting killed in the process. Along the way, they run the risk of being converted into Daleks as well and they are helped by a Dalek who thinks it’s a human called Oswin (Jenna-Louise Coleman) who likes to make soufflés. The Doctor also has to get the Ponds talking to one another, since they’ve just filed for divorce.
Stevie, of course, throws a whole load of extras into the mix. We have the nanocloud surrounding the planet that turns anyone exposed to it for long enough into a Dalek agent, with an eye stalk and gun that emerges from their body. That includes dead people, so we got several Silence in the Library walking skeletons in spacesuits to scare the kiddies with. We got the Parliament of Daleks – poor old Eighth Doctor: looks like that Time War was all for nothing, judging by the Dalek count this time. We had the Doctor coming up with cunning plans (not very Rusty, thankfully), and we had the pathos of Amy and Rory’s split and then reconciliation – and the essential truth that yes, Rory would play the “waiting by the Pandora box for 2,000 years” card.
For the Dalek fan, there was a lot to enjoy, with plenty of continuity references, right down to a special weapons Dalek (7th Doctor fun) and mentions of Exilons and Spiridon (3rd Doctor fun), among others.
We’re going to have to see how Oswin figures into things, given that she’s a dead Dalek at the end of the episode. Will the Doctor’s future companion be the same person or a different person who’s related in some way? Enquiring minds want to know, but if it’s the same person, she has the potential to be… another River Song. I mean she’s basically the same character. Intriguing and fun, a little bit annoying, a match for the Doctor in a lot of ways: she’s River Song or early Amy. Let’s hope Stevie finds a way to differentiate her more. Either way, she was at least enjoyable for an episode and you can see why Jenna-Louise Coleman got the part.
But as I said, for all that creepiness and all the good things about the story, I still felt like it was pulling punches, leading with the head and the heart, but forgetting the adrenal glands. If Stevie (or the producers in charge of the budget) could take off the training wheels, that would be lovely, please. Thanks, Stevie.
So a good start to the new series. Not really a statement-maker of an episode, designed to tell us what kind of series this is going to be, although the wiping of the Doctor from the Daleks’ memory banks could be a hint – we’re going standalone and small, and series arcs are a thing of the Rusty past. But good, all the same.
What did you think?
Here’s a trailer for episode two, anyway.