Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks Non Spoilery Review

It's best to read this imagining Simon Harries with a three-foot wide smile on his face.



The cast and team of Asylum of the Daleks talk shop


Asylum of the Daleks? What can I say but "Wow!" That was quite a preview screening. I'm not here to crow about it, I honestly just want to share my enthusiasm with you. Very soon you'll all get to see Asylum of the Daleks too and you'll find out how bloomin' marvellous it is. Then you'll be hopping and skipping about the streets with delight just as I was!


Doctor Who no longer feels the need to impress the casual viewer, because it has them hooked already! Steven Moffat may delight in teasing and perhaps even frustrating the specialists, but he never patronises his audience and he makes no compromises towards anyone who might be waiting for The X Factor to come on. This season opener will have everyone gripped right from its opening, blood-red frames. No need for the lighter-touch launches of 2007 and 2008, setting the Doctor up with Martha Jones and later Donna Noble as if they were Hollywood comedy double acts, accompanied by endlessly upbeat brass melodies. Here, the ongoing story of the Doctor's touching and sparky relationship with the happily married Amy and Rory quickly heads into sinister territory. Asylum of the Daleks is confident and brilliantly-told - deep, quirky, complex.


'Asylym' is a most evocative word, isn't it? In my home town there was a former mental health institution which lay closed and derelict for decades, until the mid-1990s when it was demolished and a housing estate built on the site. The sight of it always haunted me, especially if we happened to drive past the big rusty gates. Being a sucker for old photographs, I sometimes look at pictures of Victorian and Edwardian asylums in their heyday. I'm always struck by common features. Each one seemed to inhabit a rambling collection of buildings, with long wards connected by spooky and oddly-shaped corridors... lonely and heavy with dust and death... What of the ailing and decrepit individuals sent for treatment? More often than not, they were locked up out of sight and mind for decades until they died. Sometimes they were left to their own devices, and at others they were shackled to their beds, but the pictures seem to show them all with thousand-yard stares. They probably never spoke and perhaps they lost their voices, making just the odd incoherent mumble. What about the rooms no one ever wanted to visit, the highly secure places where patients deemed incurable were locked up for good...?!! What must those patients have been like after all that time? Utterly insane?


Er, sorry, I digress...


So anyway, viewers who found themselves frustrated or confused by last season's intertwining story arcs may find some relief in Asylum of the Daleks - and I suspect in the stories which follow. I have no doubt that we'll see some hefty, timey-wimey magnificence in due course, judging by some of the things that happened in this season opener, but I also enjoyed the self-contained nature of this story. A man from BBC Wales stood up before the screening to tell us that they've been aiming to make "mini-blockbusters" this year, and it's true of this story. We move from one sweeping location to another, from snowy vistas to burning carnage to the epic sweep of the Dalek spaceships - it's astonishing to whizz about so much and follow such an action-packed storyline. The budget is spent large but it is never off-putting, and there is plenty of substance beneath the style.


Matt Smith talks Asylum of the Daleks


Do stop me if I'm gushing too much. You know me, I'm not given to praising TV programmes to the skies unless they really deserve it, but I can't help it. This episode felt very special and I'm thrilled that stories of such quality are still coming our way. Plus of course, I'm trying not to give too much away!


I'm 40, not nine, so in the recent past I have sometimes tired of the Daleks, especially the fat ones of the new paradigm. In this CGI age, it's so easy to pack screens with Dalek saucers racing through space. How often have we seen thousands upon thousands of Daleks ranked together inside those ships alongside their Supreme Dalek or Emperor, ready to pass judgement and chant 'Exterminate' in unison. How wonderful that Steven Moffat has ventured into such familiar territory and made it feel fresh again, returning mystery and might to the Daleks. How lovely to see so many bronze ones again, and so few fat ones - and how superb to see the return of the bronze ones so deftly explained, after what happened in Victory of the Daleks!


The revival and reinvention is not so severe that the nine year-olds of today would be bored, although they may be confused, but Moffat's work is just right to thrill and delight this occasional cynic and make him feel nine again. If you thought the concept of a Dalek offering to make someone a cup of tea in 2010 was novel, you won't believe what some of them say in this story! Steady now, it's still a family show!!


Most rewarding of all for the long-time fans are the lovely nuances that remind us of Dalek highlights past. You see evidence of evil duplicity and maniacal calculation reminiscent of their behaviour in Power of the Daleks, plus tendencies and reasoning barely seen since Dalek in 2005. On a more comedic note, we also witness high-speed propulsion that wouldn't have looked out of place in the second Cushing movie! But in general, these Daleks look as solid, as scary and as dangerous as they've ever been - and the scariest ones of all are those old grey and blue ones which Rory tries to converse with in the asylum... It's such a shame Arthur Darvill will be leaving soon, he's probably my favourite of the current companions and it's superb to see him given such colourful dialogue.


What dialogue, packed with historical references. Nothing about fleets of war rockets from the planet Hyperon, at least not as far as I could tell, but at one point I could have sworn someone mentioned a brace of familiar-sounding and exotic alien planets. Names that haven't passed the lips of any characters in the current series, and which had gone unmentioned in the classic series since the early days of Tom Baker's reign.


Three final points:


The twist in this story is brilliant, unexpected and very affecting. The sort of twist only Doctor Who can do.


Remember that controversial sound effect in The Empty Child, about which stories found their way into the tabloid papers? Well, we get to hear it again, quite a few times. It must be one of Steven Moffat's favourite sound effects!


Plus, while "fish fingers and custard" is probably the most universally-loved food-related motif of the Matt Smith/Steven Moffat era, I'm starting to wonder if "milk and eggs" will find a similar place in our hearts?


Simon Harries


PS. Huge thanks to my work colleague, Adam, who sorted us out with tickets and shared one or two of his thoughts with me, for the purposes of writing this article - what an adventure!




Doctor Who: Asylum Of The Daleks
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