Oswin, We Have a Problem—Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks.

Previously on Doctor Who: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.

Why, yes, we do, because… holy crap. There are a lot of things to fix in this episode, and at the heart of it is what must have been the best-kept secret in New-Who history.

Jenna-Louise Coleman isn’t just the new companion. She’s a Dalek. At least in this, because we know that the new companion will be called Clara Oswin, so clearly this is a family business; since Steven Moffat has also revealed that Clara will be a computer whizz. So how exactly these two narratives will tie into each other… who knows. Perhaps Clara is Oswin, from an earlier point in her timeline (though that would be a lot like River, and there’s only so much depressing I-already-know-how-you-die stuff I can take), or perhaps the Doctor will try to save her; and God knows what kind of trouble the universe might end up in if he tries.

Oswin is, in one word, fantastic. She’s placed at the very end of the Intensive Care Unit because she needs protection as well as guarding. She is a fully converted Dalek, physically, but her mind and her heart aren’t having any of it. By hanging on to soufflés and the memories of her human self, by remembering her mother’s birthday and the things she used to love—George Bizet’s Carmen, for instance (ah, a girl after my own heart)—she keeps the Daleks out of her head. She’s not only a proper genius, outsmarting even the Doctor in being able to hack into the Pathway, the telepathic connection that binds all Daleks together, similar to the Ood’s hive mind, she’s strong. She’s amazing and she teases the Doctor about his chin, and I am so looking forward to meeting her, or Clara, properly, at Christmas.

Also, giving us a girl lounging about, sitting in front of the computer all day? Well played, Moffat. Well played.

The only bit that was not so hot: “Actually, she was called Nina. I was going through a phase.” Eh, what was the phase? Being in love with a girl or calling her Rory, like she’s now calling Rory, Nina as a ‘personal thing’? And how does that even make sense? I really want her to mean the calling-her-crush-by-another-name part, because the Internet is getting all up in arms again.

But, anyway, I’m getting this all mixed up again, aren’t I?

So, here’s the deal: the Daleks have a bit of a problem. They’ve got an asylum the size of a planet, protected by a force field, on which aaall the crazy, wacky, insane, and generally undesirable Daleks are more or less lying or, rather, standing in a coma. So far, so shitty. Now that Oswin’s spaceship, the Alaska, has somehow managed to hit the damn thing, the Daleks above know one thing: what can get in, can get out. Meaning that there just might be a few million pissed off Daleks waiting to pounce on their mothership and then, the rest of the universe. Of course.

Now, what the Daleks in Parliament—they even have a Prime Minister, how essentially British is that, I ask you?—need to do, is lower the force field, get in there, and destroy all the mostly dormant Daleks before they realise what’s what.

Except—they’re too scared. They’re too scared to go down there and do the job themselves, so… when you’re a Dalek, and you’re scared right down to your little metal dustbin socks, who you gonna call?

They’re forcing the Doctor to do their dirty work for them. The Predator of the Daleks isn’t some weird new Dalek rank that Moffat pulled out of his hat; it’s the Daleks’ name for the Doctor, because that’s what he does. He chases them through the universe, hunts them down to the brink of extinction, time and time again.

Rory: “Who killed all the Daleks?”
Doctor: “Who do you think?”

The Doctor wanted to stop, wanted to lie low, wanted to convince the universe that he was dead. But then there’s a mother, and a cry for help. Not many people can send the Doctor messages, and he’s never walked away from a mystery like that; even knowing full well that it might lead him into a trap. Skaro, the original planet, devastated by the Last Great Time War, abandoned when the main battlefield became Gallifrey, before the Doctor imprisoned them all in a Time Lock, ending the war and making it wage on for all eternity at the same time. All that’s left of Skaro is ashes, now, the Daleks have never returned to rebuild it, have chosen a ship as their seat of Parliament.

And although, of course, the Doctor has a plan, he is terrified. He’s disgusted, too. Daleks, a concept of beauty?

Doctor: “I thought you’d run out of ways to make me sick, but hello again. […] You think hatred is beautiful?”
Dalek: “Perhaps that is why we have never been able to kill you?”

But more than anything, he is terrified of what he will find down there—not just danger, but reminders. He already knows what Oswin tells him: the Daleks grew strong in fear of him, in their hatred of him; the more ferociously he hunted them, the more cunning and hateful, the more advanced they became. In ICU, the Intensive Care Unit, there are those Daleks that have sustained the most damage and survived, barely. Him.

They have hardly enough power to wake up from their catatonic state for anything else, but the Doctor’s presence is so alarming to them that they regain consciousness—and attack. The entire episode means one thing, the Doctor’s worst nightmare coming back to haunt him. And this time, he’s stood against a door that won’t open, with no weapons worth a damn to defend himself, and with enough fire power aimed at his hearts that it will surely kill him properly, this time.

The Doctor is screaming for help, more scared and horrified than we’ve ever seen him.

The entire time, he is barely holding it together, you can hear it in his voice as he first addresses the Dalek Parliament. It’s cracking with disgust and hatred and fury, but also fear; fear for himself and for his friends. His Ponds, whom he might not be able to save this time, whose marriage he might not be able to save, and that might be what frightens him most of all.

Rory: “What is he doing?”
Amy: “He’s chosen the most defendable area in the room, he’s counted all the Daleks, counted all the exits. And now he’s calculating the exact distance we’re standing apart and starting to worry. Oh, and look at him frowning now. Something’s wrong with Amy and Rory, and who’s gonna fix it? And… he straightens his bow tie.”

So far, so brilliant. Except now Oswin has made the entire Dalek race forget about the Doctor. MASTER DELETE and whoops! Gone. All memory of him. Which might come in handy at a later or earlier date, whichever way you look at it, but it throws the whole Whovian equilibrium off its axis, just a bit. As it should, the series opener poses our favourite question: how in Dickens is the Doctor going to fix this one? Looking forward to it. Because there is the question again, THE QUESTION, and one day they might just stop asking, Doctor, if you’re not careful. The Field of Trenzalore, the Fall of the Eleventh, is waiting.

Oswin: “Is there a word for ‘total screaming genius,’ that sounds modest and a tiny bit sexy?”
Doctor: “Doctor. You call me the Doctor.”
Oswin: “I see what you did there.”

There is some very, very excellent dialogue in this episode, and for a series opener it was well paced, full of surprises, but not too full. It focused nicely on the reveal of Jenna, who she is and what she might come to mean; with the Dalek threat buzzing menacingly in the background, which it what Doctor Who does best sometimes. It takes the Alien of the Week, and then uses it to throw the characters into situations that let them fly, that let them be magnificent.

With the Doctor being thrown into a pit resembling his very own version of Hell, that leaves Amy and Rory and their recently imploded marriage. In Pond Life #5, month of August, we saw Rory storming out of the house, Amy running after him, crying out for him to stay.

Out. of. bloody. nowhere.

There is a lot of controversy on the Internet right now, ranging from careful evaluation to full-on raging, as ever. And, as ever, I’m going to point out that there is too much backstory missing for us to figure out what’s actually going on inside their minds, but while I’ve been ok with letting that point stand in the past, I can’t ignore it anymore now.

What exactly happened to Amy on Demons Run has never been talked about, the only thing she ever said about it was to Madame Kovarian in The Wedding of River Song, where she let the mask slip and showed her grief at knowing that her daughter is safe and sound, but never having her baby back again; never seeing her grow up, never having a normal family. So of course she and Rory would try to have another baby, but they must have since found out that whatever experiments they performed on Amy on Demons Run have left her infertile.

And that’s where things go all screwy and possibly plot-holy.

Amy has been to Hell. They took her, they experimented on her, they took her child away from her just when she thought she had Melody back, and they took the ability to ever have another child with you away from her, too. And she never said a word; at least, we never heard or saw her discuss it with Rory, or with the Doctor; except for when she called the Doctor in the TARDIS that one time while he was trying to find Melody/River and he was too scared to pick up. She moved on pretty damn quickly, and the only explanation I have for that is that she is very good at repression; and that this violent reaction to the circumstances of not having a baby with Rory is the result of all of that bottled up inside her, blowing up sky-high.

And then there’s Rory. One part of me is yelling this: Rory, I dearly love you, but one more second of this ‘I love you more than you love me’ schtick and I am going to kick you up the arse, I mean it. How many more times is Amy going to have to prove herself? You stood outside that box for 2,000 years and there is no way that that is not a big deal, but you both made choices like that. How many more times will she have to defend that, although she is not as openly affectionate as you, Rory, her love isn’t any less deep and true? This isn’t just arithmatic.

She isn’t scared of letting Rory in anymore the way she used to be at the beginning of their relationship or during the first half of Series 5; and she’s done her best to show him and he still doesn’t believe her.

Now, why is that?

It’s because he’s insecure, and that’s what the other part of me is understanding completely. He’s human, he’s an idiot (now, don’t be like that, practically everyone is), and he has been worshipping this girl from the moment he met her. There must be moments when he still cannot believe that she went for him, that she loves him more than the other time-travelling, dashing hero she grew up with and that she made Rory dress up as. It’s stupid, but it’s there, and he should have got over it by now, but… hearing that they won’t have kids of their own probably triggered the same insecurities within him that it did within Amy, and then everything went to hell in a handbasket. And, just like Amy, just this once, he reacts by pushing her away and being an arse about it.

The only explanation that I can see would be that Amy shut down. The minute she realised it was her, she shut down. That would also explain the speed of this development. What if they found out that Amy was infertile and she decided that she would prove her love by letting Rory go. Because, as many people are rightly asking: why did it have to come to this? Why didn’t they have a rational discussion about this, why didn’t they sit down and talk about it, why didn’t Amy explain that she would be ok with dissolving the marriage if Rory wanted to find someone he could have kids with? Why didn’t the subject of adoption come up at all? WHY? Why didn’t Rory just tell Amy that he’d stay with her no matter what in the first place?

The only possible reason is that Amy avoided these discussions, that she blew Rory off every time he tried, that she dug up his old sense of inadequacy and made him believe that she didn’t love him anymore by kicking him out of the house, out of their marriage. They both want kids so badly, and she can’t have them, so she removes herself from the equation; probably helped along by the fact that Rory is too stupidly in love with her to even attempt staying against her will. There have been people calling Amy a bitch after that first clip was released, the one in which she signs the divorce papers. One: no woman requesting a divorce is a bitch. Full stop. Two: look at her. She is so clearly unhappy with this decision, is so clearly using the masks that she used to wear before Amy’s Choice, and you can hear it in the way she tries to call Rory back in after signing the papers. She doesn’t want this, she’s not purposely ruining his life.

I don’t think she is only measuring her worth to Rory by her ability to have kids, not at all; I don’t think that this is patriarchal bullshit in the vein of ‘I was tortured and experimented on and I still only care about what my husband wants.’ They both want kids, it’s an essential part of their relationship, always has been since Amy has always known Rory wants kids and she’s always been in love with that part of him; and I think that she’s trying to cut herself and Rory loose from something that she fears their relationship won’t survive, that she fears will break them apart down the line, slowly but surely. They’ve already lost a kid, 80% of marriages don’t make it through that, and it’s possible that it’s the trauma she sustained at Demons Run that makes her incapable of approaching this situation any other way. Perhaps she doesn’t want to adopt because she can’t stand the thought of their child not being biologically their own after already having one that was taken away from them. Thing is: would it have been the same for the two of them if Rory were sterile? (I think he would have offered to let her go, too, yes; and it probably would have been just as screwy a situation as this one.) There are so many things that we don’t know yet that I will have to focus on what I can criticise for certain:

Divorce? That quickly? After a month? OK, no, even for a Scottish gal, that is too quick. That was overdramatic, Mr Moffat, and should have been handled differently. I know express divorces without lawyers are a thing nowadays, but no.

This entire marriage drama was so out of left field, so utterly rushed… if we’d seen their relationship fall apart, slowly, over the course of Pond Life, maybe that would have been more… just more understandable. In isolation, Amy and Rory’s reactions are justified and human and easy to relate to, but in the bigger picture, and plot-wise… bit not good. Not like this, not without knowing anything that went on inside that house. We want backstory, Steven!

Oh, bollocks. I’ve just realised something. See the clothes that Amy and Rory are wearing at the end of this episode? They’re the same clothes that they’re wearing in Pond Life #5. Aww shit. Moffat, what have you done?

All of that said and be that as it may: I love this show. Properly love it until I’m bonkers, and I have enjoyed this very, very much. Thanks for coming back to me, show.

Next: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.

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4 thoughts on “Oswin, We Have a Problem—Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks.

  1. Good thoughtful stuff, as always.

    To be honest, I’m okay with the hole-y nature of Rory and Amy’s relationship. We got just enough filled in here (Amy can’t have babies because of Demon’s Run etc) to make it plausible if a little unlikely. But then their relationship is a bit unusual anyway, isn’t it? Not many of us have had someone wait for us for 2,000 years, after all. Or have a baby who’s older than we are …

    Oh Moff, and your penchant for word-play. Souffle? Eggs. Stir. Minate. It wasn’t as jaw-droppingly brilliant as his old/new/borrowed/blue riff, but it had me laughing, anyway.

    Wasn’t J-LC fantastic here? She’s going to be great. Her self-realisation moment was carried off beautifully, and even though I had worked it out a couple of minutes before I still had a lump in my throat.

    Was it just me or were there about a jazillion references to The A-Team here? The Daleks ‘hire’ the Doctor and his team to solve a problem where no one else can help. The A-Team was, of course, led by John (Hannibal) Smith, the Doctor’s preferred alias. And there’s the whole breaking-into-an-asylum-to-get-Murdoch-out thing. At least the Doc didn’t light up a cigar and say that he loves it when a plan comes together …

    http://slouchingtowardsthatcham.com/2012/09/02/doctor-who-season-7-episode-1-review-asylum-of-the-daleks/

    Like

    1. Thanks 🙂

      Sure, their relationship is anything but conventional, but especially after the first four episodes of Pond Life reinforcing that they’re fine so strongly, it just seems too sudden. I was sure that the blow-up would come, one day, but to have it turn up and then resolved within 45 minutes is a little too dense, too tight. Which is why I think that Pond Life #5 isn’t just a prequel, but possibly a look at the future, in which Moffat will take more time to explain; which would reconcile me with the bits and pieces we’ve got so far. It’s just that all we’ve ever got on this is bits and pieces, and it’s starting to get really frustrating, because there is so much emotional payoff just lying there, waiting…

      The soufflé thing is hilarious, no doubt about it.
      And, yes, JLC is pretty much perfect. For the role, and her character for the Doctor. To see a Dalek telling the Doctor to run; that gave me chills. (I also had a brief moment of teary eyes for Nicholas Briggs, who voiced that bit heartbreakingly.)

      Re: A-Team… I don’t know. I mean, he’s always the only one who can help; except, you’re right, this time he’s properly hired. Well, pressganged, but who’s counting. Poor Murdoch, though, he was my favourite. I guess Oswin is Murdoch in this scenario…

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  2. I don’t know how much I buy that #5 happens later, though it would make me much happier about all the issues as you put them above – I was none too pleased about the speed with which all that happened, too. I’d love if it were (not that I want them to be miserable, but because it would be better storytelling), but I’m not sure I trust Moffat that much.

    Otherwise, I totally agree with everything in this post.

    I wasn’t expecting JLC in the least, and I have to say that, not being great at names and not having paid TOO too much attention to the media (something about a toddler taking up brain space), I didn’t realize that it was HER, or wonder why the situation was what it was (though I had the “twist” figured out pretty much immediately – possibly aided by the fact that I didn’t realize it was her, so I wasn’t going, “how will she get through this episode?). I loved that bit, and I loved her, and – keeping in mind that I didn’t realize it was JLC – I still spent the episode going, gah, she’d be a good companion.

    All of which only reminds me that I’ve never written my post on why I’m super uncomfortable with Amy as a companion (not as a character. just as a companion).

    (also, not sure if I ever told you the connection; I’m notmissmarple on tumblr, and have commented on here a handful of times, though I never remember if I used my fannish name or just an initial.)

    Like

    1. Hello! Sorry for only getting around to replying now–to be quite honest, I don’t remember whether you told me you’re notmissmarple before, I think you’ve only used your initial so far; but in any case, welcome again and, YAY! So glad you like it here 🙂

      And, no, you haven’t written that post about not being comfortable with Amy as a companion, at least not here–please do, I’m curious as to where you’re going with this!

      Like

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