Asylum of the Daleks

A dalek's a dalek, for 'a that:

The moral vaccuum at the heart of Steven Moffat's Doctor Who

There's no getting around it: Steven Moffat just doesn't know how to tell a story any more. As evidence, we have in hand not only two full series of Doctor Who, but the confused mediocrity that was Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and now, "Asylum of the Daleks", the Who series-opener for 2012/13. (Full-disclosure: I have not seen a single episode of Sherlock. Nor will I.)

It may be that my reaction is intensified for having on the same day watched the latest episode of Vince Gilligan's singular creation, Breaking Bad. The eighth episode of that program's final season was about as long as Doctor Who and (atypically) featured its small cast of characters only talking with one another. No shouting, no fighting, no robots and nothing blowing up. Yet it was a riveting "hour" of television, without a plot hole or inconsistent bit of characterization in sight.

Moffat's tale, by contrast, features little dialogue but lots of exposition and Dramatic Posing. There are portentous threats, the return of a favourite villain, some fighting and many explosions and even the apparent dissolution of Amy and Rory's marriage.

Throw in a mysterious genius in a red miniskirt who can, apparently, fend off a whole planet-ful of daleks while making souffles in her crashed spaceship and one can only ask: What could possibly go wrong?


Smoke rises over a ruined city. A voice, with a rhythm that reminds one of a female William Shatner, intones,

"First, there were the daleks.
And then, there was a man, who fought them.
And then, in time, he died.
There are a few, of course,
who believe, this man,
somehow, survived,
and that one day,
he will return.
For both our sakes,
dearest Hannah,
we must hope,
these stories, are true."

Dear lord — and Gentle Readers — please forgive me.)

The Doctor as mythical demi-god has been done to death, but Moffat seems no more able to shake the idea than was his predecessor. In any case, the speaker turns out to be a woman cloaked and hooded and — for no apparent reason — sporting a dominatrix''s stiletto heels in a war zone.

The Doctor — no surprise — arrives to interrupt her expository monologue. "I got your message," he says, "Not many people can do that."

Too slowly, the Doctor realizes she is in fact a dalek in disguise. (The big clue is when the eye-stock pushes out of her forehead.) But (spoiler alert!) never fear! The Doctor isn't dead! He is, as a spinning dalek ship hovering outside the ruined edifice screams in triumph, only "acquired".

Cut to: a fashion shoot. Back on Earth, Amy has put her talents to use — as a fashion model, posing with the knuckles of one hand (most originally) sporting the word love, the other, hate. (Whether this career choice is meant by Moffat to be a comment on Amy or should be taken as further evidence of Moffat's own misogynistic tendencies is a question I leave for the reader to ponder.)

Also, she and Rory are putting the finishing touches on their divorce. This ought to produce in the viewer some kind of emotional reaction, but since we have no context with which to judge the situation, and since we never really got to really know either of them anyway, we can only yawn and idly wonder how Moffat will play the inevitable resolution.

Anyway, Amy is "acquired" by her assistant and Rory by a bus driver and the next thing we know, they are both in a roundish white room on a spaceship. Coming to, and looking up at a pouting Amy, Rory wonders, "So, how much trouble are we in?"


Enter the Doctor, striding like a bow-tie-clad Darth Vader and apparently gifted with the ability to hear through thick metal doors. "How much trouble, Mr. Pond?" He is escorted by a pair of daleks. "Out of 10?" Pause. Smirk. Raise the eyebrows. "Eleven."

(Geddit? Huh? Do ya geddit? Matt Smith is the eleventh Doctor! And he says, "eleven"! O! that clever Steven Moffat, handing off off winks and nudges for the fans like so many bits of penny candy.)

Doctor and companions are taken to the "Parliament of the daleks", where the pepper-pots inform them that Doctor that he must "save us". Turns out the daleks have an asylum planet holding their own victims of post-traumatic stress disorder, which — for reasons already lost to my fevered brain — they need to destroy.

But there's an "impenetrable" force-field around said planet and the daleks can't get through it.

Well actually, they can. But only through a hole small enough for a person to get through.

Except when an entire starship can manage to penetrate the impenetrable and crash-land on the planet below.

But this is a Steven Moffat "story", so things like internal logic matter no more than a character's character.

Speaking of the space ship able to breach the impenetrable force field ...

Excuse me. I feel a song coming on ...

To breach, the impenetrable field
to crash, on the unreachable planet —

Right. Never mind. Always moving on ...

... it seems there's a survivor, the aforementioned genius in the miniskirt (but not stilettos). She not only bakes souffles, she likes to broadcast Bizet's Carmen into the aether. And since the daleks don't have fingers, they can't change the channel on their radios. After a year of Toreador interrupting their Parliamentary debates, they're getting understandably tetchy.

Thus do they cross time and space to kidnap the Doctor, a feat they manage with remarkable ease, considering how unlucky they have been when they've tried to kill our eternally un-armed hero.

Anyway, while the daleks "invite" the Doctor and company to pay a visit to the asylum planet and, er, shut off the force field or something, the Doctor himself ominously wonders where the mystery woman is getting her eggs and milk, since in the future there's no such thing as powdered milk or frozen eggs.

And so, fully 14 minutes into the 48 minute story, the adventure (such as it is) begins.

And begins by making no sense at all. Amy wakes up in the snow with a black man hovering over her, asking concerned questions. Either she's been addled by exposure to much make-up and hair products or she's suddenly become a racist, for she leaps to her feet, calls for Rory and the Doctor and then runs off in a random direction.

Because Amy is awesome like that, I guess.

Or maybe she is that awesome, since her random run seems to take her right to the Doctor, who has made contact with the genius in miniskirt.

To make a long story short, much running and shouting and occasional pushing ensues. The black guy turns out to be (a) dead and (b) a dalek in disguise. The genius in the miniskirt, Oswin, opens doors at last minutes. Amy and Rory are reunited and reconcile their marriage as they face imminent death, using that situation to, y'know, actually talk to one another for once. (I suppose marriage counsellors should all have a few daleks on hand to put the fear of death into their clients. Or maybe just brandish high-powered handguns during couples' therapy. I digress.)

Rory says he loves her more than she does, she says how dare you, I gave you up! It seems Amy decided to end the marriage because Rory wanted kids and she couldn't have any, since whatever it was that was done to her at Demon's Run left her barren (see Trial of the Show-Runners). Hugs and kisses, and their marriage is as rock-solid as it ever was. Hooray!

To be fair, that could have been a reasonably strong emotional story-line. But the divorce came out of nowhere and was resolved in a puff of emoting. It was not a story or even a part of a story, but a concept, an idea for a story.

Similarly, what was meant to be the episode's primary emotional climax, Oswin's self-sacrifice, was just nonsensical — and so, without emotional power.

Lessons in exobiology: A dalek's a dalek for a' that

Nonsensical? you ask? Well yes (spoiler alert!). It turns out the Doctor was right. There is no powdered milk and there are no frozen eggs in the future and so Oswin wasn't a survivor after all. She'd been dalekified — which is kind of like being turned into a Cyberman, only with nanobots doing the work in silence instead of gruesome buzz-saws amid blood and screaming.

Who chained the dalek? Noah, Noah!
Who chained the dalek? And why did they bother?

Nonsensical, and a little nauseating. The only scary thing about this season's inaugural episode is the fundamental racism at the heart of its climax. Although Oswin turns out to be a dalek, she not only does not kill the Doctor when she has the chance, she saves him. "I am Oswin Oswald. I fought the daleks and I ... am ... human."

Not only does she save him, but she has has just as much of a chance of escape with him as she did when she (thought she) was human.

But I guess exobiology is destiny and so the only good dalek is a dead dalek, no matter what they actually do. Or maybe Moffat (qu'elle surprise!) just didn't think things through, so determined was he to send jerk from the viewer a few tears for the fate yet another one-off companion's heroic, self-sacrificing doom.

Next week's Concept: Dinosaurs on a spaceship! It is to weep ...

Spread the word!

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Too Predictable - Again

I found it too predictable.

Everyone is harping on the "no eggs or milk" for the souffles. My problem with it is that the moment that the Doctor asked that, I knew she was a Dalek. So 12 minutes into the show, it could only have one possible ending.

I was bored and the only reason I continued to watch was to see how right I was. (And out of some obligation; since I've been a fan of the show for over 30 years.)

I admit, I never saw the "total Dalek conversion" coming, but that's because I give Moffat too much credit: I didn't expect something so stupid.

Also, no space whales

Once again, the only thing that got me through the clusterfuck of an episode was your inevitably scathing review.

There were bits I liked. Oswin was cool. The thing with the eggs and milk was cool. Um, I like Toreador.

But enough with the Castration of the Daleks! I am sick of Daleks that are half-human and Daleks that have feelings deep down and humans that are Daleks and Daleks that are human. And Daleks that act like Cybermen. And Daleks that disguise themselves as an inferior species. And Daleks that do stuff other than EXTERMINATE. They are inherently one-note villains. It's a cool one-note and I happen to love it, but only used sparingly. I wanted to shout: "DA-LEKS DO NOT ASK THE DOC-TOR FOR HELP!" at the screen.

Why were Rory and Amy even in this episode? There was no point to them. Also, divorcing for the stupidest of stupid reasons. I liked them at first but now I think they deserve each other.

Anyway, I think there was a story in there somewhere but it lost me when Stiletto Heels popped an eye-stalk out of her forehead because that would never happen.

Re: Also, no space whales

I like Toreador too. It's one of the few operas I do like. But I still maintain it is illogical that they can't have preserved milk and eggs in the Future.

Otherwise, yeah. About the "castration of the daleks" (Sabo for the win!), I agree entirely. If they're going to be just another monster, they might as well give up their ridiculous outfits entirely.

Why were Rory and Amy in the episode? Contractual obligations, obviously. Do you think Oswin will wear stilettos when she comes back?

would have made a nice sidekick

I enjoyed the episode actually, although not without rolling my eyes at much of the dumb. But I think it's mostly because I liked Oswin.

Having her become the new Dr Who companion as a dalek who still retains her human self would have been almost as awesome as if they had allowed the old Amy who had waited back into the Tardis instead of "nothing troubles me lalala" Amy.

I liked Oswin, too ...

... or rather, I thought Coleman showed signs of having a lot of charisma and, maybe, of being a good actor. Time will tell.

You're right though. A dalek companion would have been an awesome and courageous move (even if I don't like the whole Cylon shtick this new flesh-job aspect brings to the daleks).

Totally Agree!

I loved this review! I loved the way you wrote it. I laughed my head off. I totally agree with your points.

“After a year of Toreador interrupting their Parliamentary debates, they're getting understandably tetchy.”


“since in the future there's no such thing as powdered milk or frozen eggs.”

Snorfle! :D

“And so, fully 14 minutes into the 48 minute story, the adventure (such as it is) begins.”

Yeah, I remember looking at the clock at about that point, wondering when the story was going to start.

(I suppose marriage counsellors should all have a few daleks on hand to put the fear of death into their clients. Or maybe just brandish high-powered handguns during couples' therapy. I digress.)


I love your review, thank you.

While I do think that this episode was beautifully shot, with lots of great visuals, and great story ideas, I agree that I was disappointed in how many plotholes it had, how much it simply didn't make sense.

So I decided to re-edit it myself. Try to see if I could fill the plotholes and make it make sense, without substantially altering the story. So, if you'd like to see a version of the story that makes more sense, or how it could have been with a few more story edits before filming, read:

Asylum of the Daleks REVISED

Of course, everything belongs to the BBC and Steven Moffat. But if they're going to leave that many plot holes, they surely must expect that someone will try to plug them.

Great review! Thank you!

"Convocation" - thank you!

I won't pretend I ready your entire script (I'm playing at Who critic while laying out a 40-page magazine, which is a paying gig), but just reaching your "Convocation" rather than "Parliament" and the line, "They only convene like this in the most dire of circumstances" makes me think the BBC ought to hire you. That makes so much more sense!

That said, with Sabotabby (below), I still think the Cylon/Cyberman flesh-job thing cheapens the daleks and makes them just another villain, instead of the weird and frankly unique monsters they were.

(Glad you enjoyed the review!)

Meh with Illogic and Body Horror

I was expecting this episode to be okay--good but not great, since it involved Daleks. I've never really gotten the appeal of Daleks. Even the writers don't seem to know what to do with them except wipe them out and bring them all back again. I liked it better when the Daleks, like the Cybermen, were a constant enemy that the Doctor could not escape. I could deal with that. The constant yo-yoing back and forth, I can't.

But instead most of the episode was "meh" or stupid. I couldn't figure out why the Daleks didn't use their "punch holes in the impenetrable shield" technique over and over and seed the planet with bombs. (It wouldn't take much; it only takes a few pounds of plutonium to create a portable atomic bomb, after all. And I presume that Dalek tech is far in advance of Terran tech when it comes to world-destroying.)

As for the Doctor's insistence that Oswin couldn't POSSIBLY have milk or eggs threw me, because I could see a space traveler having powdered milk and eggs on board. Powdered milk has been around, in some version, since the time of Kublai Khan (and the modern version since 1832), while powdered eggs have existed since at least 1912. They aren't as tasty as the fresh versions, of course, but they exist. I know that where I live, food pantries often give them out to poor families with children. Moffat didn't even acknowledge them as a possibility...which indicated to me that he hadn't bothered to think outside the upper-middle-class mindset.

And then...Amy and Rory. Who, randomly, were on the brink of divorce. Why? Because Amy is despondent that she can't have children.

1) ...did Moffat suddenly forget that River Song exists? You know--Amy's DAUGHTER?

2) And why can't Amy adopt?

3) Why can't the Ponds have a child through a surrogate?

4) Why can't they have fertility treatments?

5) Why can't they ask their best friend, WHO HAS A TIME MACHINE to take them to the best fertility clinic for humans in all of time and space?

6) Why is Amy completely defining herself by whether or not she can bear children?

7) Why is she devaluing the guy who protected her for two thousand years?

8) Why is this idiocy a PROBLEM?

Oh, and Moffat? An "I-love-you-more-no-I-love-YOU-more" argument does not settle marital issues!

But this incredibly illogical episode turned awful for me with the horrible twist about Oswin Oswald at the end. It doesn't help that people being converted into machines fills me with visceral horror. And older Amy becoming a human-shaped Dalek and not caring was as bad as Oswin having to hallucinate that she still had a human body in order to keep from going insane. Body Horror is something that I go out of my way to avoid, and I did not like it here.

I also hated Amy transforming into a human-shaped Dalek and the Doctor being all "well, it's inevitable." I know damned well that the Doctors of Classic Who would have said, "Fuck this, I have a time machine and all of space and time at my disposal! And I WILL save my friends!" And they would have. Even if it meant their own lives.

And the ending with the Daleks asking, "Doctor who?" was a cop-out. No, they didn't know who he was...but just because the Daleks have amnesia doesn't mean that the rest of the universe does! The Doctor's activities are recorded everywhere in the universe...and all they have to do is look.

Not to mention, but they're still Daleks! He's right in front of them with a machine that they don't recognize. Logically, they should capture this unknown person AND secure his machine and then proceed to take both apart until they have the answers that they want. The only way that the ending works is if the Daleks not only forget who the Doctor is, but who they are as well.

The story made no sense if you thought about it for two seconds. At the end, I felt that Moffat had opted for CGI and spectacle rather than story. I felt cheated.

I'm speechless. Almost

Apparently we're very much on the same page about this episode, although I personally don't have any object to Body Horror per se. That visceral terror is what makes the cybermen so effective, don't you think?

But I would add to your list the convenient placement of the Tardis at the end of the episode. Wouldn't the daleks have had that AWESOME TIME MACHINE in a lab for their boffins to have a go at?

Ah well ...

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