Sunday, 2 September 2012

Doctor Who Series 7 Opener

So, I finally got around to seeing "Asylum of the Daleks" earlier today... and was surprisingly underwhelmed. Didn't really hold up for me. Admittedly, that's after an hour, we'll see how it sits next week. Still, after looking out there at a number of other reviews (some of them saying it was an amazing opener, some less so), I think I've nailed down one part of the problem - I wasn't spoiled in advance to the same extent as others were. Not that they necessarily spoiled themselves intentionally, but I'm not following the media as close as some.

I'll explain. Except, obviously, *SPOILERS* ahead - mostly for this opener episode, but ALSO for casting and other things upcoming in Series 7.

No, really. You should stop reading if you don't want to know more about what happened in the premiere episode, and what's been published out on the web about actors for the rest of the season.

Got that?

Okay, fine then, keep reading.

In fact, I welcome your rebuttal opinions, so feel free to debate me if you loved the episode. As it is, I have two Large Issues, two Missed Opportunities, and two Plot Holes.

To start, here's the Two Large Issues:
1) I didn't know Jenna-Louise Coleman (who played Oswin) was scheduled to be the new companion later in the year.

As such, I was pretty suspect of Oswin's character after the reveal that the rest of the crew turned out to be Dalek-constructs. Later, when the Doctor stated that he had never been able to hack into the Dalek system, while she could, proved to be another tipping point. And when the Doctor had to go out and find her, I was pretty much convinced she was a Dalek of some sort. So... no real surprise. Still eerie, mind, but I wasn't that invested.

For those who knew she'd be a later companion, that was probably something of a shocker. (They were probably also paying more attention to her dialogue and stuff.) Thing is, that sort of shock only works once, I don't know that it would hold up on repeat viewings - once you suspect her, there's no going back. Also, kind of a callback to "The Next Doctor", look at what you've become and all...

2) I never felt the characters were in danger.

I know, that sentence looks really off when you're talking about insane Daleks, but hear me out. First, some of that is Series 6. After killing off The Doctor in one premiere, you can hardly expect to get away with it twice. So while I figured he could be altered in some way, he sort of gets a free pass on death (which bleeds a bit out of the court scene to start). So they should have played up something else.

Now, with the Ponds, they had that weird divorce subplot going. That was such a HUGE loose end that I figured there was NO way either of them would die without the other one being there for some dramatic speech/reveal or something. Then they ended up separated for a large portion of the episode. Almost cliche. Perhaps the frustration drained some of the tension there too, I don't know.

Again, not having read anything about when the actors might be going, 'Pond Life' led me to believe we were heading for a season of more of the same, maybe with a marital issues twist. Did others genuinely fear for Rory's life when the Daleks were coming to life? I grant I was wondering how he would get out of it, but somehow, the fact that he would wasn't really in doubt. Amy's transformation had me somewhat more invested, but I don't think they played that card they way they should have.

Which brings me to the Two Missed Opportunities:
1) The Divorce

When Amy was turning, this should have come up. The line about "having spoken about this four times" was appropriately creepy... it needed a follow-up. Something where he tells her to hold on to love, or to focus on a beauty that isn't hate, or... something to have her confront kicking Rory out. For that matter, if she was trying to force him to move on, wouldn't she give herself up more to this effect? Wouldn't it have a stronger power over her than we saw?

It also didn't come up when Oswin was doing her little flirting thing with Rory. Something as simple as "Don't talk that way, I don't need more relationship issues at the moment" might have covered it. But if there was a line like that, I missed it.

Then when the divorce DID come up, it felt forced. Rory offering up his bracelet... naturally, the reason for this is because she's been turning for a good ten to fifteen minutes. They'll have to start from scratch with Rory; and they may only need about ten minutes until The Doctor's back. Possibly they can even swap the band back and forth a few times (like Teal'c did with his symbiote in that ep of Stargate SG-1). Except... no, apparently the reasoning is love? We're bringing this up NOW?

This episode seemed to be about The Doctor and the Daleks, with this element, frankly, messing up the flow in all the wrong places. I'm also not sure to what degree I buy the divorce issue either, but others have spoken about that elsewhere.

2) The Nanogenes

Another missed opportunity - Amy's turning only really felt creepy when I mentioned above, and when she was seeing the humans. (Which, by the way, how did she not at least wonder if they weren't those human form daleks? She's smarter than that.)

But the real missed opportunity was with The Doctor. We saw absolutely no effects from him giving his bracelet up to Amy. Yeah, him being fenced in by those Daleks was creepy, but what might have been creepier might have been him firing off an 'Exterminate' or something instead of 'Open the Door!'. Plus if he's going to be this okay anyway, why didn't he give the bracelet to Amy EARLIER? Like, say, when he wants her to guard a door that we KNOW she's going to open if he turns his back too long.

It's almost a plothole, but the Two Plot Holes I have are much larger than that:
1) Why the Ponds?

They didn't do anything. They stumbled around in the madness and apparently reconciled a marriage issue that WASN'T an issue, unless you caught the last 'Pond Life' - basically, I can see how they could have been easily dropped from this episode. That's not a good sign.

The in-episode reason is even shakier. The DALEKS abduct them, so that the Doctor has companions? First, consider that he's done a bunch of things without a companion. Second, consider that Amy and Rory are divorced, so why did the Daleks take BOTH of them? Wouldn't one suffice (and cause more tension with regards to getting back before Rory turns in the papers or something)?

Finally, consider the feasibility of the Dalek plan. They have to get human-form Daleks to Earth - or get a Dalek to Earth to turn a couple humans. Then put said beings in a position where they can stealthily abduct the Ponds. (Since Daleks are all about stealth.) But moreover, they MISS the opportunity when Amy and Rory are in the SAME room? They have to get a Dalek bus driver to take out Rory? Inefficient!

MAYBE you can argue that having to focus on a companion will distract The Doctor and make him less likely to go after the Daleks. (So then why not get River Song?) Still, I'm reminded of the Batman Forever quote that comes up infrequently in Linkara's reviews... "It just raises too many questions."

2) The Alaska

How did that ship get past planet security? To paraphrase from the Doctor asking about souffle ingredients, why is no one else interested in the answer to that question? The Doctor himself BROUGHT IT UP - "if something got down there, you're worried something can get out". That's the whole reason the Daleks were willing to destroy the planet despite the reason that they created the asylum in the first place.

But then the episode was about shutting down the security grid. Doesn't doing that make it real hard to analyze what went wrong with it? I don't even recall anyone asking Oswin how the ship managed to crash. So, no, really, what was the ship (a ship of humans!) even doing out there?? Now, I MAY be able to grant a bit of a free pass here - this may be a causality thing, and a question we're not supposed to realize we should have been asking until it comes up again later in the series. Buuuut, I'm noticing it here. So I HOPE we get some closure.
"Did someone just knock four times?"

BONUS!  Two things that personally rubbed me the wrong way:

1) Dalek Reset Button

"Doctor Who?" I don't think I like it. For one thing, reset buttons are a tricky thing to navigate when you can travel back and forth in time. (I guess the whole 'networked' thing was referenced, is that more than spatial?) But more than that... this race killed ALL the Time Lords. Only one of each survived, but that one Dalek has ultimately spun out into the large group we saw here. And they're all still after the Doctor.

Except now they're not. If I were the vengeful type, and I know the Doctor can get like that ("They always survive, while I lose everything", plus he took out a whole bunch in this ep too), I'd be inclined to take advantage of that fact to use my tricks -  tricks that would be all new to them - to obliterate (or simply imprison) them once and for all... maybe not even acting on a conscious level. Except I don't think we'll see anything like that given what I've read about the more separate episodes this year. Again, maybe causality will wrap us back, but it certainly didn't with that "new breed" of coloured Daleks from before (Rory's line notwithstanding)... so I'm troubled.

2) Human Form Daleks

Euh. This... cheapens them somehow. Other beings (the Slitheen come to mind) have had to resort to this sort of trickery. Daleks don't need such parlour tricks, they're bloody DALEKS! Now, I can buy the ones on the surface of the planet (kind of) given the nanogenes. I can even extend my generosity to the one that abducted The Doctor in the beginning, because that's a clever new way to rope him in.

But come on. The ones that got at Amy and Rory? On Earth? Besides, going all fundamental, it's CYBERMEN that try to convert humans, not DALEKS! ("You got your cybermen in my daleks!" "You got your daleks in my cybermen!") It's even pretty much explicitly stated that the Dalek constructs used to be humans before the change! So why are they no longer trying to do the full conversion (like with Oswin)? For that matter, why are they no longer using flunkies (like those pigs in "Daleks in Manhattan")? Not that I'm saying the Daleks were better in that episode, but human daleks is just... euhhh.

Now, there was a bunch of good here too, don't get me wrong. The "I forgot I died" scene (yikes), the gradual activation of the crippled Daleks with Rory, the character reactions to the (for me non-shocking) identity of Oswin and her flashbacks - it wasn't a BAD episode. But it felt like there was the potential for so much more.

With regards the rest of the series, I also point out that while the new companion is supposedly "Clara Oswin", I don't think the name "Clara" was ever referenced in this episode. (Though of course it could be her - there's relatives and parallel worlds and free floating consciousnesses out there.)

But this brings me back to my main starting point: I was aware there'd be a new companion (just like I'm aware that Matt Smith has said this may be his last season). But I wasn't aware of who it was, or what she looked like. Did you have to know that fact to enjoy this episode? Certainly I think it added something that I found lacking. Plus one might have paid more attention to the actress than I did.

Here's hoping the series improves. I'm also back to teaching mathematics in a couple days, so don't expect writeups of this calibre in the future. ^_^; Thanks for reading!

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