DVD Extras for this story on the 15-episode box sets include:
Several things are of note for the 2012-2013 season. Visually, it's much more of a treat this year than practically any of the previous 32 years. I don't know how rough this was on their budget, or if all the money that Doctor Who is making finally started to go back into production, but it's great to see Moffat and company make an effort to really vary the settings for the stories. Plus, we note that they gave us not just 15 episodes, but 15 separate stories. I had strongly favoured 2-part stories over single episode stories during the past 6 seasons, but the writers seem to have figured out a few new tricks on how to use the single episode format more effectively. Only Steven Moffat's own scripts were doing this last season, but now the other writers have noticed, learned, and applied the same to their scripts as well. Sometimes a scene only needs one matte shot and two lines for the actors, before we move on across the universe for something else. Storylines are much more cinematic and pithy, sticking to their main points and cutting all padding. If the budget is finally there for it, it is appreciated. Nice!
Another point to note for the season in general is that, although still taking care of being "real" about companions' domestic lives, we aren't made to spend all that much time in familiar domestic settings with them. Typically a story will get all of its Earthbound household scenes over and done with in 2-3 minutes, and spend the rest of its screen time in an exotic past or future location and/or on a far flung planet. This is how the best of the classic series used to do it; now the New Millennium version has caught up. Excellent.
Last but not least is quite an impressive list of guest actors. David Warner. Ian McKellen. Ben Browder. Richard E. Grant. Dame Diana Rigg. Warwick Davis. And those are just the ones I personally recognize and can get excited about. I'm sure there are others that audience members will flip out over. This show is truly attracting top talent these days.
"Well... this is new!"The season proper begins with "Asylum of the Daleks", which I found refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable. So many of the stories featuring Daleks (and most other popular returning monsters) have followed cookie-cutter Earth-invasion plotlines over and over. Not this time. Daleks are finally seen to be concerned with a completely different planet for once. Chalk up an important and long-awaited point.
The standard Dalek is also often simply a one-note character, resulting in a species that typically displays little dimension. But they are much more interesting here, where previously unmentioned aspects of their society are not only on display but critical to the thrust of the story. They could have taken some of these aspects even further for my tastes. I'm loving it. Chalk up another point.
Something other stories often gloss over is a true study of what it is like to live completely inside one of these armoured travel machines. By contrast, "Asylum of the Daleks" indulges, with very interesting results. Chalk up another point for exploring the unconventional, which is the essence of good sci-fi. Excellent!
Journey to the Centre of a New PlanetThe title sequence is upgraded for this story, and seems to be slightly unique for each of the stories in the first part of the season. Improvements include far more variety of colour over the cloudy vortex shots, as well as a much easier-to-read font for the actor credits and story titles. The actual Doctor Who logo is also easier to read with the TARDIS-shaped DW bit removed, which I like. This story's particular logo is Dalek-themed, with tiny little bright polka-dots over a dark surface. Nice touch.
On with the mission. Locations continue to showcase a good range and give us a lot of the things we want. Skaro defies previous attempts at its destruction, as it should, and shows up here for a brief scene. Domestic Earth is here, but kept to a minimum. We're inside a Dalek saucer for some scenes of a very rare type. Then we're thrown onto a snowy, mountainous, barren terrain. I've no idea what location they went to in order to shoot this, but it sets a nice promising tone for the series in general to be doing this as an alien planet. I like it.
The characters continue to explore the setting, the mystery, and get deeper and deeper into the plot as they descend underground. Moffat falls back on a few of his favourite tension-building tricks, which work well this time around.
One thing that may not have been the greatest idea is in continuing the Daleks' imitation of the Cybermen in their conversion of other species. This imitation actually began as late as "Revelation of the Daleks" (story no. 143) in the Colin Baker era before being picked up again in "Bad Wolf" (story no. 170) for Christopher Eccleston's finale. This time around, Daleks are also pinching from the Borg by carrying out such conversions through nano-technology (first seen in "Star Trek 8: First Contact", but not explained until later that year in the Star Trek Voyager season 3 finale / season 4 opener: "Scorpion"). That technology is also now airborne, as was the case with the nano-genes in Moffat's first Doctor Who script "The Empty Child" (story no. 168). It all feels like a bit of overkill, but also off-character for Daleks. Unlike Cybermen, their driving concern has always been the purity of their own genetic make-up. Now it's as if they're really keen to include all mongrels and deformed creatures into their society. I'm having trouble with that.
There's also a line that grates against Dalek character, when the Doctor tells Amy to hang on to her fear, because fear is a Human trait and not a Dalek one. I disagree 100%. The fear of anything different is the most obvious base Dalek emotion of them all, which then gets channeled into hatred. This is laid out in the first Dalek story and then condensed into a very memorable sound-bite for the Peter Cushing feature film version. Moffat's decision to ignore this and do the opposite spoils one line in his new piece here, although all the talk of subtracting love and substituting hate works nicely... and on two different layers as well.
Perhaps what we really needed was more exploration of how the Daleks in charge of this place are different from ones we may have known before, allowing them scope for more differences in character. Still, I like the way this story hints at such things, and demonstrates variety in Dalek behaviour. I'll have more of that in future.
And something else that I really like is the abandonment of any suggestion that these are the last surviving Daleks in creation, which always seemed to be ridiculous claims, and counter-productive to the stories that you knew the BBC would produce and market. Here, both the Daleks in the saucers and the ones on the planet seem to have evolved and persisted throughout time. Daleks seem more civilized and cultured here, even if their culture is still quite twisted in its main aims. If only the Thals and the rest of the Skaro ecosystem could equally show such persistence, all might be peachy.
I did like the trip that the Doctor took through "intensive care", full of Daleks who had survived battles named after the planets they were fought on: "Aridius", "Exxilon", "Kembel", "Spiridon", "Vulcan". Of course, these adventures all belonged to the first three Doctors, since it was that long ago that Daleks really saw action anywhere other than Earth and Skaro. You can't really include Necros amongst those, since that was just a Dalek swat team making an arrest, and writer Eric Saward had forgotten to involve the Doctor or have him truly influence any of the events. Thus, this is quite an interesting list of planets here.
Companion IntrigueAmy and Rory also have a little subplot going on in their relationship with each other. It isn't the greatest thing ever, but worked well enough. I didn't mind having it to add extra intrigue to the episode. It is kind of weird to think how Amy came to settle on the false solution that precipitated this whole angle, if it can really be resolved as easily as it was shown to be here. Ah well. This was hardly the main draw of the story.
I admit being confused by Jenna-Louise Coleman's character of Oswin Oswald here, particularly the opening scene that appears to have nothing to do with the lengthy teaser sequence. A bit more introduction from the Doctor's point of view first, via her message, might have helped. But for the most part, her character is working well for this story. Her situation and abilities work to intrigue, while one fully expects the Doctor to rescue her before the story's over. I managed to guess the big secret maybe 10 minutes before it was revealed, but that still left me in suspense as to what would be done afterwards and how it would all resolve. Truth be told, I expected the reveal would be a cliffhanger leading into another episode of further escalations.
But the ending perhaps wraps everything up a bit too neatly and quickly, considering all that was in play. Not bad all in all, but I think there was scope for more. But more will come in a different time and place later in the season, under the banners of new stories....
Well, we did get a very different and interesting alien planet here.... but then the planet gets destroyed in the end, so we're unable to truly add it to the roster of planets we might one day visit again. And I must say I'm not truly sure why the Daleks feel the need to go that far with a place that they set up and still largely had under their control. Can they not just nuke Oswald's location leaving a substantially deep crater instead? Doing the whole planet is way too excessive. At any rate, we'll need to keep an eye on the survival rate of the planets that the Doctor gets to visit this year....
What this season opener possibly doesn't do quite so well is to make any attempt to initiate new viewers to the basics about the show. Oswin does pull a very neat stunt at the end, helping to make the Doctor a bit more mysterious for the future, and the story celebrates this moment nicely. But the TARDIS interior will be used quite sparingly throughout this part of the season, and the machine's functions would probably be quite oblique to anyone getting their first taste of the show with this episode. I think the modern trend of having the police box throb in and out of visibility makes a bad combination with the very short shots we get here. Half of the time I couldn't tell if it was supposed to be arriving or leaving. One simple cross-dissolve, instead of five or seven, would have been better.
This story has become available on DVD and Blu-ray.
This story is also available in a 5-episode volume with minimal extra features.
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