Time traveling fans rejoice: our favourite Time Lord is back for a brand new season of adventures! The seventh season premiere of Doctor Who marked the return of the perilous Daleks (who were absent all of last season), while also introducing – and subsequently faking us out – to The Doctor’s (Matt Smith) future companion.
Let’s bitch it out.
A couple of things before we get into the meat of the episode: It’s been widely reported over the internets that long adored, current companions Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) and Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) would be leaving the good Doctor sometime this season. It has also been reported that their replacement is Jenna-Louise Coleman. I must admit I was quite surprised to see Coleman appear in this episode as charismatic “Entertainment Coordinator”/genius hacker, Oswin. Of course, those who don’t follow “Whovian news” wouldn’t have seen Coleman’s early appearance as anything of note, but speaking for myself – I kept asking: “Wait, is that the new companion?” Coupled with the heartbreaking twist at the end of the episode, I wasn’t sure what to think. It looks like showrunner Steven Moffat is keeping us on our toes, questioning if, how and when we’ll see Oswin taking up permanent residence in the TARDIS. Of course, Moffat is anything but predictable, so whether or not Oswin is the next companion, it won’t take away from the enjoyment of seeing her later on. I’m inclined to say that this is all in the interest of making the transition to whoever Coleman’s companion turns out to be as painless as possible for fans that have become attached to our current companions.
I’ll also drop-in the caveat that I have currently only watched Doctor Who in its rebooted incarnation, which means I’m very likely to miss details/mythology/references that fans who’ve been with The Doctor from the very beginning will know. I’m always happy to gain additional insight about anything Who, so if there’s a jarring omission, please feel free to post in the comments section.
With that out of the way – let’s get back to this week’s episode. We open with a female narrator recounting the history of the Daleks and The Doctor in the most simplistic of terms: “First there the Daleks. And then there was a man who fought them.” Gotta hand it to Moffat: such an introduction makes it easy for any viewer to get accustomed. After some epic slow-motion explosions in a post-apocalyptic landscape, we find out that The Doctor has been summoned to help a young woman save her daughter from a Dalek prison camp. It doesn’t take long for The Doctor to discover this woman is merely a Dalek concealed in human form, sent to kidnap him. Amy (continuing to enjoy her new career as a supermodel) and Rory are soon “acquired” as well, and all three are brought aboard a spaceship at the behest of the Dalek parliament (a literal football stadium FILLED with Daleks!). But it’s not what we think – the Daleks haven’t brought The Doctor here for a public extermination – rather they want his help to “Save the Daleks!” And all of this happens before the spiffy new opening credits roll. Whew!
The Daleks force The Doctor to enter the titular ‘Asylum of the Daleks,’ a prison planet acting as a dumping ground for all the Daleks who “went wrong” to been housed. A year earlier a starship crashed on the planet, exposing a massive glitch in the prison’s security system: if someone can get in, then these insane(er) Daleks can get out (The Doctor describes this as a “Tsunami of Daleks’ unleashed into the universe). Easy enough fix: just blow-up the planet. Problem is, the regular Daleks are too terrified to volunteer to go into the Asylum to deactivate the prison’s protective force field. It seems that even the all-mighty Daleks don’t have enough courage to go down and face the cray-cray ones. Enter The Doctor, aka “The Predator”, to do the deed (Amy and Rory are there simply because “The Doctor needs companions,” which is a rather clunky rationale, but still serves its purpose). Our trio are quickly beamed down to the Asylum to complete the mission, wearing bracelets that will protect them from becoming Dalek puppets once they enter the nanotechnology atmosphere.
Confused yet? For any Who newbies, you’ll quickly realize that Moffat is a genius at cramming as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time. It takes a moment or two to get accustomed to the pace, but once you’re there – oh is the ride ever exciting! Essentially those are all the narrative pieces we need before we get into the adventure part of the episode. Our heroes have a clear mission: turn off the force field, save Oswin get the eff off the planet and cross their fingers that the “regular” Daleks of the parliament won’t exterminate them after it’s all said and done.
And so, we have a pretty straightforward standalone episode in terms of the plot, but like any good Doctor Who adventure, it’s the character development moments within that make the show so noteworthy. In this episode, it’s the whole business with Amy and Rory’s relationship. Looks like the happy couple has had some significant problem since we last saw them; they’re a signature away from divorce. I quite appreciated the introduction of this bit of information, and the way The Doctor processes it. When lightly probing Amy about her marital problems, she matter-of-factly states that they split up because “that’s life” and is just what happens when you’re not traveling across time and space on exciting adventures. That moment of realism is a bit of a downer, but I think it’s a moment that makes the series more relatable. Of course this is rectified a few scenes later when Rory and Amy are left alone, The Doctor imploring Rory to keep “the love” alive in Amy while he goes to find Oswin. We get a superbly acted scene between Gillan and Darvill, in which Amy reveals that she never stopped loving Rory, but that she “gave him up” because she could no longer bear him children. Yes, it is convenient explanation, but with the swelling music, the tears and the declarations of love, it is still quite touching. I doubt that it’s nothing but sunshine and roses for these two moving forward, but it is nice to see the companions plagued with realistic problems, even if the explanation and solution are a tad bit simplistic.
If that isn’t emotional enough, the true gem of this episode comes during the final act. We discover that Oswin is actually a full-fledged Dalek, having been completely converted after her ship crashed the year before. It’s a heartbreaking reveal that’s played out perfectly by Smith, Coleman and Dalek voice actor, Nicholas Briggs. As The Doctor tries to get Oswin to understand that her haven is really a mental creation she’s using to avoid accepting reality, we get significant cross-cutting between the chained-up Dalek and Oswin as she puts the pieces together. It’s the first time I’ve actually heard humanity and inflection in the Dalek’s robotic voice, further punctuating the tragedy of the circumstances. Determined to hang onto whatever love and humanity remains, Oswin doesn’t exterminate The Doctor, instead providing him a pathway back to Amy, Rory and teleport. She knowingly looks directly into the camera, imploring The Doctor (and the viewing audience) to “Remember me.”
I’m glad that we’re going to see a lot more of Coleman (possibly as Oswin) in the future. I love how Moffat gives viewers – in the know or not – a cheeky wink (be it now, or when Coleman is formally re-introduced). Leave it to Moffat to subvert any expectations that we may have had.
So viewers, what did you think about our season opener? Do you think we’ll get to revisit Oswin or will Coleman be someone else entirely? Do you think Rory and Amy are ok going forward, or will their childbearing woes continue to plague their relationship? What about the human-disguised Daleks: Will they be the new “Gangers” this year? And is it me, or have the production values of the show gone WAY up this season? Those opening shots were truly gorgeous! Sound off in our comments section below.
Doctor Who airs at 9:00pm EST, Saturdays on BBC America and on SPACE in Canada.