Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks

Media Oswin Doctor Who Daleks

Spoiler Warning, though I should really stop giving these on Doctor Who posts. Really, you should know better anyway.

Shortly after I heard the title of Asylum of the Daleks, it occurred to me that ‘Asylum’ could mean two different things: a place to keep those deemed unfit, or a request for aid and protection. Since the first definition is more common, I assumed the reference would actually be to the latter. In high Moffat fashion, however, we get both instead.

But on to the actual episode. This was some very tight storytelling, with a lot of impressive, complex narrative going on under the surface. We have two misdirects that are central to the story. The first one is that Amy is used as a peril monkey - except that she isn’t really in peril, the Doctor just lets her and Rory think that to keep them safe. This is a nice blending of the 7th-Doctor-esque manipulation we’ve seen throughout the Moffat era (what I have come to think of as “The Doctor’s Odinic side”), and the caring, compassionate role that the Doctor has cultivated to varying degrees throughout the new series.

And then we have Oswin. Jenna-Louise Coleman gave a solid performance, and I’m eager to see more of her. Her surprise appearance in this episode was brilliant, and the reveal at the end of the episode was, while almost predictable (it was pretty obvious that they were focusing on the danger to Amy and overtly not mentioning that the same danger should have converted Oswin months ago. The unexpected part was that she was an outright Dalek instead of a puppet). It lets us know the general sweep of the narrative arc for (presumably) the second half of season 7. It will inevitably add emotional weight to her story, in the same way Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead added weight to River Song’s saga.

If anything, my concern is one of ‘Moffat has done this story / used this trick already’. We’ve already seen the companion story that starts with the companion’s death. I’m pretty confident, though, that the other details of the story will be sufficiently unique to carry it. And of course all of this presupposes that Oswin is the companion, as opposed to a different character also played by Jenna-Louise Coleman (unlikely, but not a move entirely out of character given the way Moffat interacts with viewers through paratextual tricks - see the coat ‘goof’ from Flesh and Stone).

And either way, the question remains of how Oswin came to forget about the Doctor. Obviously there is a thematic if not actually narrative connection between her erasing the daleks’ knowledge of the Doctor and her own memory. I’m really hoping for a narrative connection - something along the lines of “Oswin was actually a trap for the Doctor from the future that she created by erasing the daleks’ memories”. That is, after all, the sort of timey-wimey storytelling that the current era often plays with, and it has a nice poetical flair to it.

As for the daleks themselves, they shine here. The story plays up the iconography of the daleks until it is working almost in more of a lyrical register than a narrative one, using imagery that plays actively with their totemic nature. Surrounding the Doctor with tens of thousands of his greatest foe, only to have them say ‘save us’. Likewise, the lyrical repetition of “eggs… eggs… eggs” first by a broken dalek and then by Oswin, is vivid and powerful. And the daleks actively invoke the iconography of the Doctor in turn, with lines like “The Doctor must have companions” and, of course, with the required season-opening ‘Doctor who?’ line chanted by them in unison.

Also notable is that the daleks are pretty much guaranteed to return during season 7. Moffat seems intent on making up for their absence in season 6.

Not much else to say on this one, except of course: DEPLOY SPECIAL WEAPONS DALEK