Doctor Who series 7: Asylum Of The Daleks spoiler-free review

Review Simon Brew 14 Aug 2012 - 21:57

Doctor Who series 7 kicks off with the return of the Daleks. Here's our spoiler-free review of Asylum Of The Daleks...

7.1 Asylum Of The Daleks

It’s no mean feat, Asylum Of The Daleks. The last series of Doctor Who kicked off with a two-part story, that gave the room to set up threads that would run right the way through the sixth series of the show (since it was revived). Here, it’s a standard-length standalone instalment instead, in the spirit of the series ahead of us. That means there’s less obvious longer-term seeds being sown, but instead an intense focus on delivering a cracking 50 minutes of television.

After all, there are no two-parters this time around. Each episode of the new series of Doctor Who is intended to be big. It’s intended to be a single blockbuster, a “first night”, to quote Steven Moffat. And for the first of the new run, Moffat has brought back the Daleks. No pressure there, then.

Before we go further, just a quick, regular house rule. This is a spoiler-free review. That means it’s going to be very. very light on story detail, and just give an opinion of the episode. You can read whatever you like into the words that follow, but we’ve been very careful in how we chose them. Read this page backwards, and you will not get extra clues or anything. If anyone attempts to spoil the episode for you, appropriate action should be taken.

So then.

Asylum Of The Daleks is a surprising start in one or two ways. After all, from the title, and the trailer, you might be thinking this is an all-out action blockbuster of an episode. It isn’t. It’s got more in common with a good, thinking survival horror movie, such as The Thing, than it has a rampaging Dalek war. That's aided by the fact that the excellent production design and effects work continues to close the gap on what you can see at your local Odeon on a Saturday night.

That’s not to say there aren’t Daleks, though. There are tons upon tons of the things, of varying vintages. What's more, Steven Moffat has found ways here to cleverly evolve them, and also pay tribute to their heritage. Even before the credits have rolled, there’s something that might just make long-term fans sit up with added interest. Just a little touch, to give further evidence that it's a long-term Who fan at the helm of the show.

That said, Moffat has described the Daleks as the most easily defeatable villains in the past, and perhaps that’s one reason why he’s never penned a full episode around them himself before. Predictably, though, he’s unpredictable in his approach, and he makes some very rewarding choices with how he chooses to involve the Doctor’s most infamous nemeses.

What’s particularly impressive is that he brings tension back to the Daleks – with the help of some excellent direction from Nick Hurran – for the first time since Robert Shearman’s terrific Dalek, way back in 2005. He also manages to play with them a little, and find interesting new things to do with a foe that’s been around for nearly 50 years. Asylum might not be your favourite Dalek story of all time (there is stiff competition in that regard), but it’s a very good one, and there’s a very clear effort that’s been made to shake things up a little.

It’s not just Daleks that Moffat’s concerned with in this episode, though. Picking up from the end of series six (albeit not directly), with people believing the Doctor is dead and Amy and Rory not travelling with him, Moffat spends some quality time with his lead characters. Particularly Amy and Rory, and how their relationship has developed since Christmas.

Which is as good a time as any to salute Karen Gillan, who gets better and better, and the underappreciated Arthur Darvill. Darvill is brilliant, whether as a generous comedic actor or as a core of emotion, and he’s on top form here. It perhaps goes without saying, too, but we’ll say it anyway, that Matt Smith utterly owns his role, and his ability to shift emotions in a split second remains a cherishable, rare talent.

The sum total of all of this is a really, really good slice of Saturday night fun, that puts a good Dalek story at the heart of an episode that’s impressive for reasons beyond its foes. It’s frequently funny – Moffat hasn’t lost his touch with excellent one-liners – and emotionally involving too. It also takes the Daleks to some quite dark places, with a fresh, unpleasant edge. And, as with many of Moffat’s episodes, it’ll ignite the Internet within seconds of it finishing.

Bottom line, and we'd better stop for fear of giving anything away, Doctor Who remains in tip-top condition, that much is clear. And as a kickstarter to what looks like a pivotal and massively ambitious series ahead, Asylum Of The Daleks is a very impressive way to begin. Congratulations to all concerned: it really is possible to continually evolve and subtlely change a show with such a long pedigree to it.

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I was lucky enough to attend the screening. Fans will love it - some great moments between Rory, Amy and the Doctor. There is a huge amount packed into the 50 minutes - and yes it feels like, to quote Moffat, a 'blockbuster with the boring bits taken out'. In the Q&A's that followed I managed to ask a question so I asked if Matt Smith will join twitter. Unfortunately not. He said 'it's not his thing'.

Can't wait!!

I'm not going to lie, when I heard there would be no two parters I was understandably worried but after this trailer and this review my worries have been put to rest. Besides Moffat is a genius...an evil genius but a genius nonetheless.

when is on :(

How did you get a ticket??? I was eagerly waiting for them to become available, yet as soon as they did, they sold out - literally within a millisecond!

So disappointed :(

First of all THANK YOU DoG for understanding that a spoiler free review ought to be free of spoilers. Amazing how many, uh, traditional publications seem to miss that bit.

Episode (and the series direction for that matter) sounds fantastic, really looking forward to seeing it. Thinking about this overnight and Who really is lucky to have the behind the scenes talent it's enjoyed since its return. Moffat seems determined to do different things and keep the show fresh, three series and three very different approaches thus far.

Also it's really nice to see Karen and Arthur acknowledged like this. No matter what you think about their characters and performances (personally I think they've been awesome throughout and have brought a great deal of subtlety and realism to that relationship) they've been incredible ambassadors for the show and for that reason alone we should be sad to see them go. Have to admit I'm really not ready to say goodbye to the Ponds which makes these next few episodes a bit bittersweet.

As always, as you have done so well for years now, thanks very much for the spoiler-free reviews. This is one story this season that I'm looking forward to the most.

So when's it on the TV?

blah blah blah blah...

WHEN IS IT ON THE TELLY?

My Who-mad daughters are "nearly-four" and five and a half. We didn't let them watch all that much of the last series as we felt 1) a lot of it was a little too dark at the moment (obviously, and not necessarily fairly, my youngest is the key factor in determining this) and 2) that they would find the arc hard to follow, though this was very much a lesser factor.

Would you have any sense of appropriateness for kids of that sort of age?

September 1st

Source? Please?

Isn't it going a bit overboard with a review to have it so spoiler-free that it tells you literally nothing about what it is reviewing other than its really good? You might as well just write one sentence to sum-up what's being said here. I look forward to a review which gives a basic idea of the plot. Spoiler-haters will whinge about it of course but I don't know why they ever read reviews in the 1st place.

Daleks are the most easily defeatable? Moffat not seen the new series Cybermen?

I was also lucky enough to be at the screening, and would say that this episode definitely had some moments in that I would have found terrifying as a little one. Whether that makes it inappropriate for your two I really couldn't say - I'd definitely recommend having a grown-up or two there, and something to hide behind!

"Moffat spends some quality time with his lead characters. Particularly Amy and Rory, and how their relationship has developed since Christmas." Oh god no.

So you were lucky enough to get a ticket to the screening, then you were lucky enough to get to ask a question at the Q&A and all you could think of asking Matt Smith was "are you going to join Twitter?" What a waste!

I don't know if you can answer this without revealing a spoiler. I just want to know if there are hints of an over-arch story, like there was in series 5 with the crack in space and series 6 with the Doctor's death. I really LOVE that type of storytelling.

We'll do, as always, a bigger, spoiler-filled dissection as soon as the end credits roll. The aim of a spoiler-free review such as this is to a) not spoil the episode for you, and b) give our opinion on it. Appreciate it's frustrating that we pull so much out for these reviews, but we've found over time that it's what most people tend to prefer, and it's also fairer. There are better reviews elsewhere on the Internet, but they seem to be giving more away than we're comfortable about doing.

Not quite sure how we'd have got all the above into one sentence, though!

I think shielding your kids from anything too complicated is a mistake. By the time I was 8 I was reading Asimov and Lord of the Rings - kids rise to meet a challenge and shielding them from things above their level can only do harm. And kids like dark, they like to be scared, that's why Who is so popular.

Yup - not interested in a soap opera, thanks. But, "relationship" doesn't necessarily mean it's "chick flick" material. I'm certain The Moff won't dip into Coronation Street, so I'm not worried.

And so the Great Doctor Who Swindle begins! I am looking forward to this, I really cant wait, but as a fan its now obvious to me that we are getting royally shafted by the BBC, with a large Dalek sized plunger! Hear me out. Instead of a full season of 12 / 13 episodes this year and then another full season next year, we are getting the following. One season and a Christmas Special split so that we get only 5 episodes in 2012 and then 8 in Spring 2013. So in effect the BBC gets away with making one season instead of two and spreads it out over 2 years, then pretends its great and good for the show, and arent we all lucky....and look at the specials we are doing for the 50th aniversery to keep the fans happy!!! This is very VERY annoying! I know we will get some specials for 2013, I know we will be getting the docudram too. Great. Love it. Its what we are not getting thats the problem. Two proper full series in the correct respective years of 2012, 2013. If they continue the pattern we will be getting another half season at the end of 2013 and the second half in 2014. This then would make a full season in 2013 I know, but there is no news on that as yet, so far its just news that there are some specials for 2013. Unless anyone knows anything different? There is a lot of deception, smoke and mirrors and double standards going on. I know the BBC have had to freeze the licence fee, as it was getting out of hand, but instead of cutting waste and pointless unneeded channels (BBC3 / BBC4) they just cut the number of programs and put on more repeats. And as a result Doctor Who is suffering, I know the show is still great and doing well, so why wont they stop messing us around in the schedules and episode numbers? It makes a hell of a lot more money for the BBC than anything else they do so why dont they get back behind it and give us full seasons each year? What I want to know is, if they can find the money for a whole season of MERLIN again this year, why cant they do the same for Doctor Who? Merlin has lost 2 episodes, I know....I think we are only getting 10 or 11....but if I am honest I would rather they had not bothered with Merlin and put the money from that into giving us two full seasons of Who instead. I like Merlin, its fun for all the family to watch, but its now getting stale. Every episode consists of Arthur taking the piss out of Merlin, Merlin playing jokes and taking the piss out of Arthur, then some peril / monster and Merlin sorts it out while continuing to hide his magic from Arthur. Arthur falls about over Gwen and or looks a thick headed baffoon while learning a lesson about how to be a good King. Do we really need another season of that? Or something similar....I saw the round table in the trailers for this year....Anyhoo....answer me this. If the BBC has the money for a full season of Merlin, money for location filming, special effects for monsters , Dragons etc, how come we are getting short changed on Doctor Who?????? Ideas???? And no I dont want flaming for having a go at Merlin...I get it, people like it, but I think its past its sell by date, where as with Doctor Who you can go anywhere and do anything you want within reason and the cast changes keep it fresh. Cool to see its probably going out on Sept 1st 33 years after Destiny of the Daleks...But I would like it to run right through the winter like the good old days of the 70s, and then have a few specials over the summer next year, then another full run over winter of 2013/14 like IT SHOULD BE!!!!!! Grrrrrr!!! Take note BBC.....

25th August for the UK. Not long now!!

Oh, shut up.

If you had been there then you would have known that Matt & co did nearly 45 mins of questions. Mine was one of many.

No, more likely Sep 1st. Digiguide has Rugby (rubbish version), news, total wipeout the Pirates of the Caribbean on from 2pm to 8.30pm with no gaps for DW.

theres not a set date yet all they have said is autumn, so maybe sometime late august or early september

If you tell me Tennant is going to pop out of the inside of a Dalek and take back this show then I'm sooo in this thing.

I know there is more to the BBC than Doctor Who. I just wish they would do more to cater for EVERYBODY...and not just the Sports fans, Soap Opera fans and Dancing fans....oh and the Police / Hospital / Costume Drama fans...thats about it....Childrens tv scaled down and more or less gone, ok its got its own channel, but no more Grange Hill, Changes, kids dramas, no more Sci FI stuff...no new series of Top Gear, just a Christmas special...and so on...It will be good next year if we get the new season again in the Autumn as I stated in my post... I have ended up dredging the internet for more Classic stuff to watch....I just started to watch Colditz, because I was too young to get it when it was on. Cant see them doing anything like this now, I wish they could come up with another good idea like Life on Mars / Ashes to Ashes.....

Anyone else kinda pissed that the US is getting a preview screening on the 25th where the tickets are 11 cents!? I was considering trying to get a ticket for the BFI screening but unless I missed out on a great deal all I could find for non-journalists was a day pass that i think cost of a hundred pounds!

I think that it's great that DW is finally getting popular overseas but don't forget that it started in the UK. Last month I'm sure there was some sort of exclusive stuff released on twitter at "midnight" which ended up being the extremely early hours of the morning GMT as it was on US time, which wasn't mention beforehand and probably disappointed many long time british fans.

C'mon BBC, you're the BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation.

thankfully no...so we keep the better Doctor...11th ftw.

Dude...we love The Doctor in the states just as much as you guys...dont hate.

September 1st!

How in the world did you guys get to see the episode this early?

The last series was awful apart from the first two episodes. Moffat really disappointed me with that one, seen as he wrote virtually all of the best episodes in the first 4 series and his first full one was great as well. I'm hoping for much better this time

It's not that I don't think you deserve all that stuff, I just think that we should get it too seeing as it's one of our shows, the tickets for the BFI screening weren't exactly 11 pence

Can you tell us a bit about the 'Coming Soon' trailer at the end of the episode? Anything particularly striking or memorable? Any details on The Power Of Three?
Sorry, I am far too obsessed ;)

OK, well, let's be hyperbolic for a moment. Should I let them them watch A Serbian Film? I mean, it's challenging and definitely too complicated and off the scale in terms of being dark (I have absolutely no desire to watch it myself)...

Being a less over the top about it, I fully expect my kids to be reading much the same things as you were (and indeed I was). I would consider those things entirely suitable for an eight year old. Incidentally, Steven Moffat has stated he writes his episodes with a target audience of 8 year old's in mind, twice the age of my youngest.

My kids aren't protected from challenges, complicated or dark things and have seen virtually every episode of Who including original series and like monsters and Dahl and all the good stuff kids thrive on. Please be assured that my children are well adjusted and engaged with
the world around them and not mollycoddled.They're just not blithely allowed to watch anything they like, and as they grow up they get more and more autonomy over the choices they make, even things I don't like.

There's no moral outrage here. If they don't see it now, they'll see it in a year or so (or whenever). I imagine AotD's probably going to be fine, but was trying to get a sense of it in the hope that I would be able to watch it with my kids live. As it is, I guess I'll have to watch it first.

Some very good points in there, well said.

Yes. Because itsn't it just horrible when characters are realisticaly developed!

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