Friday, October 19, 2012

It's a madhouse!

And so to the reviews of the two episodes that we've seen of the newest Who.  The first thing to note about this first pair of episodes is that they're a big improvement on last year.  By cracky, when I look back at the wasteland of last year... well, all right, the second half wasn't that bad once it got past the bloody wretched arc stuff.  But starting the new season off without the wretched arc stuff is a welcome move - I know River Song's back in ep5, but hey, it could even be for the last time.  There's a hint of freshness in the air.  There's a definite spring in the step of these episodes that was lacking in last year's doomy parade.  This is perhaps ironic, given the (small quantity of) doomy foreshadowing of the Ponds' departure, but then their exit is a necessary part of the show's fresh start.  It's a positive thing on, ooh, so many levels.

Asylum of the Daleks is a strong opener, from its set-piece opening effect down.  Steven Moffat does some interesting new things with the Daleks and - take note, foul Evolution of the Daleks - has the decency to make them stick.  The nanobot/drone/reanimated corpse business is a keen updating of the idea of the Robomen from The Dalek Invasion of Earth and the clone troopers from Resurrection, and could comfortably be reused in future Dalek stories.  If we're really lucky we may even see more surreal shots of people superimposed over the Daleks they've become (what would those have been, leftover human converts from Revelation?) - it's just a shame little ballerina Dalek won't be making any repeat appearances since the Doctor blew her up.  Tsk, tsk.

The basic plot makes the required amount of sense once we factor in the revelations about Oswin - presumably dumped back on the planet once the Daleks' initial efforts with her failed, and it's specifically her hacking into the Dalek Internet that presents enough of a threat for the Daleks to want to blow up the whole planet, rather than just her ship crashing through the one-way barrier.  The only big flaw I can see with the story is that the Daleks apparently have the means to infiltrate contemporary Earth with undetectable human-like agents, and they haven't attempted to invade.  Perhaps now that they've forgotten about the Doctor they'll have a go - it could even justify a Dalek season finale next spring.

There's also a secondary plot here involving Amy and Rory's relationship, a subject I had hoped had taken its final beating last year.  Here we learn that Amy can't have the children she believes Rory wants, and has decided that it's better to divorce him without explanation than to discuss it with him and, y'know, maybe settle on such alternatives as adoption, some form of surrogacy, just not having kids, or getting a cat.  The message I'm taking from this is that Amy defines her self-worth in terms of her ability to bear children, which is just tragically Victorian-values-normative.  This aspect of the episode takes on added piquancy when we get to the following episode's gender politics banter between Riddell and Nefertiti, and the clearly villainous Solomon treating women as his property, all of which looks temptingly like an in-series critique of Moffat's handling of female characters.

Early signs of what could become season themes: the Doctor saying "That's new!"; casual mentions of having performed in classical music recordings; lightbulbs.  Chances are these won't prove to be any more significant than the eyeballs and televisions of previous years.  There's also the fallout from the Doctor's faked death, which is a) beefed up into full-blown erasure from Dalekipedia, then b) strangely translated into Solomon not being able to find any information at all on the Doctor in the next episode.

All in all, 8.5 out of 10.  It has flaws, but it's a better season opener than the last couple.  Some trite stuff with Amy and Rory, but enough pleasing weird stuff to distract from it, and some very welcome good humour in the mix.  Top moment: the Dalek, thwarted in its pursuit of Rory, that whines "Exterminaaate!" in a tone that clearly says "Come baaack!"


Sarah said...

I have to admit I liked the EGGS-sterminate bit. I wondered why the new companion was introduced in this episode as there wasn't really a need to do so. Unless Moffat wanted to see how the fans would react to her.

John Toon said...

New companion actress, but not necessarily the new companion - we could be looking at a similar situation to Freema Agyeman's bit part in Army of Ghosts, except that here the actress has already been cast in the big companion role as well. There could be some convoluted scheme afoot to continue Oswin's adventures with the Doctor, or to have her story as companion end up here, but equally it could just be Moffat toying with us. He does enjoy a spot of misdirection.