Sunday 2 September 2012

A Dalek fan's disappointment...

With Doctor Who back on the air for a seventh season since the relaunch, I had toyed with the idea of reviewing each episode on a weekly basis, but ultimately decided against since I wasn't sure how fast I'd be able to get reviews up due to other commitments and such. I expect I'll post a half season thoughts post at the end of the year, but for now I couldn't wait to discuss my thoughts on the season opener "Asylum of the Daleks". Well, more my thoughts on how disappointing I found this episode. Not necessarily because the story was lacking because as a concept I found it brilliant. I even enjoyed (to an extent) the seemingly never ending Amy/Rory drama and Jenna Louise Coleman's "look at my I'm a smarmy female companion" introduction. What I didn't enjoy were the Daleks. The things I've loved since I can remember and without a shadow of a doubt my favourite things from Who, and perhaps all of science-fiction in general.

I don't write this post as a review of why the episode was bad, but simply a list of six reasons why as a Dalek fan I felt nothing but disappointment from it. Doctor Who staff have constantly written since the series' relaunch that the Daleks aren't scary any more, but what effort has been made to try and make them scary? Every appearance they've made since 2005's "Dalek" (which is by far and large the best New-Who Dalek story) has only served to degrade them in one way or another.

1) Humanising the Daleks
Since Moffat has taken the helm of Doctor Who, Daleks now have (abstract) concepts of beauty and fear, and are capable of pleading for mercy. Besides the iconic design of the creatures, what makes them the perfect antagonist for the Doctor is their complete lack of emotion. While the Doctor is capable of and constantly expresses his emotions, the Daleks are only capable of hate. They fail, they continue. They're a force that can't be reckoned with, and a force that can't be stopped either. Having them acknowledge fear of both themselves and the Doctor takes all of that away.

2) The return of the RTD era Daleks
When we last met the Daleks in season five's "Victory of the Daleks", the last of the bronze Daleks were destroyed to make way for the technicolour New Dalek Paradigm, and given the amount of publicity and merchandising thrown into the change I was under the impression that it was here to stay. So, after spending a few years getting used to the new Daleks I was pretty surprised to see this episode featuring more bronze RTD Daleks than New Paradigm ones!  This felt like something that really needed explanation given the old ones were destroyed for being "impure", even if it has been as simple as a throwaway line. Were they nostalgic for the old look? Are bronze Daleks specifically Parliament members? Who knows?

3) The Dalek Parliament
We've had Supreme Daleks, we've had Emperor Daleks and in some forms of fiction we've even had Dalek Primes and Dalek Time Controllers. But a Dalek Parliament with a Dalek Prime Minister is a new one. Prime  Minister of what exactly? Why would Daleks even have a Parliament? The Dalek chain of command has always been pretty clear cut, and that reflects the tyrannical nature of the race. The heads are the ones who make the commands, and the drones obey without question. The very nature of a Parliament and Prime Minister go against everything the Daleks stand for, even if it was meant as some sort of twisted representation (which it never felt like, so I'm led to assume it just involved some big important words being thrown in as titles). Unless of course all it meant to be was some sort of clever piece of commentary - a Dalek Parliament made up of two completely different types of Dalek? A coalition perhaps? Its a stretch, but its the only logical explanation coming to my mind right now.

On that note, I wish the new series would drop the "dalek mutant in a jar" look for leaders. We get it, they're purple blobs with one eye. You don't need to keep reminding us how non-threatening they are without transport.

4) The absence of the classic Daleks
For months beforehand this episode was advertised as featuring "every type of Dalek". This episode didn't even have every type of new Dalek in it. As far as the classics were concerned I saw an 80s grey Dalek, an "Evil of the Daleks" emperor guard Dalek, the special weapons Dalek from "Remembrance of the Daleks" and possibly one originals 60s variant. All four were blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameos. Instead these were all sidelined for even more RTD bronze Daleks, who felt just as out of place down there was they did in the Parliament. It's not like there wasn't plenty of opportunity to give fans a real treat either - referencing previous Dalek stories like Spiridon, Aridius, Kembel, Vulcan and Exxilon was great. Like the Doctor said, those are Daleks that survived him. So why not go the one step further and have that actually be represented in the Daleks that were actually in intensive care? Usually I'm not one to scoff at the reference to some of my favourite Doctor Who stories, but this episode repeatedly failed to deliver what it originally promised in that regard.

And the Special Weapons Dalek was down there. The original insane Dalek, one capable of vaporising entire squads in one shot. And the place was still in one piece? Right.

5) What was the point of the asylum?
Daleks have never had any problems in killing their own kind before, they do it all the damn time. From executing drones for failing orders to sending bomb strapped ones to destroy enemy saucers, they aren't exactly a race known for preserving their troops. So why is exterminating ones that have gone insane such a difficult task?

And even ignoring that, what was so threatening about them? The Daleks were too scared to send a team in to do the job themselves but the insane Daleks never posed any kind of threat to anyone. Half of them didn't have working guns, and the other half couldn't even shoot Rory at point blank range. They could barely talk, so them being able to infiltrate and pilot a crashed spaceship seems like a bit of a stretch.

6) The ending
"Doctor Who?"
So the Daleks don't remember the Doctor anymore. Fine, I don't like this but I can get over it - after all its not something that's going to last forever. But what I don't understand is how this is supposedly a good thing because it means they'll go back to conquering and not obsessing over the Doctor. Out of their seven appearances in the new series, three of them have actively involved seeking out the Doctor. And one of them seemed to be more of Davros' plan. Dalek, Parting of the Ways, Doomsday and Daleks in Manhatten had nothing to do with them looking for him, he found them by accident. Nothing has really changed.

I'm still eagerly looking forward to the rest of the season, but it seems my wait for another great modern Dalek story continues. While I accept audios probably have much more leeway that a prime time television slot, the recent Lucie Miller/To The Death audio adventure saw the Doctor defeat a Dalek invasion of Earth but lose two companions and a great grandson in the process. He won, but he won a broken man. That's the sort of drama that makes the Daleks scary - they will lose because they're the villains, but when they lose they'll take everything the Doctor loves and cherishes with it. If I have one request for the new series, it's that they let Nicholas Briggs come from behind that Dalek mic and let him try his hand at writing a story for the television screen because if his audio work is anything to go by, that should be something really special.


truStarscre said...

A lot I agree...but the big deal with them NOT knowing who he is...well he knows them all too well. So next time he crosses paths with them, they will completely underestimate him. Also since he is trying to keep himself in the shadows, and the Daleks were the only ones to draw him out, well there is one less group on the secret that he is still alive.

I will say...I was almost hoping he would have adopted that one Dalek as his next companion...kind of like Chameleon lol

Alex said...

Yeah true, it could go quite well depending on how future stories are written and I don't expect it to last forever. But I had to mention it since I managed to keep all my frustrations throughout the episode quiet and that very end bit made me go "You've got to be kidding me!" out loud lol.

And a Dalek companion would have been hilarious. Something they should definitely do at least for a spoof episode.

Action Ranger Timmy said...

You know the woman who played that one Dalek is the woman who is slated to be the next companion starting with the Christmas special. Something to think about.