In the Doctor Who season 7 premiere, “Asylum of the Daleks,” Steven Moffat takes on his first-ever Dalek storyline, transforming the Doctor (Matt Smith) from enemy predator to enslaved savior. But has the often-heralded Doctor Who scribe finally met his match with one of the Doctor’s longtime foes?
Kicking things off with a visually stunning introduction with voice-over of equal quality, anticipation of the story to come was at an all-time high. Unfortunately, as the episode progressed, such anticipation turned into confusion. Not so much of what was occurring, but why, exactly, it was – and why we needed to see it in the premiere. Though still representing some of most visually appealing, epic storytelling, the television medium has ever seen, Moffat’s weaknesses (and challenges) may have finally revealed themselves.
Essentially a stand-alone episode, proving to be more of a future companion introduction than any type of continuation of past seasons, the Doctor’s journey into the Parliament of the Daleks, then the Asylum of the Daleks, though thoroughly intriguing, leaves few story elements introduced still intact upon its conclusion. Largely lacking any type of attachment to previous episodes, even the newly parted Amy (Karen Gillian) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) storyline emotionally falls flat – which may be for the best, as their marriage troubles last but a mere 48-minutes in the presence of the Doctor.
And for the companion introduction – which logically becomes messy for fans who follow production news – the ill-fated Oswin Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman) – who will somehow be brought back, perhaps with a name change (Clara Oswin, like Doctor Donna) – was too overpowered in her initial appearance. Though Moffat does make sense of it through his characteristically brilliant plot twists and ingenuity, the lack of Oswin’s backstory for audiences to emotionally fall back on makes her participation in the premiere slightly overwhelming. In a sense, it felt as if Moffat was trying to prematurely sell the new companion to fans before it was actually needed. Still, there’s more than poor character introduction and singular storytelling that make the Doctor Who season 7 premiere problematic.
Returning to the all too familiar, illogical combination of flesh and mechanics which burdened Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (amongst many other things), Moffat does little to change audiences perception of such sloppily conceived plot progressors. As one the Doctor’s oldest foes, the Daleks are one of the series’ few legacy enemies which don’t require superfluous assistance in order to create a compelling story. And as the Doctor Who season 7 premiere shows, such assistance can unfortunately be more hurtful than helpful.
Taking into account the Daleks’ emotionless mindset and will to destroy, there isn’t anything that longtime fans can turn to in order to help make sense of the completely arrogant species ever looking to become lesser creatures (humans), even if it is to help progress their overall plan to conquer. With the same frivolity in which Daleks can become humans, Moffat completely cleanses the entire Dalek race – and (almost) 50 years of Doctor Who – of the combative relationship (and history) with the Doctor. It still remains to be seen as to the reason for this, but hopefully it’s more than the Doctor wanting to return to the shadows and the premiere completely contradicting that fact.
Though the Doctor Who season 7 premiere may lead many to question whether Moffat has finally went the way of Russell T. Davies, in terms of blindly enjoying his work, it appears that there may have been too many new issues for the famed Whovian to take on at once. Moffat is facing his first companion transfer, which is something that would make even the most skilled writer take pause. Being able to jump in and write iconic episodes of your favorite show is one thing, but Moffat, now leading the series, has to deal with transitioning the emotional attachment of the viewers from one companion (and Rory) to another. Wanting to establish the new companion early on is wise, and Oswin (Clara) shows promise as a character, but the execution of her introduction wasn’t up to par with what we’ve seen him do with less-integral characters. A little too heavy-handed than need be.
Combining this element with Moffat touching his first-ever Dalek story and there’s more than enough reasons for him to fall of his familiar path of quality. Up until now, Moffat has essentially only written for new characters that he’s created. While completely enthralling and absolutely successful, having to take on the weight of so many years of character story can be difficult for someone as nimble with their writing as Moffat. That’s not to say that he can’t successfully do it, he just hasn’t – yet. Whether it be from boredom or not knowing what to do with the characters, there’s a reason why we haven’t seen a whole episode featuring a legacy enemy from Moffat, and this episode may be why. He may simply not know what to do with them.
All that said, Moffat has certainly delivered more than his fair share of terrific episodes, and his role as executive producer and head writer has lead the series down some amazing paths. Still, missteps do happen, and this episode is one of them. Having so many mismatched pieces being combined in a single episode is something that fans have come to expect now and then, but deciding to make this the premiere episode is something that probably shouldn’t have happened.
Likely not representative of the type of storytelling that fans can expect to see in the whole of Doctor Who season 7, the premiere doesn’t exactly have fans biting at the bit to see dinosaurs on a spaceship. Not because it couldn’t be amazing (because it could), but because the new season simply hasn’t built us up to a point where that’s something we’d like to see.
Hopefully the coming episodes will shift the series back to the quality that fans know Doctor Who can deliver. Because with Amy and Rory’s exit coming near, and a new companion entering the series at Christmas time, the last thing this series can be is weak on story. Not to mention the fact that nobody wants to see dinosaurs on a spaceship go to waste.
Doctor Who returns next Saturday @9pm on BBC America with “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.” In the meantime, check out our Doctor Who Viewing Guide: Tips, Suggestions & Complete Episode List!
Follow Anthony on Twitter @anthonyocasio
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