Asylum of the Daleks
|226 – "Asylum of the Daleks"|
|Doctor Who episode|
Official Poster from the BBC Website.
|Executive producer(s)||Steven Moffat
|Incidental music composer||Murray Gold|
|Originally broadcast||1 September 2012|
"Asylum of the Daleks" is the first episode of the seventh series of the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who, broadcast on BBC One on 1 September 2012. It was written by executive producer Steven Moffat and directed by Nick Hurran.
The episode features the alien time traveller the Doctor (Matt Smith) being captured by the Daleks, along with his companions Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill), who are about to divorce. They are sent by the Daleks to the Asylum, a planet where insane Daleks are exiled, to enable the Asylum to be destroyed before the insane Daleks can escape. The Doctor is helped along the way by Oswin Oswald (Jenna-Louise Coleman), a woman whose spaceship had crashed on the planet a year ago and has been trapped there since then.
"Asylum of the Daleks" incorporates many of the different varieties of Daleks seen throughout the programme's 50-year history, and was intended to make the Daleks scary again. Coleman makes her first appearance in Doctor Who in this episode, before returning as the Doctor's new companion in the 2012 Christmas special; her appearance was successfully kept a secret from the general public prior to the episode's broadcast, as her casting as the new companion had already been announced. The episode was watched by 8.33 million viewers in the UK, and received attention on BBC iPlayer and international broadcasts. Critical reception was positive, though some critics questioned the circumstances behind Amy and Rory's divorce.
A prequel was released to iTunes on 1 September 2012, and to Zune and Amazon Video on 2 September 2012. In the prequel, a hooded messenger informs the Doctor that a woman, Darla von Karlsen, requests his help for her daughter. The messenger provides space-time coordinates to the planet Skaro, home planet of the Daleks.
In addition, Pond Life is an earlier five-part mini serial prequel to this episode, which was released serially in the week leading up to the premiere. The fifth part hints at Amy and Rory's divorce.
In the ruins of Skaro, homeworld of the Daleks, the Doctor is approached by Darla von Karlsen, who requests his help in freeing her daughter from a Dalek prison camp. The Doctor's suspicions are confirmed when Darla turns out to be a humanoid Dalek puppet and teleports him to the spaceship housing the Parliament of the Daleks. There he is reunited with a now divorced Amy and Rory, who have been similarly kidnapped from present-day Earth, just after Rory has delivered Amy their divorce papers. The Doctor is surprised when, rather than exterminate him as he expects, the Daleks ask him for help.
The Dalek Prime Minister explains that they have a planet known as the Asylum - which the Parliament is currently orbiting - where they keep battle-scarred Daleks that have gone insane. They are unwilling to kill these Daleks, as destroying such pure hatred would contravene their sense of beauty - something which sickens the Doctor. The Parliament has received a transmission of the Habanera Aria from the heart of the Asylum. The Doctor makes contact with the source of the transmission: a woman named Oswin Oswald, who states that she was Junior Entertainment Manager on the starliner Alaska, which crashed into the Asylum. Oswin claims to have been fending off Dalek attacks for a year, occupying herself by making soufflés, which intrigues the Doctor as he wonders where she got the milk and eggs. The crash had ruptured the planet's force-field, thus risking escape of the planet's inmates. To prevent this, the Parliament wishes to destroy the planet remotely, but the force-field is not ruptured sufficiently to allow that. The force-field can only be deactivated from the planet itself, but afraid to face such a mission themselves, the Daleks task the Doctor, Amy and Rory with doing so.
The three are given bracelets to protect them from the planet's nanogene cloud, which would convert them into Dalek puppets to serve the facility's security systems, before being dropped through the force-field breach onto the surface of the planet via a gravity tunnel. The Doctor and Amy land close to each other, and are discovered by Harvey, another survivor from the Alaska. Rory, however, is dropped to the bottom of a long shaft into the Asylum. There he accidentally awakens some of its inhabitants, but is guided to a safe room by Oswin, who has accessed the computers. Meanwhile, Harvey guides the Doctor and Amy to his Alaska escape pod, where he attacks them after being revealed as a Dalek puppet, converted by the nanogene cloud. A similar fate has befallen the corpses of other Alaska survivors, who re-animate and attack the Doctor and Amy, stealing Amy's nano-field bracelet just before the pair are saved by Oswin, who also guides them to Rory through a hatch in the bottom of the pod. Now unprotected against the nanogenes, Amy begins to be converted, experiencing memory loss and hallucinations.
The Doctor guesses that the Daleks will destroy the planet as soon as he deactivates the force-field, but he realises that Rory's hideout is a telepad, via which they can teleport onto the Dalek Parliament ship. Oswin agrees to deactivate the force-field in return for the Doctor coming to rescue her. While the Doctor is gone, Rory tries to give Amy his bracelet. The Doctor had stated that love slows the Dalek puppet conversion, so Rory argues that he would be converted more slowly because he has always loved Amy more than she loves him, referring his 2000-year vigil in "The Big Bang". Amy angrily replies that she loves him equally, but gave him up since she is unable to have children as a result of the events of "A Good Man Goes to War". They realise that the Doctor had secretly slipped his bracelet onto her without telling them (since as a Time Lord he is probably immune to the nanogenes) to possibly get them to discuss their feelings.
The Doctor makes his way to Oswin, venturing through the "intensive care section", which holds Daleks who survived encounters with him. They begin to re-activate, but he is saved by Oswin, who deletes the Doctor from the Daleks' collective telepathically-shared knowledge, leaving them with no memory of him. The Doctor has never been able to hack into their hive intelligence, let alone remove anything from it, and is confused to how she has done so. The Doctor enters Oswin's chamber, only to discover to his horror that she is really a Dalek. It turns out that Oswin had been captured by Daleks after the Alaska crashed on the Asylum and, to preserve her genius-level intellect for Dalek use, was turned into a full Dalek rather than a standard puppet. Unable to cope with her conversion, her mind retreated into a fantasy of survival as a human. The Doctor had suspected that something was wrong from the beginning, however, as one of the things Oswin had kept herself busy with while in hiding had been making soufflés, which the Doctor noticed would be impossible to get the ingredients for. Oswin is nearly overcome by her Dalek personality at this revelation, but she still possesses human emotions and is unable to kill the Doctor. Her confrontation causes the Doctor to reflect that the Daleks' many achievements — including their parliamentary discourse and newfound diversity — have been developed in fearful response to his threat to their existence. Oswin fulfils her promise of deactivating the force-field, making her final request that the Doctor remember her as the human she once was: "Run. Run, you clever boy, and remember...". The Doctor returns to Amy and Rory, and they teleport back to the TARDIS just as the planet is destroyed. The Daleks fail to recognise the Doctor due to his removal from their hive intelligence. He jubilantly leaves the ship, and drops the reunited Amy and Rory back home. He then departs alone, delighting in the Dalek Parliament's closing question to him: "Doctor Who?".
Some of the Daleks are survivors of previous encounters with the Doctor on Spiridon (Planet of the Daleks), Kembel (The Daleks' Master Plan), Exxilon (Death to the Daleks), Aridius (The Chase), and Vulcan (The Power of the Daleks). The heavy-weapons Dalek that appears in Remembrance of the Daleks appears in a cameo. In her opening speech, Darla refers to the Doctor faking his death in the episodes "The Impossible Astronaut" and "The Wedding of River Song". The concept of nanogenes - microscopic machines - is mentioned in the two-parter "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances", also written by Moffat. In the closing exchange in the Parliament, the Doctor refers to one of his nicknames as "The Oncoming Storm", first mentioned in the episode "The Parting of the Ways". The final question of "Doctor who?", besides being a callback to the programme's title, is the "question that must never be answered" that Dorium asks at the end of "The Wedding of River Song".
Executive producer Steven Moffat announced in 2011 that he intended to give a "rest" to the Daleks. The reason for the rest was that Moffat felt their frequent appearances made them the "most reliably defeatable enemies in the universe". Moffat recalled that the Daleks were remembered for being scary, but due to their legacy as British icons they had become "cuddly" over the years and their true menace forgotten; with "Asylum" he intended to make them scary again, reminding the audience of their intentions. He thought the best way to do this would be to show Daleks that were considered even madder than usual. Gillan admitted that she had not been scared of the Daleks before working on the episode. It is also the first Dalek story Moffat has written for the show; he stated that he "couldn't resist" the opportunity.
In March 2012, it was announced that Jenna-Louise Coleman would replace Gillan and Darvill as the next companion, first appearing in the 2012 Christmas special. It was Moffat's idea to have her appear in "Asylum of the Daleks" as the character of Oswin; it was not originally planned, and Coleman assumed it was part of her audition at first to see which character fitted her best. He intended to keep her appearance a secret, and thanked the press and fans that it was not leaked. Coleman's scenes were filmed over six days on a closed set with a green screen which she acted to. Whether her later character was the same as Oswin was not confirmed at the time, but her appearance in "The Snowmen" makes it clear that there is a connection. Coleman played each version of the character as individuals with "trust that there would be a payoff" to her mystery.
"Asylum of the Daleks" was directed by Nick Hurran, who directed "The Girl Who Waited" and "The God Complex" of the previous series, as well as the fifth episode of the seventh series. "Asylum of the Daleks" contains many of the Dalek types that the Doctor has faced over the years, including the Special Weapons Dalek from the 1988 story, Remembrance of the Daleks. According to The Daily Telegraph, the production team located the remaining models of the various versions of the Daleks and shipped them to the studios in Cardiff Bay. This included a Dalek owned by Russell T Davies, Moffat's predecessor. Executive producer Caroline Skinner knew Davies well and asked to borrow his replica. She stated that he was "thrilled" that it was canonised. The total number of different Daleks was around 25, with models from 1963 to 2010; Skinner said that "there was just a real magic and sense of history about having them". Moffat was concerned about how all the different Daleks would look together, but was pleased once he saw them; he commented that the diversity made them look like a species, rather than identical robots. Many of the props were built from scratch. The snow scenes on the asylum planet were filmed in Spain during the production of "A Town Called Mercy". Music featured in the episode are the "Habanera" from the Georges Bizet opera Carmen, which is used diegetically, and "Feel the Love" by Rudimental is also featured. The Doctor Who logo in the title sequence featured the texture of a Dalek, in keeping with the varied "blockbuster" themes for each of the opening titles of the first half of the series.
Broadcast and reception
"Asylum of the Daleks" was preview screened at BFI Southbank on 14 August 2012, and at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival during 23–25 August. On 25 August it was also screened in New York City and Toronto. The episode was broadcast to the public on 1 September on BBC One in the United Kingdom, BBC America in the United States, and on Space in Canada, and on 2 September on the ABC iView service. It premiered on 8 September 2012 on ABC1 in Australia, and on 13 September on Prime TV in New Zealand.
Overnight viewing figures for the UK showed that the episode was watched by 6.4 million viewers, the lowest overnight figure for a premiere episode of the revived series; however, viewing patterns indicate that fewer people watch Doctor Who live, and it won its timeslot. The final consolidated rating was 8.33 million viewers, ranking third for the week on BBC One. It was also the most-viewed episode on BBC's online iPlayer the day that it aired, and ended September in the number one spot, with 2.2 million requests. "Asylum of the Daleks" achieved an Appreciation Index of 89, the highest for a series opener of Doctor Who.
Viewing figures in the US on BBC America showed that the episode was watched by 1.555 million viewers. It was the #1 cable program in its timeslot, and the most watched telecast in the history of the network. The episode also garnered a 0.6 rating in the 18-49 demographic. "Asylum of the Daleks" also was viewed 75,000 times on ABC's iView in Australia, a record audience, and 620,000 watched the premiere on Space in Canada, Doctor Who 's second-best ratings for the channel. On Prime in New Zealand, the episode attracted 171,690 viewers, Doctor Who's second-highest rating on the channel and the highest rated show on the channel that day.
"Asylum of the Daleks" received positive reviews from critics. Dan Martin of The Guardian praised Moffat's "script packed with ace curveballs and zappy dialogue" and Nick Hurran's direction. Martin also notes that "more happened in the opening episode than has been covered in most recent two-parters – and events were also dealt with in a lot more depth." He also was pleased that the asylum setting could explore the Daleks while making it reminiscent of the classic series. The Daily Telegraph reviewer Gavin Fuller gave it four out of five stars, describing it as a "confident opener" and highlighting the concept and set design of the asylum. He particularly praised Coleman, whom he called "the star of the episode". Michael Hogan, also writing for The Telegraph, gave "Asylum of the Daleks" a slightly higher rating of four and a half stars out of five, also commending Coleman as well as many details of the script.
Neela Debnath of The Independent commented positively on the show's continuing exploration of the Daleks and the more "adult tone", praising the performance of the three leads. Radio Times writer Patrick Mulkern stated that it "ticks all [his] boxes as a Doctor Who fan of more than 40 years standing", describing it as "clever, fast, funny, eerie, surprising and tearjerking". Nick Setchfield of SFX gave the episode five out of five stars, calling it a "strong, cinematically-minded series opener" which succeeded in making the Daleks scary. He also praised Coleman's debut, Smith's performance, the special effects, and Amy and Rory's emotional subplot. io9 reviewer Charlie Jane Anders noted that the plot "is mostly just an excuse to explore the Doctor's ongoing relationship with the Daleks, and to show how sad it's gotten". Both Anders and Mulkern (the latter citing a Doctor Who veteran, Katy Manning) noted that Oswin's fascination with eggs, required for making soufflés, is really just a mental trick to block out the "exterminate" ("eggs-terminate") conditioning; this literary device is woven throughout the episode as a series of subtle hints, as Rory is confused by a dormant Dalek, initially misinterpreting him as saying "eggs".
Digital Spy's Morgan Jeffery also awarded it five stars, though he felt Amy and Rory's breakup was "a little difficult to buy" as it was resolved quickly, even if the situation was "sensitively handled" and "deftly performed". Keith Phipps of The A.V. Club graded "Asylum of the Daleks" as a "B+", also writing that he had a "quibble" with the Ponds' marriage issue as it had not been foreshadowed, but ultimately felt that the episode "gets the season off to a great start while creating a sense that anything could happen". IGN's Matt Risley rated the episode as 8.5 out of 10, finding that the "only downside" was that "it felt less a tale about the Daleks than an adventure that just happened to have them in it". Maureen Ryan, writing for The Huffington Post, felt it was a "ripping start to the season" that redeemed the Daleks from "Victory of the Daleks". While she commended Gillan and Darvill's acting during Amy and Rory's emotional confrontation, she noted that they were not a couple that would break up because of infertility.
The episode was nominated for the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form), alongside "The Angels Take Manhattan" and "The Snowmen".
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- Asylum of the Daleks (TV story) on TARDIS Data Core, an external wiki
- "Asylum of the Daleks" at the BBC Doctor Who homepage
- "Asylum of the Daleks" at the Internet Movie Database