When I watched the previews for "Asylum of the Daleks," I thought I had an idea of where it was going to go. Showing the sweeping shot of the Dalek Parliament (with every kind of Dalek ever faced) followed by the question "Who killed all of the Daleks?" -- well, there is only one natural place for us to think it would go, especially for a Doctor as outright aggressive as this one has been.
I should have known better. This thoroughly enjoyable series premiere had plenty of surprises, with some serious foreshadowing for the future. The biggest feint from my expectations was, well, the lack of the Daleks in the real plot.
The cold open started with two surprising twists: the Daleks asking the Doctor for salvation ("Save the Daleks!") and the Williams' divorce. (We'll get to the second one in a bit.)
The Dalek Asylum is a planet where the Daleks keep their most disturbed, and the Daleks are receiving odd signals from the planet (Bizet's "Carmen.") Naturally, fearing the crazies will escape, they want to blow up the entire planet. And so, the Daleks forcibly enlist the Doctor and the estranged Ponds to visit the Aslyum and shut down the force field so that the planet can be destroyed.
Matt Smith's Doctor wonderfully showcased just why he is known as "the Predator" to the Daleks when, without blinking, he tricks one of the Asylum Daleks to trigger its own self-destruct -- and become a suicide bomber against its own kind.
As the Doctor makes his way through the Asylum to fulfill the Dalek's request and escape their impending death, Amy and Rory confront their issues facing their divorce. It was a bit shocking to see the couple who were so in love be so cold to each other, but Gillan and Darvill played the roles with real sincerity. Their arguments over the future of their relationship, culminating with their welcome, albeit expected, reconciliation were believable and, at times, intense. It does address an oft-mentioned point among fans -- Rory always seems to adjust to Amy, but rarely vice versa -- and was a welcome discussion. (And I don't care what you say, Amy, but nothing you can do will ever make up for Rory waiting for two millennia. Ever.)
The biggest shock, though, wasn't the divorce (although that was certainly up there); it was the presence of Oswin, played by the beautiful Jenna Louise Coleman -- also known as the Doctor's next companion. Part witty, part flirty, part soufflé chef, and mostly genius, Oswin immediately endears to our affections the first time she warns that the Doctor's prominent chin could "put someone's eye out."
It's a bit amazing that they were able to keep this particular casting secret, but it makes our minds reel with just how Coleman will be re-introduced in the Christmas special. Is the future companion a relative of Oswin, or dare we have some kind of Cortana-like conscious AI? Or, even a part-Dalek companion?! There must be some reason why she broke the fourth wall with her final word: "Remember." Right? Right?!
The plot reveal at the end of the episode, while not completely untelegraphed, still played poignantly. Oswins's insistence of her humanity, and the Doctor's overt sadness were expertly acted by Coleman and Smith. And, more credit to Moffat, it is always a small delight when a seemingly innocuous comment returns to play a much larger foretelling of the events ("Where did you get the eggs?")
I do have to wonder, though: would the Tenth Doctor be so ready to leave Oswin behind? Even if she is a Dalek, she clearly still has her mind, and he was always willing to offer salvation to those who deserved it. Despite the differences between Ten and Eleven, I am a little surprised that he didn't even offer the opportunity to save her, but merely stood ground and said "You are a Dalek."
Of course, that would likely interfere with whatever plans they've got in store for the Christmas special, so we can forgive that for now.
In any event, this was a great episode and an excellent introduction for this upcoming season. Showrunner Steven Moffat has decreed that "each episode [will be written] like a movie poster" for series 7 (like the one above), and "Asylum of the Daleks" didn't disappoint. (Although, if I may be honest, we could have done with fewer "Doctor WHO?!" slaps in the face.)
The Doctor returns, and he's swinging for the fences. Episode 2 is called "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship." Nothing about that sounds disappointing.