Review: ‘Doctor Who’ Season 7 premiere, ‘Asylum of the Daleks’

A few words in advance of tonight’s “Doctor Who” premiere (Season 7, counting from the start of Russell Davies’ 21st century reboot), of which I will tell you little specific, since nearly everything in a series whose every particular is a subject for study and debate among the growing faithful amounts to a spoiler.

There have been the usual requests from on high not to reveal certain things, some of which have already been made public. But that real-world narrative, the one that exists between the show and its fans, is also subject to dramatic misdirection, and its elements of hide and seek are in their way as central to the game as what it happens within the confines of the series itself.

I feel comfortable telling you this: The announced title, “Asylum of the Daleks,” does indeed indicate the presence of Daleks and an asylum. Promos have also contained mention and a glimpse of the Parliament of the Daleks, so I don’t mind telling you that the Daleks have a parliament. (See photo above.) Neither do I betray any classified secrets in noting that, even though there is a new companion in the near future of Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith, old pals Amy (Karen Gillan) and Rory (Arthur Darvill) are still around, and having their ups and downs -- completists will know this already from the online season prequel “Pond Life.” (See video below.) Rory has a new hairstyle.


The Daleks have a surprising request and will also suffer a novel consequence. Whenever you (by which I presently mean current show runner Steven Moffat) alter or elaborate upon the Doctor’s ancient enemy -- reliably frightening with their cigarettes-and-whiskey blown-speaker voices and waving eye stalks, in spite of looking like armored salt shakers or something that might clean your carpet -- there is potential to rile the fans. They are still wiping blood from the walls over the Great Colored Daleks Controversy of 2010.

If you prefer your Daleks classic -- and they were always evolving anyway -- there are the DVDs or downloads of past seasons by which to enjoy them in an endless loop of time. But I like the change that is built into the series (regenerating Doctors, changing companions, shifting authorial vision); it can withstand the variations it needs to survive. The show is a kind of metaphor for its own premise; form and function are one.

I am repeatedly on record as being a fan of Smith’s Doctor and, at the beginning of his third year, still am: He has humor and depth and the quality of being both colt-new and mountain-old; there is slapstick in his swashbuckling, but authority as well. Moffat has been accused of being too cold or clever, and it’s true that his elaborate origami folding of time, like a sentence out of Henry James, can be confusing even while it is grammatically correct. I find his sense and his sensibility rather poetic myself -- as were Davies’, but maybe that’s true of most good science fiction -- and, in its less demonstrative way, just as romantic as his predecessor’s. I don’t worry much about the loose ends and inconsistencies.

As the title portends, the settings in “Asylum” are largely interior, and generally dark. The action, too, especially compared to last year’s knockabout opener, with its big-sky Monument Valley locations and Smith sporting a Stetson, is somber and somewhat stylized; there is an almost theatrical, shorthand cast to the dialogue. There are a lot of browns and golds in the palette, though, for exterior variation, there is some snow-white snow as well. I am fond of snow in “Doctor Who” (as was David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor himself). It is a bit of a recurring motif (as is its negative, “false snow”), though its meaning is not fixed.

There is a sad and lovely revival of one of Tennant’s signature phrases. In the absence of spiky River Song, there is a new female intelligence for the Doctor to flirt with and fence with.

The ending, like that of the final episode of the last season, is a sort of pun.

That is all for now.

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