Saturday, September 01, 2012

Asylum of the Daleks: Down And Down There Is No Up

'Well ... This is new!'

Eight months is a long time to wait for a new episode of Doctor Who, dear blog reader. You might've noticed. And this blogger says all that as someone who once waited sixteen years for some new Doctor Who with only one hundred minutes of mild relief somewhere in the middle (we're not counting The Curse Of Fatal Death much less Dimensions In Time before you even ask). And, even that wasn't very good when it finally arrived (Paul McGann being excellent, notwithstanding). But, sometimes, you need that bit extra wait just to remind you about what's really important in life. Since The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe went out on Christmas Day, hardly twenty four hours seem to have gone by without some Doctor Who-related story cropping up in the media. A steady trickle of speculation, gossip, rumour, spoilers and - if it's come from the tabloids - lies, just to keep you all interested until the new series comes around. And, now it's here. The last time a Doctor Who series started with a Dalek story on 1 September, it was 1979, Tom Baker was The Doctor and ITV was on strike. Sadly, for the collective intellect of the nation, dear blog reader, the latter isn't happening this week. Pity. But that's about the point at which the similarities between 1979 and 2012 end. 'A new paradox is, thereby, introduced into ... Destiny. A personal way of life and of communication with others which in another form could be continued even in an Asylum.' This blogger would have rather enjoyed reading Simone de Beauvoir's take on Doctor Who. There's nowhere near enough Socialist feminist existentialism critique in fandom these days, don't you think? I suppose I'd better put that right. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping always gets the tough jobs.
Pausing, briefly, to wonder why Richard Hammond was wearing some kit on Total Wipeout that looked, uncannily, like the sort of thing last seen sported by the lead singer of Menswe@r, 7:20 finally crawled around. Long wait. Mind you, seeing a bunch of mouthy self-publicists getting punched, hard, in the mush with a rubber boxing glove and ending up falling in the clarts is, undeniably, mildly entertaining if you're in the right sort of mood. Which yer actual Keith Telly Topping was, as it happened. Meanwhile, on Skaro (first time we've seen that since Sylvester McCoy was blowing it to smithereens in Remembrance - you know, 'Unlimited rice pudding' and whatnot) somebody, somewhere is doing a voice-over. 'First there were The Daleks. And then, there was a man who fought them.' And, from there, we're thrown head-first in a rip-roaring rollercoaster of an episode, Steve Moffat at his emotional and structural best.
The Ponds marriage, it would seem, is crumbling. Not through neglect but rather through misunderstanding and, if such a thing is possible, too much love. The Doctor, meanwhile, is having a moment of quiet, if you will, pondering whilst discovering the slamming jaws of a - not especially elaborate - trap closing around him. 'Do you remember who you were before they emptied you out and made you their puppet?' Our time-travelling trio, from three different locations (one, a bus!), are thus drawn together and find themselves in The Parliament of the Daleks which, rather amusingly is one with a Prime Minister rather than a President. Do we wonder if The Daleks also have a vile and odious rascal Dalek culture secretary and a rat-faced loathsome wretched odious nasty slavver-merchant and George Formby lookalike Dalek education secretary? Of course they do. Vote Dalek, dear blog reader, because their idea of coalition involves considerably more extermination and considerably less broken promises. 'So ... how much trouble are we in?' asks Rory as he finds himself in a white room on board a spaceship rather than the number twenty six to Tottenham Court Road. 'Out of ten? Eleven!'
The new title sequence is all right, as title sequence's go. I know some people get really hot and bothered about them but, me, I couldn't really care less. They tell you what the episode title is. What more is there to say? Amy and Rory, as if their day hasn't started badly enough, also have to listen to The Doctor giving them some sage advice on how to, you know, face death. 'Be brave. Make them remember you.' Then, one of the Daleks - you suspect it might be the vile and odious rascal Dalek culture secretary - rather miserably intones '++SAVE US++' That, The Doctor didn't expect. The audience probably did since it's been part of the trailer the BBC have been running for the last few weeks. We learn about The Daleks' asylum, described as a dumping ground for all The Daleks that 'go wrong' but whom The Daleks themselves refuse to simply destroy. We find out that The Daleks have a concept of beauty in that they cherish hatred. 'I thought you'd run out of ways to make me sick,' spits The Doctor, 'but here were are again.' Perhaps, the Prime Minister tells him, their love of hate explains why they've never managed to actually kill their Predator, The Doctor his very self. You can tell The Daleks are big on self-pity as well as racial purity. So, to cut to the chase, they want him to enter the asylum, with his friends of course, because he works better when he has humans to protect, and sort out some nefarious skulduggery, malarkey and shenanigans. Because, they can't. 'You're all too scared to go down there,' taunts The Doctor. Well, yeah. They're Daleks, after all. They're not stupid.

'Don't "be fair" to The Daleks while they're firing me at a planet!' And, it's just at this point that, in the best-kept secret of the decade so far, Jenna-Louise Coleman crops up in a 'this'll break the Internet' appearance wearing a red miniskirt and a cute smile complete with a Bizet soundtrack. Err ... okay, like The Doctor, I didn't see that coming. I'm sure that between now and Christmas there'll be all manner of fandom speculation on how Oswin relates to Clara (or, Avocado, or whatever her name is going to be). My theory ... Haven't got a flamin' clue, dear blog reader. But she was flippn' good and that augers well for the future.
Moffat's script was an interesting mixture of the dreamlike (Amy's hallucinations), the terrifying (zombie Daleks!), the intense (Rory's exciting solo adventures in the catacombs, which was proper action-hero stuff - particularly the floor slide) and a few, very definite, moments of quiet introspection and almost minimalist staging. There were dialogue allusions to Shakespeare (Hamlet and King Lear) and visual nods in the direction of The Godfather II, Blade Runner and Star Trek. And, one imagines, plenty of fortysomething fanboys like yer actual Keith Telly Topping his very self will have got a special little buzz in a special little fanboy place reserved for moments like when Oswin describes the Dalek inhabitant of 'intensive care' as the survivors of a series of particular wars. 'Spiradon, Kembel, Aridius, Vulcan, Exxilon. Ring any bells?' Oh, yes. Five Doctor Who stories made before you were born, m'love. Make a sentence which includes the words power, death and chase and then retire to a safe distance and watch some heads exploding. 'These are The Daleks who survived me.' As my mate Danny pointed out, it was nice to see that someone actually went to the trouble of teaching Jenna how to pronounce 'Spiradon' properly. Yes. It's called 'having a rabid fanboy as your executive producer.'

Yer actual Smudger his very self was on sensational form. Casually tossing in atom-bombs of caustic wit from the sidelines. Like: 'Dalek without a gun? You're like a tricycle without a roof!' And, in answer to Rory's question of who killed all The Daleks, a sly, knowing, 'who'd'ya think!' Karen and Arthur, too, got their share of great one-liners. The former gets to explain some necessary context to The Doctor when telling him about life. 'That thing that goes on when you're not there.' And, she also had the episode's finest dialogue moment after The Doctor explains that his plan involves several stages: 'In no particular order, we need to neutralise all The Daleks in this asylum, rescue Oswin from the wreckage, escape from the planet and fix Amy and Rory's marriage.' 'Okay,' says Amy. 'I'm counting three lost causes, anyone else?' For Rory, his little exchanges with Oswin are a particular highlight, As is: 'It's just arithmetic. Amy, the basic fact of our relationship is that I love you more than you love me. Which, today, is good news because it might just save both of our lives.' As most long-term dear blog readers will know, this blogger is a huge fan of Arthur Darvill's wonderfully understated performance as Rory over the last couple of years. As good as Smudger and Kazza are - and they're terrific - for me, Rory has often been the most interesting, most well developed and most easily identifiable character during his time on the show. And, the character has seldom been better than here. The scenes in which Rory and Amy argue about the reasons for their marriage breakdown amid a plethora of continuity references and mutual playing of the blame game and finally, finally, reach an accord of sorts is one of the best the show has ever done. A superbly human moment in an episode about the stripping away of humanity to be replaced by cold, hard, mechanical logic.

'Why do they hate you so much?' Asylum of the Daleks, dear blog reader, was a great episode. I mean, Girl in the Fireplace great. City of Death great. Inferno great. The Aztecs great. Castrovalva great. The Pyramids of Mars great. It was that good. Everything from the script, to the acting, Nick Hurran's direction and Murray Gold's score was spot on. It featured charmingly mundane and ordinary moments mixed with universe-shattering elements. And its climactic twist - and how they managed to keep that little bombshell secret in a fandom of terrible gossips, God only knows! - was a moment of pure, unadulterated genius.
Doctor Who, dear blog reader, is back. And that's something worth celebrating. The fact that it's back with one of its best episodes in years is merely an added bonus. 'You can do a lot in four seconds.'

Meanwhile, the BBC has denied a rather sensationalist tabloid story which claimed that Matt Smith has, or intends to, 'quit' Doctor Who. The article on the front page of Saturday's Daily Mirra is headlined I Quit and alleges that 'Doctor Who's Matt calls time on Time Lord.' It then quotes an anonymous - and, presumably, entirely fictitious - alleged 'source' as allegedly saying: 'We still hope show boss Steven Moffat can persuade Matt to stay a little longer, but the working hours are starting to take their toll and his role as The Doctor is closer to the end than the beginning now.' We'll leave aside for a second the fact that nobody  in the real world actually describes The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat (Thou Shalt Worship No Other Gods Before He) as 'show boss' or anything even remotely like it, except for tabloid scum journalists writing for a readership whom, they appear to believe, don't understand words of more than one syllable like 'executive' and 'producer'. Anyway, this utter masterpiece of journalistic integrity and fact-checking, with its quotes from anonymous 'sources' was, apparently, written (presumably, in crayon) by one Mark Jeffries, a slaphead of, seemingly, little obvious talent, whose other 'exclusives' for the Mirra include "I definitely want kids": Nicole Scherzinger is planning a family with Lewis Hamilton ... once she's finished her long to-do list and Simon Cowell to the rescue! X Factor star and ex-Sinitta help passengers on sinking ship. Still, we'll assume his mother is very proud of him and the work he does. BBC's Head of Communications Sam Hodges swiftly took to Twitter to play down the 'over excitable headline', posting: 'Doctor Who fans - Matt Smith hasn't quit. See him in Asylum of the Daleks, tomorrow at 7.20 on BBC1.' Explaining the context of the quotes featured in the newspaper - which Jeffries appears to have taken from a widely discussed interview with Empire magazine published earlier in the week - Hodges added: '[Matt] says in an interview that he won't be The Doctor forever - hardly "quitting"! He'll be around for a good while yet.' The newspaper's headline brought the following reaction from one Tony Heaney: 'THE DAILY MIRROR SHOULD BE SHUT DOWN LIKE THE NEWS OF THE WORLD, THE PAPER AND ITS STAFF ARE FEAR MONGERING SCUM!!!!!!!!!!' Over-expressive use of exclamation marks I'd've said there, Tone, although this blogger had no intention of editorialising on the sentiments. Oh, no. Very hot water.

Which brings us, I suppose, to yer actual Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day. The lunatics have taken over the asylum, you say? Madness is just a state of mind.