Wow. This feels like a new Who. In a good way.
In this first episode of the series, we see a marriage fall apart, the Daleks finally return, & the Doctor is no longer the most feared being in all the cosmos. Steven Moffat resets Doctor Who so our favorite Timelord can truly fall into the shadows and not carry the burden of the universe on his shoulders.
The episode opens on Skaro, the Dalek home planet, where the Doctor meets a woman called Darla in secret who claims she needs his help in rescuing her daughter from a Dalek prison camp. The Doctor is suspicious, and rightly so—this is a trap, the woman is a humanoid Dalek puppet, & he is transported to the Parliament of the Daleks.
Meanwhile, the Ponds are in the process of signing papers for a divorce, but there is no immediate explanation. The first shots we see of Amy are in a photoshoot, with the words “HATE,” then “LOVE” written on her knuckles. Rory brings the papers to sign, barely even looking at her as Amy asks with a hint of excitement, “And then we’re not married?”
After watching their relationship grow and become the perfect image of love, it’s disturbing to see Amy’s indifference towards Rory. But no time to ponder; Amy & Rory are also abducted by humanoid Daleks, & are transported to the Parliament.
They aren’t killed on the spot, which is confusing to both our heroes & us. But here’s the real mind-boggler, when the Doctor’s arch-enemies plead: “Save the Daleks!”
The Daleks have a planet called Asylum, where they keep the Daleks that have gone mad. The planet serves as an image of beauty, where hatred can exist and be admired. The Doctor is disgusted by this, which leads to a haunting line from the Daleks to him:
“Perhaps that is why we have never been able to kill you.”
Talk about a slap on the face. In fact, the Daleks now have a special word for the Doctor: Predator. Looks like River Song was right all along at Demon’s Run:
“You make them so afraid. When you began all those years ago, sailing off to see the Universe, did you ever think you’d become this? The man who can turn an army around at the mention of his name. ‘Doctor.’ The word for healer and wise man throughout the Universe. We get that word from you, you know. If you carry on the way you are, what might that word come to mean? To the people of the Gamma Forests, the word Doctor means “Mighty Warrior.” How far you’ve come.”
While the Daleks love their Asylum, they have received a transmission from a ship that crashed there over a year ago from a woman named Oswin Oswald, who is (surprise!) played by Jenna-Louise Coleman. She is the only apparent survivor of her mission, fighting the Daleks outside her ship with her intelligence & knack for making burnt soufflés. Amused, the Doctor is immediately charmed by Oswin, although he does question where she gets her milk. Her crashed ship leaves the planet vulnerable, as it most likely knocked some of the force field down. This leaves the threat of escaped inmates to wander the universe, something even a sane Dalek fears.
So it’s settled: the Doctor will go into the Asylum, deactivate the force field which prevents the Daleks from destroying the planet, & then try to return to the TARDIS (which is inside the Parliament, where they most likely will be killed on the spot after completing their mission). The Doctor, Rory, & Amy are each given a bracelet which would protect them from turning into a humanoid Dalek while on the planet. But Rory questions why he & Amy even need to go on the mission.
“It is known the Doctor requires companions.”
At least the Daleks get it, too.
The Doctor & Amy get separated from Rory once they land in Asylum. A man who seems to have also survived the crash takes them into the ship, buried within the planet. His fellow crew mates are dead, and the man is confused at first. But then he remembers he died as well and turns into a humanoid Dalek. Even the dead bodies are humanoid Daleks, and they chase the Doctor & Amy further into the ship. Oswin helps them escape by hacking the system on the planet, but not before Amy loses her bracelet. The process is slow, but she starts to lose some short-term memories.
Rory, meanwhile, finds himself in a room with dormant Daleks. However, due to curiosity & clumsy behavior, he wakes them all up.
Amy’s not having much luck either—she starts hallucinating that the Daleks are people and almost gets killed by them. The Doctor taunts one of the Daleks that has no firepower, and turns it into reverse. The Dalek self-destructs and takes the rest of the fleet with it. Rory hears the “boom!” and rejoins the Doctor and Amy, the latter who is now going in and out of consciousness.
Oswin comments on Amy’s slow conversion: “Do you know how you make someone into a Dalek? Subtract love, add anger. Doesn’t she seem a bit too angry to you?”
Angry, yes. In fact, Amy’s behavior seems quite odd in this episode. More on this later.
With Oswin’s expert knowledge & natural brilliance, they all come up with a plan that’ll shut down the force field with enough time for them to escape. Oswin could do it from where she is—in the cockpit of her spaceship—but she wants the Doctor, her “Chin Boy,” to come get her first.
Rory: This place is crawling with Daleks.
Oswin: Yeah. Kind of why I’m anxious to leave.
The Doctor takes off to rescue Oswin, leaving Rory & Amy finally alone. Suddenly, the episode is no longer about life or death, planets and aliens, but about these two people the audience has watched fall in love, & prove that love over and over again. The boy and girl who waited. What went wrong?
Rory gets straight to it: He will take off his bracelet and put it on Amy, because the process of turning into a humanoid Dalek would be slower on him. Why?
“Amy, 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.”
I like that this is addressed, because for so long we’ve seen Rory be the guy who has always been in love with Amy before she even realized she loved him back. We know he has proved himself, by waiting for her for 2,000 years and for fighting at Demon’s Run. Rory has always loved Amy, but also fears he may not be enough for her.
What he doesn’t count on, though, is Amy becoming furious with him.
Amy: Don’t you dare say that to me. Don’t you ever dare.
Rory: Amy, you kicked me out!
Amy: You want kids, you have always wanted kids. Ever since you were a kid. And I can’t have them!
Rory: I know.
Amy: Whatever they did to me at Demon’s Run, I can’t ever give you children. I didn’t kick you out. I gave you up.
Rory: Baby, I don’t—
Amy: So don’t you dare talk to me about waiting outside a box because that is nothing, Rory, nothing! Compared to giving you up.
Infertility. A delicate subject, especially in a “children’s show”. But what is done beautifully in this scene is revealing the insecurities of both Rory & Amy. They love each other so much, but also feel like they don’t deserve the other. The callback to waiting for 2,000 years is not a competition for Rory, but an illustration of his love for his wife. In the same way, Amy gave up her marriage with Rory so that he could have what he always wanted—a nice family life full of kids and happiness. Rory knows she cannot have children, but he didn’t leave her. He loves Amy for being Amy. She kicked him out because she felt guilty for being able to have kids, and she knew he wouldn’t leave unless she made him. This explains the hostility she had in the beginning of the episode towards Rory and why once he left, she was miserable. Amy has always protected herself by pushing the people she loves out. Ending her marriage was an act of selflessness, just like Rory obliging to it because he believed that is what she truly wanted.
Realizing they both still loved each other, Rory demands she takes his bracelet and Amy, because she doesn’t want him to die either, absolutely refuses. They stop arguing when they discover that Amy already has a bracelet on her wrist—it’s the Doctor’s.
Oswin guides the Doctor through the ship to reach her. He must first pass through intensive care, where the Daleks who survived him are kept. Despite being silent for years, the Daleks recognize the Doctor as “Predator” and break loose from their chains. (Security in this place seems quite lax.) The door to Oswin won’t open and the Daleks start closing in. It’s frightening to watch the Doctor so scared, and it begs the audience to remember that this man does not travel with a weapon; just his mind & a sonic screwdriver. He’s immensely vulnerable, as he is in this moment, begging for Oswin’s help.
And help does come. Oswin, the hacking genius that she is, deletes all files pertaining to the Doctor. The Daleks on the ship forget who he is and the doors open. The Doctor is finally able to get Oswin out of the ship she has lived in for a year.
Just one problem. Oswin isn’t who she says she is.
In a horrifying twist of events, the Doctors asks Oswin if it feels real. Oswin is confused; she doesn’t understand why he won’t just come closer. She wants to get out.
Unfortunately, she won’t be able to. After Oswin’s ship crashed, the Daleks recognized her genius. Instead of turning her into a humanoid Dalek, like the rest of the crew, they did a full conversion—Oswin was a Dalek. The experience was so traumatic that she invented a dream world for herself, one that involved making soufflés & running around the ship’s cockpit in human form.
The revelation is devastating to Oswin as well, and her Dalek-self takes over to exterminate the Doctor. But then she stops herself. She is not Dalek. She is human. And there is only one thing left to do.
She tells the Doctor to run.
The Doctor: What did you say?
Oswin: I’m taking down the force field The Daleks above have begun their attack. Run!
The Doctor: Oswin, are you—
Oswin: I am Oswin Oswald. I fought the Daleks and I am human. Remember me.
The Doctor: Thank you.
The Doctor runs back to Rory and Amy, divorce papers forgotten, and the three of them teleport back to the Dalek Parliament as Asylum is destroyed. With pin-point accuracy, the Doctor teleports them inside the TARDIS, but he still can’t resist a little taunt at his arch-enemies.
Unfortunately for him, they do not recognize him.
The Doctor: Well it’s me. You know me. The Doctor. The Oncoming Storm. The Predator.
Darla: Titles are not meaningful in this context. Doctor who?
Ah, there it is. Oswin didn’t just delete the Doctor from Asylum’s database, but rather from all the Daleks. With a large grin, the Doctor is gleeful at the idea of absolute anonymity.
“Fellas, you’re never gonna stop asking.”
Well? What did you think? For me, this is exactly the kind of series premiere I was hoping for: filled with excitement, fun, character development, & an advancement in the Doctor Who mythology.
And what a brilliant performance by Jenna-Louise Coleman! Now that her character of Oswin has died off, it’ll be interesting to see how she will be introduced as Clara, the Doctor’s new companion, in the Christmas Special. But based simply on this one episode, without a single on-screen interaction with Matt Smith, their chemistry is still electric. She is able to keep up with, even exceed, his banter and adds a spark to the dynamic. Yes, it will be sad to have the Ponds leave, but having a new actress onboard will be refreshing.
This Saturday promises dinosaurs, Mr. Weasley, & Queen Nefertiti! Keep an eye out for the new design in the credits!