It has been said that the Doctor is worth the monsters. Similarly, ‘Asylum of the Daleks’ is worth the nonsensical. I don’t like making excuses for stories, but it’s an achievement to write an ambitious 45 minute episode which manages to paper over every crack. 'Asylum’ doesn’t really manage that, but what it does do is fun, loony and occasionally moving. Certainly, I found it more involving and grounded than last season’s opener.
The plot involves the Doctor being sent by the Daleks to a planet where the Daleks keep their particularly insane friends. Contrary to the usual Dalek modus operandi, they don’t kill them, because they find their depraved hatred beautiful. Except now, there’s been a crash, and the crazy Daleks might get out. So they need to kill them, because apparently they’re not that beautiful. But they can’t get in to destroy them without turning off the forcefield. Yep, even though the whole reason that they want to destroy it is because things can get in.
The episode is fine, even with this bizarreness. But it’s hard not to wish that they’d been able to come up with a more convincing hook. There’s further awkwardness with the Dalek-making virus that kind of alternates between being very threatening and not threatening at all, but as it leads to one of the scenes I liked the most, I’ll give it another qualified pass. I’m a very hard marker.
Once we get down to brass sense spheres, however, there’s some great stuff. There’s the intriguing, funny and beautiful Oswin. In ways she’s rather typical of Moffat’s usual infinite-banter female roles, but she rises above this somehow, partly due to Jenna Louise Coleman, but also due to the intriguing developments in her character.
Only a handful of scenes are used to draw the awkward position that the Ponds are in, and indeed, how they get out of it. But I found all of them really good; economical, moving and genuine. The genuine bit, particularly, is something that the Ponds’ relationship really needed after a season where they had a child and then had it disappeared and had to not care too much.
I’d mention the Daleks more, but aside from the thrilling (and for me at least, unexpected) conclusion, they weren’t really used that much. The best use of the screaming beasties, to my money, is season one’s one-two punch with 'Dalek’ and 'Parting of the Ways’. For all the talk, the Daleks in this story are all either deeply damaged, or incompetent cowards. Which is a shame if you’re deeply emotionally invested in the preservation of the Daleks’ menace.
That season seven begins with a fun story is good; that it begins in such a way that feels like it’s looking forward to fresh new things is good too. I’m less down than I was during season six. Optimistic, even. I think I could even cope if they never explained what was blowing up the TARDIS in season five.
But I’d really rather they did.