It’s quite an easy statement to say that Doctor Who show runner Steven Moffat enjoys his grand ideas; he’s a fan of spectacle and absurdity, which should seamlessly fit into the “Who” universe. In season five, when we were first introduced to Matt Smith’s eleventh Doctor, we were gifted with the storyline of little Amelia Pond and the scary crack in her wall which lead to the crack in the universe. It was an amazing story, heartfelt and exciting with that classic Who touch.
Season six’s premiere was bigger, with amplified tension and higher stakes. Our now four leads (The Doctor, the Ponds, and the lively River Song) raced about with chunks of their memories gone missing, a threatening group of aliens known as the Silence chasing them, and a version of the Doctor presumably dead. It was a beautiful introduction into what should have been another stellar season. The pieces were set and yet the ball was dropped. Steven Moffat’s ideas got too big, too incomprehensible, for him to handle.
The over arching story lines became muddled and confusing. Despite some incredible individual episodes—”The Doctor’s Wife” and “The God Complex” to name the two that stood out—the season was full of a multitude of mediocre and forgettable episodes. As a result, I went into this premiere episode of season seven with trepidation as a hesitant, naively hopeful fan. The result was an almost entirely fulfilling episode, while deceptively self-contained.
The premiere starts with The Doctor (Matt Smith) encountering a mysterious woman who has lured him into a trap while on the original planet of the Daleks, Doctor Who’s most formidable foe. There he is ambushed by the realization that this woman is half Dalek. Back on earth the Ponds are facing marital distress. Amy (Karen Gillan) is at work, as a model now, when Rory (Arthur Darvill) stops by so she can sign the divorce papers. The reason for their split is unknown and once Rory leaves, Amy is attacked by a humanoid Dalek while Rory is attacked by one on the bus. The three are transported onto a Dalek ship where they face the race’s parliament.
Onboard the ship, they meet up with the Doctor who warns them of the trouble they’re about to face. In parliament, it is not one or two Daleks that await them, but thousands that peer down on him. The Daleks have been in Doctor Who’s history for so long so to see an entire set with so many is incredible. The set is impressive and while the Daleks have often been overdone and misused, and at this point mildly archaic for the show, they fit well into this episode and were a real threat to the trio.
The Doctor steps out before them, the hall of Daleks, expecting hatred and threats of death to be thrown at him and is met with surprising pleas for help. The Doctor and the Daleks have a history of vitriol and bitter hatred towards each other. The Daleks being the baddies that the Doctor could never fully defeat. The Doctor being the individual the Daleks label as “predator”; he who is brave enough to face a creation built for destruction and hate. The Daleks believe that hatred is beauty and the Doctor vehemently disagrees.
Despite their mutual loathing, the Doctor is tasked with the mission of infiltrating the asylum, a planet where the worst of the Dalek kind is set to abandonment. As they said it’s a dumping ground for all of whom that have traveled too far wrong, who are uncontrollable despite the efforts of their own kind. The Doctor and the Ponds are beamed to the ground level of the asylum, which is where Oswin Oswal, played by the wildly engaging Jenna-Louise Coleman, is crash landed in her ship Alaska.
Oswin, as she tells through voice narration, has been stuck on this planet for about a year now. She passes the time by listening to operatic music and attempting to cook souffles. Fans of the show know that Coleman is the actress who has been lined up to be the next companion of the Doctor and our first introduction to her is an exciting one. Here is a character who would be naively walking into the Doctor’s world. She’s a genius, technologically advanced, and quick on her feet. It’s what makes her ultimate outcome of the episode work so well.
Back at the landing, spot the Doctor and Amy meet up and realize that Rory has fallen down a hole into the heart of the asylum. The two are met by another supposed member of the Alaska ship and are lead back to his capsule. They’re presented with another shock when he turns into a humanoid Dalek and his very dead crew turns into zombie versions of the human Daleks. Amy and the Doctor try to escape and in the process Amy looses the bracelet that had protected her from the nano-clouds—a nanobot lying in the atmosphere waiting to transform her into a bot as well.
Rory is currently alone down deeper in the planet as he faces a group of comatose Daleks. Believing they’re no longer living he pokes and he prods until one awakes, muttering out a disjointed “exterminate.” Oswin’s voice comes in and she leads Rory, flirtatiously, to safety.
Amy begins to hallucinate imagining romanticized human beings in place of the Daleks and goes to meet them joyfully. She explains to the Doctor that there is nothing to worry about because they’re just people. The Doctor shakes her out of it as a Dalek chases them down and begins to self-destruct. However, the Doctor reverses the Dalek so that the explosion includes more comatose versions instead.
The explosion alerts Rory and the three meet up with an unconscious Amy hanging limply from the Doctor’s arms. They find the teleportation pad and lay Amy down. She awakes while they’re talking about how humans are changed into Daleks by replacing love with hate, and promptly slaps Rory in the face.
The Doctor speaks to Oswin about whether or not she can drop the force field so that they will be beamed back to the Dalek ship. She can, but it will only give them a certain amount of time. So the Doctor agrees to rescue her first because while we’re told time and time again that he is a man not to be idolized, that he is not a hero, but he is always going out of his way to be brave throughcomplete acts of selflessness.
This leaves the Ponds alone. Rory tells Amy that he’s going to give her his bracelet because it’s basic arithmetic, it will simply take longer for him to fully turn Dalek. She balks and asks why and he gives the answer that we as viewers have always known. This is the man who waited two thousand years for her, protecting her. He’s the one who’s forgiven her attachment and reliance on the Doctor and has loved her in spite of running away. He loves her by not falling for the Doctor’s heroics, by not being simply amazed by the “raggedy man.” He has always and will always love her more than she loves him and as a viewer that’s what I truly believe.
Amy, however, does not and yells at him saying that she cannot have kids anymore due to whatever happened at Demons Run and that’s why she kicked him out because she wasn’t falling out of love with him, she was giving him up. She knows that Rory has always wanted kids and didn’t want him to be stuck in a life where he couldn’t have them.(I’m getting sick of women being written to have their self-worth tied in with whether or not they’re fertile.) The two realizing how much they still love each other make up.
Arthur Darvill is in fine form here being utilized as he should be. While he’s plenty humorous and plays the slap stick of his character well, it’s in his heartfelt, impassioned speeches where he real shines. Karen Gillan is good as well but has always had some trouble when tackling the more emotional moments. Gillan and Darvill’s chemistry however hides some of the wooden acting from Gillan and what we’re left with is a highly emotional scene.
This is what could have been an amazing storyline if it wasn’t introduced and subsequently wrapped up within the confines of a singular episode. Show runners should have planted the seeds for this back in the previous season and should have then left it t fester until the season seven premiere, to make the audience wonder why. While the source of their fighting is a legitimate one it lacks real impact since it was told and tied up so quickly.
Back with the Doctor we follow him as he searches for Oswin while being cornered by the Daleks. The Doctor screams for help. Terrified a new emotion for the Doctor, since it’s rare we see him so scared for his own livelihood—and Matt Smith plays it perfectly. Oswin responds by hacking into the Daleks’ minds and erasing any memory they’ve ever had of the Doctor. The Doctor’s bewilderment is understandable when he mentions how long he’s been trying to the same thing. Oswin reminds him that she’s a genius and tells him to come and save her. As he turns to do so he realizes the horrible truth.
Oswin isn’t a human, at least in body. She has been turned into a full Dalek and has forced herself into a dream-like state due to the traumatic experience of being changed. She still has her memories and her individual thoughts, she knows she’s human despite her exterior and it’s because of that she’s able to lower the force field and save the Doctor. The realization is sad, if not obvious since the beginning when the first human turned out to be half bot. However, Coleman’s charming portrayal of the character made it instantly more surprising because that was not the preferable fate. As the Doctor races from the room to be beamed up in time, we’re left to wonder how and when Oswin will return.
The trio is safely beamed up— with Rory and Amy love birds again—into the parliament of the Daleks. Again the Doctor is surprised because none of the Daleks know who he is and the trio leave to the chanting of “Doctor, Who.” I see what you did there Moffat, and it’s called subtlety.
It appears that Moffat wants a cinematic-like experience for each episode coming up, but does this mean a lack of character-centered pieces? With his other show, Sherlock, he is able to do a story of the week yet keep up with character growth. With Doctor Who it seems like he has a harder time with not giving one or the other up and has yet to meet an equal balance.
This was a self-contained episode. It began as if setting up for something huge, something lasting. It set up a problem, seemingly out of no where, with the Ponds, with Oswin, with the Daleks, and resolved and wrapped it up within the episode with no implications for the future . This episode, barring a singular character, is looking to have zero effect on the season as a whole. Is this the setting up for a season of “big bad of the week” type styling? Or is it simply Moffat paying homage to his favorite Who monster? I can’t imagine a season without an underlying theme or a storyline just hiding round the corner, but as the opening credits and style (with its Dalek like lettering) suggest, each episode may end up being a singular, epic tale.
What is preferable with Doctor Who? Fun, harmless episodes such as this for an entire season, or a season littered with great episodes but bogged down by the mediocre. The offshoot episodes of last season were at their best great character pieces. Where as season seven’s premiere lacked character-driven moments that weren’t ill-conceived. There was the Doctor’s crippling fear of the Daleks that surrounded him, Rory’s powerful, almost desperate love of Amy , and Amy’s admittance to the fact that she can’t have children. It was a fun episode but is fun going to take priority to moments of exploration of the key players’ minds.
This episode served its purpose. Big opening, the introduction to a possible future key player, and our team of space dwellers reunited. A good story, a simple story but heartfelt. Moffat take note, effective and interesting stories don’t require layers upon layers of thought. The premiere had relatable tales. What an individual does in order to protect the one they love, adversities being overcome in order to serve a greater purpose, the amount that the mind can save a person when put through trauma. It was good vs. evil, Doctor vs. Dalek, the oldest Who tale, the oldest form of storytelling there is, and it still works.