‘Run, you clever boy. And remember.’ This is much more of a soft launch for Clara “Oswin” Oswald than it is a Dalek story. They don’t have a masterplan, they’re mostly relegated to annoying obstacles between the Doctor and Oswin, and, by the end, they’ve forgotten their archenemy entirely thanks to some Clara-style editing of their PathWeb. Hearing the massed Parliament of Daleks chanting, ‘Doctor who?’ is very funny (although I could have done without Matt Smith having to spin about repeating it), and, in combination with the climax to The Wedding of River Song, suggests Moffat was flirting with the idea of returning the Doctor to “a mysterious traveller in time and space” and making a fresh start.
But although they’re secondary to the episode’s main intent, Moffat introduces some new information about the Daleks. They have a Parliament, for starters, led by a Prime Minister that’s modelled on the Emperor in The Parting of the Ways. They have an asylum, where insane Daleks are contained, as to destroy their ‘divine hatred’ would offend their kin. Skaro has, somehow, escaped its destruction in Remembrance of the Daleks – presumably due to time being rewritten during the War. Most notably, they can now convert humans into Daleks using nanogenes, which starts off with the eyestalk bursting through the forehead like a body horror parody of the mercenary helmets in Resurrection of the Daleks. While their use of human material isn’t a new idea, the scenes of Oswin being Dalekfied look more like Cyber conversion than anything in Closing Time.
All this is good – the Daleks had become the go-to existential threat in the RTD years, and the Paradigm was a damp squib, so doing something deliberately small scale and scary with them is a smart move (even if we never get a decent look at the much-trumpeted many varieties of Dalek). The new Dalek-humans are an effective updating of the old Roboman concept, and a lot more striking than hypnotised mercenaries or remote-controlled headmasters. The sequence inside the crashed Alaska is a nice bit of zombie horror.
I’m also a huge fan of Clara/Oswin’s introduction. Jenna-Louise Coleman couldn’t have wished for a better audition piece: she has to play funny, brave, scared, sad and defiant, and nails them all, with a good balance of sassy bossiness and brittle fragility that make her very much one of Moffat’s Lynda Day types. Between the script and the performance, I really cared about Oswin, and so her fate comes like a slap. However my feelings about Clara may change in future series, I can’t deny this is as sensational a first pass as any companion, classic or new.
This starkly contrasts with Amy and Rory’s plot, which is a vexing and unwelcome hangover from the excesses of Series Six. Rather than taking the Alka-Seltzer of the Christmas special and moving on, we have to go back to Demon’s Run to discover Kovarian’s gynaecological tampering with Amy has left her infertile. As she can’t be a mother again, she therefore feels she has to set Rory free. Coming off the back of The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe it’s another example of womanhood being measured by uterine fecundity – though in its favour Rory instantly calls this out as ridiculous.
More troublingly, this B-plot ties into the sense that Rory and Amy should really have left by now, and that Moffat has issues in letting his characters go. By giving a glimpse of the new companion, I’m now just impatient to get on with exploring that relationship rather than picking over the bones of Series Six. Asylum of the Daleks feels a new beginning unencumbered by the detritus of the past, immediately undercut by the long shadow of A Good Man Goes to War.
Next Time: Dinosaurs on a Spaceship