50 for 50 — The Greatest Stories in Doctor Who History — #16

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Steven Moffat blows all other recent season openers out of the water with this blockbuster of grand scale, shock, tension, humour and intrigue, ending with a plot twist that completely erases the Doctor from the collective memory of his greatest foes – but only after hearing how they have grown stronger as a result of being in fear of him.  How clever is that?  Some magnificent dialogue blasts out more unforgettable one-liners than we’ve ever previously relished in a single episode as Asylum of the Daleks elegantly sets up some potent new storyline developments at the start of the build-up to the 50th anniversary.

The drama of witnessing Amy and Rory’s marital problems brings an even bigger surprise than a Dalek eyestalk appearing from someone’s forehead! However, the couple’s sub-story is thoughtfully written and ends pleasingly with their bond becoming strengthened by the events in the asylum, as they head into their final few episodes.

Then we have Jenna-Louise Coleman – so spellbinding and extremely cheeky as soufflé girl Oswin, whose unforeseen appearance is probably her best performance so far. Here, she plays the part of a ‘future companion’, although Oswin and the Doctor don’t recognize this – but the audience does!  Once again, it’s the lack of spoilers and the keeping of a secret that helps create the best Doctor Who. But in this case, it’s the ingenious Moff-tease of the viewer’s prior knowledge that J-LC will be the new companion that throws anticipation into confusion, especially when we discover she’s actually a Dalek, and then watch her die heroically without the Doctor even seeing her face.

Some of the depths of Dalek depravity are laid bare in their conversion of humans by subtracting love, adding anger and the macabre concealing of eyestalks within the skulls of both corpses and the living. As if the Daleks weren’t already mad enough, we now encounter the ones who are so sick and insane that they terrify the members of their own pepperpot parliament and, in ‘intensive care’, we find the most deranged Daleks of all – the ones who have survived the Doctor. The creepy scenario of dormant Daleks stirring back into life creates a greater sense of threatening tension than we’ve enjoyed in stories featuring these old enemies for a long while, and it’s this exposure of their pitiful state that curiously makes them appear disturbingly scary once more.

Matt Smith excels in his role as ‘The Predator’ and watching this story again makes me terribly sad he didn’t opt to make another series. No doubt Peter Capaldi will be superb, but he has enormously talented shoes to fill. Asylum of the Daleks has to be my favourite season opening episode since An Unearthly Child and, in tribute to the BBC’s original mission to inform and educate as well as entertain, we all learn how to make a soufflé: Eggs-Stir-Minate!!  — Alan

Andy’s #16 — The Evil of the Daleks
David’s #16 — The Christmas Invasion
Steve’s #16 — Blink

#15 next week…

 

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