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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

"Asylum of the Daleks": Season premiere of DOCTOR WHO is certifiably insanely good!

Is it just me, or has Doctor Who suddenly become a bigger presence in American pop culture than ever before? Every Barnes & Noble I've been into lately has an entire table devoted to Doctor Who books and other merchandise. Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor was on the cover of Entertainment Weekly earlier this summer. A friend in Roanoke spotted a comic book store this past week: the marquee outside said "TALKING ABOUT REGENERATION" to advertise Doctor Who stuff inside.

I've been watching Doctor Who since the winter of 1981. But in more than thirty years I've never seen the Doctor and his mythology as wildly popular on this side of the pond as it is now.

It's been almost a year since last season's finale "The Wedding of River Song" and more than eight months since "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe". However you figure it, this is the longest respite we've had since the BBC brought Doctor Who back in 2005. But showrunner Steven Moffat sure knows how to make the wait worth it...

I wasn't able to see "Asylum of the Daleks" until the morning after it premiered this past Saturday night. And I didn't get to write about it sooner but I have watched it twice more... and I'm still not getting enough of it! This is by far the strongest premiere of Doctor Who that we've seen yet and if this is any indication of what Moffat and his crew have in store for us the rest of this season, we are in for a hella dark and scary ride. Maybe even darker than last year's series...

"Asylum of the Daleks" opens with a sweeping and frightening vista of a place we haven't seen in a very long time: Skaro, the original home world of the Daleks. In quick fashion we witness the Doctor (Matt Smith) - still believed dead by the universe at large - along with Amy and Rory (Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill) abducted by human agents of the Daleks and brought to what might be the most horrifying place we've seen yet in Doctor Who history: the Parliament of the Daleks. Yes folks, seems that even the Daleks have politicians. And right when you'd think that they are ready to at last exterminate their oldest and greatest nemesis, they screech out a frantic plea: "Save us."

It's a prelude to what is doubtless an even more horrifying location: the Asylum. A cordoned-off planet containing millions of insane Daleks: the absolute worst and most uncontrollable of the most evil alien race in all the universe. And now it looks like the inmates are going to break loose.

It's a terrific story, and in finest Moffat-scribed fashion one replete with twists and surprises. It is also a hoot to see every Dalek variant since the show's beginning represented in the Asylum, including the Special Weapons Dalek first (and last) seen in the 1988 story Remembrance of the Daleks. My one beef with the episode is that I was extremely looking forward to seeing all of those insane Daleks going full-tilt whacko, when for the most part we see them inert and passive. Well, except for the ones in the intensive care ward... but you'll just have to watch to see what makes them such a special case. All in all though, this was a rollickin' wild and fun opening for the season. Showing the Daleks madder than usual was quite an innovative way to re-emphasize their evil nature. And by the end of the episode we get fairly good confirmation of what will be this season's motif: the question that was mentioned in "The Wedding of River Song". The first question. The oldest question in the universe. Hidden in plain sight. The question that the Doctor has been running from all his life...

"Doctor who?"

Like I said, if "Asylum of the Daleks" is any indication, this season is going to be in-tense.

I'm going to give "Asylum of the Daleks" Four and 1/2 Sonic Screwdrivers out of a possible five. And next time on Doctor Who: "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship"!