Four Fangirls Watch: Doctor Who

Doctor Who Series 7, Episode 1, “Asylum of the Daleks”

Oswin, in her chair, addressing the camera

Anika: “Dalek” was the first episode of New Who I saw. I’d watched some episodes of Old Who when I was tiny and it was on PBS, but I only tuned in to the new series because I’d heard Barty Crouch Jr. had been cast as the Tenth Doctor. “Dalek” features the Ninth Doctor but it also features (obviously) a Dalek — a sympathetic Dalek. It won me over. Seven of Nine is my favorite character in all of Star Trek. I’m hardwired to like Oswin. But golly, I really like her.

Jessica: I started watching Doctor Who in 2005 when the new series started airing on the Sci-Fi network. It was love at first viewing, and it’s been a torrid affair. Just the other night I dreamed the Tenth Doctor was my boyfriend and we went to a baseball game together…I’m pleased to say that I enjoyed the pilot tons more than any episode of Season 6! Some very clever things going on. But, I’ll be honest, I still think Steven Moffat is the worst.

Sara: I started watching Doctor Who in the middle of a snowstorm. I think it’s pretty appropriate, actually. The first episode I ever watched was a Ten and Donna one: Partners in Crime. I fell in love. This happened less than a year ago. It took me two weeks to watch the entirety of New Who and about another week to finish off Torchwood. All hail the Brits. Ten is my Doctor, but I love Eleven. What I did not love was this season premire. There was some good, a lot bad, and even more to talk about!

Sam: My first brush with Doctor Who was the TV movie in 1996, which technically makes the Eighth Doctor my first Doctor. When New Who premiered in 2005, I tuned in because I was already a huge Christopher Eccleston fan. I haven’t looked back… I’ve since watched episodes from all Doctor eras (complete runs of 3, 6, and 7, and partials on the others), I’ve gone to the Gallifrey One convention three times, am a big fan of Big Finish, and I did a self-guided tour of Doctor Who filming sites around Wales. I refuse to decide between 7, 9, and 11 for favorite Doctor. And I enjoyed the premiere. I wasn’t big on the Amy/Rory “reveal” (the reason for the divorce), and thought it dragged a bit in the middle, but loved the big Oswin twist and LOVED the way they brought Jenna Louise Coleman in 3 months early, which left a whole big slew of questions.

Anika: Something I noticed right away — both the A plot (Daleks ask the Doctor for help) and the B plot (Amy and Rory) were introduced and resolved in this one episode. I know that Pond Life happened but I didn’t watch it, and I didn’t feel lost, so I know it wasn’t required viewing. But since drawing things out is a main criticism I hear about Moffat (and all of New Who for that matter) I found the quick resolution interesting. But let’s start with Amy and Rory — who did watch Pond Life? What are your thoughts on their relationship, to each other, the Doctor and the show?

Jessica: I didn’t watch Pond Life either, but my reaction was more irritated with Moffat. I am not very fond of Amy, and for me at this point, the relationship between her and Rory is pretty much her only redeeming quality. I was annoyed that their conflict was introduced and resolved so quickly, though I did appreciate the cute-ness of the Doctor’s intervention. As far as her relation to the Doctor, she is my least favorite of the Doctor’s companions. This is partly because I feel as though she is contrived for me to like her, and mostly because she can’t seem to do anything for herself. Ever since she appeared on the show, most episodes seem to center on somebody having to save Amy. I HATE that. Can’t she do anything for herself?

Sara: I totally and utterly agree with you, Jessica. I only started to like Amy was late in Season 5 when she FINALLY acknowledged that Rory is the best man in the universe. I always felt like she was a sort of Mary-Sue and never had to work for her favor with the Doctor. She isn’t particularly clever or awesome, and yet she’s hailed as the Doctor’s best friend from the get-go. I don’t like writers forcing their characters’ likeability on me. I’d like them to earn it. I actually did watch Pond Life before the episode, but it didn’t really add anything to my understanding or enjoyment of the episode. Rory made me laugh out loud with his Ood on the loo comment, but that was pretty much it.

Also, Anika, your point about the A and B plot being resolved in one episode is exactly why I disliked this episode. The resolution of the Ponds divorce, especially. With this issue, Steven Moffat pulled a Ryan Murphy. Yuck. He introduced a problem with two characters to try and elicit an emotional response out of his audience, but, by resolving it within one episode, he cheapened its emotional value and made a mockery of the “issue” at hand. Also, it made no sense. In the last episode of Pond life, Rory is seen leaving their house angrily and Amy is tearfully yelling after him. That does not seem to jive with the story they told in the middle of the episode with Amy “giving Rory up”. Sloppy writing all over the place.

Sam: I think the pregnancy thing was the weakest part of the story, for sure. But as a device to show us the Doctor being good at something human but not at the tech stuff (he needed Oswin for that), I think it was a success. But I’m really really tired of the implication that biological reproduction is the most important part of life/adult relationships. Maybe if that had even been discussed by Rory and Amy, I’d be on board, but it hasn’t been. (BTW, apparently there was a cut bit from Pond Life that clarified things, but it was cut for some unknown reason, so I guess I can’t point to it.)

I’m actually a fan of Amy’s character – or I should say the multi-character of Amelia Pond, Amy Pond, and The Girl Who Waited – and I actually think she’s had quite a bit of agency in her own story (kidnapping in s5 notwithstanding, though she was still pretty active for a Ganger). If anything, she’s getting less credit now, and is almost made to look like a bad guy against the Awesomeness of Rory Williams (who I love, don’t get me wrong). Most of what bugged me about this story is, like Sara said, it seemed to be tacked on. Amy’s love for Rory has been shown over and over again, I find it really hard to believe that things changed that much or that Rory could doubt her… then again, in a society that puts so much pressure on couples to procreate, preferably biologically, maybe she really did feel like she was doing what was best for him.

Anika: I, too, would have preferred if their issues were drawn out. I like Amy and Rory, separately and together, but I know they are leaving and I think I am ready for them to go. So I would rather their issues, since they’ve now been introduced, be the reason they leave. Like, they actually make the adult decision to stop going with the Doctor. I don’t expect it to be that simple or happy. Well, not happy. Bittersweet. Anyway.

I don’t think the pregnancy thing came out of nowhere (though I agree it’s a tiresome plot point) — they did have Melody, and that turned out to be incredibly screwed up. I took the reveal to be an indication of how much it messed with Amy’s mind. She loses everything, her character is practically based on loss at this point, so of course she’s going to push away the only person she’ll never lose. That’s textbook. Of course I could just be reading way too much into her eyeliner. But heavy eyeliner is the calling card of an angry little girl lost and why else would she randomly be made a model but to express that with her make-up?

Amy Pond as a model in "Asylum of the Daleks"

But let’s talk about something I think we all liked: Oswin. And all the possibilities she represents.

Jessica: Oswin was awesome! As I mentioned earlier, my main problem with Amy is that I don’t see her as doing very much for herself. Oswin, on the other hand, seems completely capable of taking care of herself. In fact, if she hadn’t actually been turned into a Dalek, she probably wouldn’t have needed the Doctor’s help at all. That’s the kind of thing I’ve been waiting for in a companion! I want someone who is the Doctor’s equal in some ways, so that he doesn’t always have to save them, but they can actually do things together. I miss the Doctor Who where the Doctor and his companion have delightful romps through time and space rather than always these big mythologies Steven Moffat has created.

For a moment when Oswin was introduced I also found myself wondering if Oswin might be a good love-interest for the Doctor. Personally, I was a big fan of Rose + Doctor, and really, really down on River + Doctor. When done-well, I think this type of storyline brings out the very best of the Doctor, both how human he can be and also drawing attention in a relatable way that the Doctor’s story is really rather tragic. But then she was a Dalek! And all my hopes were dashed.

Sam: I love Oswin Oswald! I loved her before the Dalek reveal, and I love her twice as much afterwards. I literally spent half my day Tuesday reading up on Saint Oswald, the town of Oswestry, Northumbria, and the opera Carmen, in a desperate hunt for clues about her character and her relation (if any) to Clara. I was totally surprised to see Jenna Louise Coleman on my screen, and so pleased with the end result. I am an Oswin fangirl.

Things I loved about Oswin: her clothes, her being smarter than the Doctor in the tech department, but not the people department (it’s usually opposite), and Nina. I wish the Nina line hadn’t been followed up by the “I was going through a phase” thing, but it was still pretty delightful. And if there isn’t Oswin/Nina fanfiction yet, there should be.

But as for romance, I honestly think the Doctor is at his best when his companion is his best friend: someone he loves – and I believe he’s loved every companion from Ian and Barbara through Rory and Amy – and someone who can teach him something about humanity, but while he still remains separate from who we are as a species. I don’t want him to be more human, because he’s the Doctor and he’s wonderful. I have a lot of complicated feelings about how they handled the Ten/Rose thing, and it ended up mostly ruining seasons two and three for me, and almost destroying any good will I had towards the Tenth Doctor. Donna saved him for me, and saved the show for me in a lot of ways. I found River to be a breath of fresh air, because she’s a bit of a Time Lord and a bit of a human, and played by an older woman. And nothing between them is canonically more than flirtation and hints. But we ended the last series with a wedding… I’m ready to leave romance behind for a bit.

Sara: Oswin! I love her! Jenna Louise Coleman is so cute and I really can’t get enough of her. Although I called the whole Oswin-being-a-Dalek thing about five minutes after she was introduced, I still really enjoyed her plotline in the episode. Her interactions with Rory and Doctor made me grin like nobody’s business. Her pushiness reminds me of Donna and her cleverness reminds me of Martha. They are two of my favorite companions, so I’m all on the Oswin train!

Anika: I figured she was a dalek, too, but I was excited for it. I’m just sad that she’s not the new companion AS a Dalek. I could really get behind companion-Dalek-girl. Also, I have to give props to Moffat et al. for making all the convention going Dalek-girl cosplayers canon. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Hannah’s mum on a convention floor. But Oswin was adorable. And had adorable shoes that I would like to own, please. I don’t REALLY want to know how she comes back/who she turns out to be or have been, mostly because I found the River-reveal boring because I’d already figured it out, but… theories? We have had Who actresses play lesser characters before playing companions, but Oswin was a main player. And she was sitting in Jenny’s chair, but we have also had Who sets reused. Both these things make me think they’re playing with my mind! But maybe that’s just me…

Oswin smirking at the camera

Sam: I have so many theories. I’d hit a dead end with all my Os-related searching, but the mention of Jenny’s chair… and I keep thinking about who Oswin’s mother is (or whatever mother she constructed in her dream world), and how that’s related. But the Jenny thing, I mean. Jenny is one of my all-time favorite Doctor Who characters from both Old and New Who, and now I’m practically bursting with theories, all of which will probably turn out wrong. Maybe I should write them in their own post…

Sara: Okay, for a complete non-sequitur, I’m going to talk about the most hard hitting part of the episode for me: The implications of the Question–the First Question, the Oldest Question of All Time, the Question That Must Never Be Answered–being asked. DOCTOR WHO? Yes. Yes, yes, yes. It has been asked and we can only assume that we are in for a bumpy, bumpy ride. At the end of last season, Dorium (big blue guy, er, head) reminds the Doctor that the fall of the eleventh is still on the horizon and then lets him know that the question that must never be answered is Doctor Who? Now, there are a lot of curious things surrounding this. Why must not? Is the answering of the question going to bring on the Silence? Is it going to unravel the entirety of Time and Space? Who the hell knows? It’s Moffat. He spins webs so convoluted that even he gets confused sometimes.

But, to be slightly more focused, I want to pose my queries/theories regarding the implication of freaking DALEKS not remembering who THE DOCTOR is. WOW! Oh, wow. My immediate thought was that the Daleks and the Doctor are so intertwined in their timestreams and personal histories AND that the Daleks are also time travelers. So, because they exist in various points throughout space and time, is this going to cause a paradox event? If the Daleks jump around through time in order to avoid and/or attack the Doctor, then what is going to happen if they cannot remember who he is? Also, will this do anything to the events of the Time War? Like, with the eternal time loop be broken because of this? Let’s not forget, we are on the cusp of the 50th Anniversary of this show. What better way to commemorate the milestone then by returning to Gallifrey?

I would like to say that this is all pure conjecture and I am probably wrong about 99.99999999% of it!

Jessica: I have no theories because I don’t like Who mythology. I think that’s been my main problem with most Moffat episodes. For me, I feel like he creates these grand arcs that personally have absolutely zero resonance. I miss the days of Eccleston and Tennant because I feel like Doctor Who used to have really great characterization, so that I used to actually feel things while watching episodes (even for characters who only appeared once!) and Moffat makes it all about explosions and half-sensical reveals. But I really liked this episode, for the most part! It felt more in the spirit of show I used to really love. I think I would be very disappointed if it ends up being tied into more of that nonsense from the past couple of seasons, although it seems very likely that it will be. I did think it was a nice way to re-set the Dalek storyline, which was becoming rather rote. I think overall it shows a lot of promise for the new season!

Sam: I think opening Gallifrey up for the 50th anniversary makes a lot of sense. If they want to do a year full of tributes, having access to the old stories and characters is a good idea. I think RTD royally messed up the whole Gallifrey thing, especially with that ridiculousness with the Master, but that’s just an opinion, and I’d like to see Moffat tackle it.

Personally, I think this makes the Daleks interesting again. They’re the Doctor’s oldest foes, and I’m excited to see how rebooting them plays out.

Anika: …I just really want a Dalek companion. As much as I liked Oswin and the resolution of this episode, my favorite moment was Amy’s Dalek hallucination. There was a vague end-of-Titanic feel to it, and then there was a ballerina. A ballerina Dalek. I LOVED that. Daleks are clunky, menacing, antiseptic, scary, and mean. The opposite of a young ballerina with flowing hair. But they both dance in a circle. “Do you know how you make someone into a Dalek? Subtract love, add anger.” Somewhere inside that spinning Dalek is a little girl who still loves to dance.

Two animated images side by side -- a young ballerina and a small white Dalek, both spinning

Those are the moments I watch for, and those are the questions I’m interested in.

Ballerina gif found on tumblr, maker unknown.