The perils of helping a girl come out of her shell
Steven Moffat is the master of prestidigitation. And as with all magicians you’re torn between wanting to marvel at the impact and intricacy of the trick on the one hand and wanting to know how it’s done on the other. This review is written in the white heat of the moment, so it’s a marvelling in a “how did he do that?” review, not a deconstruct. There’ll be time enough and rewatches enough for that.
One things for sure: you can’t review the episode without revealing the essential secret that, miraculously, two public screenings in London and New York and innumerable press previews managed to preserve: the introduction of Jenna Louise Coleman to the series. Although the idea of a girl in an computer-driven alternate world interacting with the Doctor through a screen until the terrible truth about her real world plight is not new (‘Silence in the Library’, anyone?) it was handled with a real aplomb and certainly whets the appetite for Christmas when – or so we thought – Jenna makes her debut as a companion.
Jenna’s introduction had been kept under wraps. The marriage travails of Rory and Amy had been publicly trailed. For me, the whole story of Amy’s pregnancy, abducted child and (we now learn) infertility rings false – it just doesn’t work in ‘Doctor Who’. But the acting of Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan carries a lot. Darvill is the unsung hero of Moffat-era Dr Who. Watch the scene with the slow resurrection of the Daleks in which Rory has hardly any lines for an example of his faultless approach.
Surprisingly, given the level of pre-transmission publicity, the Daleks seemed rather overshadowed. While long term fans will have revelled in glimpses of models from yesteryear; none of the Daleks on display moved very much. For me, it’s always a bad sign when a story consists more of Daleks standing and squawking than scheming and shooting. My guess is that it’s the zombie skeletons which were scarier than the Daleks for the kids in the audience.
But that may be mealy-mouthed. There’s so much to applaud: the scale and audacity of the story, the wonderful direction of Nick Hurran (a major find of the last year), the cheeky throw away casting of rising star David Gyasi on two scenes.
And most of all there’s Matt Smith. Loudly welcomed with cries of “Who?” when cast, viewed with apprehension by fans who feared he was being used to pitch the series to ‘Twilight’ fans, he has utterly and triumphantly made the part his own. Physically and emotionally clumsy, older than his looks and younger than his years, as light with his tongue as he is on his feet, Smith makes Doctor 11 infinitely watchable. His post-Who career is hopefully many years off but will be very intriguing to watch.
Was Asylum an all time classic? I doubt it. But it served as a wonderful curtain raiser to the 2012 series, gave a confident start to Jenna Louise Coleman, reintroduced children to the back of their parents’ sofa and managed to put a smile on your face while tugging at your heart strings.
Doctor Who is back.