The following post is from Emma Hyam (a.k.a emma_lou on our forums & emma_lou1983 on Twitter). This can also be read on her blog.
4 out of 5 *****
WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE EPISODE
I’m beginning to think Steven Moffat might be some sort of evil genius. Thank goodness that "The Moff" has turned his mega mind to writing Doctor Who because if not, he’d probably have hollowed out a volcano and held the world to ransom by now. It’s not often that a sofa full of cynical Doctor Who fans, all of over 20 years standing, are shocked into total silence by what they’ve just seen.
We had been led to believe that we wouldn’t be seeing Jenna-Louise Coleman, the incoming Doctor Who companion until the Christmas episode, but as always we had forgotten the mantra of Matt Smith’s tenure, “Moffat Lies”. Companions have gotten out of tight spots before, but it’ll be interesting to see how Coleman’s character, going by the name of Oswin here, manages to get out of being a Dalek; is she even the woman we think she is? I expect we will find out soon enough, but what another marvellous Moff creation, all full of snarky cracks about the Doctor’s chin and throwaway lines about sexual experimentation (“Actually it was Nina – I was going through a phase…”) there’s a deeper vulnerability there too, which makes her eventual fate in this episode genuinely upsetting.
Meanwhile, back with our regulars - Arthur Darvill and Karen Gillan - are on top form, delivering scenes of the like we’ve never seen between Doctor Who companions before. They sell the fact that the horrors that Rory and Amy have been through have torn them apart, leaving them inseparable. They’ve both actually needed each other equally as much all along, and only on the precipice of them splitting once and for all can Amy finally admit that to him. Those complaining about a lack of consequences from last year get something meaty to chew on here as it’s reveled that Amy cannot have any more children, heavy stuff for a Saturday evening. You also get the feeling that having reunited them, Moffat is about to put them through the ringer all over again. Matt Smith was once again brilliant as the Doctor, imbuing him with whimsy but also ancient, suspicious and struggling with guilt, look at his reactions to the Daleks throughout, he hates them not only because of what they do, not only because of what they did to him, but also because of what he did to them as a consequence of his actions in the past.
I was impressed by everyone’s favourite malevolent pepper pots here, the Asylum is a genuinely unsettling. The insane Daleks are almost being kept as a exhibition of beauty by the others as well as it being a handy prison, wrapped up in the implication that The Daleks perversely find The Doctor’s hate beautiful. Having The Daleks forget The Doctor is a wonderful idea, much like the beginning of the series in 2005 where some of the shackles of past continuity were thrown off. Now we get to start all over again with the Daleks, opening up new story possibilities. For me this was very much Moffat’s take on the episode “Dalek”, trying to inject tension and pathos back into them. If I have one complaint for this episode, it's that we didn’t get to see enough of the Daleks, with old models like The Special Weapons Dalek only being glimpsed in the background, it would have been amazing to see them in action again. Mind you, the aforementioned sofa full of cynical old git Doctor Who fans were punching the air at the shout-outs to past Dalek encounters, the worlds of Spiridon (Planet Of The Daleks), Kembel (Mission To The Unknown) & (The Daleks’ Master Plan) and Exxilon (Death To The Daleks).
It was an impressive opener, it’s a confident, ambitious, bombastic start to a big series for Doctor Who. It packs a lot in, and you can sense that there’s been a real effort to deliver the kind of one-off weekly blockbuster that we’ve been promised, not to mention the Oswin questions. Amy, at one point in the episode, has her mind clouded, and sees people where there are actually Daleks. Has the Doctor fallen prey to that, too? Is that why he can hear Oswin’s voice, rather than the sound of a Dalek? How is she going to get from the inside of a Dalek to the Christmas special? Mister Moffat it’s over to you, and I can’t bloody wait.