Two types of Doctor Who episodes Steven Moffat has excelled at envisioning are Christmas episodes and season premieres. Once again, in the latter area, he has not failed. “Asylum of the Daleks” is a deliriously intense dramatic trip — a Hammer House of Dalek Horrors — that delivers on just about every count and expectation one could have from a 50-minute installment of this series. It’s probably Moffat’s finest season opener yet. (The list of requests I wrote earlier this week? Let’s just say I’m presently a satisfied Whovian.) After the bad taste left by so much of season six, this felt very much like a series getting itself back on track. Perhaps we shouldn’t get prematurely excited, though, lest we end up let down later? It is, after all, only the first installment of a season of 14 that’s going to stretch well into next year. Still, this was most reassuring.
Many aspects are worthy of discussion, but the one that was the most startling was the early appearance of Jenna-Louise Coleman, here playing a character named Oswin Oswald, revealed in the climax to be a human converted into a Dalek. Moffat has insisted for months that Coleman’s new companion would be introduced at Christmas, to the point where this was an accepted fact; obviously a massive deception. Why keep it a secret, and is the “surprise” a surprise to the average viewer who doesn’t keep track of behind the scenes stuff such as casting? Even over in the U.K., where the public actually knows who Coleman is, won’t most viewers just shrug and say, “Oh yeah, I heard she was coming onto the show.” It’s a long way to go to keep a secret that didn’t necessarily need to be kept.
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