Asylum of the Daleks: Doctor Who?

Excellent kick-off to the new season of doctor who last night, including a fascinating new depth to the Daleks and a wonderful stand-alone story about some of the Doctor’s companions.

For my review, I’m first going to get the most obvious and objectionable part of the ongoing tale of the Ponds out of the way: Amy needs plots that have nothing to do with her vagina. I’m usually a defender of Moffat’s women, but even I have to admit that this is getting ridiculous. Most of women’s lives have nothing to do with their sexuality and childbearing abilities, as Oswin demonstrates in the same episode. Amy needs new stuff, and she needs it ASAP.

Now that that’s said, I’m going to focus on a far more interesting aspect of the episode: the construction of masculinity. This is a boy’s show, but unlike many boy’s shows it takes conflicting ideas of masculinity seriously.

The Doctor is at his most broody-asshole-hero in this episode, snapping at the desperate woman who called him and even been a bit mean to the Ponds. The reason for this is not immediately clear, until you realize that this is what being in hiding has done to our Doctor. He’s been without companions for a ridiculous amount of time. He’s escaped all the consequences of his actions, which have been borne instead by the people he loves. He’s wandering around the universe and, by necessity, avoiding all connections with anyone in order to maintain his cover.

Losing your connection with people is the theme of this episode. The Daleks are the ultimate in connected, sharing a telepathic web that links all their minds, but at the same time each is utterly alone, trapped in their individual shells. In contrast, each of the three humans in the episode falls back on their real, broken connections with the people they love in order to stay themselves. Oswin and her mother, Amy and Rory, all have to hold on to each other to maintain their senses of self.

The Doctor is now the free ultra-masculine hero, but unlike Oswin, Rory, and Amy, he seems profoundly unhappy. He is still capable of love, but he is casting it off as dangerous, as a burden. It’s just him and the TARDIS now, with no strays, and it’s in danger of making him as isolated as the Daleks.

The Doctor may rejoice in his anonymity, dancing around chanting the show’s title, but the more people who forget him, the more creatures and races who lose him, who lose that part of themselves to which the Doctor is essential, the more the Doctor is in danger of losing the part of himself that is human. If he’s not more careful, we’re going to lose him.

Rule One: The Doctor Lies

 In “The Girl Who Waited,” Rory and Amy were compelling and wonderful, the directing was flawless, the acting was pitch-perfect, and the timey-wimey plot made absolutely 0 sense (I still don’t get how you sit here for a day and the people on the other side live out their lives of one day, since they’re infected). It was certainly a wonderful episode on every level. But what I found most interesting was that it was one of the most brutal yet explorations of Rule One.

The Doctor’s rampant fibbing was certainly present pre-eleven, but I don’t remember it being anywhere near as pronounced as it is now. It seems that the Doctor is lying left and right these days, and when called on it he tends to just shout “That was a clever lie!” When he lies, it is usually to his companions, be it short term like the fellow in The Lodger or long term like Amy and Rory. Usually, these lies are with the best of intentions—to reassure them, to make them back off so he can do something dangerous without them, or in the best of his lies, to give them the strength to do what they need to do.

These lies are necessary, and often do what they need to do. The world gets saved, most everybody lives. But in “The Girl Who Waited,” the Doctor lied purely to deceive his companions. He knew from the beginning that he could not take both Amys, and he led on the old Amy, failing her yet again.

Did the Doctor make the right call? He knew he couldn’t really bring both Amys, but by lying he was able to save the young Amy. He made a difficult call: that the Amy he knew was more important than the Amy he didn’t know.  If he hadn’t lied, the Amy who would have lived would have been the old Amy. The Amy he had failed yet again.

It was an essentially selfish act, but not in an immoral way. He chose the Amy he knew, and he did what Rory and Amy couldn’t do. In “Amy’s Choice,” he told them that the evil-feeding pollen “Would have starved to death in a second on the evil inside you; I choose my friends carefully.” These friends keep him human, they keep him good. And we believe that the Doctor is good, because we, the viewers, love the Doctor just as much as his companions.

But every once in a while, we get these painful, heartbreaking reminders that the Doctor is much older and much less human than we usually notice. He is the one who can make the choices no one else can stand to make. They pain him greatly, as we saw when he locked old Amy out of the Tardis, but he makes them nonetheless. And he always will. And in spite of these moments when he seem so alien and cold, we will always love him, because he is just too damn wonderful.