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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

93 Comments

  1. Scurra
    October 15, 2014 @ 12:23 am

    I am in that odd group who knew that Jenna Coleman was joining the show, in that I had seen press reports, pictures, and other coverage, but as I am pretty bad with faces, I did not recognise who she was until the credits rolled, at which point I understood.
    So yes, the story felt very disjointed to me at the time. It was clear that Oswin had significance in the sense that she appeared to be a lost companion (like Kylie in VotD) but that was more for the questions about the transformation into a Dalek rather than anything else. (It's interesting to compare this with the transformation into a Cyberman in Doomsday too – where and how does "personality" come from?)

    I will be very interested in seeing your exploration of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl phrase, which I think is as misused/misunderstood as Mary-Sue is.

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  2. Nathan
    October 15, 2014 @ 12:57 am

    The biggest missed opportunity of this episode was failing to foreshadow the reveal of Clara as a Dalek by showing her preparing a soufflé with an egg whisk in her hand. It would have been so perfect that I actually falsely remembered her doing it after I saw it for the first time.

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  3. jonathan inge
    October 15, 2014 @ 1:05 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. Kit
    October 15, 2014 @ 1:10 am

    In this scene, Clara is cleverly disguised as

    punchline!

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  5. Anton B
    October 15, 2014 @ 1:23 am

    And fixing the blocked sink with a plunger.

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  6. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 15, 2014 @ 1:25 am

    My feelings on fridging, as a trope, are not dissimilar to my feelings on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which is to say, I think they both describe sexist cliches. Neither are immediate disqualifiers. It's obviously not the case that one ought never kill a female character. It's also obviously not the case that attractive, charming, and slightly elfen young women should be exiled from television and film.

    But it remains the case that one ought raise an eyebrow when a major female character is killed off, and this ought be interrogated with an eye towards whether there's anything going on beyond the shock of a character death. Especially in 2014, when, quite frankly, "shocking character death" is itself a tedious cliche. And when we see another spunky and slightly neotenal female character, we ought be quick to ask whether she's just a fetish object for the male gaze or not.

    As with most trope-based criticism, the flaw comes when people act as though observing the component tropes of a work as an end in itself, and especially when people decide to just create exhaustive lists of uses of a trope without looking at the variety implicit. (This sounds perilously like a swipe at TV Tropes, and it almost is, although they at least have the decency to define their scope consciously and mindfully – its people who think TV Tropes is coextensive with the whole of worthwhile criticism that annoy me.)

    I think Clara absolutely fits into the MPDG tradition, although I think there's a ton of subversion going on. And in her most straightforwardly MPDG appearance, The Snowmen, notably, she's the MPDG as only Doctor Who can actually do it. I mean, I honestly cannot think of anyone who's done Manic Pixie Dream Mary Poppins before, so credit due.

    I think her death in Asylum of the Daleks is, ultimately, cheap and nasty and the sort of female character death that is at this point best avoided.

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  7. Jarl
    October 15, 2014 @ 1:27 am

    Jenna Coleman lip-synching Nick Briggs dialogue is one of the best images Series 7A offered us, sitting comfortably alongside the Weeping Angel of Liberty and the simple, warm charm of the Doctor yelling "Dinosaurs on a spaceship!"

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  8. Aylwin
    October 15, 2014 @ 1:57 am

    Wandering off apropos Mary Poppins, I wonder if there's any intended resonance between that element of Clara's background and Missy's Evil Mary Poppins vibe. I suppose we have to wait for the explanation of Missy's Fenric-esque sponsorship of Clara's relationship with the Doctor.

    Bouncing from that even further off-topic, a thought just now occurs: given all the blatant Wizard of Oz business around Ace, I suppose wicked witch Morgaine's description of the Doctor/Merlin as "that insignificant little man" was another shout-out. Never occurred to me before.

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  9. Aylwin
    October 15, 2014 @ 1:59 am

    Lucky we didn't say anything about the dirty knife!

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  10. Anton B
    October 15, 2014 @ 2:01 am

    I'm surprised by your negativity toward this episode but can't really disagree with any of your points. I can't imagine what a 'not-we' might have thought was going on here, or focused on, as so much of its narrative depended on not only a fine tuned knowledge of Moffatcentric Whovian lore but also non diegetic ephemera (the casting of Coleman, Gillan's pre-Who modelling career, the box-set VAM etc.)
    And yet…I really like Asylum of the Daleks. I like that it simultaneously panders to fan wankery while deconstructing it. The Daleks have a parliament now? An asylum? I love that the robomen of Dalek Invasion Earth have been re-imagined as the eye-stalk head bursters. I love that despite wheeling on 'every Dalek ever' they show the PTSD survivors of classic series battles as looking like battered new series Daleks. I'm even fairly certain that introducing Clara Oswin Oswald as Fridged MPDG is just Moffat self consciously trying a new angle on his own 'important companion introduced with her death episode' timey wimey trope that he started with River Song. I mean if you're gonna fridge a companion doing it with a Dalek is perfect.

    I think what really sells it though is Jenna Coleman's performance. You're right when you say "Some of this seems to be a reaction to realizing what they had with Jenna Coleman." She totally steals the show here. Managing to eclipse even Karen Gillan, Arthur Darville and Matt Smith at their most Emo.

    The other day a friend complained that Series 8 had become the Clara Oswald show. I think that not only started right here but is a totally deliberate decision. TED explored the Lonely God hubristic Doctor with Tennant. I think Moffat is doing the same with Clara, the Impossible Girl Control Freak Potential Time Lord heading for a fall.

    Hilarious punchline BTW. Well worth the build-up.

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  11. Aylwin
    October 15, 2014 @ 2:03 am

    Oh, and then there's David Morrissey's Tardis. I'm just getting carried away now.

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  12. Anton B
    October 15, 2014 @ 2:04 am

    *That's RTD not TED. Stoopid predictive text!

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  13. Kit Power
    October 15, 2014 @ 2:31 am

    I still wish he'd taken Dalek!Clara as a companion. That would have been fantastic.

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  14. Chris
    October 15, 2014 @ 3:48 am

    And not finishing what she was planning to do because she decided to talk to The Doctor instead.

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  15. Chris
    October 15, 2014 @ 3:54 am

    I expect Dalek Rusty to become a companion. Apparently the original edit of that episode saw him die, but now he's left alive out there.

    Well, I don't expect that to happen in the TV show. Probably only in a comic book adaptation, where he teams up with the Doctor's daughter for hijinks around the galaxy.

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  16. HarlequiNQB
    October 15, 2014 @ 4:03 am

    Argh! Fan art inspiration of the highest order. What a delightful concept.

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  17. David Anderson
    October 15, 2014 @ 4:52 am

    Oswin's dalekisation didn't feel like a fridging to me at the time. I think because for me the emotional weight falls on the fact that she's been constructing a fantasy version of reality to cope with the trauma. So that it turns into a meditation upon self-deception and self-preservation, rather than being about how a pretty girl is traumatised. (Obvious parallel: the way middle-class westerners construct a version of reality for ourselves in which we're guilt-free and therefore responsibility-free.) (At this point I would refer to a novel, which plays out the same themes using a male protagonist, but the title would be a spoiler.)
    I don't think I agree with Phil that most of the elements in the plot are under played – most of them get I think enough attention. The problem is that the one element that is underplayed, being the Pond's marital difficulties, is the one we're most invested in, and any weaknesses in the others are largely where they link into that.

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  18. Heath
    October 15, 2014 @ 5:28 am

    Agreed! The Doctor had a Cyber-head for a companion, why not have a full-out Dalek (even if it is a 'good' Dalek)?

    In into the Dalek, I thought we were going to see Clara get trapped inside Rusty, with the unspoken yet fully understood suggestion that we indeed already know her fate. Add some timey-wimey and amnesia and we get Oswin in the Asylum. I still hope this happens as I've never been satisfied with the explanations for Clara's previous roles and deaths offered in Name of the Doctor.

    Then again, I always hoped the Clara-companion would have been the Victorian manic-pixie Mary Poppins, rather than the modern manic-pixie Mary Sue we got in 7B. Season 8 has really redeemed her as a character, tho, so I'll reserve full judgment until we see how they decide to treat her eventual exit.

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  19. David Ainsworth
    October 15, 2014 @ 5:53 am

    I'm a little surprised given the high intellectual quality of this blog to see the opportunity taken to take a shot at both B5 and its fans in the service of a point about pre-planned plots that's questionable at best. Setting aside that my experience of ming-mongory suggests Babylon 5 fans aren't nearly as bad as Whovians (or Trekkers, for that matter), why in the world would one take the position regarding planning out plots that one either works things out as one goes or one sets everything in place from the start, making any adjustments or changes a betrayal? If the intent is to mirror intolerance encountered elsewhere, where exactly can I find such intolerant fans? If not, why is Moore somehow at fault for having a roadmap subject to chamge while Lost is off the hook for being virtually improvised at every step?

    If one produces and writes a series where the opening credits each week insist "they have a plan," are there really only the options of having no idea what the plan is or having the whole thing entirely mapped out, with any flexibility a sign of hypocrisy? And are fans really out of line to expect that someone writing "they have a plan" has given at least some serious consideration to what that plan is?

    An example like The Reichenbach Fall begs the question: who determined the circumstances of the sequence? Someone had to decide on details like John getting knocked down, his line of sight being blocked, and someone had to decide how the camera would restrict our own vision. It's possible to do all that without having a fixed version of events, but seems much more likely to involve a pretty firm idea. Saying that the audience needn't ever know precisely what happened can happily coexist with saying the creators of the episode should have some idea even if they refuse to nail it down. The point of a magician's trick is what the audience perceives of it, but the magician's craft doesn't demand the same level of mystery; quite the reverse.

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  20. Lewis Christian
    October 15, 2014 @ 6:14 am

    Putting aside the other 98 problems I have with this story, one of my biggest "huh" moments comes when Oswin is revealed as a Dalek. From that moment, we hear her talking like a Dalek (whenever viewed or heard from outside the casing – we only hear Coleman when the camera's literally in the Daleks' mind and we see Coleman). So how come, earlier in the story, when the Dalek spoke to the Doctor via the comms did we/he/they hear Coleman's human voice rather than the Dalek voice? Obviously it'd ruin the surprise but it doesn't really add up in terms of the story's own logic.

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  21. Lewis Christian
    October 15, 2014 @ 6:19 am

    Sidenote: the opening titles. Not only do we get the "blockbuster of the week" approach along with swanky blockbuster movie posters (effectively promo pics which are given to the new boy with Photoshop to go overboard with, and with a dozen names tagged on to the corner), we have "new titles".

    Or should I say, we have a bit of a mess. When they announced special titles/customised logos each week, I expected to see the episode titles in different fonts (so, for example, "ASYLUM OF THE DALEKS" in that Dalek font we all know and love – the one on the poster).

    Instead, we got rather bizarre textures on the actual Doctor Who logo each week, along with the other new boy adding his tacky Instagram effects over the title sequence. I get really pissy that, 8 episodes into Series 8, the 'title card' has been tweaked/changed slightly every week – it just feels amateurish, but at least the entire sequence looks pretty decent. In 7A, the sequences all just seem a bit naff. It's as though they perhaps planned for a new title sequence to kick off the blockbusters but then held off until 7B (my speculation there). Dunno shrug Is it just me on this one? I liked the idea, but the execution not so much.

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  22. jane
    October 15, 2014 @ 6:21 am

    There's no microphone in the white room. Oswin's patched directly into the pathweb and presumably any communications servers. She can dial up the opera Carmen — it's not like she's really got an iPhone to play it. It's not actually a stretch that if she can fill the comm lines with music that only exists in her head, she can fill it with the voice in her head as well.

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  23. Theonlyspiral
    October 15, 2014 @ 6:23 am

    No you don't.

    You think you do. Just like I did at one point. The very idea of it, the cheek "A dalek as confidante" why it boggles the mind with possibility.

    Then you listen to any Big Finish story where the Daleks feature and ANYTHING more than a standard antagonist role and you realize that 45 minutes where a third of the dialog is in that voice is just too goddamned much.

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  24. jane
    October 15, 2014 @ 6:36 am

    One of the few times I actually disagree with Phil. I didn't find Oswin's arc in Asylum to be cheap and nasty at all. If anything, she helps to subvert the very trope in action.

    First off, her conversion to a Dalek doesn't result in her death. If anything, it's a kind of Ascension — she becomes one of the most powerful Daleks ever, capable of thwarting them from within. She can alter their very memories, just as she's altered her own to suit her own purposes.

    And actually, she ends up subverting one of the major themes of the Moffat era — the theme of memory itself as something sacred. The Doctor says in the beginning to Amy that she should try to make the Daleks remember her, but the solution Oswin comes up with is to make them forget.

    The other thing that elevates this story above "fridging" is that Oswin's actual death is an act of self-sacrifice. She overcomes her self-realization that she's been turned into a Dalek, and in a wonderfully alchemical turn, she "remembers" who she really is, which is a fragment of her past/future self. "Run you clever boy, and remember me," she says, turning to the camera, perfectly self-aware and in control of her actions. She even participates in the recurring motif of a Red figure in the pupil of an eye.

    So not only does she master the art of forgetting, but of remembering as well, creating a union of opposites — this is the art of alchemy. That she does so while evincing some recognition that she's a character in a TV show who can command the camera and the very visual motifs in which she's represented I found simply sublime.

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  25. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 15, 2014 @ 6:44 am

    Jane – You're absolutely correct, of course, but I had to criticize some Moffat story, and doing The Doctor, The Widow, and the Wardrobe would have been too obvious.

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  26. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 15, 2014 @ 6:45 am

    I think you misunderstood my point. Or, at least, I recognize very little of what I was saying in your critique.

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  27. TheSmilingStallionInn
    October 15, 2014 @ 7:03 am

    Don't worry, I was exactly like you–I had no idea who Oswin was, even though Jenna Coleman had been announced, until someone pointed it out in a comments section/episode commentary, and then I was flabbergasted. An amazing thing in some ways.

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  28. TheSmilingStallionInn
    October 15, 2014 @ 7:04 am

    That may have been too much, though, too many hints could have spoiled it, don't you think?

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  29. jane
    October 15, 2014 @ 7:11 am

    I dunno, Phil, I'm wondering if you've been affected by the poison you've had to wade through on Tumblr recently.

    I mean, it's not like there's nothing else here to criticize — certainly the mishandling of the Amy/Rory subplot is fair game — but extending your critique to what I think is a pretty clear example of trope subversion, without recognizing it as such, seems like you're either missing the boat or, more likely, enthralled by your own narrative beats. Least charitably, it comes across as a sop to your detractors.

    A fairer criticism, I think, is that the use of such extensive narrative compression as what's on display here can make it difficult to untangle the tropes employed from the subversion thereof. The less attentive or narratologically sophisticated viewer, for example, isn't always going to pick up on Oswin's mastery of the run's visual motifs, or what that final glance into the camera conveys. This is always the risk of trope subversion, however, when it's not relying on the obvious markers of, say, the camp aesthetic.

    I'd also say you're off the mark when it comes to Nick Hurran. It's precisely because of his ability to weave the show's visual motifs into Oswin's story that "her mastery" of them even comes through. It's a much more sophisticated feat than anything he had to do with, say, Angels in Manhattan. In Asylum Hurran creates all kinds of interesting and compelling shots — the composition of Oswin's "home" as an Eye, the weirdness of Rory sliding under a door, the multitude of ballerina shots, the stark reality of Oswin's white room, the extreme closeup of a Dalek sucker, and many more besides. While I wouldn't say Angels was poorly done, if there's a "weakest" effort to point to it would be there.

    As for other Moffat stories to criticize, there's always Bells of Saint John, if only for its blatant wholesale borrowing of The Idiot Lantern in theme and structure.

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  30. storiteller
    October 15, 2014 @ 7:17 am

    Even though it was a mess in hindsight, I actually really liked this episode. It was largely based on Jenna Coleman's charm offensive, but it carried me through enough to not think too hard about some of the messier parts. (Except for the abrupt Amy/Rory storyline – that was too disastrous to ignore.) And this is one that I agree with Jane on. While the transformation of Oswin into a Dalek was very upsetting, the fact that she then overcame that like a phoenix from the ashes to burn everything she hated to the ground – even what she turned into – was fantastic. I disliked her dying, but I thought she did so with dignity and choice, which is pretty much the opposite of getting fridged.

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  31. BerserkRL
    October 15, 2014 @ 7:18 am

    I had happened to catch the rumor of her being in it before it aired.

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  32. BerserkRL
    October 15, 2014 @ 7:24 am

    This seems almost as good a place as any to note that the name "Clara" is "also associated with the chief protagonist of The Nutcracker, a young girl who is spirited away on Christmas Eve to another world by a magical toy given to her by a mysterious magician."

    I say "almost" because "The Snowmen" would be the best place to note it, but I fear I'll forget.

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  33. jane
    October 15, 2014 @ 7:24 am

    LOST was more like B5 in its execution, too — there was clearly an idea of where they wanted to go, all the way down to the final shots of the series, but they certainly had to "make it up as they went along" in terms of how to get there — not the least because of the inevitable exigencies of television production.

    There were bigger problems with LOST than the dichotomy of planning versus winging it. And I'm not sure those problems could have been anticipating until seeing how it all unfolded — particularly the problem with keeping the character dramas compelling after the Flashback structure had played itself out.

    The biggest problem, though, was the decision to leave certain Mystery Boxes unopened — namely the true nature of the Island and the Smoke Monster. While I can philosophically appreciate the choice (in more ways than one) to withhold the reveal, dramatically speaking it ended up pulling its punches. Combined with the overegged Sideways ending, which trotted out a tired trope without any serious subversion or a compellingly fresh take on it, it's no wonder that LOST got panned at the end.

    Which is ironic, given how vehemently I previously argued for the very ending it ended up delivering.

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  34. BerserkRL
    October 15, 2014 @ 7:28 am

    The best part of "Scream of the Shalka" was the robot-Master as companion.

    But of course Derek Jacobi's voice is a bit easier to take.

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  35. Ombund
    October 15, 2014 @ 8:01 am

    I agree that the Pond’s marriage troubles are underplayed here, but I do kind of love the concept of the Doctor saving a marriage: “In no particular order, we need to neutralise all the Daleks in this Asylum, rescue Oswin from the wreckage, escape from this planet, and fix Amy and Rory's marriage”. Of course all of those problems are going to be of equal importance as far as the Doctor’s concerned, and require broadly the same approach to fix them – how could it be otherwise? Yes, the Doctor’s role should be to bring down the government, but I can’t think of a more inherently Doctor Who idea than to take the time to salvage a real human relationship whilst doing so.

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  36. Chris
    October 15, 2014 @ 8:05 am

    As for the textured logos in Season 7, I quite enjoyed them and got a kick out of predicting what the texture would be after the cold open. The only thing I didn't like about those titles was the opening of the TARDIS doors to reveal the episode. It just felt so cheesy to me.

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  37. Lewis Christian
    October 15, 2014 @ 8:06 am

    Ah, okay yeah that works.

    Although the pathweb is another issue I have with Asylum (which leads, basically, into the fact that I feel this would've worked 10x better as a Cyberman story – Cybermen gone wrong in the Asylum, the idea of a pathweb, a shared hive mind, the converting of humans, etc.) Not that Daleks can't have those things, but I think it makes them very Cybermen-esque and would've preferred the story handed over to the creatures which I feel would've been a better fit.

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  38. Lewis Christian
    October 15, 2014 @ 8:08 am

    Chris, I think you're confusing the two? We only got the textured logos in the first half with the 'old' Smith sequence, and the cheesy TARDIS door opening came in the second half with the new title sequence.

    I can't say I agree though. I think the textured logos, whilst a fun idea, didn't really work. The Dalek bumps on the logo – it just looked clunky and looked crap against the title sequence, IMO. I think a better approach would've been to alter the fonts each week – so the Dalek font for week 1, then a Jurassic Park style font for week 2, a Wild West font for week 3, etc.

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  39. brownstudy
    October 15, 2014 @ 8:19 am

    My stray thoughts:

    * I also enjoyed this episode and have rewatched it a few times. I'm so impressed by the way Coleman isn't really interacting with the other actors in the scene — she's talking to a screen or the camera. That she invests so much emotion and urgency into these one-sided scenes really makes me respect her craft and energy all the more.

    * Loved Amy's hallucination of the dancers. Don't know if that visual started with Moffat or Hurran, but it was a moment that really played up for me the difference between Moffat's DW and Davies' DW. I can't recall any sort of similarly surreal hallucinatory imagery or visual punch in RTD's era.

    * A single dalek, or two or three, in a confined space, are more terrifying than an arena full of screaming daleks.

    * Pantsers or Planners? As the saying goes, the plan is nothing, but planning is everything. Although I read somewhere that Moffat didn't really have Clara's story worked out till much later, which is why she's a bit of a cipher in her time with Matt Smith's Doctor.

    * For those of us who are not conversant with fandom-lore, I recommend Josh's excellent history and examination of the Mary Sue at his blog. I never really got what the Mary Sue trope was about till I read his piece: http://vakarangi.blogspot.com/2014/01/ships-log-supplemental-trekkies-tale.html

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  40. Lewis Christian
    October 15, 2014 @ 8:37 am

    The hallucination scene may be my favourite scene of Series 7A. It's brilliant.

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  41. Nyq Only
    October 15, 2014 @ 9:05 am

    I think River's similar death is closer to fridging than Oswin's. For those who knew Jenna Coleman was the new companion, it was almost a kind of literal opposite (although not necessarily an ethical opposite) – a character who the hero doesn't know very well dies tragically, which provide the hero with emotional motivation to get to know the character better rather than seek revenge. River's death has elements of that as well but packs a substantial retrospective wallop.
    Oswin's death is more like the deaths of numerous nice characters who get killed by Doctor Who plots. She is elevated from supporting character because she returns but by returning the emotional impact of her death is reduced and the fridging is subverted. To some extent the use of fridging is so that cynical writer can establish that their character is capable of some kind of 'normal' hetrosexual relationship without the inconvenience of having to write an actual relationship – killing off Diana Rigg's character in OHMSS to give James Bond a wife, a motive for a rampage against Blofeld, and keeping him single.

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  42. Allyn Gibson
    October 15, 2014 @ 9:13 am

    At some point, some producer will want to do that — have a Dalek companion, just because it hasn't been done before. I suspect there are practical and financial reasons why it probably won't be done, though; practically it means having something big and bulky and difficult to move in a lot of shots, financially it means kicking in money to the Nation estate with every appearance. And a producer would have to take those factors into consideration. That said, Oswin as a companion, especially if the nanites could have reverse engineered her into a humanoid with the occasionally emergent eyestalk (which would have made filming easier), would have been fascinating.

    I was fascinated by the Dalek nanites and how they could turn a human being into a humanoid Dalek. The implications of that, if taken to the creepy and very logical extreme, are amazing — the Daleks could weaponize the nanites, drop them on the biospheres of any planet that they needed to pacify, and get a planet full of humanoid Daleks. (Go further; at this point, any humanoid character in Doctor Who could be a covert Dalek. There's no reason why they would be, and it may be that covert humanoid Daleks everywhere bends the playground equipment so far that it breaks.) I imagine the Daleks must have developed those nanites after the Time War; otherwise, they could have bombarded Gallifrey with them and ended the Time War far earlier.

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  43. Melissa Robertson
    October 15, 2014 @ 9:14 am

    Ugh, I'm late to this party. Jane already said most of what I was going to say, except she said it much more eloquently.

    I'm in a somewhat unique situation with Clara. I am a new enough fan that I was not a fan when season 7 aired, and as I was watching it I kept myself entirely separate from fandom. So I had no idea who Oswin was when she showed up in Asylum of the Daleks. Despite that, Oswin's death worked for me. It felt similar to Lynda's death in Parting of the Ways, but with more importance given to it.

    Also, since I was watching these a while after they aired, I was watching one or two a day, and so I didn't obsess over the "Impossible Girl" arc as much as I would have otherwise, because I knew I'd find out in a week or two. I think this lead me to noticing Clara's character subtleties in 7B more easily. I have never understood the accusation that Clara is a Mary Sue in 7B. (I actually don't understand the flak 7B gets in general, especially Rings of Akhatan, which is one of my personal favorites.)

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  44. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 15, 2014 @ 9:26 am

    They don't work on Time Lords, apparently.

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  45. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 15, 2014 @ 9:32 am

    Nah, Bells of Saint John, although I actually like it less than this story, requires too much attention to the details of Clara. Everything else is either out of order or actually quite good. This was, I think, the one where I had to at least acknowledge that there were sane critiques to be had about the Moffat era.

    And perhaps more than that… this does feel, to me, like an overreach. A fascinating one, and in no way any sort of "beginning of the end" – rather the start of a period of reevaluation that the show visibly emerged stronger out of. But I think Season Seven was… disappointing in some key regards. A learning experience, if you will. And I'd rather square that fact away up front than build to it.

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  46. Alan
    October 15, 2014 @ 9:33 am

    "But it remains the case that one ought raise an eyebrow when a major female character is killed off, and this ought be interrogated with an eye towards whether there's anything going on beyond the shock of a character death. "

    Yeah, but … she didn't die. She appeared to in an act of self-sacrifice, but the last time we see Oswin, she's breaking the fourth wall to look right at the audience before delivering season 7b's arc words: "Run, you clever boy, and remember me." Even if you aren't spoiled to the fact that Jenna Coleman is going to become a companion, that scene did as much as could be done to let us know that what we thought we were seeing (Oswin's death) was not what was actually happening (a facet of a future companion sent out into the time stream for the express purpose of saving the Doctor at the expense of her own "life"). In hindsight, I wonder how much of Oswin's back story was real versus how much she was just a cover story to explain her appearance on the Asylum planet that she believed to be real due to psychological trauma of Dalekization.

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  47. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 15, 2014 @ 9:37 am

    I should also note that I, perhaps idiosyncratically, just find the sequence of Oswin's conversion extremely and viscerally upsetting. It's such an utterly nasty fate. I love the look to camera at the end, I love where the arc goes, but that scene? Too much.

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  48. Alan
    October 15, 2014 @ 9:38 am

    The thing I did love about Asylum (and the thing I've loved about all of Moffat's Dalek stories — I've mentioned I'm one of the few fans, in concept at least, of the New Paradigm Daleks) is that it shows once again that Moffat is trying to change the Daleks into something more sophisticated than "space Nazis." After Victory, I was really looking forward to a story in which the Doctor started a Dalek Civil War simply by pointing out that the Soldier Daleks were essentially the slave caste.

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  49. Jesse
    October 15, 2014 @ 9:54 am

    There is much to admire here, but very little to like.

    Well, I liked it quite a bit, and I usually dislike Dalek stories. Then I again, I usually like body-snatcher stories, and I remember being delighted with the fact that the Daleks had been reinvented as body snatchers.

    Not that I can argue with any of your points, since I haven't seen this in two years. Indeed, I'd forgotten entirely that this was the one with that divorce business in it, a fact I should put in the "the memory cheats" file.

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  50. Alan
    October 15, 2014 @ 9:58 am

    Unfortunately, it's a miracle that his strategy of "leave them alone in a room while they think Amy's dying" worked at all, since it depended on Amy not noticing she was wearing a new bracelet that wasn't there a minute before. Also, it depended on Rory being kind of a jerk to Amy in order to get her to confess as to why she wanted a divorce (since apparently, Rory honestly didn't know why she was walking out on him). I find the trope of "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" to be much less offensive than the trope of the "Idiot Plot" that depends upon two character resolutely avoiding the 30-second conversation that would resolve all their problems until the last five minutes of the show.

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  51. Alan
    October 15, 2014 @ 10:00 am

    "A single dalek, or two or three, in a confined space, are more terrifying than an arena full of screaming daleks."

    Daleks are like ninjas — the more of them there are, the less competent they will collectively be.

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  52. Lewis Christian
    October 15, 2014 @ 10:33 am

    Do we think they should've played out the divorce/"hostility" over the course of Series 7A, ending with Manhattan, or should they just not have bothered with the divorce plot at all? Or other?

    Reply

  53. encyclops
    October 15, 2014 @ 10:46 am

    Theonlyspiral: you realize that 45 minutes where a third of the dialog is in that voice is just too goddamned much.

    I'm high-fiving you over the internet. You're the absolute rightest about this.

    My Big Finish listening experiences generally result in one of two verbal reactions:

    1. "That Rob Shearman is a genius!"

    or

    2. "CHRIST! The fucking Daleks AGAIN?"

    Reply

  54. encyclops
    October 15, 2014 @ 10:50 am

    Twelve years of improvising onstage have given me a healthy respect for the possibility of making up a shockingly satisfying resolution to a complex plot as you go along.

    Needless to say, though, it doesn't always happen.

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  55. encyclops
    October 15, 2014 @ 10:56 am

    It just occurred to me to wonder (which means that someone on Tumblr wondered the same thing about 45 seconds before this episode aired) why there's been absolutely no discussion since "Name of the Doctor" about Clara's multiples scattered throughout the Doctor's past. We know why she's never gotten to go and meet them — they're in the Doctor's timeline, and presumably the TARDIS is able to avoid bringing him in contact with his past selves without Time Lord intervention — but it does seem funny that we haven't even gotten any jokes about them. It must feel strange knowing that there are fragmentary copies of yourself throughout human (as well as inhuman) history, and even if you can't meet them you could probably look them up.

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  56. Richard Pugree
    October 15, 2014 @ 12:03 pm

    Yes, this is one of the strange things about the otherwise very successful re-staging of Clara's character that has happened in Series 8 – it's meant that they seem to have forgotten about the fact that there are a shed load of Claras out there. You'd think they could be having some fun with it- it seems a missed opportunity.

    I've also quite enjoyed thinking about what the story of this episode was before the Great Intelligence did what ever it did and which Oswin then put right. Because as far as I recall, the Daleks only bring the Doctor to the Asylum in the first place because of Oswin playing her music?

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  57. Corpus Christi Music Scene
    October 15, 2014 @ 12:27 pm

    It seems to me that the whole bit with Clara in the timestream have been rewritten by the events of TOTD. As the Doctor was rescued by the Timelords , he left Trenzalore and never died there. So there is now now grave/timestream for Clara to jump into. While it is likely that Clara and the Doctor remember those events, apparently they no longer happened

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  58. jane
    October 15, 2014 @ 12:37 pm

    They happened, and they didn't happen. Both are 100% true. Such is the alchemy of time-travel, that such a contradiction is, in fact, a union of opposites.

    The happening is now "buried" under a new strand of time, no longer visible to anyone who wasn't there, but it's still there, deep in the memories of the participants. It's remembered, so it happened, even though it's no longer accessible to a "god's eye view" — no wonder memory is so precious in Moffat's Who, it sets us above the gods themselves.

    Incidentally, this is why River is an archeologist. She digs through time.

    Reply

  59. prandeamus
    October 15, 2014 @ 1:11 pm

    Re: the idiot plot and the 30 second conversation… it's possible in a relationship for one party to have a simple, easy to answer, question for the other party. A question that is never asked, for fear of the answer. Schrodinger's question, if you will. It may not fit into this particular narrative space, but believe me, such questions and relationships exist.

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  60. encyclops
    October 15, 2014 @ 1:16 pm

    Ahhhhh, okay, this is the first sense I've gotten of what's meant to have happened. Maybe I don't read enough forums. 🙂

    Right now I'm thinking of it as a kind of extradimensional fold. It's like your strand analogy, but with paper; if you, a two-dimensional creature who can manipulate your universe through three dimensions, travel across a plane, then fold it in a Z-shape back over the way you came so that an earlier point now connects directly to a later point, the path you traveled is still "there" but it's no longer available to travel to — it's folded away from the dimension you travel in. So there's a part of the "paper" where Clara was splintered and the Doctor died, but the Time Lords folded over that. It's still part of that "big ball of timey-wimey stuff" but not only can you not get to it by conventional means, you can't even get there with the TARDIS; it's folded through one MORE dimension above that.

    This might not make sense, but it's clicking for me. 😀

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  61. Anton B
    October 15, 2014 @ 1:21 pm

    I like to think of the Whoniverse is being in a constant unsteady state of Schroedingers Cat uncertainty, where the events caused or prevented by the Doctor and his companions both have and haven't happened. That's why, while you're right that memory plays a big part in Moffat's Who, the act of observation (as metaphor for the TV viewer) is equally important. Time cannot just be rewritten it must be seen to be rewritten. (as in where the Doctor appears to cheat history).

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  62. Lewis Christian
    October 15, 2014 @ 1:22 pm

    I think Amy gets a really neat line in The Wedding of River Song which sums up how time travel tends to work in Moffat's Who. Something like "See, I remember it twice, different ways." So everything happens but, as Jane suggests, some things happen and then new things happen and 'take over' those old things. Like when you rub something out, but there's still the faint trace of what went before left.

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  63. Anton B
    October 15, 2014 @ 1:26 pm

    Seems my comment got rewritten. The last parenthesised sentence should read –
    (as in 'The Wedding of River Song' where the Doctor appears to cheat history).

    Reply

  64. BerserkRL
    October 15, 2014 @ 1:59 pm

    Such as "how come your facebook profile says you're in a relationship with my brother?"

    Reply

  65. inkdestroyedmybrush
    October 15, 2014 @ 2:09 pm

    This. this is a huge dropped plot point that they only needed one line of dialogue to wave away and they've not done it. (although it is likely that with the BBCA time compression i would have missed it). I believe that this Clara DOESN'T remember all the other bit points of the Doctor's time stream that she got splintered into (to be air, many of us also want to wipe the memory of Dragonfire as well.) it would be a huge plot point for her to always be able to say, i don't need to travel as i've already visited all these other places in other versions of me. And she acts, especialy since her season 8 reboot, as if she doens't even remember the impossible girl plot line. So thats my theory and i'm sticking to it. Whether moffatt revisits it later this season we'll see…

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  66. Chris
    October 15, 2014 @ 5:44 pm

    You're right, I did conflate the two. But I still like the textures and dislike the TARDIS doors. I suppose the only way to settle this is through arm wrestling or a dance off.

    Reply

  67. Chris
    October 15, 2014 @ 5:48 pm

    Continuing existence of multiple Claras explains why her hair gets longer or shorter each week. The Doctor is not picking up the same Clara every time he wants to have an adventure!

    Reply

  68. Herms
    October 15, 2014 @ 8:00 pm

    @inkdestroyedmybrush: I haven't re-watched Name of the Doctor in a while, so I may be fuzzy on how the multiple Claras are supposed to work, but I just automatically assumed that Clara Prime doesn't have the memories from the other Claras. Probably she has some memory of going into the Doctor's timestream, but not perfect knowledge of everything experienced by each of her splinters. After all, if she now had the accumulated knowledge and experience of all those different lives in different worlds and time periods, she'd be a Doctor!Donna-style superbeing, or at least act notably different than before. Of course, you could make a similar argument about Rory after he lives for hundreds and hundreds of years (but I guess they explained that he keeps those memories in a "door" in the back of his mind or some such). Still, at least one of the Claras was on Gallifrey; you'd think a set of memories from being born and raised there would give her a totally different attitude towards the Tardis and regeneration and whatnot.

    And the other Claras splintered off of the original, but they're not really supposed to be her, right? They're based on the same "recipe" or whatever, but are otherwise independent beings, which is why the keep dying. So there's no necessary reason for her to get their memories in the first place, any more than you'd expect the Doctor to have all the memories from his half-human clone over on Parallel Earth.

    Apologies if I'm overlooking something terribly obvious that invalidates the above rambling.

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  69. merricb.com
    October 15, 2014 @ 8:14 pm

    If you compare it to the conversion of Noah in The Ark in Space; it's the same idea: the indomitability of the human spirit despite the attempted dominance of the alien. It's one of two times in the series that I think it works (as opposed the attempt in Closing Time, which I detest).

    Reply

  70. jonathan inge
    October 15, 2014 @ 9:23 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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  71. encyclops
    October 15, 2014 @ 10:04 pm

    I think you're right, that Clara never had the memories of her splinters as such, though they presumably had some knowledge, however unconscious, of their "mission" or else it's unlikely the G.I. could have created the problem in the first place. What I figured was that she knew she'd been splintered that way…but maybe not! Maybe she couldn't retain the memory after the Doctor walked out of his own timestream carrying her, and he never bothered to help her remember. And maybe, as suggested above, even that was erased by the events of "Time and the Doctor."

    Sometimes I feel as though Moffat's Who can best be symbolized by an Etch-a-Sketch.

    Reply

  72. Richard Pugree
    October 16, 2014 @ 1:02 am

    Palimpsesty-westy

    Reply

  73. Jarl
    October 16, 2014 @ 1:32 am

    The fact they were divorcing over such a simple problem that they both refused to approach or acknowledge felt like the only part of the divorce subplot that actually worked, for me. It felt real and raw in a way that the show hasn't really been since… what… Parting of the Ways, in the diner after the Doctor sent Rose away?

    The resolution to that felt a bit flat and brief, but that's Death Therapy for ya.

    Reply

  74. Jarl
    October 16, 2014 @ 1:41 am

    Like the frankly shameful majority of supposed fans, I haven't seen The Daleks, just read about what happens in it, but I'm given to understand that there's a Dalek who's given the anti-radiation glove– anti-radiation drugs who just starts screaming and spinning in circles. In some fandom circles, that Dalek is identified as the ballerina in the Asylum, which is a wonderful thought. Had there been a stronger sense of these literally being Daleks the Doctor had met before, I feel the episode could only have been improved (though I'm struggling to think of a Dalek he's met and spoken to onscreen that survived its adventure).

    Really, so much of the crazy Daleks stuff is so strong. "Eggs" was a great scene, even though it makes Rory look like a complete doof. The Doctor killing all the Daleks by scaring one so bad it exploded, I liked that. The hallucination scene, great. I just wish the original title of "All of the Daleks" had played out more on screen.

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  75. Jarl
    October 16, 2014 @ 1:56 am

    For that matter, the whole thing implies there should be "Great Intelligence Echoes" which, frankly, is madness. It could be that Clara's act literally overwrote the Great Intelligence's Echoes, which would be fascinating. Name of the Doctor is such a strange episode, to the point you have to decide if brief snippets of Clara talking to the First Doctor and such justify the rest of the peculiar events. I'm a bit of a hedonist when it comes to such fanboy tickling, so I thought it did. Plus, any dramatic weakness it might have is mitigated when you consider it the first part of the Of The Doctor trilogy.

    Reply

  76. Aylwin
    October 16, 2014 @ 2:37 am

    A Cyberman story done with Daleks, for whom it makes no sense? But such a thing is unheard-of!!!

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  77. Lewis Christian
    October 16, 2014 @ 3:01 am

    Chris, I vote dance-off.

    Reply

  78. Lewis Christian
    October 16, 2014 @ 3:03 am

    Had there been a stronger sense of these literally being Daleks the Doctor had met before, I feel the episode could only have been improved (though I'm struggling to think of a Dalek he's met and spoken to onscreen that survived its adventure).

    Agreed. For me, the worst 'offence' so to speak was when we headed into the section of the Asylum with war-torn Daleks. Oswin reads off names like Spiridon, Exxilon, Vulcan, etc., but all the Daleks are the RTD Dalek model, kind of ruining it somewhat.

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  79. Seeing_I
    October 16, 2014 @ 4:04 am

    One trick Moffat pulled off very well was to make the Daleks creepy and psychologically unsettling for the first time since "Parting of the Ways" with the insane God-Emperor.

    Seems to me that the Daleks have two effective modes – either zap-happy conquerors, or weird figures of surrealistic menace. I prefer the latter and that's what we got in this episode. The scene where Rory wakes up the Daleks is more effective than anything we'd seen in a while.

    I am tired of the Daleks working in the Cybermen's MO, which has been going on since "Revelation." No wonder the writers struggle to come up with a decent Cyberman story – the Daleks have nicked all their best wheezes!

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  80. Aylwin
    October 16, 2014 @ 4:38 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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  81. Aylwin
    October 16, 2014 @ 4:39 am

    Clara never had the memories of her splinters as such, though they presumably had some knowledge, however unconscious, of their "mission"

    Indeed. They all came from her, and so might retain information from her (though they, and the GI's fragments, would not actually need memories as such, even unconscious ones – they could be stitiched into events such that the presence of an entity essentially just like Clara or the GI, behaving in the way that their personality would naturally lead them to behave, positioned in exactly the right place and time, would have the desired result), but she did not come from any of them, and so would not retain anything from them. She knew what she tried to do, and that she had succeeded, and that, I would say, was about it. Her lack of any such memories was surely made clear immediately afterwards – she saw the War Doctor, but did not know who he was or how he fitted in.

    And I am of the "overwritten by TOTD" view, so whatever Clara or the Doctor may or may not remember, we should certainly not be meeting other Claras. Though I'm not quite sure Moffat sees it that way – there was something Clara said in Listen along the lines of "My timeline is…let's just say it's embarrassing meeting yourself". I am not sure how to interpret it (should watch it again, really), but it could be read in terms of her having met some of her echoes around the place.

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  82. Marionette
    October 16, 2014 @ 5:28 am

    The ending didn't work for me on this one. And by "didn't work for me" I mean that it's so far removed from what I consider the heart of Doctor Who that in my head there's a sequel where the Doctor goes back for Oswin and the series continues on merrily with the Doctor and a Dalek companion for fun adventures across the galaxy.

    The Doctor I want to watch doesn't leave people behind just because it's a bit difficult. Or impossible. In fact "impossible" is his speciality. I don't want to watch a Doctor that's not like that.

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  83. peeeeeeet
    October 16, 2014 @ 6:01 am

    I agree that the episode suffers from quite a common problem of conflating Daleks and Cybermen, but I'd rather it had been redrafted to be more Daleky that written instead as a Cyberman story. For one thing, the reveal of Cyberoswin I don't think would be anywhere near as effective as OswinDalek, partly because it wouldn't be such a sudden full-stop – as we see later in Time of Him, the Doctor can just about get away with having a Cyber-companion.

    A Dalek parliament, though. I can handwave almost everything else in this episode, but I just can't picture how that works. "DIVISION! EXTERMINATE THE LOBBIES!"

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  84. peeeeeeet
    October 16, 2014 @ 6:20 am

    Seems to me the final sequence of Name is pretty clear – we get a voice-over in which Clara seems to describe the experience of being lots of splinters, and then we get a conversation with the Doctor which only makes sense if The War Doctor is the only one she doesn't currently remember. Whether she remembers any of this after they leave by undisclosed means is an open question, however.

    Even if we assume she doesn't remember, Clara is inconsistent even post-soft reboot. In Listen she appears to remember plenty of the Day of the Doctor, and yet in Deep Breath she was puzzled by the Doctor regenerating and being old (and I don't mean unhappy or upset, which would be fine reactions, but specifically confused).

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  85. peeeeeeet
    October 16, 2014 @ 6:27 am

    One of the oddities of Lost is that sometimes, where they seemed to be going with it was more interesting than what we finally got. For instance, the whole thing with the numbers was explored in some of the spinoff material in ways which I thought at the time were interesting and had potential. Then season six comes around, and as far as I can recall it's just people's names on a big list or something. Given how often Darlton said a variation of "whatever we come up with, people won't be satisfied", I tend to think that a combination of fatigue and "may as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb" mentality crept in towards the end.

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  86. encyclops
    October 16, 2014 @ 9:21 am

    I think by now it's clear that the only thing that's clear about the end of "Name" is that nothing was clear about it. 🙂

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  87. encyclops
    October 16, 2014 @ 9:21 am

    I hope you haven't seen "Earthshock." 🙂

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  88. peeeeeeet
    October 16, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

    The problem's not with the end of Name itself, though, but with Moffat's habit of eliding inter-episode developments to sometimes crazy extremes, and – in my opinion – harming his character development in the process.

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  89. TheOncomingHurricane
    October 18, 2014 @ 11:22 pm

    You're equating leaving her behind with running for his life, not something usually successfully accomplished by carrying a Dalek. As for TARDISing, the event window is infinitesimal and 'part of events' is in play.

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  90. Daru
    October 19, 2014 @ 10:41 pm

    In short I think I am with Jane on this one, in that I do feel Clara subverts the difficult tropes you discuss. I can understand the problems, especially when viewed at the time, but they certainly are turned on their head once the whole story of Clara unfolds, showing that knowledge of how the plot unfolds later on affects previous stories (see Phil's discussion around Clara in his review of Flatline).

    I thought that the Dalek Parliament was wonderful, especially the Dalek Prime Minister's revelation of their concept of pure hatred being "beauty".

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  91. Adam Finch
    October 21, 2014 @ 1:13 pm

    Sorry Phil: I feel the time pressures have worked against you on this entry. It's lacking the kind of coherence I'd expect from you, and you seem to have abandoned your normal faculties and excuse it with a cheap "well I have to criticise one" defence. I hope you radically overhaul this entry for the book.

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  92. elisi
    October 23, 2014 @ 11:34 am

    I've been stalking this blog for more than a month now, and suppose I ought to actually comment (even if it's a little late). On the whole I love your insights (The Beast Below, for example, is an incredible post that re-enforces everything I have ever thought), but this one puzzled me.

    This was what made me sit up:

    To pick just one possible example – something that could turn out to be a meaningless blip, or could turn out to be a major thematic point: Clara quite literally makes a good Dalek.

    This is a hugely significant point, and I'm surprised that you consider it possibly meaningless. It's something that informs pretty much everything about her. We have two characters on the show that are/can be described 'good Daleks'. The Doctor – and Oswin/Clara.

    And look at how she is introduced:

    OSWIN: Long story. Is there a word for total screaming genius that sounds modest and a tiny bit sexy?
    DOCTOR: Doctor. You call me the Doctor.

    The Doctor and Clara directly paralleled. It happens again in The Snowmen:

    DOCTOR: Clara who?
    CLARA: Doctor who?

    This girl never going to be ordinary. Oswin spends the best part of Asylum being a more-or-less omnipotent disembodied voice guiding our heroes. (Much like she picks up the TARDIS, as if it were a plaything, in Flatline.) Btw the music that plays when we see what Oswin is (The Terrible Truth), is also played when Rusty declares the Doctor 'a good Dalek' and turns on the other Daleks in 'Into the Dalek'.

    "Who killed all the Daleks?" Rory asks. "Who do you think?" the Doctor asks. The answer – apart from those few the Doctor clears out of the way – is Oswin. She also erases the Doctor's ties to the Daleks, destroying what he has defined himself in relation to ever since he first met them! She goes on to save all of the Doctor(s), is pivotal in saving Gallifrey, answers The Question and through that ends the war on Trenzalore and gets the Doctor his new regeneration cycle. That she has now literally been the Doctor for an episode is the least surprising thing ever – I've been expecting this for ages. (Not just saying that, Flatline ticked so many boxes that I laid out in my Kill the Moon post: http://elisi.livejournal.com/872182.html).

    The fact that this is not 100% positive almost goes without saying… She started out as a Dalek, after all. She is the monster under the bed, even as she is the one soothing away fears (and there, again, is that god-like quality). It's all in her name:

    Clara = bright, shining
    Oswin = god’s friend
    Oswald = god’s power

    (Notice that Oswin does not have the 'Clara' part of the name – she is not bright, but she is still his friend, and powerful. And Clara chooses the name Oswin; chooses to be his friend.)

    In the beginning I thought she might be the Doctor's granddaughter (and I'm still willing to bet money that she is somehow related – the Gallifreyan-ness of her is very pronounced), and for a while I even wondered if she might be a TARDIS. (Look at her name – can you think of a better description of the TARDIS?)
    But this is only the surface. I've dubbed Clara 'Schrödinger’s Companion' and have a whole essay on her specific characteristics. Because she is always two things, simultaneously. Like, say, a girl AND a Dalek:

    http://elisi.livejournal.com/857308.html

    (Apologies for the links, but those essays/posts are very long, and there is no way I can summarise them adequately in comments. If you're curious, they're there. jane can vouch for me, I'm sure. Actually I had been wondering where she'd disappeared off to, and clearly she has excellent taste!)

    Mostly then I think we have yet to see all the secrets that the Impossible Girl contains, and I'm sure she'll turn out to be far more impossible than we've seen so far.

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  93. elisi
    October 25, 2014 @ 2:09 am

    I think that – in the context of this blog – what I'm trying to say is that Clara uses the Doctor's narrative power. Unlike say, Rose, who has her own power from her own world (love your post on 'Rose'), Clara seems to belong to the Doctor's world and use his power, right from the start. It's evident here in Asylum; in The Snowmen she tells the children in her care fairy-tale like stories about her origin (and has that fabulous line 'It's smaller on the outside'), and original!Clara grasps his power intuitively. I'm thinking specifically about Rings of Akhaten and her leaf.

    Reply

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