It doesn’t take a Doctor Who loremaster to know that Asylum of the Daleks is a mess. Not only does it contradict the backstory of not only the Daleks themselves but also the show at large, but it also stands as one of the most unforgivable examples of false advertising in the history of Doctor Who.
Before Asylum of the Daleks aired, all fans knew about the episode was what they were told by the writers and producers and shown through the set photos and short trailers, and one thing was clear from this – that Asylum of the Daleks would contain not only the Daleks, but also classic Dalek designs from times gone by – 1960s-style Emperor Guard Daleks, Grey and Black 80s-era Daleks, and even the legendary Special Weapons Dalek. So the question remains – where were all these Daleks in the episode?
Fans were outraged that, aside from blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos, these Daleks barely even feature. Even more frustratingly, the episode sets up the perfect moment to cameo plenty of classic Daleks in the form of the ‘intensive care’ ward that contains survivors from earlier encounters with the Doctor that are specifically named – Spiridon, Exxilon and Vulcan being particularly high-profile examples. And yet, when these Daleks are seen, they appear as Russel T. Davies era Dalek designs. Why would the production team fail to utilise the classic Dalek props effectively if they went to the trouble of gathering them in the first place?
This is made even more tragic when one takes into account the fact that many fans donated their own home-made or long-treasured props to the team to swell the ranks of the classic Daleks in the episode – and several were damaged in the process. The owner of the Resurrection style prop, Mark Barton Hill, lamented that upon his prop being returned to him it required industrial-strength cleaning to remove the Asylum cobwebs, which almost destroyed the original paint that dated back to the 1980s. And yet, this Dalek can barely be seen in the episode itself, making the time and effort taken to utilise this prop utterly wasted.
The Special Weapons Dalek prop, which likewise dates back to the 1980s, was included in the episode but barely used – Rory darts past it briefly during his first scene in the Asylum hall as it sits there, catatonic. It doesn’t even get to fire its trademark weapon.
We may never know what behind-the-scenes decisions were made that pushed the classic Daleks into the background of this episode that was meant to be their swansong. Ironically, Steven Moffatt clearly identified this as a mistake as he would later include classic Daleks in the Twelfth Doctor episodes The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar, which includes more of the 1960s-style Daleks and the Special Weapons Dalek – which finally gets to actually move and speak.
Whilst many fans detest Asylum for its heavy-handed divorce subplot, its odd human-Dalek conversion premise or its introduction of a Dalek Parliament (which, again, makes no sense whatsoever) it is genuinely upsetting to some that the episode promised so much nostalgic Dalek action and yet delivered none, and it seems likely now that we will never get another opportunity for an episode like that again.