Asylum of the Daleks – Into the Madhouse

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.

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Halo: Combat Evolved – Capturing the Magic

Halo: Combat Evolved is a game that is full of surprises. Anyone who has played the game will know that there are moments in the game that are genuinely memorable – moments that stay with you forever and will always inspire feelings of nostalgia. The fact that the game contains so many of these moments is a testament to how fantastic the game really is, even over 10 years later.

The first of these wonderful moments that you encounter in the game is the reveal of the Halo itself. After a whole level of crawling through vents and facing linear corridor-shooter style gameplay in Pillar of Autumn, the second level Halo suddenly opens up into a wide vista with trees, rocks and even a river. Leaving the escape pod and seeing the lens flare of the Chief’s visor against the ring arcing into the sky is nothing short of breathtaking.

The player is also introduced to the Forerunners and their architecture which establishes a theme in this game of things appearing out of place – rounding the corner and seeing the beam emitter tower immediately reminds the player that they are standing on an artificial world, a totally alien environment that appears natural but is in fact an ancient fortress with thousands of hidden rooms and structures. It is truly unearthly.

Another memorable moment is the ascent into the Covenant ship via Gravity Lift in the third level, Truth and Reconciliation. The role of the ship as an alien war machine is contrasted by the sudden tranquility upon entering the belly of the beast, creating a peaceful moment for the player to assess this new environment – and then the doors open. After a huge firefight there lies ahead a maze of purple corridors and white-blue hangars – the interior design of the ship makes it appear mysterious and otherworldly.

These are just a few of the moments in Halo: Combat Evolved that really stick with you, and there are many more both in Halo: CE and its sequels. Truly the only way to fully experience the magic is to play the game yourself and see where it takes you.

Remembrance of the Daleks – A Classic

Remembrance of the Daleks is a fantastic episode of Doctor Who. Not only was it one of the first episodes of Doctor Who that I ever saw, not only did it introduce me to the Daleks that I would come to love, it actually holds up as an enjoyable episode even today. For most people, Classic Doctor Who episodes are hard to watch because they are slow, the production values are awful and the monsters look cheap and fake – this is not true of Remembrance. Not only does it stand the test of time but it remains one of the Daleks best appearances in the Classic series and serves as the perfect finale of the ‘Dalek Civil War’ trilogy consisting of Resurrection of the Daleks in 1984, Revelation of the Daleks in 1985 and finally Remembrance of the Daleks in 1988.

One of the greatest strengths of Remembrance compared to previous Dalek stories is the character of the Doctor and how he is influenced by the story. In Resurrection the Doctor is caught up in a situation that he has no control over whatsoever, and most of the events that occur in the story that move the plot forward have no relation to him whatsoever. This is even worse in Revelation, to the extent that the Doctor may as well not have even been on Necros in the first place. Remembrance, on the other hand, places the Doctor firmly at the center of the plot, he carries it forward whilst springing his trap for the Daleks which puts him in a much more powerful position than in previous Dalek stories.

This is thanks to Andrew Cartmel, the script editor for much of the Seventh Doctor’s tenure and instigator of what many now call the ‘Cartmel Masterplan’, in which Cartmel attempted to make the Doctor a much darker and more mysterious figure, to bring the show back to its roots and shroud the Doctor in mystery once more. This change in the Doctor’s character works perfectly for a Dalek story, where he is willing to manipulate humans and Daleks alike to ensure his plan succeeds.

Another of Remembrance’s greatest strengths is the Daleks themselves and how they are used. After being stuck with the same props for over a decade the BBC finally created some new Dalek props for this episode, bolstering the ageing ranks of the original Daleks with four new Imperial Dalek props, a Special Weapons Dalek prop, several SFX props and a Dalek Emperor prop. This allowed for greater set pieces involving more Daleks on-screen than was possible in the previous Dalek stories, and improved special effects and tonnes of explosives lead to some exciting battle sequences in this episode, particularly when the awesome Special Weapons Dalek is rolled out in Episode 4.

Speaking of the Daleks, their primary motivation in this episode involves defeating an opposing faction of Daleks very like themselves only just different enough to warrant extermination. This theme of extremist racism and ethnic purity runs deep in the story of Remembrance, with dissident fascist groups and a far-right military defector working with one of the factions of Daleks with promise of help to conquer the nation, put also a more domestic view on everyday racism in the 1960s – with a disgusted Ace pulling a ‘No Coloureds’ sign out of a B&B window striking a contrast between the norm of the early 1960s and the much more culturally developed mindset of the late 1980s.

With its position as a classic hardly in dispute, as it consistently wins top spots in Doctor Who ‘favourite episode’ polls, I still feel Remembrance of the Daleks deserves more praise considering how much it achieves with such limited budget. There is a lot of heart in this episode and Ben Aaronovitch deserves credit for such a fantastic script, especially since he later adapted the episode into book format, expanding on the characters in giving detailed insight into the Daleks and how they operate. Overall, Remembrance remains a fantastic end to the Daleks tenure in Classic Doctor Who and is, to many, the true 25th Anniversary Special.

Doctor Who – Will The Cybermen Ever Be Scary Again?

Fans of Doctor Who who have watched the show since they were children have, at some point in their lives, got to accept the fact that the Cybermen aren’t very scary. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when the Cybermen were considered to be one of the scariest monsters in all of Doctor Who, and the 1967 Patrick Troughton episode Tomb of the Cybermen is often considered to be one of the scariest episodes of classic Doctor Who.

So why aren’t the Cybermen scary anymore? The answer to that question involves several phases that take place at different points in Doctor Who’s history, the first of which being that they have never truly been used to their full potential. The Cybermen are twisted and mutilated versions of ordinary humans – a terrifying concept that revolves around an equally terrifying conversion process involving body horror and psychological trauma. And yet we never get to see this on screen.

And this leads us to the first phase to our answer of why the Cybermen are nowhere near as scary as they should be – the full potential of what they represent cannot be fully exercised on a TV show like Doctor Who, that caters to family audiences and relies heavily on its reputation as a show for all ages. It is for this exact reason that the Cybermen have an equally strong reputation as silly tin foil men that stomp around like robots, rather than their real potential as a truly terrifying monster.

This leads us right onto the doorstep of the second phase of reasoning as to why the Cybermen are no longer scary, and that is the way in which they were handled by the writers of Doctor Who during the 1970s and 1980s. Following the success of Tomb of the Cybermen, and their equally strong impact in episodes such as The Moonbase, The Invasion and, of course, their debut episode The Tenth Planet, the Cybermen were firmly entrenched in Doctor Who mythos by the time the Fourth Doctor came along, but it was during his era that the Cyberman episodes began to decline in quality. Revenge of the Cybermen is considered by many to be the worst story of Season 12 and perhaps even one of Tom Baker’s worst episodes, and the appearance of the Cybermen in episodes like The Five Doctors and Silver Nemesis have them serve as little more than cannon fodder and not the central focus of the episode.

Only Attack of the Cybermen stands out as a story that actually involves the conversion process of a human into a Cyberman, with Lytton’s conversion being both haunting and disturbing, but aside from this the vast majority of later classic Cyberman stories deviate massively from the overall point of the Cybermen, which is to warn us of the dangers of technology and present a horrendous potential future where humans are horrifically altered to the extent that they are barely human anymore, and instead present them as angry robots who march around and then die. So, overall, not a fantastic record for the Cybermen in later classic Doctor Who then. The only area of Classic Doctor Who media post-1970 that seems to actually use the Cybermen properly is the 2003 Peter Davison audio story Spare Parts, considered by many to be the strongest story of the Cybermen.

So, what about NuWho? Russel T. Davies made a bold move when he decided to ‘reboot’ the Cybermen for the new series, particularly since he rewrote them from the ground up, establishing his Cybermen as totally new, with a new origin story and overall design. The debut story of this new breed of Cybermen, Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel, offered a promising premise as regards to making the Cybermen scary again, as there are some truly scary elements to the Cybermen in this episode – the fact that they can still remember who they used to be leads to a harrowing scene where a Cyberman reveals itself to a man as his wife, and in his distress he loses sight of which Cyberman it actually was that told him – and as all Cybermen are identical, he can’t figure out which one it is. A Cyberman ‘autopsy’ that takes place in this episode also reveals that the Cyberman specimen under study is actually a woman called Sally who was about to get married when she was captured and converted. Harrowing stuff.

So surely this means that the Cybermen have been redeemed? Well, unfortunately not, as there are still one or two problems with Russel’s representation of the Cybermen, and the Cyberman episodes of NuWho in general, and it is that there is too much of a divide between the Cybermen and the humans in this incarnation of the metal men. They appear too robotic, speaking in monotonous voices and generally appearing more like a race of hive-minded robots than remnants of humanity. Whilst there are some elements of body horror in the NuWho Cyberman episodes, such as the Torchwood workers in Army of Ghosts and the Cyberman head opening to reveal a human skull in Pandorica Opens, the concept of body horror in regards to the Cybermen is practically abandoned in NuWho. Ironically, it is the often lambasted Cyberwoman, an episode of Torchwood penned by none other than Chris Chibnall, has possibly the most focus on body horror in a Cyberman story, particularly since the show is not child-friendly, but again this is a form of media outside of the mainline TV show which, for the most part, tragically misused the Cybermen between the years 2007-2015.

However, after a dreadful period during Matt Smith’s era where the Cybermen literally destroyed themselves because of a baby crying, quite possibly their worst defeat yet, and were redesigned and subsequently rehashed into an app during Peter Capaldi’s first series, something happened that no-one expected. The Cybermen finally returned in full form during the first part of the finale of Series 10, World Enough and Time, and they were actually scary again. This episode finally realises the full potential of the Cybermen as a monster, presenting them as terrifyingly mutilated former humans and focusing in detail on the horrors of the conversion process. The scene in the ward with the partially-converted people desperately attempting to communicate the fact that they were in terrible pain is terrifying, and it made the Cybermen terrifying.

So it would seem that a scary Cyberman episode is possible, albeit rare, both in Classic Who and in NuWho. We can only hope that Chris Chibnall continues the tradition that Moffat has started by making the Cybermen truly scary again after almost 50 years.

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