First Night: Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks, BFI Southbank, London

Forget the Daleks, the Doctor is bent on world domination

Adam Sherwin
Tuesday 14 August 2012 23:38
Doctor Who stars Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill at last night’s premiere for the new TV series
Doctor Who stars Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill at last night’s premiere for the new TV series

Doctor Who has travelled galaxies since Michael Grade axed the faltering sci-fi show from BBC1 in 1989 on the grounds that it had become "rubbish". For the new series opener "Asylum of the Daleks", nothing less than a premiere screening at the BFI's South Bank will do, with desperate Whovians queuing for returns and every wink at the crowd by the night's star Matt Smith greeted with screams normally reserved for One Direction.

The big-screen treatment makes sense for a "megabrand" whose CGI special effects and pounding soundtrack appear to be chafing against the drama's tea-time television roots. A major earner for BBC Worldwide through merchandising and downloads, Smith's Doctor is now playing on the global stage.

Steven Moffat, head writer, said the mission for the latest run was to squeeze a Hollywood-style blockbuster into 45 minutes each week on a BBC budget. And where better to start than with "lots and lots of scary Daleks".

Dusting off the Daleks once again sounds like the equivalent of an old rocker churning out his greatest hits. But the conceit of locking the Doctor in a planetary prison with every twisted previous iteration of his lifelong foes works.

The Time Lord is also forced to adopt a new role as marriage counsellor when assistant Amy's (Karen Gillan) relationship with Rory (Arthur Darvill) hits the buffers. Can the Doctor heal the rift, save everyone's lives and vanquish the most insane Daleks yet, whilst still finding time for a pathos-filled finale which ask questions about human free will and self-sacrifice? Millions will be tuning in next weekend to find out.

This series is split into two parts, with an initial five episodes building to the "heart-wrenching departure" of Gillan as Amy Pond. Jenna-Louise Coleman will be introduced as the Doctor's new companion in a Christmas special.

The 2013 shows mark the sci-fi series' 50th anniversary and Moffat hinted heavily that a special episode uniting previous Doctors, including David Tennant, is in the works.

The Saturday night challenge to the X Factor has been laid down. Moffat said: "We've got dinosaurs on a spaceship (it's what you've always wanted), we've got a glorious Western with a cyborg gunslinger and the most unusual invasion of Earth story ever, and location shooting in New York for the Pond finale." A tough act for Barlow and his talent-seekers to match.

Before Smith disappears into the clutches of hungry autograph hunters, the young actor who made the tweed jacket and bowtie look sexy is asked if will stick around in the Tardis. "I'm not an idiot," he said. "I'm not going to leave Doctor Who when it's in its biggest year."

Viewers are likely to reach the same conclusion.

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