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Doctor Who premiere teases thrills to come

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“Doctor Who” might be the most elastic premise in the history of television, though it wasn’t the original intention of the series. It explains why 49 years later, the show perennially attracts new fans. Aside from several benchmarks, it is a flexible, alluring concept.

In a nutshell, the premise is about a 900-year-old alien, known as The Doctor, who travels in a spaceship called the TARDIS, which can travel throughout space and time. Along the way, he will pick up people, called companions, with whom he will share adventures.

To survive restless lead actors that wanted to move on from the role, the character on-screen would be fatally injured that would force him to “regenerate,” which would heal any injuries sustained, but would change his physiognomy and some characteristics, thus keeping the show fresh and active. To date, this has occurred 10 times, with the limit of 12 being imposed on his race of aliens.

Any episode should be a good leaping off point for a newbie, and “Asylum of the Daleks,” the seventh season premiere of the revived series, features some of its best tendencies, despite superior past efforts.

Captured by his deadliest enemy, the Daleks, The Doctor (Matt Smith) and his two married companions, Rory Williams (Arthur Darvill) and Amelia Pond (Karen Gillan) must go on a suicide mission to lift the force field on the prison planet of battle-scarred or insane Daleks, so that it can be destroyed.

If anything, the episode answers the immortal question of what happens to a Dalek when they’re old and senile.

Telegraphed and teased to fans months in advance, this episode boasted in key advertisements and word of mouth to feature every variation of Dalek that appeared throughout the show’s history. Anyone hoping for well-lit extended peeks at the older models of Dalek will be disappointed.

However, despite this shortcoming, head writer and “Doctor Who” show runner Steven Moffat should be credited for a smart new wrinkle he added onto villains who were becoming long in the tooth.

The idea of airborne nano-bots that can convert the dead and living into human Daleks, complete with the eye-stalk in the forehead, which deposit human memories and emotions into files independent of their host is inherently creepy and clever.

It opens up possibilities on how the show can produce variations on future Dalek stories without becoming top heavy with overexposure from the villains. Hopefully, they’re ideas that Moffat will pocket for later.

What fans will forget about the writer ­— whose previous “Doctor Who” scripts can sometimes heavily double-down with the complexities of time travel — is that he writes engaging adventures and mysteries with elements of psychological horror embedded in them.

Some of these past efforts resulted in some of the best two-part episodes that the revived series made to date.

With “The Empty Child”/ “The Doctor Dances,” he envisioned an angelic-voiced boy in a gasmask who could makeover someone in his image with the touch of the hand, or in “The Time of Angels” / “Flesh of Stone” when he morphed the fan-beloved Weeping Angels into nihilistic hunters.

“Asylum” lacks the structure of those earlier episodes and doesn’t quite follow through on building up the world of insane Daleks.

It squeezes in the now obligatory recurring theme of the impact The Doctor makes on his companions. The series, again, did this theme better in “The God Complex,” which was about how the character can will people to blindly follow him.

Smith’s performance features glimpses of the various components that make him a universal favorite; he’s cheeky, curious and youthful, and despite his ancient age, the universe can still shock or surprise him. He carries great gravity in these moments, with something as slight as facial expressions or body language.

The season ahead — as teased by the cast and crew — promises blockbuster adventure, and if they keep the size, while staying true to it’s distinguished history of smart writing, “Asylum of the Daleks” will be a pit stop for more exciting tales to come.

Reach the reporter at tccoste1@asu.edu

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