I know, I know; there’s not another episode of Doctor Who until next Saturday. But still, there’s something about the first episode of this season of Who that’s been in my head that I want to ask about: Should I be bothered that I’m not bothered that the show’s producers’ and PR lied to us? Spoilers for “Asylum of The Daleks” ahead, so be warned.
The lie, of course, was that Jenna Louise Coleman – the Doctor’s new companion – wouldn’t appear in the series until the sixth episode of the season; we’d been told that by the PR for the series numerous times, and I’m fairly sure that both showrunner Steven Moffat and Coleman herself offered up similar commentary more than once after she was announced as joining the series. And yet, there was Oswin, flirting with Rory, saving the day and refusing to surrender to her fate (When a character looks directly at the camera in her final shot of an episode and says “Remember me,” that’s a fairly big clue that things aren’t necessarily what they seem).
Watching the episode for the first time, I loved the surprise of seeing Oswin and recognizing Coleman, as well as the various questions it raised (Is Oswin the new companion, or will Coleman have different roles throughout the season until she shows up in the sixth episode? If it is Oswin who’ll be the companion, will she join up with the Doctor before she was turned into a Dalek? Did “Remember me” have some deeper significance – i.e., will her reappearance later be specifically tied to the fact that the Doctor didn’t forget her? What if Jenna Louise Coleman’s entire new companion thing was a lie?), but the more I thought about it, the more I found myself surprised by being entirely okay with the fact that all of the advance PR was a lie.
On the one hand, I completely understand the feeling: We have so much spoiled for us in advance these days, even when it’s not a “spoiler” as such. Just knowing Coleman was cast as the new companion in Who, for example, spoiled that (a) there’d be a new companion, (b) she’d fall into the “cute young woman” role of, oh, every companion since the show was revived by Russell T Davies, and ( c ) that she’d show up midway through the season, for the Christmas episode. While none of those are classically considered spoilers, per se, it shapes our expectation of the upcoming season in the same way as any other kind of spoiler does, but we generally just consider that kind of information about what’s to come “news” that’s par for the course. This Oswin dodge was, in many ways, a welcome reprieve from that and a reminder that surprises can be awesome in storytelling.
But on the other hand… Does this fake-out represent some kind of breach of trust between the people behind the show and the audience? Is it better to be told nothing than to be told something that’s not true? If Coleman’s entry point into the show is something that they’ll fudge, should we approach everything else stated as fact to be suspicious?
I’m unsure; taking that latter train of thought to its natural conclusion – “How do I know that Steven Moffat even wrote that episode?” to go to an extreme- seems ridiculous, but I also feel that there’s something to be said for the… validity, perhaps, of the trust the audience has in the creator and what they’re told by the people in charge. Once that’s broken, it feels like a dangerous move, the downgrading of authorial authority to something on the same level as fan speculation. An overreaction, perhaps; this was one playing with expectations outside of the narrative itself – where, I’d argue, fake-outs are to be encouraged and a large part of the fun of storytelling – and hardly a sign that every press release from the BBC about Who should be treated like the start of some kind of PR revival of Punk’d.
And yet… And yet, as much as I find myself returning to the “It’s all in good fun!” mindset – because it is, right? Right? – I feel guilty for doing so, for some reason. Am I alone in that? Does anyone else feel like they’ve been cheated by the early arrival of Coleman, and if so, does anyone feel like it’ll make them be less likely to believe what they’re told by the Who powers-that-be from now on?