Doctor Who is back for its Ninth Series premier, “The Magician’s Apprentice”, and it’s a mix of old and new. DW is always at its best when it puts a moral quandary on the Doctor that challenges who he is at his very core, and this episode has a doozey for him!
We start on a sweeping shot of a foggy alien planet in the midst of a war. It has a strange mix of technology, with a biplane shooting lasers versus soldiers with bow and arrows. When a boy is spotted on the battlefield, a soldier follows him only to then find that they are caught in a patch of “hand-mines”. As a hand-mine reaches from the mud and pulls the soldier down, scattered hands all around the boy rise up, and with a single eye in each palm, their focus turns to him. Genuinely creepy stuff!
Suddenly, a sonic screwdriver is sent hurling across the field and it’s show time: the Doctor’s here! Looking much more casual as well, wearing a hoody underneath his blazer. It seems that they haven’t quite nailed down this doctor’s signature style just yet, although this is a step in the right direction.
The Doctor is trying to calm the boy down but it’s a little hard when surrounded by creepy hands that might pull you into the earth at any second. He asks him his name, refers to him in true DW fashion as the “boy who isn’t going to die today,” and then tries to reassure him by saying that he has one chance in a thousand, and one is all he needs.
And the boy’s name…..DAVROS! Cue theme music.
Davros is of course the creator of the Daleks, an old nemesis of the Doctor from Classic Who, and one we saw presumably vanquished at the end of the Fourth Series (and, like, three or four other times as well I guess). But of course we must still account for the timey wimey stuff, and thus we are now faced with one of the evilest villains as a small innocent child.
When we cut back from the titles we’re now in the Maldovarium bar, which we last saw in “A Good Man Goes to War”. It’s got a great Mos Eisley Cantina feel, with some nice inclusions of other DW aliens.
A shadowy figure glides right on through and, of course, is looking for our resident hero. We soon find out his name is Colony Sarff, that he works for Davros and that he has a message for the Doctor: “Davros knows, Davros remembers”. Which means Davros isn’t so dead after all and that he escaped his deadly encounter with the Doctor.
Sarff also makes a quick trip to see the Sisterhood of Karn (from Classic Who, but who were last seen in the mini-episode “The Night of the Doctor”) and the Shadow Proclamation, also, which makes for some nice callbacks.
I have a lot of time for any show that so respectfully references its own mythology like this show does, and I can appreciate the effort that the writers are currently putting in to making the DW universe actually feel like it’s all connected. I’d also imagine that anyone watching for the first time would have absolutely no idea what was going on.
Now we’re on Earth and Clara is back teaching, although it isn’t long before she gets a call from UNIT; all the flying planes in the world have come to a standstill in midair. She also seems oddly confident when asking her students to search for the very-specific hash tag “#theplaneshavestopped” in order to find out more information.
Missy, a.k.a. the Master, is also still somehow alive, and the show spends absolutely zero time explaining how. And I honestly don’t care either, because Michelle Gomez is hitting it out of the park as the rival Time Lord (or Time Lady) and she’s definitely an element that the current series needs.
Missy is apparently the one responsible for stopping the planes, and all for the purpose of holding them as ransom to get Clara’s help. Which, I guess, might be a logical way to get it? Missy has been unable to find the Doctor and he’s possibly dying after she receives the Gallifreyan version of his last will and testament, which is normally given out one day before the person’s death.
After a bit of chitchat and the zapping of a few UNIT agents, the pair finally gets down to business and tracks the Doctor through time and space to a medieval arena. Here he emerges from the smoke playing an electric guitar, riding out on a tank and wearing sunglasses after having been on a three-week bender. I can’t help but think that this is to shut up all those who couldn’t handle having an older Doctor after Matt Smith, and while I welcome him becoming a bit more personable after the last series, I really hope that we’re not going to get Peter Capaldi acting much hipper just for the sake of it.
The three exchange a few quips before Sarff shows up again, turns into a pile of snakes briefly to attack (which was a great effect) and then produces the sonic screwdriver, which had been left with kid-Davros in the past. Colony Sarff informs them that Davros is on his deathbed and, in flashback, we learn that the Doctor actually abandoned kid-Davros when he discovered who he was.
After the Doctor uncharacteristically gives himself up, Clara is more than aware that it’s because he is ashamed of something, and volunteers for Missy and herself to be transported to see Davros as well.
On the Dalek spaceship, the Doctor is taken to Davros, who tells him that he remembers the Doctor abandoning him on the battlefield. Meanwhile, Missy feels that the artificial gravity doesn’t feel right and, with Clara following, ventures out of the space lock only to find that they are actually on an invisible planet: Skaro! (The Dalek plant!)
They’re soon recaptured and in a too-quick-to-be-real sequence, are eliminated along with the TARDIS, as the Doctor is forced to watch. Davros revels in the Doctor’s pain as he tells him that his compassion is wrong and really his weakness.
It then cuts back to kid-Davros standing on the hand mines where we left him at the beginning of the episode, except now the Doctor appears, pointing a Dalek gun at the boy. The episode ends with him yelling, “Exterminate!” Gasp!
- Moffat had said that this episode would feel more like a series finale, and he was right. There was something epic about it and it felt so nicely tied into the rest of the series. A great start.
- It’s obvious that we can’t lose Missy and Clara together, as well as the TARDIS, so I think we can safely say they’ll be back.
- On that note: I know I’ve already gushed a bit, but Missy is such an awesome character and she’s being written so well. Some of her lines we’re actually hilarious and Gomez has great comedic timing, and you now add surprisingly great chemistry with Jenna Coleman. Their scenes together were a highlight and I would actually watch a show about the Master and her companion! I also like that Missy provides so much familiarity with the Doctor, which really showed in “The Magician’s Apprentice”. Their relationship is so different to that of any past iteration of the Master.
- It was also great that having Missy involved didn’t mean she lost her mastermind edge (or her evil). It was a lot of fun to watch her at work, shedding some light onto how she’s always one step ahead most of the time and not holding back on information like the Doctor does. Whether or not she’s lying is a different issue, but it was really interesting to have such an open source of knowledge.
- The whole ‘freezing plane’s in the sky’ was a bit ridiculous and in any other episode it would feel completely over-the-top, but it fit so well with Missy’s character that it managed to work. And it’s kind of refreshing that the episode wasn’t centered on this as the main story and then loosely tied into the Doctor’s storyline. If anything, it was a surprise when we just left it behind and moved on to more character-focused developments.
- I’m really hoping that they do something more with Skaro’s return, other than just blowing it up in an episode or two. Also, I just found out that the soldiers with the bow and arrows at the start were a reference to a throwaway line from a Tom Baker episode. Wow. Just wow.
- I think a general criticism of the episode could easily be that not much happened narrative-wise, but what we got in return was actually a whole lot of character building. We spent a nice chunk of time with each character and the show actually allowed them to interact and converse beyond spitting out techno-babble under a plot’s ticking clock.