Doctor Who – “The Magician’s Apprentice”

‘Where is the Doctor?’

When the skies of Earth are frozen by a mysterious alien force, Clara needs her friend. But where is the Doctor, and what is he hiding from?

As past deeds come back to haunt him, old enemies will come face to face, and for the Doctor and Clara, survival seems impossible.

Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in The Magician’s Apprentice.

X X X X X

Cast
Peter Capaldi (The Doctor)
Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman)
Missy (Michelle Gomez)
Colony Staff (Jami Reid-Quarrell
Kate (Jemma Redgrave)
Jac (Jaye Griffiths)
Mike (Harki Bhambra)
Bors (Daniel Hoffman-Hill)
Voice of the Daleks (Nicholas Briggs)

Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Hettie MacDonald

Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HV1tfG7uDtI

Gifs by: J-Ru

X X X X X

Davros! You don’t look a day older, and I’d hoped you were dead.

I’m not here as your prisoner, Davros, but as your executioner.

Ah, I see you have been busy.

Powerful! Crush the lesser races! Conquer the galaxy! UNIMAGINABLE POWER! UNLIMITED RICE PUDDING! ET CETERA, ET CETERA!

Davros made the Daleks. But who made Davros?

The Magician’s Apprentice kicks off the ninth series of Doctor Who in slam-bang style. Steven Moffat throws a whole bunch of big ideas, cool scenes, and intriguing moments at the viewer along with a heaping of nostalgia. While there is enough plot jammed in this episode for three full-length stories and it’s tough to tell just what’s important and what isn’t, the performances by the leads, especially Peter Calpaldi and ESPECIALLY Michelle Gomez, are enough to hook the viewer for the first-part of this two episode story.

All over the Earth, planes have stopped in the sky, frozen in time. What could have been the opening stage of an alien invasion or a rip in temporal space is nothing more than Missy’s way of grabbing Clara’s attention in grand style. Missy has a problem – the last will and testament of the Doctor has made its way to her hands, which only happens the day before a Time Lord dies, and she needs Clara’s help to find the Doctor. It turns out the Doctor is hanging out in 12th century England, partying like a rock star and soaking in as much applause and enjoyment of life as he can. It’s not a celebration – it’s a denial. One of the most fateful decisions of the Doctor’s life is coming back to haunt him, a choice that influenced the history and fate of entire galaxies. Once upon a time, there was an endless war on a blasted planet, and the Doctor had an opportunity to save the life of a young child.

A child named Davros.

Moffat picks up right where Dark Water left off. The script for The Magician’s Apprentice is jam packed – a desolate battlefield where soldiers utilized a mix of modern and ancient technology, a strange creature comprised of snakes gliding across the galaxy demanding to know the Doctor’s location, planes frozen in the sky, UNIT calling Clara, Missy gloating and being crazy, the Doctor with a guitar and a tank, Daleks from across the classic and revival series making an appearance on a rebuilt Skaro, Davros living out his last days proud of his disobedient children, and the Doctor across from the young Davros with a Dalek weapon screaming “EXTERMINATE” in the name of saving his friends. That last one is a heck of a cliffhanger .

(Series 9 is supposed to contain several two-part episodes, and as someone who is watching the classic series for the first time, I’ve come to appreciate the art of a well-done cliffhanger. If all these two-parters mean more cliffhangers, then I’m all for the format change!)

On one hand, all these concepts and scenes, taking place very quickly in locations we’re seeing very briefly before being whisked away to somewhere else, establish a sense of action and tension. Director Hettie MacDonald (whose other Doctor Who credit is a little episode called Blink) does a great job framing and shooting all the different locations, using multiple angles and framing to establish each place with little need for explanation or exposition. Viewers hop from UNIT to the Canary Islands to Essex to Skaro without a moment’s hesitation, and there’s always something happening, be it a strange creature, snappy dialogue, or a cool shot of a first-generation blue-and-white Dalek coming over the hill, to keep the viewer interested. The revelation of the handmines is an absolute standout moment and a feather in MacDonald’s cap, while the room of Daleks from episodes through the series (including the freakin’ Special Weapons Dalek from Remembrance of the Daleks) is a nice reveal.

On the other hand, all these locations and sudden changes in theme mean that there’s no real sense that anything is important in the grand scheme of this episode, especially in the first half of the episode. A creepy gentleman with snake like features (and who turns out it made entirely of snakes) glides across the galaxy on one of those Hovetrax type deals looking for the Doctor at Davros’ request (props to Jami-Reid Quarrell for his performance). UNIT is on screen for a few moments and it’s Clara who does the bulk of the thinking for them (I hope UNIT’s episode later in the season shows them for the top-notch international security force they’re SUPPOSED to be). The Doctor’s A Knight’s Tale type moment isn’t touched upon other than “The Doctor knows he’s going to die so he’s going all out” even though he’s introduced amplifiers and a CHALLENGER 2 BATTLE TANK to the Middle Ages. Missy spends the scene in Spain killing two UNIT agents and in the next scene her and Clara are the best of friends. I get the vibe Moffat is going for and what he’s trying to accomplish on a limited budget, but much of those episode feels like a better-acted version of Deep Breath, where things only really matter when the Doctor is on screen and kicking off the main plot by agreeing to go to Skaro. It’s a half-hour prologue to the 90 minute story that’s The Magician’s Apprentice and next week’s episode, The Witch’s Familiar.

This season will be the last for Jenna Coleman, who will be departing to play Queen Victoria in an upcoming ITV production. I’ve made it known that I never felt Clara and the Eleventh Doctor clicked, but the relationship and chemistry between Clara and Twelve (and indeed Coleman and Capaldi) is very well done. Still, Coleman is stepping away from the show at the right time with three series under her belt as the Doctor’s companion. Viewers have seen Clara grown from the all-powerful “Impossible Girl” to the Doctor’s best friend, as well as a good schoolteacher with an inquisitive mind (the part where she circles the position of the airplane on the window to conclude it’s frozen). But she’s fallen into the same trap that’s fallen many of the Doctor’s companions throughout the revival, becoming a sort of “super agent” that UNIT calls when something goes wrong. While on one hand they’re trying to get a hold of the Doctor, we also see that UNIT’s basically paralyzed until Clara arrives and makes several key observations. Rose Tyler went from shop girl to someone who jumped universes, Martha Jones from doctor to military adviser, and Rory Williams from nurse to the Last Centurion. Traveling with the Doctor is supposed to make a person better, but Clara is slowly starting to slide into “all powerful awesome Mary Sue” territory, especially going from “Missy’s opponent across the table” to “kind of joking with her” in the space of a few scenes. That’s an observation on Clara and the scripts, mind you, as Coleman picks up right where she left off in Last Christmas with living her normal day to day life…until the Doctor needs her help. But there are some great moments where Clara appears…hurt? Confused? Bewildered!…when Missy proclaims herself as the Doctor’s best friend and Clara as nothing more than his pet. It’s a brief moment, but one I hope gets picked up on throughout the season. Clara is important to the Doctor, and the Doctor is important to Clara…so what happens when that all ends? And HOW does it end?

OK, cutting to the chase: not dead, back, big surprise, nevermind…

I love Michelle Gomez. Love her, love her, love her. While I really hope she doesn’t get overused/overexposed this season, her portrayal of Missy/the Master is simply AMAZING. From almost the very beginning, this is a different Master, one whose regeneration has made her a little more crazy and a little more brazen. The smooth charm of Delgado has given way to the balls-out flirtatious nature of Gomez.

There’s no doubt from the very beginning Missy is evil., which I liked. Missy is charming and intriguing, but she’s also flat out crazy, the type of person who would ally with the DALEKS to screw over the Doctor because, well, she’s evil. No redemption, no quest to change her ways, just “oh look I killed a UNIT agent with a wedding ring and some baby goo on his jacket.” Gomez plays it perfectly, not just the craziness but also her friendship with the Doctor. Maybe it’s just a friendship from her point of view, but Missy seems to really want to help the Doctor, if not by giving him an army of Cybermen then by making sure he doesn’t die and leave her the last Time Lord. There is a sense of sincerity in Missy’s words thanks to Gomez’s performance as she casually dismisses Clara as nothing more than a beloved pet, as well as seemingly being hurt when the Doctor calls Davros his archenemy, vowing to scratch his eye out.

And what about Davros? Julian Bleach returns after playing the megalomaniac creator of the Daleks in 2008’s The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. It feels like we see the Daleks every season and sometimes they come close to suffering the same “burnout” that affected the Borg after repeated appearances on Star Trek Voyager. Davros’ second appearance in the revival series is a huge moment, and one that Bleach does very well. It’s tough to emote underneath all that makeup, but Bleach uses small movements, such as slowly raising his metal arm as well as letting his head remain slumped over during most of his conversations with the Doctor, to showcase one of this episode’s big themes – Davros is dying. He’s been dying for ages (and probably been dead a few times, but when has death every stopped a major Who villain?) but even with his dying breath, he both curses his children (who have bounced between killing him for “not being a Dalek” and kept him alive as their “revered Creator” with all the various stops in between) and praises them as they wait for Clara to run, soaking in her fear and anxiety, for to be the supreme race in the galaxy isn’t about simply killing everyone else, it’s about enjoying that moment according to Davros. It’s the one thing that separates him from the Daleks and something Bleach does very well in showcasing.

And Peter Capaldi.

I could just let this GIF do all the talking, but there’s more to it than this. Capaldi gives us two different types of Twelfth Doctor in The Magician’s Apprentice – we get the “screw it” type of Doctor, one who tells the Web of Time to take a flying leap and does whatever he thinks is “cool.” Once, it was wearing a bowtie. Now, it’s riding a tank into gladiatorial combat, and while Twelve probably wouldn’t have a banana daiquiri like Ten or a shot of tequila like Six, I can imagine him downing tumblers of whiskey. But when told Davros has summoned him, and that Davros “remembers,” it’s a lot like the scene in Dark Water where Twelve realizes Missy is the Master. The devil-may-care look on the Doctor’s face is replaced with something else. Shame. It’s a great moment from Capaldi as he realizes just how his past decisions, one he hoped Davros had forgotten about, is now coming back to bite him.

I have more to say about Capaldi’s turn in this story, but there’s something else to address first. In a lot of ways, The Magician’s Apprentice is a direct follow-up to perhaps the best Doctor Who story every made, the Fourth Doctor serial Genesis of the Daleks. In that story, the Doctor has a moment where he could wipe out the Daleks once and for all by destroying their “nursery” before realizing that such genocide would make him no better than the Daleks. Throughout the series, both classic and revival as well as the audios and novels, this moment is brought up time and time again, including Resurrection of the Daleks where the Fifth Doctor is moments away from executing Davros in cold blood. The Doctor has grappled with the consequences of his decision for all his lives. He made the decision because he didn’t want to CHOOSE to be a mass murderer. The Doctor has killed, caused death and allowed others to die but only because they was no other option or because of the surrounding circumstances. So now, here we are, the Doctor finding himself on the other side of a field of handmines, a scared child clutching the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver calling for this stranger to help him. At the end of this story, the Doctor is pointing a Dalek weapon in the child’s direction, telling the young boy that this is the only way to save his friends. THIS is also one hell of a cliffhanger and I know I’ll be tuning in next week.

But…Moffat has already had Clara influence the Doctor as a child during the end of Listen, and some fans screamed that Moffat was “screwing with the canon.” Clara was also evident throughout the Doctor’s entire lives, all the way back to when the First Doctor and Susan stole a TARDIS, fixing the timeline that the Great Intelligence was unweaving. And now, here’s Moffat touching upon an all-time, undisputed classic story, and these same fans are loudly saying that Moffat is doing nothing more than re-writing the entire history of the show to fit HIS vision.

Personally? I think it’s bollocks, especially in a show about TIME TRAVEL. I’ve never felt the Doctor needed any type of original story beyond An Unearthly Child, and I prefer companions who are just friends who want to see the galaxy and don’t turn into all-powerful omnipotent beings (Sarah Jane, Evelyn). But I’m willing to trust Moffat and Capaldi, two men who both love the show and probably saw Genesis of the Daleks when it originally aired in 1974. I do believe Clara’s time in the TARDIS should be coming to an end, and I do hope Missy isn’t (seemingly) in every episode this season. But, the Doctor’s final confession, his last will and testament? Having a quality actor like Capaldi wrestle with the “Let’s Kill Hitler” dilemma as something OTHER than comedy? All those two-parters this season? THE RETURN OF THE ZYGONS?!? Unless this somehow ends with Twelve, Davros, and Missy becoming wacky roommates in a Three’s Company/Man About The House sitcom on BBC Four, I’m willing to take the story that The Magician’s Apprentice laid out in front of us and trust the second part to deliver on it.

Random Thoughts
– I liked seeing the different places the Colony Staff visited looking for the Doctor
– For the record, the song Twelve was playing on the tank was “Eruption” by Van Halen
Doctor Who filming in Spain – somewhere, John-Nathan Turner approves.
– I still don’t know how I feel about the Doctor’s outfit. It’s mainly the pants.
– That can’t be Skaro – there wasn’t a mutant clam!

Cobi’s Synopsis – The first episode of a two-parter, The Magician’s Apprentice stuffs a lot into 60 minutes, but only the back half of the story has any consequence. Still, Peter Capaldi, Michelle Gomez, and Julian Bleach put on performances that set the table for the story’s second episode.

Next up – With his greatest temptation before him, can the Doctor resist? And will there be mercy?

Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in…The Witch’s Familiar

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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3 Responses to Doctor Who – “The Magician’s Apprentice”

  1. urdith says:

    Yes, I cheered a bit when the Rambo Dalek and 7’s “unlimited rice pudding” quote popped up. Shame they couldn’t get all of 6’s conversation with Davros in. I think the whole scene between the two fo them saves Revelation.

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