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Doctor Who S09 E01: The Magician’s Apprentice

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It’s been ten months since The Doctor and The Master/Missy/Mistress crossed swords last, and other than a few minutes last night, and a holiday adventure with Santa Claus, we “Doctor Who” fans have been waiting for the new season, series nine, to begin. Finally here, meet me after the time and space jump for my thoughts on “The Magician’s Apprentice.”

Prologue and Meditation

Before we begin, let me direct you to my review of this season’s two preludes, “Prologue” and “The Doctor’s Meditation,” found here at Biff Bam Pop!. The Clara-less Doctor visited the Sisterhood of Karn, longtime prophety supporting characters in the Who mythos who warn him of an old acquaintance, who may be a friend or may be an enemy, who will turn to him for help. He fears this prophecy and flees to a medieval castle where he tries to meditate on the situation, before revealing to Bors, his castle companion, that he’s being called to his last battleground.

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The exact quote is “I was looking for a bookshop, instead I found a battlefield.” Bookshop? Could this be a reference to The Library in “The Girl in the Fireplace“? After all, we do still have loose ends from that storyline, right? And is that Amy’s music playing in the background? We know we’ll be seeing River Song this season, perhaps we’ll see her parents Amy and Rory too? Maybe… Questions, questions… knowing showrunner Steven Moffat, I doubt we’ll get answers simply or soon, but let’s keep watching, shall we?

Old Enemies

Any Who fan worth their salt will tell you that the old friend/enemy in question is The Master, in his current Missy incarnation, with actress Michelle Gomez back rocking the evil like a pro. Throw all the clichés you want at this – better the devil you know, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend – but let’s just say that Gomez is delicious playing this part as The Doctor’s evil companion. It’s like having the devil on your shoulder appear next to you in the flesh and saying they have your back. Ooooh, she’s really good, props, Ms. Gomez. But of course, surprise, Missy’s not the big bad in “The Magician’s Apprentice.”

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Hello, Davros. Yeah, that’s right, Davros, the nutjob scientist who first created the Daleks. Really, did anyone see that coming? This episode is thematically a sequel to both “Let’s Kill Hitler” and “Genesis of the Daleks,” full of the base time travel idea that if you could go back in time and kill the most evil of the evil when they were a child, would you? Destroy Hitler/Davros/Daleks for all time, consider the lives that would be saved. Matt Smith protected Hitler from being killed to prevent a paradox, and Tom Baker would pull the plug on the Daleks. The Doctor, in most cases, does not kill. Here, again, he’s being tested.

Kid Davros and the Hellraiser Henchman

We open on a battlefield, possibly the one we saw at the end of “The Doctor’s Meditation.” A boy is lost in this alien battlefield with biplanes and hand mines, a weird mix of times and tech, and those hand mines are grotesque hands that come out of the ground. Creepy! A sonic screwdriver drops in front of him and the Doctor from across a field of hands tries to help him. Asking the boy his name, our hero’s face freezes in terror – Davros.

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We cut to a hooded and cloaked figure with what appears to be scars cutting across his face. He is Colony Sarff, the last henchman of the dying adult Davros (apparently he survived his supposed death in the episode “Journey’s End”). He got a real Clive Barker Hellraiser vibe going on, as if he was recruited away from the Cenobites to serve Davros. Colony Sarff visits the Maldovarium, the market seen so often during the Matt Smith era; the Shadow Proclamation from the David Tennant era; and finally the Sisterhood of Karn. He has a message for The Doctor, “Davros remembers,” and when we finally see the dying Davros, he has Peter Capaldi’s sonic screwdriver clutched in his hand. Da da dum.

Clara and Missy

And then there’s Clara. In her first season nine appearance she’s back to teaching when she notices that planes have simply stopped in midair, as if stopped in time. Honestly this would have been an intriguing idea had anything been done with it, but it’s quickly and far too conveniently forgotten. Boo, Mr. Moffat, boo. UNIT contacts Clara through the school, where folks barely blink at this, and she’s off like Batman and Robin to police headquarters in the Batmobile. I like this part, it’s actually reminiscent of the opening of “The Day of The Doctor.”

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Once there at UNIT – good to see the Brigadeer’s daughter again but I still miss Osgood – Missy pops up, takes credit for the planes, and extends an invitation to Clara. As I said, Michelle Gomez is spectacular – she’s manic, quoting Toni Basil’s “Mickey,” and crazy fast-talking like Rimmer in the “White Hole” episode of “Red Dwarf.” Is it wrong to wish for the murderous Missy as a companion over Clara?

The Confession Dial

The reason Missy called this meeting, other than to waste a few members of UNIT and taunt Clara, is because she just received The Doctor’s Confession Dial. Yes, it’s another of Moffat’s plot contrivances/conveniences. The Confession Dial is a Time Lord thingy that one gives a friend when one thinks they are about to die. This device will appear in a friend’s hand the day before their friend believes they will die. Further evidence is that a Time Lord will meditate when this happens, so for once The Master might not be lying. Of course we’ve all heard this fear of oncoming death from The Doctor before, Trenzalore, anyone?

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These two have chemistry. Maybe this sounds crazy, but Clara is actually tolerable as a companion when contrasted with Missy. The two of them together make an interesting team, the likes of which I don’t think we’ve seen since Mickey or Captain Jack were on board the TARDIS. The best part of the Missy and Clara encounter is when The Master compares herself and The Doctor to a passing romantic couple and Clara to their dog. She’s just a pet, Missy implies silently, and The Doctor can always get another. He has before.

Rocking in the Medieval World

Our dreary duo search for The Doctor together, and finally track him down using fuzzy science, to his self-imposed exile in 12th century Essex. The Doctor is in the midst of giving an anachronistic concert for his medieval castle buddies that he’s been playing magician for. The Doctor jamming in front of a tank rocks, especially when he’s cracking jokes. It sounds absurd and silly, but it’s a blast, and short of Missy being sassy about The Doctor saying Davros is his archenemy rather than her, it’s truly the best part of the episode.

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Sadly the concert, and the reunion with Missy and Clara, is interrupted by the appearance of Colony Sarff, who scarily reveals himself as a creature made of snakes. If Mr. Barker wasn’t pleased with Sarff before, he’d love him now. Wow, truly a new chilling “Doctor Who” monster. A little bit Harry Potter a little bit Hellraiser, I like him. Of course going to meet Davros is trap. Ask Missy, she knows traps, like killing The Doctor, it’s how she flirts.

It Gets Worse

Of course that’s not the only bad news, Bors, The Doctor’s medieval friend from “The Doctor’s Meditation” – the magician’s apprentice, ahem – is a humanoid Dalek with an eye stalk and everything. After our heroes (well, at least two-thirds of them) depart to visit with Davros, Dalek-Bors quickly finds the TARDIS, which is promptly delivered to Davros as well. Things are not looking good.

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On board Davros’ ship, the dying monster and the interrupted rock star have nice chat, peppered with cool audio and video cameos of the previous Doctors. For sure, Davros is on his way out, but he’s got that Wrath of Khan “From hell’s heart, I stab at thee” vibe going on. Meanwhile Clara and Missy find out it’s not actually a ship they’re on (another reason to like Missy – a companion who can think), but the actual planet Skaro. Davros has brought them all back to the beginning!

The Reverse-Flash Equation

The Doctor watches helplessly as Missy and Clara are ambushed by old school Daleks (props to the special effects department for not just using the same old Daleks but re-creating the originals). When the order to kill (exterminate, sorry) them is given, Missy tries to bargain for her life by offering the Daleks the TARDIS and the secret of time travel. For one scary moment I fear the time loop that perhaps it’s The master that gave the Daleks time travel and started the Time War. Too little too late, the Daleks exterminate Missy, then Clara, then destroy the TARDIS.

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Then we see what happened to the boy on the battlefield. The Doctor doesn’t help him, or does he? Kill Hitler or save Hitler? Has Davros been carrying this vengeance for The Doctor since childhood? Those who regularly read my reviews of “The Flash” know what I’m thinking about – the secret origin of the Reverse-Flash. Has the hero inadvertently created the villain through screwy time travel? Is this the time loop? Is The Doctor responsible for the evil of Davros?

This is truly a grim cliffhanger, and from the looks of things, next week it will get even worse…

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About Glenn Walker

Glenn Walker is a professional writer, and editor-in-chief and contributing writer at Biff Bam Pop!. A blogger, podcaster, and reviewer of pop culture in all its forms, he's done stints in radio, journalism and video retail. Ask him anything about movies, television, music, or especially comics or French fries, and you’ll be hard pressed to stump him or shut him up.

Posted on September 19, 2015, in Doctor Who, Glenn Walker, science fiction, television and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Michelle Gomez as Missy is the best thing about this episode. Am I the only one who is tired of these contrivances of The Doctor being destined to die and that trick never works? And there’s zero suspense with Missy and Clara being zapped by The Daleks as we know they ain’t dead.

    And while everybody seems to be squealing and bouncing up and down in the seats over that scene with The Doctor playing heavy metal while riding a tank, I felt that once again Moffat is working way too hard to make The Doctor “cool” I did like the sunglasses and that apparently Capaldi’s Doctor is now rockin’ a hoodie but overall, this episode gets a “meh” from me.

  2. I liked The Doctor jamming, but after seeing the second part, and the bit with Davros’ chair, I am more and more convinced that Moffat constructs ill-conceived stories around ‘cool visuals’ as opposed to adding cool visuals to well-constructed stories…

    And yes, Michelle Gomez is a delight, and much more fun being devilish on the side of the angels than being bad for the sake of being bad.

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