Warning: Contains massive spoilers. If you haven’t seen The Magician’s Apprentice yet, then steer clear.
Wow. It’s actually back. We finally have new Doctor Who! It almost doesn’t feel real! Before I go any further though, I’m going to be embarrassingly honest for a moment. I guess my natural instinct when I review something is to start picking holes in it and use them to balance out the things that I write so I don’t just sound like a gushing, fangirling mess.
But, contrary to many of you, I’m sure, I had a really difficult time picking holes in this. So if you didn’t like this episode, feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments!
Okay, first things first, this episode looks amazing. Bringing Hettie MacDonald back to direct was an excellent decision. For those of you who don’t know, MacDonald directed Blink back in 2007, which I’ve always considered one of the best looking stories. I think it was easily the most beautifully shot of the entire RTD era. And now, in an episode that takes us so many different places right off the bat, frankly there wasn’t one location that disappointed visually. The battlefields of Skaro set the tone perfectly, and I thought were an awesome throwback to Genesis of the Daleks. We were also given callbacks to both the Tennant and Smith eras by visiting the Maldovarium (and a load of creatures we haven’t seen in a while) and the Shadow Proclamation (and the Shadow Architect!), which looked fantastic. Even UNIT HQ and Clara’s classroom managed to look good. I thought the scene where Missy and Clara escape their prison and walk out into the stars was absolutely lovely.
And I know we just saw a bit of it not too long ago when Paul McGann regenerated in Night of the Doctor, but I absolutely LOVED the scene on Karn. It looks absolutely right. Updated a bit from The Brain of Morbius, yes, but I felt like it was still true to the original atmosphere. It was absolutely beautiful. And the Sisterhood looked perfectly creepy and intimidating. And Clare Higgins. Oh my God, Clare Higgins.
I love Ohila. I’d like a spinoff about the Sisterhood of Karn. Even on audio (get on that, Big Finish). I don’t even care how you do it. It was perfection and I need more.
But the even bigger winner was, obviously, the revelation of Skaro and the Dalek City. There wasn’t a single thing I didn’t love about it. Silly as it may sound, I freely admit that I actually teared up a bit. It was stunning. I don’t know that in the past I would’ve ever gone so far as to say that Skaro was a beautiful place. But if nothing else, my hopeless nostalgia makes me see it that way now. And I’m a total sucker for the callbacks to Genesis of the Daleks. Especially the mix of technologies in weaponry, the costumes, and of course, the clam drones, which are, presumably are a nod to Harry and the Giant Clam.
It was fantastic that between Kate, Jac, Clara, and Missy, we immediately had four women running the show. I was a little disappointed in the writing of Kate Stewart this time. This was by far the weakest she’s ever been written, and as an avid fan of the Lethbridge-Stewarts, that makes me sad. That’s not to say she was bad. She just seemed to have no confidence, which is a huge departure from how we’ve seen her previously. The fact that the fuel thing Clara pointed out hadn’t occurred to her yet seemed grossly out of character. I fully expect we’ll see her redeemed soon, however. I also have to acknowledge Jac, the new computer tech-y lady played by Jaye Griffiths, whose “pardon my sci-fi” line is where we shamelessly lifted our blog title from.* I liked her and I look forward to seeing more of her.
Going into this series knowing that Jenna Coleman is on her way out makes the start of this series quite bittersweet for me. Even so, I thought Clara got off to a very good start this time around. Almost picking up where we left off, we get to see Clara basically being the Doctor again. I was surprised to see that she was still teaching at this point. The way they’d been building up to the premiere, I’d got the impression that she’d basically cut most of her ties with Earth. Maybe that’ll change, but I enjoyed the little bit in the classroom. And I totally ship Clara and Jane Austen now. I liked that bit. Sort of a nod to Oswin there.
It all makes me wonder just how much time has passed since the events of Dark Water/Death in Heaven (not to mention Last Christmas). Clara seems very at ease working with UNIT. It seems like she’s been helping them in that capacity for quite some time—both with and without the Doctor. She can be the Doctor when he’s not around. And I love seeing her team up with Kate.
Another thing I loved is the whole scene between Clara and Missy in the piazza. That battle for dominance. And how Clara turned Missy’s “Say something nice” into “Make me believe.” Their interplay was wonderful, and then it actually continued to be wonderful for the rest of the episode which I hadn’t really expected. I love them together. Another spinoff? Seriously, Big Finish, are you taking notes?
One thing I would’ve liked to see done a bit differently is the scene where Clara was left all alone in the room full of Daleks. The way she was looking at them reminded me so much of the scene in Asylum of the Daleks where Oswin is about to be converted and I wish she would’ve remembered that at that moment. I still feel unresolved about what Clara does and does not remember and what the consequences were for her from jumping into the Doctor’s time stream. We know she remembers at least some things because she vaguely remembered the War Doctor and the 10th Doctor in Day of the Doctor when prompted by the 11th Doctor. That’s probably asking a lot, but I guess I just need some closure on that point still.
Overall though, I know that there will always be people complaining about the writing and the characters and the actors, but I will never accept that Clara Oswald has not become an amazingly strong, confident female character. I admit that I’m biased, but she is everything I want in a companion for the Doctor. And, that said, I know she will go on to do wonderful things, but I will miss Jenna very, very much.
And then we have our other leading lady. Of course she’s not dead. The Master is never really dead. Maybe death has become a negotiable point overall on this show, but that probably holds true for the Master more than anyone else in the history of the show (with the exception of the Daleks, really). I love that Missy returns right off the bat and, in the typical Master-y way, very quickly plays the “I survived” card and moves on. And I’m glad, because the Master never really explains how he/she/they survived. At this point, I don’t want to know. That’s part of who the Master is, and explaining just would ruin it.
She hasn’t lost her edge and she certainly hasn’t “turned good” as she does an apt job of demonstrating. But it’s intriguing that she needs Clara’s help and knows exactly how to get it by making sure Clara feels safe enough to talk to her. Back in the Jon Pertwee era, the Master always did a fantastic job of screwing with UNIT (so to speak), and that’s exactly what happens here. I can’t even find the words to describe my love for Michelle Gomez. I was so wary of Missy last series. I enjoyed her performance but I just couldn’t wrap my head around having the Master back again. Not because of the change in genders, but because I’m still so attached to Roger Delgado as the Master that I have a hard time accepting it when anyone else takes on the role. But after The Magician’s Apprentice, I am absolutely on board and can easily say that Michelle Gomez is absolutely my favorite Master since Roger Delgado. The Queen of Evil has won me over.
Another thing Missy gets to do is actually take on a bit of the Doctor’s role herself. It’s not unheard of for the Master to actually help or work with the Doctor. In The Claws of Axos, the Master actually helps UNIT when the Doctor has disappeared. Mind you, being the Master, he obviously has his own goals in mind, but he still plays the Doctor when the Doctor isn’t around. That’s sort of what we get here with Missy and Clara. First she assists Clara and UNIT in narrowing down where the Doctor might be (sort of). Then she bravely and surprisingly volunteers to go with the Doctor and Clara to see Davros. Then she has her own Doctor-y moment in the cell with Clara where they talk about the gravity and escape onto the surface of Skaro. All of that felt very Doctor-y to me and I enjoyed it. What really made her performance for me, though, was not just the humor and the edge, but her reaction at the revelation of Skaro. It was just played so beautifully. The Doctor isn’t the only Time Lord with a history with the Daleks and their home planet. Obviously, they both lost a lot in the Time War, and that is a shared horror for them both. But the Master has dealt with the Daleks before too. And, since I think we can safely say it’s canon now, we also have to remember that at the beginning of the 1996 TV Movie, the Master was actually put on trial and executed on Skaro. Surely she hasn’t forgotten that. And I felt like I could see that history play out in her face and in her voice. Everything we needed to know about how horrified she was was right there in front of us. Probably one of the most honest moments in the history of the character, I think.
After only one story with them last series, I was actually pleased to see the Daleks again. Even though we didn’t really start to see them until the end, it warmed my heart to see the different generations (sans the Power Rangers lot, I think) of Daleks all in one place (and not the Asylum this time). Even the Special Weapons Dalek made an appearance! All lovely happy callbacks to both the Classic and New series. My one question about them is, since when do the people they exterminate vanish into thin air? Yes, we saw the blue light and the skeleton, but don’t their victims usually just fall to the ground dead after that bit? As you can tell, I’m not buying that Missy and Clara are really dead. For one, Missy never is. And we know that Clara is in more of the series than we’ve seen so far, so I’m anxious to see how this plays out.
Davros’ new minion, Colony Sarff, was an interesting character. If you can call it that. Can you refer to a democracy as a singular character? Not sure. Anyway, I thought the design was amazing. And the way it moved was so fluid and so serpentine. I just want to know how they made that work so perfectly. It worked so well that I actually was able to ignore the voice in my head that kept making Harry Potter references between the snakes and their Dark Lords.
I didn’t think I would be so excited to have Davros back again, but I really am. I feel like we see more of the Doctor when Davros is around, if that makes sense. It’s like there’s more honesty in his character when he faces him, though it’s usually not something the Doctor would ever want to admit to or have anyone see. I’m sure the Doctor hasn’t, but I know that I’ve certainly missed their conversations. I’m glad that they brought Julian Bleach back as the creator of the Daleks because I think he brings the perfect tone to the role. And he didn’t disappoint this time. In fact I liked him much better in this story than I did back in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. We know Davros is dying. He’s tired. He’s almost resigned, in a way. And you have to wonder, based on the things that he said, does a part of him maybe actually regret his creation? We can see from the ‘Next Time’ trailer that he is giving the Doctor the power to destroy the Daleks for good. It’s probable that his main motivation is to drag the Doctor down to his level, so to speak. He wants to show the Doctor that compassion is wrong.
And then we have the Doctor. Let’s be honest, this isn’t the first time he’s sort of gone completely off the rails when facing his seemingly imminent death. He’s done lots of silly things when he thought he was about to die. Even in just the last few series, he’s married Elizabeth I and done completely ludicrous things to catch Amy and Rory’s attention before he invited them to Lake Silencio. The Doctor wants a party before he goes, and isn’t afraid to even indulge in a bit of nostalgia.
“I spent all day yesterday in a bow tie. The day before in a long scarf.
It’s my party, and all of me is invited.”
So I see nothing strange in the idea of him retreating to a medieval castle and rocking a mean electric guitar, making terrible dad jokes, and introducing the word “dude” a few centuries early. And I have to say, I actually did enjoy the guitar bit. I liked the sort of “mid-life crisis” (or I guess in this case, end-of-life crisis) feel of it. Any time Peter Capaldi wants to play the guitar, I’m more than happy to listen.
And I sort of lost it when he began to play “Pretty Woman” when he saw Clara.
But then the tone shifts so dramatically. Not only does he hug Clara, but the massive shift that occurs when Colony Sarff shows up and tells him that Davros remembers what he did. The way Peter Capaldi played that scene was incredible. The shame. The Doctor is horrified at what he did and what he caused. I just thought that was an amazing way to add to this huge story between the Doctor and his Arch Enemy (I’d love to see Missy scratch his eye out) that began so long ago.
By now, probably everyone realizes that the plot for this story is lifted directly from 1975’s Genesis of the Daleks. When Tom Baker said those words all those years ago, it was hard to imagine a more horrific scenario. In order to save the world, you have to kill an innocent child. In a way, it’s not entirely unlike the main conflict of series 8’s Kill the Moon. Only this time, we know what Davros grows up to become. We know the devastation he will cause with his so-called “children.”
But now we also know that the Doctor left the young Davros in the (hand)minefield to die. And now he’s ashamed because he believes that he is responsible for Davros turning out the way he did. And because of it, not only have the Daleks wreaked devastation throughout the cosmos, the Doctor has lost just about everything. His planet, his people, several companions, and his family. And now he’s also just lost Clara, Missy, and the TARDIS. He knows he screwed up and what it caused. He also knows that the only way he can potentially fix it would be to do something equally horrible, and that has to be killing him. But we’re left thinking that he’s going to do it. That being said, do I think the Doctor will actually kill a child? No, I don’t. This isn’t Torchwood.*
As far as the writing goes, what I love about this episode is that we are expected to immediately jump into the action. There is no slow re-introduction as there sometimes is. We are expected to hit the ground running. The entire episode feels like one enormous setup that will lead us to the real story next time, but it doesn’t do it in a way that feels like an introduction or an explanation. It’s all action. And though there are many that don’t appreciate all the callbacks, I enjoy them. I have no problem with the show referring to its own history when it does it in a way that feels relevant, and this felt relevant to me. I also enjoyed the conversation between Missy and Clara where Missy is disgusted that Clara believes Time Lords could categorize their relationships as humans do. Missy says that humans are far too preoccupied with sex and couldn’t possibly understand the complicated relationships of the far superior Time Lords. Obviously, that is Mr. Moffat trolling us again, and I am totally okay with that.
So, who was the Magician’s Apprentice? There are a lot of options here. Personally, I think it was Davros. The whole theme of the episode is that the Doctor inadvertently created Davros, so in my mind at least, that fits.
But what about you? What did you think of the episode? Did it hit all the right buttons for you? Or did it fall flat on its face? Who do you think is the Magician’s Apprentice? We’d love to know what you think!
* And thus ending a debate that’s been going for months.
** Though I do realize that, funnily enough, the story where Jack kills his own grandson just happens to the same story that Peter Capaldi was in.