Doctor Who #961: The Magician's Apprentice

"Your chances of survival are about one in a thousand. So here's what you do - you forget the thousand and you concentrate on the one."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Sep.19 2015.

IN THIS ONE... Missy stops the planes in the sky, and Davros calls for the Doctor for one last chat.

REVIEW: Series 9 opens on the Secret Origin of Davros, or one of them - I don't think it necessarily contradicts the superlative Big Finish audio "Davros" - in the first of several consecutive two-parters with connected titles. Turning the Fourth Doctor's memorable "Do I have the right?" speech from Genesis of the Daleks on its head, Apprentice actually puts the Twelfth Doctor in a position to let Hilter (Davros) die when he was a child, and then feel great shame at the encounter's outcome. Though it's not as clear as it ought to be, the Doctor both helped Davros by giving him a sonic screwdriver to get out of his situation AND left him there upon hearing his name. He's allowed the tyrant to rise and create the genocidal Daleks (twice now, and may even have inspired them by letting Davros feel a fear so great he had to create the better soldier) AND betrayed his ethics by hoping the boy would die before he could. And now that this memory has reached Davros (due to temporal shenanigans, he probably couldn't remember until the Doc12 actually showed up), we're in for one of those great Doctor-Davros conversations that have occurred, from time to time, on the series.

The Doctor's guilt, after the events of Death in Heaven, was probably quite great already, and once he hears that Davros is seeking him, he sends his will to his next of kin (the only other Time Lord in existence) and goes on a bender in the Middle Ages. Cue the Doctor as Rock God, a welcome shift in the Doctor's persona by way of Capaldi's own history as a punk rocker. Yes, that's really him playing the guitar, and I love both the Doctor Who theme strums and the musical pun from The Who's "Pinball Wizard" at the end of "Pretty Woman". We get more of this all season, and it suits him. The crabby Doctor has mellowed, but while the music is fun, it's still something he does to be loud and unresponsive. As for the idea that he might die, well, that's certainly a cheat, as is the idea that Missy, Clara and the TARDIS buy it at the end of the episode, or that of the Doctor re-appearing in young Davros' life to kill him. All misleads, and rather obviously so. They have to be, right? But his doom-driven mania making him a particularly irresponsible "Time Lord Victorious", spewing anachronisms on Earth history might well lead him to change Dalek history and damn the consequences. Or at least undo the deaths of his best friend, his best enemy and his home. That's what we're supposed to think, at least.

Otherwise, the episode is a little crazy. At times, it seems like ideas have come to Moffat simply because they're puns. An "axe" battle?  Hand mines? Well, hands with eyes look like Dalek mutants, and speak to biological warfare before Davros ever put fingers on test tubes. But throw in some RTDisms like the Shadow Proclamation (still empty) and a worldwide crisis on all the news channels (planes stopped in the sky), Clara apparently working with UNIT which can apparently pinpoint the Doctor's presence back in time, Missy and Davros both back from the dead without explanation (a tradition, but BOTH?), a man made from a colony of snakes some of which have facial features on their sides, biplanes with lasers (war-torn Skaro's WWI imagery perhaps taken a step too far), a scene with the Sisterhood of Karn, referenced links to the past from Davros and to the three Atlantises, and Skaro the invisible planet (nice city model once we see it though)... feels like at least some of it is padding the story to two episodes. There's really no reason Missy needs the plane trick to get UNIT's attention, for example.

Still, some nice lines of dialog peppered throughout, and something unusual for Moffat: Missy saying Time Lords aren't always thinking about sex, that's for us lesser species. For a writer who made his mark writing a sex comedy, and who's been accused of oversexualizing his Doctor Who stories - and make no mistake, The Magician's Apprentice has a bit where Missy scratches a Dalek's "balls" suggestively - that's a further move away from the "sexy Doctor" actually introduced by Davies. The Master-Doctor relationship is discussed at length, an unhealthy friendship that's lasted longer than our civilization, and the more I think of it, is wanting to kill your friend more than simple competition when everyone involved is basically immortal? For Missy, at least, his love of mortals and her contempt for them are a mere difference of opinion. The Doctor would disagree, but as in Last of the Time Lords, as the sole survivors of Gallifrey (at least those known to be in reality), they have a responsibility to one another. Missy thinks Clara simply can't compete on that level. After all, the Doctor kept her survival from her...

THEORIES: It's been a while, so you might not remember, but the Theories section MAY WELL contain spoilers for the rest of the season. You have been duly warned if you're reading these as you go along. Got it? Okay, let's proceed. As this is Clara's last season, foreshadowing of her departure is likely to become a recurring motif. In this case, seeing the Doctor's charming disposition, she asks" Who's supposed to be dying, me or you?" This line is turned on her by the end of the episode when we think her dead, but it actually relates to the end of Series 9, when not only is Clara's fate sealed, but the osmosis of her with the Doctor is complete. If Moffat played with the idea of Clara as teacher/mentor in Series 8, that reversal comes to fruition in Series 9, with Clara as Doctor.

VERSIONS: The DVD includes a couple of prequels, one on Karn that sets up Missy having the confession dial, the other, called The Doctor's Meditation, with the Doctor "preparing himself" in the Middle Ages (essentially a lot of comedy bits).

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - The central premise is strong and this might turn out to be one of the more thoughtful Dalek stories of the new era, but there are too many distractions up at the front.


Eric TF Bat said...

My comment about this two-parter at the time: "Right. Still no real idea why the episodes had those titles, but I have to say how impressed I am that Stephen Moffat produced a sequel not only to Genesis Of The Daleks but also to The Curse Of Fatal Death. That's some virtuoso fanwankery right there. I take my hat off."

Siskoid said...

Did you come to understand the titles in time?

Anonymous said...

I didn't like the Doctor as the sunglass-wearing, guitar-wielding "punk" (for lack of a better term) we got this season. That said, there's a difference between a concept I'm not fond of and a concept that is poorly-chosen and/or poorly-developed; whatever my personal tastes, good on Capaldi for playing the part to the hilt.

LiamKav said...

I was not spoiled about Davros being in this episode, so my heart lept across the room when the child mentioned his name in the teaser.

However, in hindsight, I do wonder if keeping it a secret was a mistake. Doctor Who got fairly poor ratings this year. Not "danger of cancellation" or anything like that, but pretty much the lowest it's had since 2005. There's a convincing argument that the BBC got a bit lazy with their promotion of the show. The main advert ended with "Same old, same old... the Doctor and Clara in the Tardis", and they kept the twist here a secret. I wonder how an advert that played up the fact that the Doctor's two biggest foes were going to appear in an episode together for the first time might have got a few more people watching. The obtuse episode title probably didn't help.

Also, I'm really bored of the Doctor "going to his death". I'm sure New Who has done that story at least 57 times by now.

(To disagree with Anon up there, I loved Punk-Dad Doctor, but I can understand people thinking it a bit of an abrupt change after last year, although I'd argue that it started back in the Christmas special. Did you cover that, Siskoid?)

Siskoid said...

Of course I did!


Blog Archive


5 Things to Like (21) Activities (23) Advice (74) Alien Nation (34) Aliens Say the Darndest Things (8) Alpha Flight (25) Amalgam (53) Ambush Bug (46) Animal Man (17) anime (52) Aquaman (70) Archetypes (14) Archie Heroes (10) Arrowed (20) Asterix (9) Atom (30) Avengers (58) Awards (33) Babylon 5 (140) Batman (677) Battle Shovel (13) Battlestar Galactica (134) Black Canary (22) BnB 2-in1 (40) Books (60) Booster Gold (16) Buck Rogers (11) Buffy (6) Canada (70) Captain America (69) Captain Marvel (55) Cat (156) CCGs (50) Charlton (12) Circles of Hell (6) Class (11) Comics (3959) Comics Code Approved (12) Conan (15) Contest (13) Cooking (15) Crisis (77) Daredevil (33) Dating Kara Zor-El (5) Dating Lois Lane (23) Dating Lucy Lane (13) Dating Princess Diana (11) DCAU (404) Deadman (9) Dial H (128) Dice (10) Dinosaur Island (16) Dinosaurs (67) Director Profiles (9) Doctor Who (1676) Doom Patrol (22) Down the Rabbit Hole (7) Dr. Strange (17) Encyclopedia (28) Fantastic Four (56) Fashion Nightmares (19) Fiasco (14) Films Within Films (6) Flash (83) Flushpoint (86) Foldees (12) French (49) Friday Night Fights (57) Fun with Covers (56) FW Team-Up (37) Galleries (9) Game design (26) Gaming (111) Geekly roundup (762) Geeks Anonymous (47) Geekwear (13) Gimme That Star Trek (60) Godzilla (53) Golden Age (431) Grant Morrison (75) Great Match-Ups of Science Fiction (8) Green Arrow (50) Green Lantern (87) Hawkman (39) Hero Points Podcast (13) Holidays (241) House of Mystery (15) Hulk (44) Human Target (8) Improv (34) Inspiration (45) Intersect (5) Invasion Podcast (44) Iron Man (50) Jack Kirby (87) Jimmy Olsen (74) JLA (94) JSA (25) K9 the Series (30) Kirby Motivationals (18) Krypto (202) Kung Fu (98) Learning to Fly (11) Legion (129) Letters pages (6) Liveblog (12) Lonely Hearts Podcast (21) Lord of the Rings (18) Machine Man Motivationals (10) Man-Thing (6) Marquee (89) Masters of the Universe (9) Memes (39) Memorable Moments (35) Metal Men (5) Metamorpho (65) Millennium (72) Mini-Comics (5) Monday Morning Macking (7) Movies (457) Mr. Terrific (6) Music (73) Nelvana of the Northern Lights (8) Nightmare Fuel (21) Number Ones (59) Obituaries (41) oHOTmu OR NOT? (76) Old52 (11) One Panel (290) Outsiders (165) Panels from Sheena (5) Paper Dolls (7) Play (76) Podcast (488) Polls (5) Questionable Fridays (13) Radio (18) Rants (20) Reaganocomics (8) Recollected (11) Red Bee (26) Red Tornado (10) Reign (563) Retro-Comics (3) Reviews (52) Rom (116) RPGs (539) Sandman (21) Sapphire & Steel (37) Sarah Jane Adventures (70) Saturday Morning Cartoons (5) SBG for Girls (4) Seasons of DWAITAS (100) Secret Origins Podcast (8) Secret Wars (25) SF (30) Shut Up Star Boy (1) Silver Age (368) Siskoid as Editor (34) Siskoid's Mailbox (10) Space 1999 (51) Spectre (20) Spider-Man (100) Spring Cleaning (15) ST non-fiction (19) ST novels: DS9 (8) ST novels: S.C.E. (19) ST novels: The Shat (2) ST novels: TNG (9) ST novels: TOS (13) Star Trek (1711) Streaky (2) Suicide Squad (38) Supergirl (89) Superman (1060) Supershill (11) Swamp Thing (23) Tales from Earth-Prime (7) Team Horrible (4) Teen Titans (83) That Franchise I Never Talk About (53) The Orville (29) The Prisoner (5) The Thing (54) Then and Now (4) Theory (51) Thor (52) Thursdays of Two Worlds (43) Time Capsule (8) Timeslip (7) Tintin (23) Torchwood (62) Tourist Traps of the Forgotten Realms (5) Toys (65) Turnarounds (7) TV (193) V (6) Waking Life (1) Warehouse 13 (9) Websites (102) What If? (103) Who's This? (203) Whoniverse-B (11) Wikileaked (3) Wonder Woman (82) X-Files (246) X-Men (102) Zero Hour Strikes (26) Zine (5)