The Magician’s Apprentice: The Good, The Bad and The Nerdy
Gustaff Behr goes through the highs, the lows and everything else from the opener.
There is a certain charm to telling a story about the origins of another story that already tries to explain the origins of a character. It’s almost as if Steven Moffat decided to re-imagine Genesis of the Daleks, but just with a second ‘Genesis’ at the front. An origin of origins episode if you will. In this article, I’m gonna tell you the good, the bad and the nerdy bits of this Series 9 opener. Warning to any fans who still somehow haven’t seen the episode yet, there will be spoilers. Please take heed.
If Peter Capaldi still hasn’t convinced you he’s really a mad alien in a blue box instead of just an actor who happens to play some weirdo who calls himself ‘Doctor’, then there is little hope for you until Twelve eventually regenerates. The Doctor (not a guy named Peter Capaldi) indeed made one of the grandest entrances in the history of Doctor Who. The Magician’s Apprentice, in my opinion served as a better character piece than last year’s Listen, showcasing almost every side of this Doctor and while it may have sounded a little forced, showing the Doctor on his knees begging for someone’s life without being commanded to do so did show us how much he really cares for those around him.
One of my biggest worries about this episode was that featuring a young Darvos meeting the Doctor would contradict the superb I, Davros audio series featuring the life of Davros (the series also being an origin of origins story for Genesis of the Daleks). Thankfully it looks like that might not come to pass as the next episode will either go the alternative universe route or have Davros never learning the Doctor’s name, thus completing the circular paradox once he reaches The Magician’s Apprentice. His inclusion in the episode helped elevate it from a simple Dalek story and turned it into a Davros story. The Daleks always work better when Darvos is involved, but as stories such as Davros has shown us; the mad scientist needs no help from his creations in order to be entertaining or threatening.
The interactions between the Doctor and young Darvos, while short, managed to convey all the right messages and thrills Steven Moffat was clearly aiming for.
Some of you probably expect me to complain about Clara or Missy as they are two characters that are very low on my Christmas list. In the case of Clara, I dislike her over-importance to the Doctor’s timeline while Missy doesn’t seem to pose an actual threat to the Doctor. Surprisingly enough, I liked both characters in The Magician’s Apprentice. In the case of Clara, she felt like they’d taken her down a notch. She felt like a normal companion, UNIT only seeking her out specifically because on-record she is the current travelling companion.
In the case of Missy, while she still poses zero threat to the Doctor as an enemy, instead serving as a kind of third companion, her antics did grow on me, plus she insulted and compared Clara to a puppy which is an instant favourite and retweet from me. I hoped she’d turn on the Doctor as per the norm and was pleasantly surprised when Missy turned heel to save her own backside. Very Master-ish. I also enjoyed the random red shirt killings and the declaration that she was not turning good (despite some evidence to the contrary) did help to bring me over to her side to some degree.
And how about that twist eh? As it turns out, Clara is NOT the closest friend and the mighty recipient of ‘the Doctor’s will’. That pleasure goes to people who know him the longest and nobody knows the Doctor longer than the Master. Anyone else curious as to what the message inside reads?
Despite having low reservations given the direction of the series lately, there weren’t a lot of things lacking in this episode. This is genuinely a great Dalek story. It really is, but I do take some offense at using ‘the Doctor is dying’ trope yet again. This has been three major storylines in three different seasons, notably Series 6 (Silencio), Series 7 (Trenzalore) and now Series 9 (Skaro).
Also, why do we keep saying this is his greatest battle or darkest hour? I thought Trenzalore was his greatest battle. But River said Demon’s Run was his darkest hour. I’m confused. And these are just two examples. Stop trying to escalate things needlessly. You can create a sense of urgency by just having the characters say ’this is gonna be a tricky one’. Things like ‘this battle will be my last’ is just trailer bait and cheapens the ‘final’ battles and ‘darkest’ hours that have come before.
Some people have joked a little about the reveal of Bors being a Dalek puppet and how I’d react to it. Yes, I am gutted! It was a pointless plot device and actually creates a gap in the story’s logic for casual viewers who do not have our intimate knowledge of the show. Casual viewers might find it a bit pointless sending snake man to go look for the Doctor when you have Bors exclaiming to the world that he’s been with the Doctor for at least three weeks, and the snakebite will probably just look like snake man disabling the only person on the field that poses a threat (axe!). Snake man specifically stated that he followed Clara and Missy which makes all the effort seem redundant. The bite that presumably turned Bors into a Dalek servant will also not make much sense to casual viewers as he is vastly different from the Daleks and their technology.
I also need to talk about UNIT. They come across as totally incompetent, needing generic help from a grade school teacher despite having numerous resources that only seem to serve as paperweights on their desks. Kate in particular is rather useless. She is Chief Scientific Officer of UNIT, yet doesn’t make any scientific observations or deductions. It is my hope that they (drastically) improve before their big story later on in the series.
Also, do you really expect any of us to believe a few dozen Daleks managed to blow up the TARDIS just because they added ‘maximum’ in front of their catchphrase?
Can you smell the nostalgia in the air? This episode sure could. We touched upon Karn, the Maldovarium and The Shadow Proclamation all in the span of five minutes. It would’ve been nice to see a helmetless Judoon, but that’s alright. Well, the highlight of course was Skaro: Planet of Nostalgia. Don’t worry, one of these days we’re going to get an explanation for how it’s still there despite Seven blowing it up decades ago. I mean an onscreen explanation.
While a lot of us had our suspicions that kid-Davros would make an appearance, how wonderful was it to see not-dead Davros as well. Again, an explanation for how he survived would have been nice. I’m sure there are countless Doctor Who red shirt villains who would love to know how to survive an exploding spaceship. And the interactions between the Doctor and not-dead-yet Davros. That was beautiful. It’s tradition that every Doctor that meets Davros has to have a deep, philosophical discussion with him and this face-off with not-quite-dead-yet Davros, feels like one of the stronger entries in the Doctor Who history books.
Hats off to how genre savvy the Daleks and not-dead Davros are. After his minions fail to find the Doctor, not-dead Davros just casually tells them to follow his friends instead. The Daleks have learned the art of not being taken in by big speeches, opting to kill Missy the moment she stops speaking. And of course vaporizing the TARDIS instead of leaving it on the floor like they did in Asylum of the Daleks shows that they are at least one decimal point smarter than their previous outing.
Fans unfamiliar with the Classic Series featuring past Masters might not have understood why the Master had a similar ‘oh crap’ moment as the Doctor. Well, the Master is well aware that he/she has a long history of stabbing the Daleks in the back so in their eyes, he/she is just as bad as the Doctor.
It was such a nice inclusion seeing the past Doctors. If there is one thing Steven Moffat is adamant about, it’s remembering where the current Doctor came from. The divide in fandom separating New Who and Classic Who is still very wide and honouring the past by showing previous Doctors is a great way of reminding everyone just why he is the Twelfth Doctor.
Lastly, did anyone else spot the symbolism/foreshadowing when the Doctor entered the arena on a tank?
Here’s hoping the rest of the season manages to live up to the high standard that The Magician’s Apprentice has set. Actually, let’s hope its better.