Doctor Who 9.01: The Magician’s Apprentice

Now that I’ve recovered from the effects and can actually be coherent, here we go. My thoughts on this episode.

I’m hiding them behind a read more tag, because they’re definitely spoilery thoughts. If you’re reading this via a method that doesn’t respect the read more tag, look away now.

Are we back? Then here we go.

I loved this. I know that I’m very bad at being unbiased where Doctor Who is concerned, but I genuinely think this was a brilliant episode.

The opener was chilling and terrifying. The handmines – how scary were they? In the middle of a foggy, muddy battlefield that reminded me of something from WWI, the sight of those hands emerging from the mud with a blinking eye in the middle of their palm will haunt me for a long time. I didn’t figure out that it was Skaro until the child announced who he was, and then the eternal war and the mixture of high-tech and bows and arrows made a horrible sense. That imagery was an incredible opener.

The way they timed Davros saying his name was also effective: we’d had time to see him as a sympathetic figure, someone who needed saving, and then he said that name and everything became terrible. That’s how to open a new series.

I’m also a big fan of any episode where Clara is shown to be competent and other people know how good she is. It was lovely to see UNIT calling her in.

Okay, it was lovely to see UNIT. I adore them. Kate Lethbridge-Stewart is one of my favourite recurring figures, and not just because of her name. The new scientist also made me smile (Jan from Bugs! Yay!), although I’m still mourning Osgood.

I adore Missy. Possibly too much. She may be my favourite incarnation of the Master ever. Her blend of utter derangement and cold hardness are amazing. I’ve always loved people playing with the idea of love and hate being two sides of the same core feeling, and that’s what the relationship between Missy and the Doctor is. They are best of enemies. Nobody knows them the way they know each other. It’s a dysfunctional, beautiful relationship.

In other words, please bring Missy back frequently, because I adore every scene she has with the Doctor.

The episode rolled along at a terrific pace that never felt overly rushed, but never gave the audience time to get bored or try to pick anything apart. It pulled us right over any minor plot holes (if the snake creature was looking for the Doctor for Davros, then why did the Daleks already have someone planted there? Unless Davros and the Daleks aren’t cooperating here after all…) and delivered shocks and high points constantly.

I don’t care what anyone says, the Doctor’s arrival on a tank, playing Capaldi’s own arrangement of the theme tune, may be my favourite entrance ever. It was over the top, ridiculous, and brilliant in a way that only Capaldi could pull off. I’m loving the writing for him.

The writing in general was great here. The Doctor and Clara are finally working together. The hints at his history with Missy were exactly what I needed. And I honestly don’t care that the plot was a little thin–the way this episode was done carried me along so that I didn’t notice it until I started reading other reviews.

(Note to self: don’t read other reviews.)

Anyway, I suspect that next week will be chock-full of plot to make up for that. This episode was spectacular and cinematic, but it seemed to promise something more thoughtful next week.

I’m not the biggest fan of Daleks. It’s very rare that an episode can do something new with them. They’re brought back regularly because they’re iconic and people love them, but that doesn’t mean they make for great episodes. They’re a one-note villain a lot of the time. I’m getting the sense that this story is going to be, on some levels, a replay of the ideas behind Genesis of the Daleks, but Capaldi’s Doctor isn’t Tom Baker’s Doctor. The same ideas might be getting a re-airing, but this is a Doctor who has seen more, been through more. Who has watched the Daleks destroy his people and cause untold misery. Who can no longer see the good that has happened in their wake, only the terrible acts they’ve committed.

What I’m saying is, I’m not sure how this plays out. Tom Baker’s Doctor was never going to kill the baby Daleks. Despite all his speeches to Davros about the evil inherent in the Daleks, his speech when he decides not to trigger the bomb is the core of that Doctor.

Capaldi’s Doctor could do it.

That’s why I watched that last scene with my heart in my mouth. Of course the Doctor went back to Davros, he had to, but what did he do? And at which point in his timeline did he go back? Is his shame because he left Davros the first time, and didn’t go back until after he’d met the old Davros, or is his shame because he’s already gone back and something terrible happens?

Time travel makes me head hurt.

I’m afraid that I can’t buy Missy and Clara’s deaths. Apart from anything else, the TARDIS is gone, too. It seems incredibly unlikely that the writers would take the TARDIS away completely, and if the TARDIS is a fake-out then Missy and Clara must be. Missy has a plot, a way out. She ‘died’ at the end of the last season, too. I’m willing to bet that however she survived that, it’s how she’s survived this. Although I would love to know why she’s saving Clara.

Is this an example of her confused love/hate for the Doctor? Saving his person, his ‘pet’, because she doesn’t want him to hurt over her?

Like I said, I’m really enjoying this incarnation. Missy is so unpredictable in all the best ways.

In summary: this is the best season opener in ages, probably since The Eleventh Hour, and I loved it to pieces. Can we please have a cinema release for this, because I think it would look amazing on a big screen?

And roll on The Witch’s Familiar next week! I think we’re in for a bumpy and wonderful ride this year.