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Saturday, 16 April 2016

Doctor Who 9-01: The Magician's Apprentice

Episode:814|Serial:254|Writer:Steven Moffat|Air Date:19-Sep-2015

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm spoiling the hell out of The Magician's Apprentice, episode 3 billion and 1 of Doctor Who.

The Magician's Apprentice kicks off year two of Peter Capaldi's time in the role of the Twelfth Doctor, who's actually the thirteenth incarnation of the renegade Time Lord because of reasons. The backstory gotten a bit convoluted and confusing at this point, so this is probably not the ideal place for a newbie to jump in. But the series has been running on and off since 1963 so it's a train you really have to catch in motion somewhere.

Me though, I'm very familiar with the mythology and continuity of the Doctor Who universe. Well I've been watching it since Matt Smith took over at least, plus I went back to check out a few of the David Tennant episodes and a bit of Eccleston. But this season (or series I suppose) will all be new to me, so you'll be getting my first impressions and utter cluelessness about where it's all going. My plan is to go through the entirety of series 9 in order and then after that I'll decide if I want to keep writing about the show. Fortunately Doctor Who has taken an entire year off and won't be back until spring 2017, so there's no rush!

I'll be going through the episode almost scene by scene, dropping SPOILERS and discussing every tiny thing that happens in it, so I wouldn't go any further unless you've either already seen the episode before or you'd rather just read about it.

The episode begins with swooping shots of soldiers fleeing across a muddy field as biplanes strafe them with laser blasts. Doctor Who's never had much of a budget, but they've gotten really good at faking it.

One of the soldiers stops and aims a bow at a plane as it disappears into the rose-tinted fog, but decides not to waste his ammo because that's clearly not going to work. Wow, I've just realised that this is what World War II movies are going to be like 200 years from now.

Of course if he had a golden arrow then he'd be able to hit that plane no problem, just like the time the Doctor and Robin Hood teamed up to fire a solid gold arrow through a tiny window in a hovering castle piloted by the Sheriff of Nottingham's robot knights last season. Man that episode ended badly.

The others carry on, but the soldier spots a boy running through the mist in slow motion and goes after him. He catches up and yells at him to stop, as it seems that the kid’s just wandered into a minefield. But they’re not landmines, they’re handmines, which is demonstrated when one of them grabs the heroic soldier by the ankle and drags him underground.

The handmines all have a single eye in the centre of their muddy palms but I guess they're like T. rexs and can only see you when you move. So now the boy's alone in a field of arms, and he can't move or he's dead. It's gotten very Tremors all of a sudden.

For some reason this shot looks to me like it should be the cover to a Muse album.

Hey it's the Doctor! I was wondering if he was ever going to show up. He throws his sonic screwdriver across to create an acoustic corridor, as apparently that's needed for them to talk safely, then tells the boy exactly how screwed he is. But the slimmest of hopes is still technically a hope! (Especially when your time machine box can hover; c'mon Doctor why aren't you throwing him a rope?) He asks the kid to tell him his name, “the name of the boy who isn’t going to die today”.

“Davros,” the boy replies.

Well great, not only has the Doctor’s accidentally ended up on the Daleks' homeworld of Skaro, he's immediately stumbled across the kid who’ll grow up to become the meanest of mad scientists and create the most evil monsters in all of time and space. I blame the TARDIS; that thing knew exactly where it was bringing him and when.

And the scene ends there on the Doctor's shocked face. Cut to opening titles.

Aww, it's still the same opening and theme tune from last year. Not that I've got any problem with the TARDIS hurtling through a metaphorical clock vortex, even if it's as obvious as it is pretty. I just like it when series changes their titles every season.

After the opening credits sequence we get a series of scenes where Darth Ham here travels the universe looking for the Doctor, linked by some very Star Wars looking wipes.

He visits the Maldovarium (not sure I've heard of it), The Shadow Proclamation (Tennant’s Doctor met those guys once), and the Sisterhood of Karn (visited by McGann’s Doctor in a webisode), but in the end he comes up empty. C’mon mate, it’s not actually that hard to find the Doctor. Just go to a famous historical event on Earth, he’s at all of them!

He eventually gives up and goes to give the bad news to his boss… old Davros! He's on the left, behind the tangle of stripy cables.

The mad scientist is somehow not dead yet despite the events that went down in Journey's End (not that I can remember what they were exactly), but he's really close now. He's still got enough wits rattling around in his head though to tell his henchman where he's going wrong. If you want to find the Doctor, you follow his human companions!

Trying to invade the Earth would also likely work, but that's a lot of extra messing around so I can understand why it's not their plan A.

Meanwhile on present day Earth, we're currently having a bit trouble with our aircraft, which is demonstrated through clips of news broadcasts from around the world. It's like I'm watching one of the David Tennant episodes!

Usual aeroplane behaviour is to travel very fast in a forwardly direction to generate lift, but right now every plane in the air is hovering motionless. No one can contact them and no one can explain it, so Earth defence taskforce UNIT calls in the only person who might know what’s happening… teacher Clara Oswald, who also happens to be the Doctor's current sidekick. They even offer to send a helicopter to pick her up from school, but she points out that air travel's not a great idea right now.

I get the impression that UNIT leader Kate Stewart actually brought her in so she could bring the Doctor in (he's not been answering her calls), but Clara says that he won't be interested until they've learned some facts for him to work with. Personally I think she's just trying to hide the fact that he won't answer her either.

So she starts running through ideas of what someone could use a few thousand planes for, like destroying power plants, hitting fault lines, causing tsunamis (nice subject matter for an episode that aired in September). Clara’s coming across as really confident and smart here, which unfortunately has the side effect of making Kate look utterly clueless and ineffectual by comparison. She’s basically just there to say ‘but can we pleeeeeeeeeeeeeease call the Doctor now?’

And then they do get a call!

But it's from Missy (AKA. The Master)! That means this is the first episode in the series' 52 year run to feature both Davros and the Master, pointless trivia fans!

She's projecting her head out of a computer monitor in 3D, which is a bit weird for a number of reasons, the main one being that she was killed on screen in her last appearance. She doesn’t feel like explaining how she survived being disintegrated, but she would like them to arrange a number of snipers to point guns at her. Eight bullets in the right places at the same time should be enough to shut her down and stop her Time Lord regeneration ability kicking in. Says the woman who survived being disintegrated.
Sniper cover is the only way that Clara will feel safe enough to meet with her in person, you see. Personally I think Missy should be more scared of Clara, seeing as she was the one who wanted to do the disintegrating last time they met.

So Clara goes to meet with Missy... on location in Tenerife! It's like the production crew were trying to see how much of their season budget they could blow through in one episode.

Missy starts by asking if her dead boyfriend is still dead, and then decides to show off by moving a plane overhead to give them some shade because she knows “how you humans burn”. So yeah Missy’s responsible for the planes being frozen in time, but she’s got no sinister scheme in mind, she just wants to force Clara and UNIT to find the Doctor for her. Like I said there's two ways to find the Doctor: threaten the world or follow a companion. So Missy went with both.

There's a reason for her sudden desire to reconnect with her arch nemesis, whcih she explains by putting a small circular object on the table. It's a device called a confession dial, traditionally delivered to a Time Lord's closest friend on the eve of their final day. Basically, it's the Doctor's last Will and Testament. How she got the dial when the Time Lord postal service went missing along with the rest of their planet is left a mystery.

Wait, is this another ‘The Doctor knows his inevitable death is coming’ plot? They only just did that with the Eleventh Doctor! They did it with the Tenth Doctor as well now that I think about it, with the 'he will knock four times' thing. It's really getting old now.

Clara tries touching the thing and gets zapped, because it's not for her! Missy claims to have been the Doctor’s best friend “since he was a little girl” and finds the idea that a Time Lord could consider a human like Clara to be anything more than a pet to be ridiculous.

Of course Clara knows that Missy’s often full of shit and she definitely doesn’t believe that she’s suddenly turned good.

So Missy murders a couple of people to help clear things up. No, she hasn’t turned ‘good’, she just wants to find and save the Doctor.

Kate keeps the snipers from pulling the trigger though, as Missy's still got the planes hostage. So Clara makes a deal: she’ll help find the Doctor if Missy unfreezes the planes. Oh now I get why the writer put the plane shadow there! When it disappears we know that the planes have started moving again.

With the crisis over (before we're halfway through the episode) Clara and UNIT are able to discover in seconds what Missy couldn’t: the Doctor’s busy throwing a party.

More precisely he’s playing electric guitar on top of a Chieftain battle tank inside a castle in medieval Britain. It’s a lame pun you see, as he was challenged to ‘an axe fight’. He’s apparently been inflicting his new-found sense of humour on these people for three weeks now, and I'm really starting to feel for them. Plus he taught them the word “dude” for a laugh. He should've gone full Bill & Ted and taught them to say "excellent."

Oh, his opponent calls him 'Magician' so now I'm halfway to learning who the title refers to (it's totally Clara though).

Missy slaps a vortex manipulator onto Clara's arm and sends them through time to crash the Doctor's party, but they can’t get an answer out of him about why he thinks he’s going to die. They've learned that he knows how to play ‘Pretty Woman’ though, so you can add that to his wiki page. It's a bit strange that this episode of Doctor Who doesn't seem to include an episode of Doctor Who, but I can live with watching Peter Capaldi play guitar. It's just a shame he's only screwing around instead of coming up with an ingenious guitar-related solution to a crisis.

But they’re not the only ones who’ve found him. The guy from the start of the episode with the cloak and the lines all across his face has followed them somehow!

And he’s actually made of snakes.

He’s a whole lot of snakes in a coat.

I have to admit, I did not see that coming, even with all the hissing he’s been doing and he way he was always gliding across the floor like he had a Segway stashed under his cloak.

Snake man has some news for the Doctor: Davros is dying… and he remembers. He then tosses the old sonic screwdriver from the teaser onto the ground to make it clear exactly what is being remembered.

So hang on, Davros, the arch-nemesis of the Doctor who’s crossed paths with him many times, has only just remembered meeting him as a child… despite the fact that he's had his most iconic gadget with him all this time. Did he not wonder where it came from?

The Doctor flashes back to the end of the teaser revealing that he ran off in his TARDIS and left Kid Davros to die in the minefield, and he's ashamed at what he did. That's why he threw the party and sent the confession dial, because he knew Davros had sent snake guy out looking for him, and that his guilt would eventually send him walking willingly into his trap... I think. He seems very surprised for someone who knew this was coming.

The three of them are taken to Davros by the bundle of snakes, leaving behind the Doctor’s friend with the axe from earlier.

Turns out he was always more interested in the TARDIS than an axe fight though, as he’s secretly a Dalek agent! A Dalek agent who apparently took three weeks to find a giant blue box in a medieval castle. Well I suppose he could've been converted really fast during the snake incident, but in that case he probably wouldn't be touching a hidden communicator under his cape to report in.

It's always seemed like a waste to me, for the Daleks to carve out all that brain matter to make room for the eye-stalk when humans already have two working eyes. Though I have to admit that having a dumb looking pointless stick coming out of their forehead and distortion on their voice immediately gets across they're on Team Dalek.

Wow, snake guy needs to fly a regular boring spaceship to get around? I’m so used to time travellers in this series being able to teleport in space as well as time. It's a very Star Trek looking ship too; a Next Gen shuttle cockpit with Deep Space Nine's 'squashed bug' buttons on the consoles. Oh now I want to see a Star Trek/Doctor Who crossover episode!

There was apparently some interest in making a crossover happen at one point, but that plan went nowhere due to Star Trek's 18 year television run coming to an end the same year Doctor Who came back from a 16 year break. Apparently there's only enough sci-fi magic in the world to fuel one or the other, not both.

The Doctor uses the ride in the exposition shuttle as an opportunity to fill Clara and new viewers in on some of the history of Davros. We’ve already seen that he was in a war on Skaro that dragged on for so long that people were fighting with laser biplanes and bows and any kind of technology they could get their hands on. Davros somehow survived the handmines and went on to eventually build a new kind of warrior: a mutant in a tank with no other goal but survival, through the utter annihilation of anything that wasn’t them.

That’s where they’re going? That’s really the best model they could come up with? Doctor Who had more convincing space stations back in the original run! Well, probably. I haven't actually watched much classic Doctor Who to be honest.

Inside the space station, the Doctor’s pulled away from Missy and Clara to speak with the dying Davros alone. Though first the mad scientist shows a few YouTube clips from old Dalek episodes on the porthole screen, because he apparently had a camera filming him all those times.

Most are from episodes I haven't seen, but even I know about this iconic scene:

It's Tom Baker's Doctor trapped drowning underwater, using his last seconds of life to write a urgent last message on his hand for his friend on the other side of the glass. Oh hang on, I'm thinking of Lost.

This is actually a clip from Genesis of the Daleks from 1975, showing what happened the last time the Doctor was on Skaro with an opportunity to wipe the Daleks from history. If he touches those wires together... something happens. I don't know what. The important thing is his dialogue as he weighs his options.
"If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?"
He apparently decided not to go through with it back then (and he didn't kill Hitler when he had the chance either), but he did leave a Davros stranded in the handmines and now he has to face that shame. Plus there's always a chance that by abandoning him, he turned Davros into the monster he is. Like a guy who grew up in a terrible endless war really needed one slightly worse afternoon to push him over the edge.

Meanwhile Missy has opened an airlock and flushed her and Clara out of the space station to asphyxiate in the cold vacuum of space.

Except not really, because that’s not space out there. Missy could tell she was actually on a planet because the gravity was too perfect, and I love it when the writers remember that Time Lords can sense a lot more than humans can. Though the writer in this case is executive producer Steven Moffat, so the series would be in real trouble if he didn't know how the main character operates.

As they step outside and breathe in the atmosphere they become in sync with the local spectrum and begin seeing things as they really are.

A cloaking device that makes almost everything invisible and only works until you breathe, that's... different. Wait, weren't they right next to the door a second ago?

Still this explains why the space station looked so crap, as it’s actually a building on the outskirts of some Flash Gordon-looking city. But Missy's manic lunatic demeanour is replaced with absolute dread when she realises what planet they just walked out onto. I can already tell it's supposed to be a big deal because the music's gotten loud and there's a choir chanting.

They're on Skaro, at a time period well after the endless anachronistic war from the teaser. This is the Daleks' planet now, they took over and killed everyone else, so these two last around five seconds outside before being captured.

Wow, the Daleks have got themselves a proper Ken Adam Bond villain lair here. It’s like Missy and Clara have been brought straight to the 60s. In fact this was probably inspired by the sets from the story that first introduced the Daleks back in 1963 now that I think about it. They've also lifted the Doctor's TARDIS from medieval England and pointed a big laser at it. Definitely a Bond villain lair then.

Missy may look like Mary Poppins lately but she’s still the Master, so she immediately tries to ally with the bad guys, while the Doctor watches in horror from his porthole screen. Plus she fondles a Dalek's balls mid speech... so that's a thing that just happened. She offers the red Dalek in the neck brace a deal he can’t really refuse, explaining that she can teach them how to use the TARDIS and give them the power to burn all of time and space.

But the lead Dalek's not interested, so he orders his men to shoot her dead. And they do. In fact they shoot her so many times they utterly disintegrate her in a flash of blue light.

The Doctor starts begging Davros, asking him to save Clara's life, but he can't. He only built the things, he doesn't control them. So Clara runs from certain death and they gun her down too.

Right now the Doctor's wondering why he ever let Davros live, and this what miserable old Mr. Davros wanted all along: to make the Doctor finally realise that showing compassion for him on their previous meetings was a terrible mistake. He probably also wants to be able to keep his head upright without resting it on his arm, but life has always been cruel to him.

And then they blow up the TARDIS as well for the hat trick. Why they waited so long to destroy the blue box is a mystery, but it's done now.

I would be shocked by the permanent destruction of this 50 year old icon of British television, but I'm distracted by the slighter newer icons surrounding it. Seems they brought in some of the old school Dalek props from the classic episodes for a nostalgia bonus on this rare return to Skaro. Trouble is they already pulled the same trick in Asylum of the Daleks a few years back so it's a bit 'been there, done that'.

So now the Doctor is stranded on the planet of his arch-enemies, with his friends dead and his TARDIS destroyed. How the hell is he going to get out of…

Oh he got out of it? Well, uh... okay then.

So the Doctor’s somehow managed to teleport himself back in time to the scene at the handmines again, only this time he’s got a gun and he’s pointing it right at Young Davros! (It's definitely the present day Doctor now as he's got a white shirt on). Will he pull the trigger to murder a young child and erase the Daleks from continuity forever? I'm thinking... no, but he's going to have to do something if he wants Clara and his TARDIS back.



Well that was a bit of a mess really.

The Magician's Apprentice is packed full of wit, imagination and artful imagery, but it's like there's only 10 minutes of actual story in here. It's great to see the Doctor playing guitar on a tank or Missy having a chat with Clara under a frozen plane, but the characters spend most of the episode wondering where the protagonist has gone. Then when they finally catch up to him, there's still a bloody mystery because he won't them why he's in trouble! There is an interesting dilemma being teased here, but this episode might as well have been subtitled The Search for Part Two.

I get the feeling I would've gotten more out of it if I was a bigger fan, because they've dug up a lot of references for this one. Not only did snakeman take an expensive Star Wars tour of some famous locations from the revival series, but the story is basically the sequel to a 40 year old episode, featuring a villain that hasn't shown his face on screen for 7 years. I've heard of Davros and Skaro before, I know they're a big deal to the mythology, but they're a bit fuzzy in my memory now so I had to get my emotional reaction second hand from the characters as they freaked out.

Incidentally the Time Lords were on form this episode, with the Doctor showing off his new 63% less-abrasive personality by telling bad jokes instead of yelling at people for smiling, and Missy being a mad murderous Mary Poppins. We're catching them on a day off here so they've almost flipped roles, with the Doctor screwing around with history for his own amusement and Missy desperately trying to do something heroic. Of course his version of screwing around involves digging wells and teaching maths, while her heroism involves murdering people for no good reason. So it's a bit strange that Clara becomes her best mate as soon as they're in the past, but then again I guess she's just got that kind of charm to her.

Speaking of characters being killed off, it was absolutely zero surprise to see that the Master wasn't actually disintegrated during her last appearance, and I'm sure it'll be just as shocking when she turns up to be alive next episode as well. But Clara on the other hand is in an interesting place, as her actress was announced to have quit before the season even started. She's lost her plot armour, so this could well be it for her! But they've pulled the 'disintegration is actually teleportation' card enough times now that I seriously doubt it. Blowing up the TARDIS complicates things though, as it seems like it actually would take the Doctor unravelling the whole series to get it back. That's the proper cliffhanger.

One thing I'm fairly sure of is that the Magician's Apprentice is referring to Clara, who was being all Doctory in his absence. So it's interesting that Missy referred to Clara as being the Doctor's pet, considering the next episode is called The Witch's Familiar. Seems like she's going to take a turn being the Master's companion next.

Doctor Who will return in one week with The Witch's Familiar. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'll be watching Deep Space Nine episode 2, Past Prologue. Might be good, might be bad, I don't remember.

You are officially invited to make use of the comment box below to drop some opinions on The Magician's Apprentice or feedback on my site. Please keep spoilers limited to this and earlier episodes though.

1 comment:

  1. I have discovered that a large chunk of Doctor Who fandom seems to be made up of people who are still upset that Tom Baker left and moan about the programme's declining standards whenever they have an opportunity.

    I'm sort of the opposite; I love it even when I know it's not very good. So there are episodes like this in which things don't make any sense -- like the Dalek agent bit or what the Doctor is doing in the past -- or aren't as impressive as they should be -- like the return of the old Daleks -- but I let them pass because I can't be objective about Doctor Who.

    Or, in other words, yes a very choppy episode, but I liked it anyway. I think the next one is properly good though, and that's coming from someone who would be quite happy if Davros had been killed off in the 70's.