Published on September 21st, 2015 | by Brad0
Doctor Who – The Magician’s Apprentice
It’s been far too long, hasn’t it? Babies have been conceived and born in the time since Doctor Who was last on the telly. And I didn’t get chance to review Last Christmas, either (short version – it was solid until they started doing all those “gotcha – this bit’s actually a dream” endings.) Still, after much anticipation the Doctor and Clara returned to our screens on Saturday in The Magician’s Apprentice, the opening episode of the ninth series of the relaunched Doctor Who.
Now, it’s more or less impossible to talk about this episode without giving the game away, since the bloody brilliant cold opening ends with a spectacular mini-cliffhanger to take us into the credits. So fair warning – HERE BE SPOILERS. Still with me? Good. The Magician’s Apprentice opens on a war-torn world where a ragtag group armed only with bows and arrows are running from laser blasts fired from biplanes. Breaking off from the group is a small boy. He’s followed by a soldier from the group, when they find themselves caught in a “hand mine” field. A hand reaches from the ground and grabs the soldier’s ankle, and before he can say “Everything’s going to be fine”, he’s pulled below to his death. Many more hands rise up from the ground, each with an eyeball in their palm. As all looks lost the sonic screwdriver lands at the boy’s feet. The Doctor starts encouraging the boy to survive, getting him to share his name; Davros.
That’s right, to the legitimate surprise of the entire audience, the creator of the Daleks is back. Forty years after he first rolled on-screen in Genesis of the Daleks, the sparingly-used megalomaniac is back for only the seventh time – by comparison, the Cybermen have appeared in 17 stories plus 10 minor cameos, The Master has appeared in 25 stories, plus 4 minor cameos, and the Daleks have appeared in 26 stories, plus 13 minor cameos. There’s a real sense of scale when Davros shows up, and it’s a hell of a way to open the series. Returning to the role is Julian Bleach, who previously played the Dalek creator in the Tenth Doctor episodes The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End. He is, once again, absolutely sensational. There’s a real joy to watching Davros taunt the captive Doctor, especially when he’s using audio clips from his previous appearances to drive his point home. A lot of this set-up seems to be extrapolated from a monologue Tom Baker had in Genesis in which he discusses the moral quandary of killing a child because you had foreknowledge that he would become a murderous dictator. It’s brilliantly done.
In order to find the Doctor for this confrontation, Davros dispatches a new minion, Colony Sarff. Sarff is a collective of telepathically linked snakes, creating a roughly humanoid form to confront various characters from previous locations in the series in order to find the Doctor. Also hunting for him is Missy (Michelle Gomez), who reveals her return by freezing the Earth’s skies and telling Clara and UNIT “OK, cutting to the chase, not dead, back, big surprise, never mind.” This is a recurring aspect to Steven Moffat’s writing which I rather get a kick out of but drives a lot of people mad – no convoluted explanations, just a straightforward “they’re back, deal with it”. This isn’t quite the giant middle finger that the series three premiere of Sherlock was to that type of overly obsessive theorist, but it was a good one. I love Michelle Gomez in the role, so I’m very glad she’s continuing.
The Magician’s Apprentice is a big, bold way to open the new series, and it’s a pretty spectacular start. I’m not convinced that side-lining the main character for the opening quarter of an hour of episode one is necessarily the best idea, but it means we get to spend time first with Sarff, then Clara and Missy, and it pays off pretty spectacularly when the Doctor makes his grand entrance in a castle in Essex in 1138 AD playing an electric guitar on top of a tank. Phrases like that are why I love this show. It’s nice to see a rare moment of goofing around from Capaldi’s mostly-serious Doctor, and when he plays Missy into the courtyard with the riff from Hey Mickey it’s a good laugh. Throw in a juicy cliffhanger and Doctor Who is off to its strongest start since 2011’s The Impossible Astronaut. Welcome back, Doctor!