Review: Doctor Who, Series 9, Episode 1: The Magician’s Apprentice (The Same Old Tricks?)

doctor who 8


“Someone please help me”

So, Doctor Who returned to our screens last night with ‘The Magician’s Apprentice.’ Saturday nights just aren’t the same without The Doctor, are they? It’s not about the uniform quality of the show; it’s up and down like a yo-yo, if we are being honest (for example, in Series 8 there was the domineering brilliance of ‘Flatline’ to the downright awfulness of ‘Robot of Sherwood’). It’s just about having some quintessentially British science fiction on our screens! It’s about having a great British science fiction character on our screens! The episode passed with some great highlights, but they were marred by the numerous excesses of Steven Moffat’s writing style…

It started off with a (metaphorical) bang. The pre-credits teaser, with The Doctor trying to save a child, ended with a great cliffhanger. The boy’s name was…Davros! Oh, spoiler alert! My jaw dropped, but it didn’t throughout the rest of the episode. The Doctor, having a chance to end the tyranny and destruction of Davros when Davros was a child…simply a great plot development. The pre-credit teaser heights were never quite reached until The Doctor came face to face with present-day (?) Davros, however. We had to endure Missy (who still is as annoying as ever), aeroplanes frozen in mid-air,  and The Doctor on a tank with a guitar in 1138 A.D (THX 1138, do you get it?) before that great confrontation took place.

“Doctor, what have you done?”

However, the padding and the build was worth it. Whenever The Doctor and Davros meet, there’s a tangible tension in the air. This meeting was no exception, and Peter Capaldi (and Julian Bleach) played it flawlessly. Davros’ compliment of “I approve of your new face,” with the added sentiment that it resembled his own, sent a shiver down my spine. Of course, the parallels between the Daleks and The Doctor have been strained before, but this one felt entirely appropriate. Did The Doctor leave a defenceless child to die, because he would grow up to become Davros? Obviously not, but even the thought about doing that signals that The Doctor is not wholly ‘good.’

He Who Must Not Be Named?
He Who Must Not Be Named?

The Fourth Doctor’s dilemma of destroying the Daleks at their genesis was a highly appropriate snippet to see as Davros reminded The Doctor of their various meeting. Even the appearance of the over-used Daleks didn’t spoil the tension between the two arch-enemies. As Daleks turned on Clara to exterminate her, Davros mused about fight or flight, the “ecstasy of crisis,” in his own words. “Is this not life at it’s purest?” he gloated, in front of The Doctor. However, the moment was marred slightly by Davros’ desire to achieve a ‘final victory’ over The Doctor. Did that not happen in Journey’s End, when Davros showed The Doctor that he mould people into weapons? This time, his final victory was trying to get The Doctor to say that compassion is wrong. Oh, okay then…

“Why have I ever let you win?”

A ‘Groundhog Day’ feeling took away much enjoyment of this episode for me. First of all, haven’t we seen most of this done before? The Doctor, on the eve of his death, nowhere to be found? The quick flitting between grand locations (the Maldovarium, The Shadow Proclamation) serving no other purpose than to tell us The Doctor is nowhere to be found? Great ideas, such as Colony Snaff (I may be wrong on his name), simply being used to progress the story rather than for a story of his own? People being murdered, only to stamp a blatant CLIFFHANGER end note before the credits? You know they’ll turn up in next week’s episode!

Not only that, but the appearance of Missy felt like simple padding. She never appealed to me in Series 8, and there’s too much of her in ‘The Magician’s Apprentice.’ I was exhausted by the ‘insanity’ after a few minutes of her arrival. The Doctor, on a tank, with an electric guitar, in 1138A.D. was a moment of ludicrous excess. Why would The Doctor risk changing history that much? I presume he left the tank there, so what if that was to be used in the Middle Ages? History from that moment on would dramatically change! The space between the opening credits and The Doctor and Davros’ meeting was pretty much a waste of space.

But that’s what we expect in Steven Moffat’s reign as Doctor Who’s head writer. He constantly allows his indulgences and excesses to interfere with his great ideas. I’ll readily admit he has a fantastic imagination, and a flair for science fiction stories in particular. But each of his episodes is full to the brim in the essence of ‘trying too hard to please.’ You don’t have to throw everything at the screen to please people. Less is more, as the saying goes. However, it doesn’t mean that ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ was without merit. The pre-credit teaser was incredible. The meeting between The Doctor and Davros could (and maybe should have) lasted for much longer. Maybe an entire episode?

VERDICT: 6/10. A promising yet frustrating episode in equal measure. What Moffat gives with one hand, he takes away with another…

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