‘Doctor Who’ Season Premiere Review: ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ Brings Death, Daleks
Recap and review of Doctor Who – Season 9 Premiere – The Magician’s Apprentice:
A show as steeped in its own history as Doctor Who can often be complicated to follow for new viewers. “The Magician’s Apprentice” is one of those difficult episode, relying on a working knowledge of the mythology of the series. And yet, its adherence to its own past is what makes it such a captivating journey to take each year. There’s a sense of history folding in on itself, repeating, and creating new tragedies in familiar forms.
Granted, you don’t exactly need to be a Doctor Who scholar to recall the history of the Daleks, who were created in the final days of a thousand-year war on their home planet of Skaro. However, this story expands upon the history provided by the iconic 1975 serial “Genesis of the Daleks”, which introduced us to Davros, the Daleks’ creator, and presented The Doctor with a moral dilemma: destroy the Daleks before they ever come into existence, rescuing hundreds upon thousands of lives in the future, albeit at the cost of an entire species. However, where that particular story swerved left, “The Magician’s Apprentice” swerves right.
In “Genesis of the Daleks”, The Doctor ultimately didn’t have to make that choice, because it was inevitably made for him due to a freak accident. The Daleks are not destroyed, but their evolution is halted by several hundred years, somewhat mitigating their threat for a time. But here, The Twelfth Doctor (Peter Capaldi) goes farther than Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor ever did. Gone is the “Have I the right?” moralizing about whether or not he can bring himself to end an entire species. In its place is the darker, righteous fury of a Doctor who’s lost everything. For this darker, vengeful Doctor, destroying Davros and ending the Daleks before they can ever come into existence isn’t a particularly hard choice for him to make by episode’s end, considering Davros has allowed his creations to apparently vaporize Missy (Michelle Gomez) and, heartbreakingly, Clara (Jenna Coleman). And this is without even getting into how they destroy the TARDIS, in a scene that’s almost as shocking as the supposed deaths of Missy and Clara. Ultimately, The Doctor is unhinged, and driven to change the past in ways he’s rarely been driven before. That raw-nerved quality makes Capaldi’s Doctor an utterly fascinating portrayal of the Time Lord, and it makes “The Magician’s Apprentice” a truly intense episode to kick off the ninth season.
Of course, this isn’t without some stumbling. For one, it takes an awful long time for the story to actually get moving, as we’re presented with the question of where The Doctor has vanished to, before transitioning to the arrival of Missy, and the reveal that not only is she still alive, but she also is in possession of The Doctor’s final will and testament. Then there’s a strange detour to Essex in the Middle Ages, where The Doctor has made a show of introducing anachronisms into the past, such as a battle tank, an electric guitar, and the word “dude”. It’s all very strange, although it’s not exactly unlike Doctor Who to get this weird. Yet, I still wished the story could have gotten moving a lot faster than it did, because once we got to Skaro, and were presented with the recollection of The Doctor’s greatest shame, the episode became a premiere for the ages.
On the one hand, Daleks are well-worn territory, so there isn’t a whole lot of new territory to mine with them. On the other hand, the Daleks are The Doctor’s greatest enemy for a reason. Their mere existence calls to mind The Doctor’s shortcomings; namely, his compassion. Here, the show subverts that quality, often considered a strength, but referred to as a weakness here, in order to illustrate just how far he’d be willing to go to save Clara. We also know that, despite the wars they’ve fought against one another, that The Doctor does truly care for The Master/Missy, due in large part to their kinship as two of the last of their kind. It’s poignant to see The Doctor set aside the choices of his past iterations in order to do what he felt he should have done eight regenerations ago: eliminate the Daleks from existence, once and for all. To see The Doctor flash back to the past and shove a gun into the child Davros’s face is among the darkest moments we’re likely to see from The Doctor, considering how vocal he’s been in the past about detesting guns. Capaldi’s Doctor adheres to the past, much like the series; yet, also like the series, he subverts that past by exploring the road less traveled. It might not be an approach that works 100% of the time, but I thought it was brilliant here.
Naturally, I don’t buy that Missy or Clara are truly dead, although I’m not entirely certain I buy that The Doctor will truly kill a child, even if that child DOES grow up to Davros. What we have is an interesting dilemma for the show to solve next week, considering “The Magician’s Apprentice” is merely one part of a two-part arc. But even with half the story yet to be seen, I thought this was a remarkably effective premiere for Doctor Who, particularly in how it dipped back into its own mythology and the world the show has created around it. We had the introduction of Davros’s slithering, snake-bodied messenger, the return of the Sisterhood of Karn, the reemergence of UNIT, and even a throwback to the Shadow Proclamation. And interspersed throughout was Doctor Who‘s trademark comedic charm, with The Doctor playing “Pretty Woman” on electric guitar, and making corny jokes to an audience several hundred years too young to understand any of them (bringing a guitar to an “ax battle” was particularly clever, in a Dad Joke sort of way). In short, I had a lot of fun with this premiere, even while its drama ended up being as potent as ever. I’m thrilled to have Doctor Who back, and I can’t wait to see how this story resolves.
But what did you think of the Doctor Who season premiere, “The Magician’s Apprentice”? Sound off in the comments!
And for more on Doctor Who, read up on the upcoming departure of Jenna Coleman, who will be leaving Doctor Who this year. Was this premiere her exit from the series? Or will she get a proper sendoff down the road? Get to speculating (although I think the answer is probably fairly obvious).