The past year has been uneventful for me, as far as being a Doctor Who fan goes. My efforts and attention have been drawn elsewhere since last year’s Christmas special, and although the occasional reports and trailers for the upcoming 9th series intrigued me, I’ve kept my anticipation levels at a minimum. That said, upon watching The Magician’s Apprentice and the Series 9 prelude The Doctor’s Meditation, my expectations were met, and then some. Production quality appears to be at an all time high, and the story has yet to seriously stretch my suspension of disbelief. Fully dissecting spoilers from here on out.
That said, this episode is more a gift to veteran fans than it is to novice ones, and that may mean enjoyment will vary. The subtle cues and quips went right over my wife’s head, as many were self-referencing the show’s long history, but I lit up at nearly every one. I actually just got through telling her how much she really should watch Genesis of the Daleks, a Fourth Doctor spectacular (and one of my personal favorites), and then this episode turned out to be somewhat of a thematic follow-up. As it starts we see a war-ravished landscape engulfed in fog – much like the opening scenes in Genesis. It only becomes clear that it is a type of sequel to Genesis when we discover the name of the child the Doctor attempts to help out, who turns out to be Davros. And the planet is very clearly Skaro.
Conceptually, this is a masterful idea of an episode. But to truly compare, it’s important I explain a bit about Genesis. It is indeed the genesis of the Daleks. The Fourth Doctor goes back in time to the very birth of the Daleks. He is given the opportunity to, very easily, destroy the Daleks before they ever become a true threat to the universe – but being the morally righteous figure that he must be, he chooses life. Always life. The fact that he goes even further back, to when Davros, the eventual creator of the Daleks, was a child and unknowingly helps him live on to create the Daleks in this episode, is another moral line altogether. To let evil live is one thing, but to help evil live is another.
Colony Sarff was an intriguing alien creature, and played very convincingly by Jami Reid-Quarrell. His mission, to find and procure the Doctor for a dying Davros, was fun to watch. Going to many popular locations, as far as Doctor Who fans are concerned, including The Shadow Proclamation and Karn, made it all the more enjoyable. Sadly, the strange mystique of his apparent flotation/glide movements are lost on anyone who’s ever seen UWheels in action. The “tv magic” was too reliant on the extremely popular device for me to even kinda buy it.
Missy’s shoehorning herself into the story was… okay? I didn’t really get her necessity, to be honest. She isn’t the one behind this plot against the Doctor (unless something new is revealed in the next episode), so her tagging along put her in the role of a companion, a notion I’m not entirely warming towards. I wished her ability to freeze the planes had more to do with the actual story. That was a very RTD moment, and I was hoping to see that go somewhere.
And since that didn’t really go anywhere, I was hoping U.N.I.T.’s involvement be more than simply auxiliary. Rather, they introduced us to a wonky algorithm that magically found exactly where and when in time the Doctor would be. This is the episode’s most ridiculous leap, and an eye-roller at that. Thankfully, it picked up again once we left modern-day earth behind.
We soon learn that Skaro is indeed back, and in hiding. We get a lovely glimpse of some classic Daleks from throughout the years, and the full menace of Davros, even in his final days. Eventually the Daleks exterminate Missy, Clara, and the Doctor’s TARDIS. And all Davros wishes from the Doctor is for him to know that “compassion is wrong,” thus reitarating the fact that it was the Doctor’s compassion that birthed Davros in the first place, and in turn the Daleks. Well done, Moffat. I truly love the moral complexity of this story. It’s divisive.
By the end of the episode we actually see that the Doctor goes back in time again to kill Davros as a child, instead of saving him. What could this mean going forward? Are we seeing a truly cruel Doctor emerge with Twelve? Of course, we all know he won’t kill Davros. I’d really be surprised there. Because the Doctor doesn’t have it in him. Even the War Doctor didn’t outright kill. But it will be interesting seeing how he reverts his friends apparent deaths.
Ultimately, this was a cracking way to start the new series of Doctor Who. I absolutely love how this makes further ties with the larger history of the show, something I expect we’ll be seeing more of in these 12 episodes. I am disappointed that the show seems to continue making itself so Doctor-centric. Didn’t we have a whole season of the Doctor thinking he was going to die soon just two years ago? I really hope this is not a recurring theme, as I’m tired of the mopey Doctor. I’m also tired of the Daleks – but I did enjoy how they were incorporated in this story. But it really all depends on the overall payoff of the next episode, so I’ll reserve my full judgements until then.