Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice (EPISODE REVIEW)

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.

12 thoughts on “Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice (EPISODE REVIEW)

  1. Well, I have to say that following last season’s reveal of Missy being the Master which I HATED, I had hoped there would have been a break for a while but sadly not. I can’t even begin to describe how negative I feel towards this shambolic portrayal of a once much loved character.
    So onto Skaro and Davros both of which are even closer to my Kaled heart I thought the start with the mixture of future and retro weapons was spot on a la Genesis, not too sure about the hand mines but I was hooked. The “I Davros” audio books for me are the way I imagine Davros’ upbringing so I might need a lot of pursuading to see how the BBC decide to portray it and link it to the Doctor, I’ll make a judgement after seeing the second part but so far I am watching with interest.
    Although its great to see some of the older Dalek designs bobbing about in the city, I don’t quite get how they’re all mixed up together so hopefully this will be revealed at some point when I hope that the purest Mark III travel machines in all their gun metal Genesis glory return from the ashes and rise a new race. The supreme creature. The ultimate conqueror of the universe….ahem


  2. It’s not for me. As for its conclusion – Witch’s Familiar – all too familiar.

    The Doctor is not a superhero, or wasn’t, AT ALL. Missy (ugh) is neither joker to his batman nor his “friend”. It also begs the question of why Clara Sue is chummy with the creature that tortured her boyfriend then turned him into a peculiar revenant. That’s some choice odd plotting right there. Unless it’s literally a pantomime?

    btw did you look at the Sinbad stuff? I’m enjoying doing it, and resisting the urge to paint it all and trying to keep it all ages…

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  3. I generally liked this episode… probably one of the best series openers since the show’s return in 2005. I don’t normally like retcons, which is kind of what this is… but then, that’s what Genesis of the Daleks was too back in the day… Prior to Genesis of the Daleks, there was no Davros. Davros was essentially retconned himself into being the Dalek creator as prior to that story the Daleks were always their own boss… so I can’t hate new-Who pulling a retcon on Davros as a child. Now, that out of the way… If it were just Missy blown away, the Master comes back time and again and technically speaking the Daleks themselves killed him once too (the 1996 TV movie) so that doesn’t require a huge leap to undo… but Clara. I don’t like the idea of the Doctor changing the past and undoing her death, besides being cheap… it cheapens the stories when Amy/Rory go away because “they can’t be undone once the death is seen” and going back to classic Who, it cheapens the death of Adric for the same reason. Since we know Jenna Coleman is leaving the show, it would be interesting if they did have this be something the Doctor can’t fix… but then have him visiting with her earlier in her timestream for the rest of the season to spend some final time with her. I’m curious to see how this sorts out next weekend.

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    1. That would be an intriguing thing, wouldn’t it. If he knew he wasn’t going to see any more of her, so chose to hang out in her past. I could get behind that.

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  4. Lot of thoughts. I’ll use simple language to save space. I’m not bombarding you with “I’m right”s.

    Doctor Who’s back! I start seasons preconception-free. My review explains why I’m underwhelmed: creating tension by “if” he’ll beat Davros, not “how”. But…
    Writing for fans: risky. Throwbacks mask episodes not working/unconfident writers. I liked the cold open. His reaction to “my name is Davros” means anyone understands the implications and feels intrigued without in-depth knowledge. Skaro’s Time War survival’s anyone’s guess.
    Genius on paper. Genesis of the Daleks: the best Dalek story. (Do Classic Series reviews!) It was summarised without being “previously…”, like Kirk explaining Space Seed. The way he turns wasn’t natural – the idea being explored without developed progression to it. The Fourth Doctor explained why he wouldn’t do it. He could’ve killed child Davros any time.
    Sarff (“serpent” in Welsh) mentioning Davros ruined the surprise. Sarff’s Dalek-like glide makes sense. The snake effect was convincing. The Shadow Proclamation ceased being interesting once we saw them. It could’ve been any Doctor Who location. This universe should enlarge.
    I hate “Missy”. I barely understand her. She wasted time, making it derivative. Frozen planes should’ve been its own episode. They sum-up how I feel about it: cool moments adding-up to nothing.
    Wasted guest characters only developed one scene. Clara’s cleverer than UNIT? “Pardon my sci-fi” – WTF? The Doctor spends his first scene messing around. Multiple Dalek variants aren’t explained. At least it’s not “The Invisible Planet (of the Daleks)”. The TARDIS was destroyed too easily. I like Davros being right. Moffat can do character stuff. His space operas resemble mini-episode set-pieces. Episode idea: Davros and the Doctor in one room together, debating stuff. No Daleks.
    How did he go back at the end without the TARDIS? Surely that erases lots of continuity? Did this episode even happen? This is Flash level weirdness. Maybe he rehabilitates child Davros, ending-up friends. That’s what he does. He tried saving Davros in the Time War… Maybe Clara’s not coming back – these episodes could happen after the others.
    I admire its ambition. Hopefully no one was alienated. Continuity shouldn’t be too important. First the Silence, now “his final day” – Doctor Who’s about adventure! The Daleks’ annual appearances are probably contractual by Terry Nation’s estate. We’re between episodes, I can’t judge too much.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lol. Man, I love your comments. And I’m sorry my responses are so freakin short. But you encapsulate so much in your ramblings that I feel, it doesn’t need much discussion. Thank you for this. I agree with a LOT of it. Interesting to think that Terry Nation’s Estate contractually requires Dalek presence… That seems odd.

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    2. Ohhhh I’d love to see that Doctor/Davros talking episode. I really feel almost every episode from the past few years has had waaaaaaay too many ideas that don’t have anything to do with each other. Flying planes? Snake people? WHY?? And Moffat really likes to start off one episode, have a “twist,” and then finish a totally different episode. No cohesion. I love cool things, sure, but I firmly believe everything should be woven together into a story with themes, not just dropped there as if we’ll oooh and aaaah over any random garbage they give us. Not that I’m bitter. 😉

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  5. I actually loved Missy’s inclusion. She may have been one of my favorite elements. I simply enjoyed her and her proclamations to her relationship. She is the Joker to the Doctor’s Batman. I’m enjoying that dynamic especially since she’s a bad character, but isn’t being played as the antagonist for a change.

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