Sci-Fi · TV & Movies

Doctor Who Review: The Magician’s Apprentice

When doing weekly reviews, it’s easy to fall into a “the show is only as good as its last episode” mentality. In this case, “The Magician’s Apprentice” is a pretty good episode, but I want to hold off on mega-excitement and see where the season is going.

They bring out all the stops for this one, and it feels more like a typical finale than premiere. The mega-villains, Missy and Davros/the Daleks, show up right away, and it ends on a cliffhanger. I like this choice, because after the confused season eight, they need to signal some direction. From the episode titles it looks like all of them will come in pairs, which is great — I’ve been arguing for longer episodes for ages.

The plot is good. If you’ve ever had any contact with organized philosophy, you’ve been led through the central setup of Doctor-Who-Episode-9-01-The-Magician-s-Apprentice-Promo-Pics-doctor-whothe episode:

  • “Is it ever right to kill a child?”
  • “Of course not!”
  • “Um…”

Or its variant, in which the child is drowning, and you have the ability to save it. Everyone agrees its a moral requirement to save a child if it’s possible to do so… But what if it’s Baby Hitler?

The Doctor has chosen not to kill Hitler before, by default. This time, he’s presented with the child Davros, who is about to die, but can be saved. His choice has repercussions, and he later decides to change that choice. The title “The Magician’s Apprentice” signals one option, but we have yet to see if the Doctor will think of that, or be able to carry it through if he does. Plus, we’ve got the return of Skaro… Maybe we’ll FINALLY get back to the “hunt” for Gallifrey?

I also appreciate the nod to Classic Who’s treatment of the same question. I’m a sucker for old clips, although I also think it could’ve been more subtle, and I’m not sure why Davros has old Doctor Who clips laying around when no one in-universe was recording, but whatever.

The characters are acceptable, bordering on good. I appreciate that Davros isn’t stark raving mad. He’s always been a bit unhinged, but he has a grudge here, and he wants the Doctor to know it. The Doctor, for his part, is stuck in an impossible situation where he’s made a bad choice that he can’t own. The choice to run away is in character for him, at least in the past nine seasons, but not a choice he can make and be proud of and carry on. He makes it, feels the guilt, and then desperately tries to come up with what would’ve been the right choice, when sometimes you just have to understand that there will never be a right choice. Peter Capaldi is, as always, brilliant.The Magician's Apprentice Missy

I don’t know yet about Missy. I really hate to see the Master turned into yet another Sexy Umbridge, and I hate that he couldn’t be sexual until he became female, but I’m also fine with having a sexual Mistress and one who, although crazier than ever, seems to have a certain clarity and acceptance of her fixation on the Doctor and how (paradoxically) it’s not a sexual one. Altogether she’s a strong presence and she had some great lines. “Death is for other people” indeed. I think I’d be happy to see her in every episode.

I still don’t care about Clara. Declared myself done last season, and meant it. But I’ll give her this — she realized the Doctor knew Missy was still alive, and that was clever.

The things that irritate me about the show are still irritating me. Clara, for instance. The whole tone and structure of the show is too flash for my taste, and Moffat has no concept of subtlety in dialogue. The snake minion is utterly random and have nothing to do with anything. One assumes it’s supposed to conceal the plot for a few extra seconds, but we hear Davros’s name in the first few minutes of the show, it’s not as if that needs to be a secret. It’s just an extra moving part in the episode when we could’ve used that time to develop themes more deeply.

Still. Within the confines of the show we have, this is a worthwhile episode. I went in not at all excited for the season, but this episode has improved my hopes.

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