Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice review

Review

The Magician’s Apprentice

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The Doctor: Your chances of survival are about one in a thousand, so here’s what you do.

Doctor Who Season: S35 (Ep1).
Story Number: 254a.

He’s back – and it’s about time…

When does two plus two equal three?

To understand how this can be you have to consider British Folk Culture, and the last ten years of Doctor Who.

“He’s back – and it’s about time”: a great 1996 slogan for the temporary one-movie return of the Doctor, and it’s appropriate that it was used this week by the BBC for this episode, (for three reasons). One – that it’s another Moffat event episodes that’s about time-travel (actually quite a rare subject across fifty years of Doctor Who). Two – it emphasises that Doctor Who returning is a big deal. Three – this is a very movie-like first half for this two-parter.

Clara on a motorbike – as cinematic as it was with The Day of the Doctor, and the whole jet-setting location-filming for Missy’s “somewhere hot” with the suited UNIT agents recall a Bond film.

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When Doctor Who returned in 2005, RTD knew exactly what sort of Doctor Who he wanted to begin with – the sort with one companion accompanying the Doctor on his travels. (This may seem completely a completely obvious now but remember one of the models for “New” Doctor Who was Buffy, which is very much an ensemble TV show. Also for the Sixties and the first half of the Eighties the “crowded TARDIS” was very much part of the show.)

The companion being “the Doctor’s best friend” has been foregrounded at various times – Donna being a contrast to the romantic dramas of Rose & Martha, and with River on the scene as the Doctor’s wife, (contrasting with the companion that isn’t).

Missy’s declaration of a cosmic friendship with the Doctor then sets herself up as a direct rival to Clara. The expectation of the Clara being “the Doctor’s best friend” is subverted with the surprise that Missy is the intended recipient of the Doctor’s Gallifreyan Confession Dial.

Of course this is an absurdity to the audience as the Doctor has battled against Missy-the-Master many times, not least the big finales of 2007 and 2009 and 2014, but at the same time the 21st Century revival of the show has emphasised their shared Gallifreyan history – even showing a “young Master” with The Sound of Drums, and that story saying the Master is or was the Doctor’s friend.

“He’s back – and it’s about time” emphasises that Doctor Who returning is a big deal. RTD drew on British Folk Culture to ensure each new season was such a thing: the second season included the return of the Cybermen, which was meaningful to the audience beyond fandom. It was hoped that the Daleks could boost 2005 (which wasn’t for sure until some negotiations with the estate of Terry Nation) and since then they’ve been used for various “event” episodes across the years. RTD’s third such “big villain return” (one that would be meaningful for a significant proportion of the audience, and not merely a fan-pleasing addition), for 2007, was the Master.

Davros’s first appearance of the 21st Century – his Big Return – was for the finale of 2008.

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When Missy, with “help” from Clara, manages to get to the Doctor’s “goodbye party”, what is next is something that’s unique for the show Doctor Who in its strange atmosphere.

The Doctor twanging out Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” on the guitar to welcome both Missy and Clara is an electric scene. Capaldi continues to surprise, and he has two great foils with Gomez and Coleman.

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As Missy caused pangs of jealously when she told Clara that she, Missy, was the Doctor’s best friend and not her – so there is an absurd parallel with Missy’s jealously with the Doctor saying he’s partying before meeting his archenemy Davros. Isn’t she his archenemy?

The Colony Sarff FX are splendid, and a reminder that while Kinda can still be a strong Doctor Who story with the giant snake of its era, Doctor Who now has to keep up the movie-standard effects of now.

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The “original” style Dalek rolling towards Missy and Clara across the landscape of Skaro is a great sight, and there are fan-pleasing echoes of the original set-design of Serial B (“The Daleks“) when the duo are surrounded by most-every colour and form of Daleks.

“You see, if someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives”…

The return of Davros. Moffat has echoed RTD by including Davros for an “Event” story immediately after the previous season with its “Event” finale starring the Master, (as 2007 & 2008, now 2014 & 2015). It’s different now as both the Master’s and Davros’s prominence in British Folk Culture has been bolstered by recent years of Doctor Who. There is still a chance for fan-pleasing elements to be included, like this story’s clip of the Fourth Doctor vocalising his dilemma of Genesis of the Daleks. (Which also brings the general audience up to speed.)

The 2008 Davros performance from Julian Bleach was gloriously over-the-top – now he’s subdued and quiet, frangible, and his scenes are all the more powerful for that.

“He’s back – and it’s about time”: yes this story will be about time-travel and its possibilities, as the Eleventh Doctor grapples with the dilemma spoken of by the Fourth Doctor. The precredits sequence is a jawdrop moment for fandom, (and meaningful surely for a significant proportion of the general audience). The cliffhanger is startling.

What scenes will be filled in with the next episode, are there narrative gaps that we haven’t seen?

When does two plus two equal three?

Two friends – Missy and Clara. Two archenemies – Missy and Davros.

Can the Doctor save his friend?

Rating 5/5

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(The Magician’s Apprentice on bbc.co.uk/programmes/)

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