The Magician’s Apprentice is the first episode in Series 9 (if you’re only counting new series since 2005) and apparently the preview reviews had said it was amazing. Well, all the mainstream reviewers of the world appeared to collaborate on stating Skyfall was amazing, when in fact, it was even worse than Quantum of Solace. The pre-credits scene was great, but then the moment Adele’s lungs burst forth, tedium set in and eardrums were covered up.
Tonight’s episode in the Doctor Who canon, being a two-parter, felt very much like The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1 – a whole lot of nothing, waiting for something to happen.
It began with a young man called Kanzo (Benjamin Cawley), and a child, running across a futuristic-looking battlefield. Problems began when they realised the former was stood on a handmine – looking like a hand with an eye in palm. Just like their namesake, they’re rather deadly, but as this is on pre-watershed TV, Kanzo wasn’t blown to bits, instead he was sucked into the ground as if it had given way and then reformed.
A sonic screwdriver flew through the air to land at the child’s feet, giving him the chance to escape, towards The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), in an “acoustic corridor”. Yep, me neither. When quizzed about the complexities of the situation, The Doctor replied: “I tried never to understand. It’s called an open mind.”
What’s the boy’s name he’s trying to save? Davros!!
Once he opening credits were done, Colony Sarff (Jami Reid-Quarrell) was out and about looking for The Doctor like JR Hartley was looking for a copy of his own Fly Fishing book in the 80s. He tried The Maldovarium (a hangout for many including the Oods), then to the The Shadow Proclamation, and finally, the planet of Karn, where he was told the Doctor is “right behind you, and one step ahead”. And he was there for sure, but Colony Sarff had no idea. He has other tricks up his sleeve, as we saw later, but telling when other aliens are fibbing was not one of his better qualities.
Sarff, or is it Colony – I’m not sure what we can abbreviate it to, says that Davros is dying and he has a message for the Doctor, and that The Doctor must face him one last time. Sarff has been told by Davros that “if you want to find the Doctor, first find his friends”.
Cut to modern-day London classroom and Clara (Jenna Coleman) spots that planes have frozen in the sky, not pointing this out to the children but instead telling them to use their mobiles and find out what’s going on there, instead. Suggesting the overlong hastag, #ThePlanesHaveStopped, she bunks off early and skips school to head off to save the world.
Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) tells her that 4165 planes stuck in the air and since there’s only one man who can sort this out…
- Kate: “We need the Doctor”
Clara: “Kate, we can’t just bleat and get the Doctor, he’ll go Scottish!”
Who’s behing this? Missy. Yes, she’s back. Michelle Gomez was great in this role last series, but it’s WAY too soon to bring her back.
Encouraging a meeting in what looked like the town square in the ill-fated 1990s soap Eldorado, the supposed standoff of Missy versus Clara wasn’t exactly Robert De Niro vs Al Pacino in Heat, especially since after Kate speculated earlier that the planes were “over 4000 bombs waiting to go off”, Missy released them on Clara’s whim and stating they were “a basic Time Stop, just a parlour trick” and that she couldn’t have done anything with them anyway – so another straggle of a sideplot going nowhere.
The whole business of this scene was that she had in her possession The Last Will and Testament to be delivered to the Doctor’s friend on the eve of his final day… but as Missy told a surprised Clara, it was herself that was his friend, and not the confused teacher.
But where was the Doctor? Yes, that’s what all the viewers were wondering, as well, as time was ticking on and the hero of the hour had been offscreen for a while. Fear not, he was entering a Gladitorial arena on a tank, playing an electric guitar in the style of Keith Richards, as you do, and about to face off Bors (Daniel Hoffmann-Gill) from The Doctor’s Meditation. After making no sense, this was also quickly batted aside with Clara joining her man, him feeling all mawkish and declaring “Hugging is a great way to hide your face”.
And then came Colony Sarff’s pièce de résistance – with some neat SFX he could turn into Kaa from The Jungle Book. And with Missy learning that she’s not the most evil individual around, she moaned, “DAVROS is your arch-enemy now?? I’ll scratch his eye out!”
No-one then expected Sarff to be in possession of the sonic screwdriver. And since The Doctor surprised those around him in revealing he no longer has need of it, we got a flashback to the young Davros, leaving the lad amongst the handmines.
Go to page 2 for more thoughts on the episode, plus conclusions.
Back to the present and with The Doctor, Missy and Clara are teleported away darn Sarff (see what I did there?), Bors was actually revealed to be a Dalek. Either that, oir he’d been in the vicinity of an exploding Dalek and one of them buried their plunger in his forehead.
Away out in space, the Doctor continued his sink into depression, bemoaning, “How scared must you be to seal everyone of your own kind in a tank… Davros made the Daleks, but who made Davros?”
And when the pair finally met, Davros looked positively bored to see him, but then he’s an old fart, now. His enemy played back surviving archive clips of old conversations they’ve had, so Moffat’s just filling time there. There’s also age-old dialogue from Davros about how the Dalek/Doctor war “will end tonight”, despite this happening EVERY time the Daleks pop up! They get wiped out. They return. This is getting stupidly tiring.
Then, usually a murdering loon, Missy figured out, due to the lack of artificial gravity, that Davros’ space station is a planet and not an actual space station. Why hide the planet? Because it’s Skaro and it’s been rebuilt. You could see that coming a mile off, the minute we correlated ‘daleks’ and ‘planet’. As the big baddie grumbled, “Where does an old man go to die? To be with his children.”
With the Daleks now surrounding the two female characters in the show, more lame dialogue ensued:
- The Doctor: “What are they going to do?”
Davros: “Who knows? You know what children are like.”
And how did the TARDIS get there? Well, it’s on Skaro because it has been “procured”, even though the Doctor can normally snap it back with his fingers to get to his location whenever he’s aeons away from it.
For no apparent reason, Missy decided to cause a diversion, saying the Daleks need her, a Time Lady, to operate the TARDIS. In goading them, they kill her.
At the end of the episode, Clara was trapped in the room with a dozen bloodthirsty Daleks, but there was zero sense of peril felt. They wanted her to run. She did run. They exterminated her. So, has Clara finally gone the way of Danny Pink? I bet she hasn’t, even if Jenna Coleman is leaving the show. However, if she has then good – I, amongst others, have had enough of her. She should’ve gone at the end of the last series, but clearly they’ve kept her as a temporary transition.
After the Doctor’s look of disgust, Davros told him: “Compassion. It has always been your greatest indulgence.” As a friend of mine has said about the last series, it’s more like “the Moffat’s indulgence”.
A supposed cliffhanger followed with the Doctor going back to the young Davros, intending to kill him and solve all the problems, like a big red reset button, but the ‘Next time’ clip showed Davros still moaning like an old twat, and a stack of random scenes ensuing. Still, at least they put the ‘Next Time’ clip *after* the credits, so you don’t have to leap for the pause button any more if you want to avoid spoilers. Instead, you have to leap for the mute button as the shouty announcer kicks in 🙁
Overall, The Magician’s Apprentice was another whole load of style over substance. Mostly, fancy locations in search of a plot. Where’s the great writing from Moffat that we saw in Blink? He really is believing his own press and he’s killing this show. Then again, we don’t want Russell T Davies back, either. So who else can rescue it, now?
The Magician’s Apprentice is available on the BBC iPlayer until October 19th.
Doctor Who Series 9 Part 1 is available to pre-order on Blu-ray and DVD, and individual episodes can be bought in HD and SD here. And click on all the images in this review for the full-sized version.
Director: Hettie Macdonald
Producer: Peter Bennett
Screenplay: Steven Moffat
Music: Murray Gold
The Doctor: Peter Capaldi
Clara Oswald: Jenna Coleman
Missy: Michelle Gomez
Colony Sarff: Jami Reid-Quarrell
Davros: Julian Bleach
Kate: Jemma Redgrave
Jac: Jaye Griffiths
Mike: Harki Bhambra
Bors: Daniel Hoffmann-Gill
Boy: Joey Price
Kanzo: Benjamin Cawley
Mr Dunlop: Aaron Neil
Ohila: Clare Higgins
Voice of the Daleks: Nicholas Briggs
Shadow Architect: Kelly Hunter
Alison: India Ria Amarteifio
Ryan: Dasharn Anderson
Newsreaders: Stefan Adegbola, Shin-Fei Chen and Lucy Newman-Williams
School Girl: Demi Papaminas
Daleks: Barnaby Edwards and Nicholas Pegg
Soldier: Jonathan Ojinnaka
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.
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