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REVIEW: Doctor Who 9×01: “The Magician’s Apprentice”

Written by Fred McNamara

You know you’re watching an episode of Doctor Who when the opening scene consists of soldiers dressed in Medieval-style clothing running from tiger moths that can shoot laser beams. Kicking things off in a reliably bizzare yet surprisingly robust manner (particularly after the clunky opener to Series 8, “Deep Breath”), “The Magician’s Apprentice” stuffs you so full of references to past characters, cults and events in the Doctor Who universe it’s a wonder it manages to get through its fifty minute running time without collapsing in on itself. However, unlike “Deep Breath”, there doesn’t seem to be a particularly huge reliance on the viewer having in-depth knowledge of the Series 8 finale, the Shadow Proclamation or U.N.I.T. to enjoy this episode. And “The Magician’s Apprentice” turns out to be very enjoyable indeed.

The episode itself concerns Missy and Clara unwillingly teaming up to find the Doctor, who has apparently reached the end of his existence. Parting his confession dial (i.e., his last will and testament) to none-other than Missy herself, they find the Doctor in 1138 partying like its 1139, complete with guitars, tanks, bow-tie and scarf references! However, the Doctor’s celebrations are short-lived when he is summoned by a menacing, snake-like alien who demands that the Doctor must visit a dying Davros, creator of the Daleks. Accepting the invitation, the Doctor has inevitably walked straight into a trap, and must do battle with his oldest and deadliest foes ever.

“The Magician’s Apprentice” has no emotional delicacy to it whatsoever – it’s a delightful orgy of tangled plots and dark adventure, all meshed together in an entertaining package. Those wondering how Missy escaped her apparent death in “Death in Heaven” are better off to not ponder too much over such things. Anyone who’s watched Doctor Who for a prolonged amount of time knows that an epic finale involving the end of your adversary isn’t enough to kill them!

Steven Moffat‘s script rattles with excitement at the knowledge that Doctor Who is back on our screens, and he saves the best and nastiest treat for us till the very end. Those opening shots of war sees the Doctor attempting to find his way across the universe and obviously getting a bit lost on the way. It’s sheer scriptwriter’s luck then that on the planet he unintentionally lands on, a young boy, lost in the depths of war, is in need of rescue. It’s also scriptwriter’s luck that that young boy just so happens to be a young Davros.

“The Magician’s Apprentice” uses this now skewed timelime of Davros knowing full well that the Doctor, discovering who he was, left him to die, to give itself a genuine sense of menace. If this episode is anything to go by, the liberal use of two-parters throughout this season should go down well in terms of story-telling and character development. Here, we almost see the Doctor at his most maniacal. His medieval-themed party looked like something we’d all want to crash! But the whole plot point of the Doctor at the end of his life, with the whole confession dial element, felt underused, to say the least. It’s as if “The Magician’s Apprentice” kept forgetting about it, and only occasionally letting us know it may or may not be a vital part of the story. “The Witch’s Familiar” may throw some more light on it, but for now it dragged the episode down.

If the Doctor DOES die (he won’t. C’mon, have you lot never watched Doctor Who before?), then Peter Capaldi will be sorely missed. Not only is he a wonderfully watchable Doctor, but his interaction with the other characters feels unpredictable and fun. Clara can’t go soon enough, in my opinion. There isn’t a lot of interaction between them in “The Magician’s Apprentice”, thankfully. However, the Doctor’s tangoing with Missy and his confrontation with Davros is electrifying. I’m starting to think I’d pay bucketloads to watch a Doctor Who series where Missy becomes the new companion.

I can’t quite remember the last time Doctor Who was as Devilishly fun and action-packed as “The Magician’s Apprentice”. Maybe I’ll just never be able to make up my mind if Series 8 was underrated in its stories or hideously uneven, but we can only hope the rest of Series 9 plays out as handsomely as “The Magician’s Apprentice”. More of the same, please!

OVERALL GRADE: A

+ Clara gets exterminated!

+ Missy. Just because.

+ The Skaro revelation.

+ Retro Daleks!

+ Mott the Hoople references.

+ Dying Davros is just plain creepy.

– U.N.I.T. were pretty crap at their job throughout this episode.

– Capaldi very obviously not playing guitar in time with the music.

– Shouldn’t he have an amplifier to go with that guitar?

– The Doctor thought leaving Clara alone in the Skaro prison with Missy was a good idea. What could possibly go wrong?

– The Doctor’s knowledge of his own life coming to an end (which it surely won’t) felt swept under the carpet here. Perhaps we’ll see more of it in “The Witch’s Familiar”.

– I’ve watched enough Doctor Who to know that the TARDIS, Missy and Clara are all okay, which makes the drama of their apparent deaths a bit flat.

Extra Thoughts

Did Davros keep that sonic screwdriver and not do anything at all with it?

Did you enjoy this week’s Doctor Who? Let us know in the comments section or send us a Tweet!

About the author

Fred McNamara