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, could you then kill that child?
Doctor Who is back! And it’s back with a blast.
I’ve really missed the show, I realised. That wasn’t something I’d been aware of, exactly, in the run up – obviously I was keeping on top of the news about the episodes, watching all the trailers, and blogging about it all… so I suppose that’s why, actually. I didn’t miss the presence of the show because I didn’t feel like it had ever gone away – I’m on the message boards, I entered the Mission Dalek competition (didn’t win, sadly) and I am essentially a massive nerd, I realise, as I type this sentence. Hmm. (But, you know, I am reviewing Doctor Who, so I guess that can be taken as read.)
But, yes. There’s nothing quite like new Doctor Who, is there? And that’s the experience that I missed. That of watching brand new Doctor Who.
Steven Moffat has, I think, explicitly tailored this episode towards capturing that feeling – the sheer excitement of watching new Doctor Who. That’s what The Magician’s Apprentice is all about – it’s buzzing with energy, and there’s a real vibrancy and bombast to all the spectacle involved.
The episode begins with pure, unadulterated, unashamed and unabashed continuity references, which is the sort of thing I love. First, we’re on Skaro, then the Maldovarium; next it’s the Shadow Proclamation, and finally Karn itself, complete with cameos from Ood, Judoon, Sycorax and Hath. Gotta admit, I wonder how that went down with more casual fans – I’d assume that it’d be fine, because they simply see cool looking aliens, but perhaps it was a little… alienating. (Haha, pun!)
We go from there to Missy and Clara, and there’s yet more spectacle on display – not just in terms of the frozen planes (an excellent hook, which was a great way of establishing both Clara and Missy in their element) but also the spectacular acting on display. (Another pun!) It carries forth throughout, really – both Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez are excellent in this episode, and it’s brilliant to see the pair of them together, with Missy essentially in the role of the Doctor. Lots of excellent dialogue there; very fond of the references to the Doctor’s friendship with the Master. Like I said in my review of Death in Heaven, way back when, I really do like the Doctor and the Master being depicted as friends – albeit ones with a rather complicated relationship!
But, in all fairness, the moment of the most impressive spectacle is the entrance of the Doctor. Steven Moffat gave a bit of a talk about it, in this YouTube video here, and you can see that a lot of thought went into the execution of it – it wasn’t just (great) puns! The overall effect, mind, was that the Doctor was acting out of character and over the top because he was ashamed. Self loathing. Off kilter. This is actually subtly different from how death was invoked during the Matt Smith years – the point is not “the Doctor has to face his death”, but rather “the Doctor owes it to Davros to meet him, even though it will likely cause his death, because he is ashamed of what he has done”. Peter Capaldi absolutely sells this, of course, in the same way he does with everything – he’s a fantastic actor, and a really magnificent screen presence. Entering into the second year, I have to say, I’m really hoping he sticks around for a good long while yet.
And of course, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t want to, is there? This must be his childhood dream, because he’s really ticking off all the big icons! Daleks, Cybermen, the Master… and now Davros. That’s the crux of the episode, really. The re-appearance of Davros. Julian Bleach was back again, reprising the role from 2008′s The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End, and he really is a brilliant actor. His performance is noticeably pitched differently, and we get a really compelling depiction of a dying Davros. It’s very well done – and it was really, wonderfully exciting to see Davros again. I admit, I’d heard rumours of the appearance of young Davros, but never of the return of Davros as we know him.
The interaction between the Doctor and Davros was, as you’d expect, remarkably well done. Moffat wrote some excellent confrontations between the pair – something I thought was rather effective was the Doctor begging with Davros to save Clara – and he’s managed to tell a story which not only references old canon, but builds upon it, and leads us to view the older episodes in a new light. That, I think, is the best approach to take to continuity, and Moffat very clearly has an excellent handle on that.
As ever, there’s a lot of things I’ve not really been able to mention and deal with. One day there’s going to be a review that’s just a list of bullet points, in all likelihood, because that’s the only way I can get through all of these things.
Colony Sarff was a wonderful concept, as were the hand mines. (Were they inspired by a typo, do you think?) I think Sarff is one of Moffat’s best original concepts in a while, actually – the eventual reveal, where the layers of his face split into the different snakes, worked excellently, and it was really well directed – Hettie MacDonald did great work throughout. Set design was fantastic throughout, from 1198 Essex to the Dalek City on Skaro. Really excellent stuff. The stopping of the planes was a really nice concept, which fulfilled just as much of a plot requirement as it needed to, and the appearance of UNIT was a nice touch too. (As was, by the way, Moffat’s repositioning of UNIT as being lead by a team of female scientists. That’s not really something he gets enough credit for, I think.)
The episode worked, then, to do exactly what it needed to do: to provide a spectacle and vibrancy, and remind everyone of the sheer joy of watching Doctor Who. It was, admittedly, very much a “part one” episode; it was doing a lot of heavy lifting for next week, and if The Witch’s Familiar falters at all, then this is retroactively going to suffer, I think.
But so far? I honestly, really enjoyed this episode, and it put me in such a good mood after having watched it. Certainly, I thought it was superior to Deep Breath last year, which, whilst wonderful, felt somewhat lacking. The Magician’s Apprentice was such a confident and strong episode that I’m actually inclined to give it…
… well, I’m inclined to give it a 10/10 actually. (That’s based on two watches, for the record.) Perhaps that one is entirely contextual; maybe it’s simply the buzz of having new Doctor Who on the TV. But for now, I am actually pleased enough with the episode to give it that sort of ranking.