Doctor Who Review, “The Magician’s Apprentice”

Doctor v Davros Tank

Doctor Who’s 9th series premier was a big dumb fun parade of inexplicable action and in-references for long term fans – exactly the opposite of poor Matt Smith’s last season. And damn, was it a breath of fresh air.

Moffatt’s love of gotchas is questionable at best, but damn if they didn’t work here. It kicks off with high energy and high stakes. Stop running through that minefield, kid! Wait, hand mines? OH SHIT, HE MEANS IT LITERALLY. IS THAT MUD FLAT FULL OF BURIED WEEPING ANGELS? Whoa, no! It’s something even creepier! What the hell are they?

Doctor v Davros hand mines 02

HA HA HA of course that’s never answered, but you’ll totally forget that when you see THE DOCTOR PLAYING AN ELECTRIC GUITAR WHILE RIDING A TANK INTO A MEDIEVAL FIGHTING ARENA! Hey, his new stalker, Mr. I Slept On An Electric Griddle is there, too! Except it turns out HE’S A DEMOCRACY OF SNAKES! Snakes on a plane…of medieval battle!

Doctor v Davros Snakes
Hey, y’know what we haven’t seen in awhile? The TARDIS! Oh, that’s because Budget Samwell Tarley packed it up for Davros because he’s secretly a Dalek-bot. OF COURSE HE IS.
Budget Samwell and A Democracy of Snakes (which should really be a Duran Duran album title) are just only there to help. The little kid The Doctor abandoned at the start of the episode is all grown up now and wants to have a chat. Come say hi. For old time’s sake. What’s the worst that could happen?
Doctor v Davros 01
Did Davros just call himself The Doctor’s oldest nemesis? WAIT A DAMN MINUTE! Somebody has known him since always. Since the Cloister Wars. Since the night he stole the moon and the President’s wife. SINCE HE WAS A LITTLE GIRL.
Doctor v Master Missy You So Fine
If you tilted your head the moment those words came out of Missy’s mouth, you could hear thousands of fanfic writers furiously scribbling. Oh, hey, did we mention MISSY IS BACK?
Moffatt isn’t even pretending to tell you how she avoided dying. (Though, really, did anyone believe she was dead? Anyone? Bueller?). Don’t scratch the plot holes. You’ll just leave a nasty scab. Instead, sit back and enjoy Missy’s sparkling banter. And I do. Oh, yes, I do.
Missy is my new Patronus!

Missy is my new Patronus!

I’ve seen a lot of fans complain that there were so many parts of this episode which deserved an entire hour of their own. I totally disagree. We don’t need to know how The Doctor pulled off his medieval middle aged blowout party without changing history. We know it happened, or else Unit’s striped uniforms would all have bulging codpieces and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart’s rank would be designed by strapping on a gold pharonic beard. We’re there for the emotionally impactful moment and a bit of whizz-bang, then we’re back to the actual main plot.

With Daleks.

So. Many. Daleks.

And they’re all nestled in a retro 70’s set with rounded architecture and recessed circles everywhere, because the only things Daleks fear more than stairs is a 45 degree angle.

Doctor v Davros Daleks

I totally agree with critics who say the actual substance of the episode coud’ve been condensed down to a five minute webisode, but that wasn’t the point. This episode was all about reminding long time fans that Doctor Who is FUN. I’ve missed that. This episode was a big, flashy declaration that series 9 isn’t going down the path that made watching too much of 7-8 feel like work instead of entertainment.

My only real quibble is Moffatt’s obsession with turning the Doctor into an anti-hero. I get enough of those from, oh, let me think, EVERYTHING ELSE ON TELEVISION. The War Doctor was incredibly well handled, and really all the Dark and Dreary Doctor I need.

Sure, the occasional deep and morally questionable episode enriches the character. (I loved Human Nature & The Family of Blood.) But I’m really not a fan of Moffatt obsessively reminding us that if you look at The Doctor from the perspective of pretty much anyone other than his favorite human pets, he’s a genocidal megalomaniac.

For most of NewWho, The Doctor has been portrayed as a weary but benevolent god who genuinely loves the human race and is always up for a little adventure. Capaldi’s Doctor, on the other hand, started off as an elderly dementia patient (NOT someone you want to have god-like powers!) who never quite got his senses back after a stroke. You can’t tell people’s ages anymore? You’re constantly calling a tiny, beautiful young woman like Clara ugly, old, and fat? You have difficulty picking specific individuals out of a group? Did you regenerate into Strax? Why are we supposed to trust your perception or interpretation of anything? Someone take the TARDIS keys away from him before he causes some real harm.

As someone who remembers back when Time Lords were only supposed to have 12 lives, my personal Head Cannon is that he’s now past his expiration date and thus his grey matter is permanently spoiled. (Despite the retcon of Timothy Dalton’s Mustache Twirlingly insane Gallifreyan high council purposefully torturing him as a boy, that’s my explanation for The Master’s batshittery as well.) I’m more than a little bummed that this season is clearly going to explore themes of The Doctor Creates His Own Problems (and billions suffer and die as a consequence) and Why Our Elders Need Full Time Caregivers.

That said, judging by this episode, the bits surrounding the Doctor’s slow, dreary march to full on anti-hero will be much so fun we’ll all be asking grandma if she’d like a zipline tour for her birthday. I can live with that.
Doctor v Davros Skaro

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