Doctor Who returns for a ninth series on the eve of The Doctor’s death. Where have we heard that before?
Let’s bitch it out…
What a relief to have “fun” Doctor Who back! Although there were rumours and whispers that things improved immeasurably as the eight series progressed, the introduction of an ornery, grouchy, old man Doctor was quite off-putting, so much so that the blog ended up discontinuing our coverage at the mid-way point.
‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ feels like a return to the highlights of the Tennant and Smith years because it has a great balance of drama and comedy. The best thing about the premiere is the interplay between the serious moments and the wondrous sense of fun that should accompany adventures in time and space. It doesn’t hurt that the writing is spot-on, particularly for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, who has come into his own in a way that felt absent or disjointed in the first half of series eight. It’s unclear if this is a purposeful decision on behalf of showrunner Steven Moffat and his writers, but the change in behaviour is actually remarked upon by Clara (Jenna Coleman) when she and Missy (Michelle Gomez) first come upon The Doctor.
There’s an undeniable sense of youthful enthusiasm in many elements of this premiere, from The Doctor rocking an electric guitar and tank to ramp up the 1138 AD Essex crowd, to pretty much anything Missy says or does (Gomez is the stand-out MVP of the premiere, hands down). Even Clara’s renewed enthusiasm for adventure and a general increase in her competency feel like a reinvigorated take on a character that the series has never really known what to do with following her series-long introduction as the “impossible girl”.
I should clarify that despite these strengths, this is by no means a perfect episode of Doctor Who. If anything, it evokes some of the major issues that the series struggles with, including a preponderance of question-oriented exposition (often involving peripheral characters seeking The Doctor, which here covers nearly a quarter of the episode), grandiose speechifying by The Doctor and threats of bodily harm to series regulars that will ultimately prove to be mere distractions. My biggest issue with the final act on Skaro with Davros (Julian Bleach) is that we’re meant to be concerned about both Missy and Clara’s lives when they’re surrounded by Daleks. Their eventual exterminations, and the destruction of the TARDIS, feel like attempts to heighten the dramatic weight of the premiere. We know, however, that Coleman is exiting the series later this year and that there is no show without the TARDIS, so the danger is ultimately artificial and constructed. It’s pretty clear that these characters are not dead and will, in fact, be back next week, so this is a false cliffhanger.
Still, the bracketing device, featuring a young Davros stranded in a bog of hand mines, is a deliciously memorable visual to begin and end the episode with. Ditto the appearance of Davros’ serpentine henchman, who floats about and dissolves into snakes (though at times he is a little too evocative of Harry Potter‘s Death Eaters for my liking). If there’s one thing that Doctor Who has never lacked, it is these kind of iconic and wildly imaginative visual treats. Even when they’re rendered in less than believable CGI or prosthetic work, the flights of fancy that the BBC series cooks up is a feast for the imagination and in that capacity, as well as the fun time-y vibe of the premiere, it’s good to have Doctor Who back.
- As a relatively green viewer of Doctor Who (I’ve watched the series since it was relaunched back in 2005), I’ll admit that I disapproved of Davros’ name because it automatically made me think of Game of Thrones. Then I hit the interwebs, only to discover that Davros is one of the series’ long-standing villains…and I felt foolish.
- As mentioned above, Missy is truly a delight. I missed her big reveal in the finale, so this is my first real introduction to the character outside of her cameo appearances in the early episodes of series eight. Gomez’s enthusiastically gleeful take on the character, particularly her dressing down of Clara’s importance, are a delight.
- Despite giving Clara more backbone, I’m still not sure she’s more than a narrative construct. ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ fails to give Clara anything to do other than find The Doctor and it’s easy to imagine omitting her and simply having Missy be the companion. While I’ve enjoyed Coleman’s youthful exuberance on the series, I won’t be too sad when Clara vacates her companion position later this series.
- Missy (comparing Clara’s hanger-on relationship): “See that couple over there? You’re the puppy”
- Missy (answering how they will identify the Doctor in 1138 AD): “Anachronisms, the tiniest, little anach- <electric guitar plays> -chronisms”
- Doctor (riling up the crowd): “I’ve also introduced the word “dude” several centuries early.”
- Missy (to the Doctor): “No wait, Davros is your greatest enemy? I’ll scratch his eyes out.”
- Missy (to Clara, opening the air lock): “You and me together. Let’s make jam!”
Your turn: what did you think of the premiere? Were you excited to see Missy alive and well? Were you familiar with Davros? Is Clara still just a narrative device? Did the cliffhanger work for you? Any predictions for the series? Sound off below.
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9pm EST on BBC America in the US