Doctor Who and The Magician’s Apprentice

“This is the last will and testament of the Time Lord known as the Doctor.”

Art by Francesco Francavilla

Art by Francesco Francavilla

Story 9.01
Written by Steven Moffat
Transmitted 19 September

On far off Skaro, war has been waged between the Kaleds and Thals for so long that a weird blend of old and new technology from biological warfare to the bow and arrow are used by troops on the battlefield. A young boy finds himself in a ‘hand-mine field’ and is set for a grisly death until the Doctor arrives to save his life. However, when the Doctor asks the boy his name, he discovers that it is none other than the creator of the Daleks known as Davros.

Skaro is presented with such wild abandon and inventive glee, giving life to the vision first presented in 1974’s Genesis of the Daleks with boy soldiers fighting a war that degraded a planet’s culture. As openers go, this was a jaw-dropper.

From there, we are given glimpses of Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat’s Star Wars-esque cantina where weird aliens listen to Nick Cave, then a quick trip to the super obscure Shadow Proclamation (remember them??) Visiting both is one of the most unintentionally hilarious aliens ever in Doctor Who, a man made of snakes who moves like he is wearing roller blades and wriggles ‘in thought’ as if he is either about to erupt into giggles or is secretly pleasuring himself under his robes. He is of course looking for the Doctor because, ‘Davros knows.’ The Doctor is uncharacteristically hiding out, though and no one can seem to find him.

On contemporary Earth, Clara Oswin is teaching at Coal Hill School when she notices a passenger jet hovering in the sky, as if frozen in time. She urges her class to check their phones, especially Twitter, for news. She is then drafted into active duty by U.N.I.T. who have apparently been searching Google (and Twitter) for clues and frantically waiting for a cute school teacher to arrive and point out the obvious.

The global security force tasked with protecting the human race from unusual menaces, U.N.I.T. has seen better days. They appear to be winging it with less ability than a lemonade stand thrown together by two puppies and a newt. The Master (sorry, Missy) appears with Toni Bail references and impractical special effects, holding humanity hostage… for tea with Clara.

Yes, everything revolves around the cute as a button Clara.

Missy is in possession of an unusual device, a disc containing the Doctor’s will, to be opened on the event of his death. She states at length that she and the Doctor are old friends and that Clara is ‘simply a pet dog’ in comparison. Yet even Missy cannot find the Doctor, but Clara, using a laptop, can.

This leads to one of the most embarrassing moments in Doctor Who as the scene shifts to a gladiatorial battle in Essex, 1138. To combat an axe-wielding barbarian, the Doctor arrives atop a tank playing electric guitar and wearing sunglasses. He then makes bad jokes and upon noticing Clara watching from the ramparts, plays Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman. There had been statements that there would be more comedy, especially after last year’s grimmer year of stories, but this is just taking it too far. Even Clara is flabbergasted by his behavior, and the Doctor states that he is celebrating his last day alive by honoring his many-faceted personality.

It appears that the Doctor has suffered a mental breakdown and is a shattered version of his former self. I’m reminded by a Bob Haney Brave and the Bold comic book in which Batman learns from Adam Strange that he is going to die. Rather than face his demise with expected stoic bravery, Batman turns into a nervous wreck, seeing conspiracy and danger around every turn. I suspect that given his experience encountering young Davros has bent his psyche and he is a demented mess.

In any case, The Doctor, Clara and Missy are all taken to Davros (played with aplomb by the brilliant Julian Bleach) who is also dying and wants the Doctor to bear witness.In another room, Clara and Missy attempt to escape in the TARDIS but are instead cornered by an army of Daleks. Davros watches with glee as his ‘children’ zap first Missy, then Clara and finally the TARDIS into smithereens.

With his friends dead and his ship destroyed, the Doctor returns to the fateful moment where he decided Davros’ future, this time armed with a Dalek weapon. With a wild look in his eyes, he fires…

I desperately wanted to enjoy this story. The design work is phenomenal and the varied Daleks look stunning. While they were not used much, the dreaded pepper pots are effective. Yet the humor is so off-key and absurd and the intelligence of the characters so dim that I find it difficult to get fully invested.

Last year, there was a definite decision to darken the tone of Doctor Who and introduce a colder, more alien and terse incarnation of our hero who willfully stood by while those around him died and referred to humans as ‘pudding brains.’ This year, it seems that Moffat and company have back pedaled to the world of whimsy and wacky humor that we have already seen in Matt Smith’s era.

I am hoping that this is all a red herring as Clara, Missy and even the sonic screwdriver (lost in this story) have all been seen in images from subsequent episodes. The Doctor, here dressed in baggy check trousers, a hoody and t-shirt has been presented as much slicker and more refined in a crushed red velvet jacket in other promotional material. Therefore, I am seeing a massive reset button waiting to be pressed next week.

Despite my grumbling, this is a beautiful looking story and a very outlandish Dalek adventure, the likes of which we have not seen to date. I am intrigued to see where the story can go, but a tale that deals with the consequences of actions is surely going to unravel those problems with magical timey-wimey nonsense as we have seen several times over. If I’m wrong, I will be happy as a mutant clam.


The 2015 ratings so far (via DrWhoTV):

While the UK overnights could have been stronger,The Magician’s Apprentice was the highest rated season premiere to date in the US on BBC America.

The premiere episode ranks as Doctor Who’s biggest season premiere ever overseas in the Adult 18-49 demo, which nearly doubled the Series 8 average. The season debut also saw increased social engagement versus last season’s premiere, and reigned as the most social drama of the night and week leading into the premiere.

“Doctor Who is unlike anything else on television, a storied franchise that is as fresh and contemporary as ever, with brilliant writing and superb performances,” said Sarah Barnett, President of BBC AMERICA. “We couldn’t be more thrilled that new and returning Doctor Who fans tuned into the live premiere in record numbers and we look forward to bringing more of the Doctor to this passionate audience.”

Live + Same Day Ratings Highlights:

  • The premiere telecast delivered 2 million total viewers and 1.1 million Adults 18-49.  Among A18-49, Doctor Who propelled BBC AMERICA to #3 in its timeslot, out-delivering the big 4 broadcast networks and ranking only behind college football on ESPN and the finale of Sábado Gigante on Univision.
  • In the A18-49 demo, Doctor Who is now one of just 14 dramas on TV this season to show any growth from its prior season premiere (out of 100+ returning dramas).
  • The A18-49 audience ranks as Doctor Who’s biggest season premiere ever on BBC AMERICA, nearly doubling the S8 average (+95%). In the demo, episode 901 ranks among the top 10 returning cable drama premieres this season, beating Homeland, Suits and The Strain, among others.
  • All tracked demos showed increases from the season 8 average with the most significant increases seen among the younger demos, most notably P12-24 (+186%) and P18-34 (+161%).
  • The episode reigned as the #1 most social drama of the night based on ListenFirst’s Digital Audience Ratings for Television.  It was the #1 TV brand on Tumblr, the #1 drama on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and the #2 drama on Instagram, following The Walking Dead.  It was also the #1 most social drama of the week.
  • Episode 901 garnered larger social engagement than the most recent season premieres of Scandal, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, True Detective, Outlander, Glee, and The Flash, among others.

Next time: The Witch’s Familiar

The 9th series of Doctor Who promises to be yet another in a long line of game changers with everything hanging in the balance. Steven Moffat has leaked numerous details regarding the stories for the year which hint at revelations regarding why the Doctor initially left Gallifrey.

The Radio Times has more details. 

One thought on “Doctor Who and The Magician’s Apprentice

  1. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one nonplussed by the whole ‘electric guitar + tank in the 12th century’ business. Oh for the days when the Doctor’s quote “You can’t rewrite history. Not one line!” actually meant something, and any anachronisms raised within a story needed to be addressed – they really just don’t care anymore, do they?


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