Prior to the first episode of season nine of Doctor Who being broadcast, I went back and read my reviews for the last season because
I’m a massive narcissist I needed to remind myself of the plot seeds Moffat had sewn and I sure as hell wasn’t rewatching Kill the Moon to do it. And reading the review for Deep Breath, I was reminded of how dire that episode really was-flabby, half-baked, poorly paced, and home to a couple of half-decent ideas that came to nothing. Less than nothing. Minus nothing. I could feel the first vestiges of panic begin to set in- if this episode was as bad as Deep Breath, we had a pattern on our hands, and that’s not good news. I don’t think anyone will debate me when I say that season eight as probably the weakest season of the rebooted show to date, with some quite dramatic failures in it’s midst, and the show had a lot to prove with it’s season nine opener, The Magician’s Apprentice.
And it did. Thank God, it did.
Well, not unequivocally- it wouldn’t be one of my patented Doctor Who reviews if I didn’t have a few nitpicks to take from this episode- but it covered up it’s cracks with handfuls of energy and blindingly audacious plotting. And, somehow they brought the Daleks back in such a way that didn’t make me want to punch my screen into dust, so that’s a genuine achievement, something the show hasn’t pulled off since, ooh, the very first Dalek episode in season one (side note: did you know that me and another blogger are reviewing the whole of New Who, episode by episode? You should check that out).
Okay, spoilers here, major ones, for anyone who hasn’t seen the episode. The series kicks off with the Doctor arriving to save a young boy from some nasty traps that threaten to pull him into Pan’s Labyrinth, I assume:
-but when it turns out that the little boy is none other than Davros, creator of the Daleks, he finds himself in a bit of a dilemma. Cut to a few thousand years later, and Davros is demanding the Doctor’s presence as retribution (or thanks?) for what he did or didn’t do to that little boy all those years ago. Missy and Clara get wind of the possible impending-death scenario and tag along for the ride. Yeah, that’s right- Missy AND Davros in one episode. It’s like nemesis central over here, and I love it. Matt Smith must be cursing the Gods that he didn’t get even one of them during his run. I would be.
Mainly because this episode was pandering directly to me, and people like me. People who are obsessively into the show, who bellow educated guesses at the screen whenever a new mystery asserts itself, people who, to whatever degree, live for the mythology of this show. New fans can probably sit this one out, as it relies so much on you already knowing the dynamics at play between the Doctor and Missy, the Doctor and Davros, the Doctor and Clara, etc, that if you don’t, this whole episode is going to fall pretty flat for you. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, in terms of writing and scene-setting ability, but since I’m about as far as humanely possible from reviewing this episodes objectively, who gives a damn? I loved it, and if you love the show, you will too.
And, since you can’t have Davros without Daleks, we got plenty of the deadly kitchen implements this episode, and I was willing to forgive it. Because, after all, what other DW villains have created a master race of killer androids that were applicable to this story? It was go Davros or go home, and luckily we got treated to another episode of Terry Molloy chanelling a monstrously Shakespearean villain as the legendary father of the Daleks.
And let’s not forget about Missy, either- Michelle Gomez is beyond delicious in this episode, always carefully toeing the line of too camp, too flirty, too on-the-nose, and pulling back just before she goes too far. She’s used a lot better here than she was in Death in Heaven, packing in the one-liners (upon finding out that the Doctor considers Davros his nemesis, she declares “I’ll scratch their eye out” in what amounts to a purr) and maniacal energy into every moment on-screen. She lifts up a mediocre episode for Jenna Coleman, too, even if Clara is just someone for her to exposite at most of the time (if you haven’t heard already, Jenna Coleman is confirmed to be leaving Doctor Who, and based on that episode, that’s good news- it’s not that she’s anywhere close to bad, just that the show doesn’t seem to know what to do with her at this point).
And sure, the episode dipped over into too silly a few times during it’s run (could have done without the Doctor playing electric guitar on a tank, to be honest), and part of me is worried that a season that opens with Missy and Davros is going to be constantly living in the shadow of it’s premiere, but The Magician’s Apprentice worked. It didn’t just go big for it’s opener, it went huge, giant, galaxy-engulfing, and that alone was dazzling enough to paper over any wobbly writing or underwritten Clara scenes. The episode ends on a incongruently dark note, as the Doctor points a Dalek weapon at the boy Davros, reminding us that this isn’t just harmless teatime fodder, and I celebrate the fact that Doctor Who is back, really back, after what feels like years without it in full force.
Still, this better be the last of the Daleks we see this season. I’ll have you yet, Moffat.