This review contains spoilers.
The planes have stopped in mid-air. Thousands of lives are at risk and Clara must face the mysterious alien force responsible for this. As past deeds and old enemies resurface, the question on everyone’s lips is, ‘Where is the Doctor?’
I have to admit, season 8 was a pretty big letdown for me. I felt like Clara was outstaying her welcome and the Twelfth Doctor didn’t have a proper personality yet—which was not helped by the rehashing of previous villains and storylines. It was like no one knew how to write for someone who wasn’t Matt Smith, and Twelve’s initial development suffered as a result.
But in The Magician’s Apprentice I feel we’ve seen one of the first true Twelve episodes. We caught glimpses of his promise last season but this … well, I can’t imagine any of the other Doctors so effectively riding in on a tank while playing an electric guitar in medieval London. What’s more, he seems like he’s more caring and compassionate than last season, where he picked a fight with anyone and everyone around him.
It’s unclear how much time has passed since Last Christmas or Death in Heaven, but Clara seems to be carrying on with her life after Danny’s death. She’s back teaching at school and working for/helping UNIT as a contractor. Beneath her familiar bubbliness there seems to be a harder and more mature Clara; her attitude echoes the changes we saw in her during the last two episodes and I’m glad for it. She may be able to call on the girlish charm while attempting to keep her spirits up or when teaching her class but Clara’s no longer a carefree time travel addict.
I’m surprised that Missy has returned so soon after her death fake-out at the end of last season, but at least in this episode she’s a welcome addition to the cast. I found Clara’s reaction to Missy’s ‘resurrection’ to be a bit lacklustre and their progression to gal pals happened far too quickly for my taste; after Death in Heaven I wouldn’t have been surprised if Clara still wanted to rip Missy’s throat out. Clara did, after all, want to kill her the last time they met. Clara telling the Doctor to make it up to her is a massive departure from ‘If you have ever let this creature live, everything that happened today is on you.’ Perhaps she’s putting on a brave face in case the Doctor really is about to die but if Clara doesn’t (understandably) freak out later about the Doctor knowing that Missy is alive then I’m going to flip a table.
Missy’s persona last season echoed John Simm’s portrayal of the Master. For the moment she has been toned down and seems more sane and like less of a threat. Her concern about the Doctor’s impending death is believable. They may have been fighting each other, trying to kill each other for years but ultimately they are the last of their kind and with that comes a complex friendship and affection.
The Doctor’s role in Davros’s childhood is intriguing. I could feel my heart pounding when the child in the warzone revealed his name and I was hooked for the rest of the episode, wanting to know exactly what had happened. Of course, I assumed the Doctor had been stupidly kind and rescued Davros despite knowing that he would grow to become the creator of the Daleks. I assumed it was a fixed point in time and he would just have to get on with it.
However, as the episode progressed and more pieces of the story fell into place it became clear that the Doctor was struggling with the notion. Was he supposed to save Davros? Was it leaving him to die that caused Davros to become so hell-bent on revenge? Has Davros been hanging on to the sonic screwdriver for all these years because he knew that the Doctor hadn’t yet regenerated into the one he knew as a boy?
By the end I had to face-palm because there’s no way in heck that the Doctor could just ‘exterminate’ Davros without creating a ripple effect across everything ever. Maybe it’s just to save Clara but would he even have met her if Davros had been killed? Hopefully we’ll get answers to these questions in next week’s episode but I’m also prepared to be let down by Moffat’s fast and loose method of storytelling.
Since Moffat has taken the reins I’ve had a lot of trouble connecting to his characters and reconciling wibbly wobbly plot points. I hate that my love for Doctor Who has waned. I went into the season 9 premiere ready to be disappointed and perhaps that’s why I was so impressed when I didn’t immediately hate it. I’m not remotely concerned about Clara’s death by Dalek or the destruction of the TARDIS because there was no emotional impact for the viewer and anyone who’s watched the season 9 trailer knows that these are clearly not permanent events.
Overall this was a promising start to season 9 which will leave viewers with a lot of questions. No idea yet why this episode was titled The Magician’s Apprentice or why next week’s episode is The Witch’s Familiar. The titles are excellent but they have yet to connect to the plot in any tangible way. Hopefully this is another element that will be addressed next week.