season 9: the doctor on skaros

The Magician’s Apprentice

If you’re expecting consistent sequential logic, you’ll not find it in this premier episode of Series 9, which feels like a series of vignettes bridged together by “huh?” moments. In the world of Doctor Who this is not necessarily a bad thing. Based on the medieval nature of the prologue that was released, one may have thought we were in for a Lord of the Rings romp, but instead we find ourselves on a bleak planet, standing on hand mines, and faced with a confused, young boy. The Doctor tosses his sonic screwdriver to the boy for assistance. The hand mines are a cool effect and the eye in the center of the palm makes them all the more eerie; however, it is convenient that they show themselves to the boy and that the area surrounding the Tardis appears to be free of them. When the boy’s name is revealed as Davros (who would later create the Daleks), the Doctor is shocked and offers no further assistance. But neither does he kill Davros — yet. Evil at one time has its innocence, and this scenario revives the question of whether or not the Doctor is a good man. We’ve a pretty good idea where we may eventually arrive, but at this point we jump into what appears to be a mash-up of Who, Potter, and Star Wars when a cloaked individual looking very much like Voldemort enters a Cantina-type bar ala Tatooine looking for the Doctor. I begin to wonder if Moffat finally got J. K. Rowling involved in the writing. She has been “almost” involved before. Or is Moffat simply enamored with Potter villains and chose to pattern this character after the sinister Lord?

I’m still chewing on the similarities when we jump to the Shadow Proclamation and then to Karn, where the search for the elusive Doctor continues. On Karn the floating Voldemort-like figure reveals that a dying Davros is summoning the Doctor. The message links us back to the opening scene, implying that Davros remembers being abandoned. The Doctor, we find, is being harbored by those on Karn.

Another jump and we’re at the Coal Hill School. After throwing her students into panic, Clara whisks from the classroom in response to a call from UNIT. She takes on a persona that demands attention. If this was unsettling to anyone else, you weren’t alone. With the Doctor unavailable, Clara, who was called to UNIT by Kate Lethbridge-Stewart because airplanes have been frozen in flight, wields a power that does not seem to fit even the Impossible Girl. And, seriously, UNIT asks if they should send a helicopter? When Toni Basil got a nod in the Series 8 episode “Death in Heaven” with a parody of the song, “Mickey,” it was a cute addition that fit Michelle Gomez’s portrayal of Missy as The Master. But when the lyrics of the parody scrolled across a computer screen at UNIT in this series premiere, it brought a groan from this reviewer. Is someone picking up a few royalties?

Missy is behind the mysterious hold on the airplanes, but her tampering with them has little to do with the storyline. It serves as nothing more than garnering attention and she quickly drops her hold at Clara’s request to prove that she cares about the Doctor’s whereabouts. The world, it seems, is not really in dire danger. But is the Doctor? In an open plaza, Missy shares what apparently contains his last will and testament. Together she and Clara track down the Doctor and Missy teleports them to his location. The relationship between the Doctor and the Master has always been intriguing, but Missy’s connection to the Doctor in this episode shows a complexity that Clara does not understand. It is likely that most viewers are left with another “huh” moment as well.

I am still wondering at the title of the episode and the question is not yet answered by the Doctor being introduced as the magician. He enters an arena (Is this to be a Thunderdome?) on top of a tank playing an electric guitar. Where did the guitar come from and for what purpose is it being used? Where did the tank come from? This scene does, however, provide levity to what may be a dire situation. After recognizing Clara and Missy, the Doctor behaves uncharacteristically by hugging Clara and making an allusion to Series 8 with the statement that hugging is a good way to hide your face. Missy does not find his behavior unconventional. The Doctor then pulls a snake from a man and the Voldemort character re-appears revealing another Potter-like allusion – snakes ala Basilisk? We bridge back to the opening again when the Doctor is faced with the memory of abandoning an innocent Davros. When the Tardis is secured, we are left wondering if the Doctor’s entire three-week party was a set-up from the get-go.

Eventually we find the Doctor meeting up with Davros, who is frail and dying as we have been told. He approves of the Doctor’s new regeneration. Meanwhile, Missy uses the word “gravity” as a clue from the Doctor to explore beyond the doors of what they believe is a spaceship. After a gratuitous nod toward the possibility of causing Clara’s demise (Nope, Moffat, I wasn’t fooled into believing that), Missy carefully walks out of the ship to find a planet hidden by invisibility — and not just any planet, but Skaro, a rebuilt Skaro. I’m not surprised by this, but as the planet’s invisibility wears off and the Doctor sees Skaro through a window, he apparently is surprised. Where else would Davros bring him? A flashback to previous regenerations and, specifically to the 4th Doctor, conjures other Dalek dilemmas, a wonderful touch for those who are Classic Who aficionados.

The cliffhanger leaves us with two apparent casualties – both Missy and Clara downed by Daleks — and a destroyed Tardis. “Davros made the Daleks, but who made Davros?” asked the Doctor. Indeed.

It’s the series opener, highly unlikely that Missy and Clara’s death and the destruction of the Tardis is final. Despite questions and little annoyances, “The Magician’s Apprentice” opens Series 9 with some fine cinematography and sets the stage for the rest of the series, while utilizing several allusions to Series 8 as tie-in for the relationships between the Doctor and Clara and the Doctor and Missy. There are some fabulous and funny lines from each character and each has their chance to bring value to the episode. As for the complexity of the Doctor’s relationship with Missy, perhaps they really are two aspects of the same. Where there is light there will also always be dark.

Help me out in the comments by sharing your view on the title – why “The Magician’s Apprentice?” It has to go deeper than disappearing coin tricks.

7 thoughts on “The Magician’s Apprentice

  1. how did Davros get footage of the 4th Doctor from Genesis of the Daleks? he had the DVD? there was a camera in that room and the event was filmed, and saved? eye roll. not that I wasn’t thrilled to see Tom. I expect a run on that old Kramer guitar now on ebay, formerly worth very little, a hundred or 2, they’ll now become collectors items. I would have found this episode more jarring but I’m too jaded to believe the deaths and destruction in it are real or permanent in any way. I thought the snake faced fellow was well designed once the reason for the lines across his face were revealed, did have a very Rowlingesque quality to him though, to be sure. well writ review.

    1. Thank you James. Very good point about the cameo of the 4th Doctor! And I absolutely agree on the deaths and destruction. . .highly unlikely they are real or permanent. On to the “Witch’s Familiar!”

  2. What comes to mind for me is Disney’s Fantasia and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment. Is the Doctor Mickey or the long bearded Sorcerer that swats him in the butt at the end?

    I’m wonder if he is Mickey, playing with forces he doesn’t really understand, breaking the brooms to pieces only to have each piece regenerate (whoa, I just realized that as I wrote, honest!). But do the brooms represent the Daleks? He can never get rid of them. So is Davos the old bearded Sorcerer, whacking the Doctor in his ass from his deathbed?

    Does destroying the animated brooms in Fantasia represent all the evils that the Doctor has destroyed over the years, only to have them rise again and create even more destruction? Will Davos end up representing something beyond good and evil as some Sorcerers do?

    The comparison between the Doctor and Mickey Mouse is making more more sense as I think about it.

    1. It’s funny you mention Fantasia and the Sorcerer’s apprentice. . .as there is a pic floating about with Capaldi and Mickey in Sorcerer hat. In fact, David Marshall sent that as a possible graphic for this article. The idea for the Sorcerer’s Apprentice derives from a poem by Goethe. There is also a symphonic poem by Paul Dukas. If the brooms would represent Daleks. . .and Davros created the Daleks. . .it would seem that it wasn’t the “accident” represented by the splitting of the brooms in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. And if the Doctor is Mickey. . .are you postulating that he had something to do with creating the Daleks?

  3. It’s like the whole Superman / Lex Luthor theory. Would there be super villains without first having superheroes? Bond villains without James Bond? Voldemort without Harry Potter? Lucy without Charlie Brown?

    If The Doctor had not come to their planet in the first series would they have gotten motivated to get off the planet? I’m not sure about the Classic Who history but I suspect they might have spent a few hundred years on that barren world and then died out.

    Heroes are good at fighting evil but they also get a heck of a lot people killed and no matter how well they are at foiling their plots, the bad guys always seem to come back next week, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

    1. Ahhhhh. . .the chicken and the egg question? What came first — the super villains or the superhero? And, yes, heroes do seem to get a heck of a lot of people killed in the name of an apparent bigger picture. Are a few dispensable to save the many. . .is always the question.

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