Doctor Who Series 9, Episode 1
“The Magician’s Apprentice”
Posted by Sage
For better or for worse, Steven Moffat has never been afraid to touch the Doctor Who mythology and mold it as he likes. This is good. It’s necessary. Fans are particular and no media-maker in the English-speaking world knows better than Moffat that you can’t please everyone. But we can’t keep putting pieces of the show behind glass and swatting away any hand that dares get close. Not if it’s going to survive another 50 years.
Now that a Doctor Who series premiere is a full-fledged international event, there are certain expectations of scale. These expectations are automatically filled when there’s a new companion to introduce and certainly, a new Doctor. But for a run like Series 9 with a returning team, the stakes have to be raised through the story itself. In this case, Doctor Who doubled down on classic villains. The last time that happened, Rose Tyler got trapped in an alternate universe. Gird your loins, Whovians.
Of all the surprises in “The Magician’s Apprentice” (and holler to the preview audiences for not spoiling them!), I was most thrown to see Clara Oswald in a classroom again. (We talked about this, Whouffaldi.) After “Last Christmas” and coming to terms with Danny’s death, Clara was all in for time and space, 24/7/365. (All units of time measurement that should, ironically, be irrelevant to her now.) No more of this “every Wednesday,” companion-lite business. Wednesdays are for suckers. Need I remind you that Twelve and Clara ostensibly eloped in that episode and that Clara didn’t even pause to change out of her jim-jams before their giggly, hand-in-hand run to the TARDIS? Ohhh, I’ve given myself the “Last Christmas” feels. I need a cold compress. Lead me to my fainting couch.
That the Doctor is going through some shit was apparent in both prequels to “The Magician’s Apprentice,” but we never were told why exactly he and Clara were separated. We all agree that the first trip they took after the credits rolled on the Christmas special was to Bath to take a turn about the ballroom with Jane Austen, yes? Continued head canon: the Doctor always suspected that Jane and Clara would get on well, ever since he listened in to Miss Oswald lecturing her class about Pride & Prejudice. He just didn’t expect them to get on that well. He got lost on the way to the toilet and walked into an otherwise occupied drawing room instead. What he saw in that other room – the drafty one that the family never uses – left him a little pink, and Clara didn’t stop teasing him about it for three weeks. Mostly because she was pleased to learn that this regeneration does get embarrassed sometimes. Actual canon: Clara Oswald is bisexual. Doctor Who is back, and Clara Oswald is bisexual. Sometimes, I can’t believe our luck.
If I don’t get my Jane episode soon, I’m writing it myself. Looking at you, Gatiss.
OH YES. This episode. So…the planes have stopped. And presumably there’s a shortage of airline customer service professionals, because every last one of them quit.
UNIT’s got Clara Oswald on speed dial, and the President can wait, thank you very much. This scene felt a little extraneous, to be honest. Surely Missy (who’s not dead, naturally) could have gotten Clara’s attention any old way. But the old girl loves it when all eyes are on her, and Kate’s involvement gave Missy the extra satisfaction of taking out a few of her best men in front of her. And I would like to take this moment to officially declare that no amount of Missy will ever be too much Missy for me. This statement may well be tested to its limit in the future (*shakes fist* Moffat!), but Michelle Gomez is a casting boon for this show and this Doctor. Usually when “The Master” is in a Doctor Who story, it’s “The Master” show. How tremendously brilliant to make her an honorary TARDIS team member for an episode, to explore how her friendship with the Doctor looks when she’s not in the middle of a scheme and to give Gomez free rein to smirk, play, and fondle a Dalek’s balls. I’m a sucker for “we don’t trust this person, but we need their help” stories across all genres, and this is a fun one to add to the list.
In all seriousness, this performance just gets better the more Capaldi settles into it. The way that he interacts with people now is markedly different than it was in Series 8, but it’s not jarring. The need to relate, befriend, and even to entertain come from the same place that his hesitation once did. “Who frowned me this face?” he asked that tramp back in “Deep Breath.” And Davros too makes a crack about how he’s grizzled since the last time they met. (GLASS HOUSES, DAVROS.) But over the course of the last year, the Doctor decided to show that face who’s boss. He’s not a cranky, old man who wants to be left alone to contemplate his role in the sorrows of the universe; he’s Keith Richards, and he wants to rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Ummmm, who’s going to tell these three actors, Steven Moffat, and Roy Orbison himself via seance if necessary all that official jazz about Whouffaldi being a “fatherly” and platonic relationship? ‘Cause I don’t think they know. At the BAFTA Wales screening and Q&A that we got to attend in New York this spring, Moffat explained once again the motivation behind all of the Doctor’s clueless remarks about Clara’s appearance. (“Clara Oswald, you’ll never look any different to me” was pay-off enough for this shipper trash, but I’ll take these additional comments too.) “It’s fun to see these early episodes and watch the Doctor pretend he doesn’t fancy Clara,” the showrunner said. “He’s very ‘You’re gross, I don’t like you, but really stop looking so good.'” In other words: “mmmMMMOHMYGOD. Stop fuckin’ lyin’.”
Even if you don’t ship it (when did you last see your cardiologist?), you have to recognize the Doctor’s new motivation to make Clara feel good and appreciated and valued and special. Soon after he changed, the had Doctor asked Clara to slow down, take a breath, and to see him – this him and the old him, co-existing. Everything else could come later. And then this parallel happened, and seriously, Peter, I’m going to need you to remember that “not a heartthrob” garbage you were trying to peddle before Series 8 because I do not have the strength.
“Wherever you go, Doctor, there are people who care enough to find you,” Ohilia of Karn tells him in the episode prologue. And he smiles, because he knows. The Doctor looks surprised to see Clara and Missy at his Renaissance Dude-themed send-off, but only just. I wonder what he expected when he bequeathed his confession dial to Missy; after all this time, she’d hardly see his demise as a victory. Especially at the hands of some other, lesser nemesis. One without any style. (“You’re so fine, you blow my mind, hey Davros!” Doesn’t work.)
“Davros made the Daleks, but who made Davros?” the Doctor asks Clara rhetorically, after explaining where they’re going. The Doctor made a choice the day that he met that boy, though we still don’t know what it was. Davros hate hims for it, and Missy knows that what he’s asking is more than an final audience with a dying creature. “I know traps,” she warns the Doctor. “Traps are my flirting.” She’s genuinely concerned. With Missy here, we can compare the two ends of the spectrum of the Doctor’s enemies. The core of Davros’ relationship to the Doctor is hatred and blame; Missy’s is jealousy and abandonment. She cares about him, certainly, but on her own terms. (“How can you and the Doctor be friends?” “Why shouldn’t we be?”) It’s the only reason that Clara is working with her at all, though she’s slightly pressed that the Doctor lied to her about Missy’s apparent demise.
For all her bluster, Missy fears Davros too. You can see it in her eyes when she and Clara discover that they’re standing on Skaro. She does agree with him on one point though: Missy and Davros are both certain in their belief that the Doctor’s greatest weakness is his compassion. And maybe it is, but good luck convincing him to give it up. They also both believe that it’s the Doctor’s compassion, or at least his guilt, that’s brought them there. Neither of them puts any stock in it. “Hunter and prey held in the ecstasy of crisis,” Davros monologues. “Is this not life at its purest?” He’s certain he’s already won. Meanwhile, Missy makes her power play and offers to hit for Team Dalek. It gets her killed (that never does seem to work on her though, does it?); and in spite of Twelve’s LITERAL BEGGING ON HIS KNEES, Clara’s one-in-a-thousand chance of survival is exterminated while he watches.
His eyes go dead. Neither Clara and Missy are in the sizzle reel for “The Witch’s Familiar.” And I’d play dumb, but I’ve already seen the second half of this two parter. No spoilers, but let me assure you that it is bananaaaas.
Timey Wimey Observations:
- OOD! God, I miss the Ood.
- “Pardon my sci-fi, but this is beyond any human technology.” Osgood replacement? You drink your coffee out of a UNIT mug every day. You don’t have to apologize for bringing up aliens.
- “Come on, Kate, we can’t just find the Doctor and bleat. He’ll go Scottish.” Clara’s on a first-name basis with Kate Stewart.
- “No, I have NOT TURNED GOOD.”
- “Honestly, this stuff will be hilarious in the next few hundred years. Please do stick around.”
- BORS, NO.
- He’s a hugging person now.
- “Gravity.” “I knooowww.”
- “Did the Doctor tell you that? Because you should never believe a man about a vehicle.”
- “What if you kissed an ugly?”
What did you think of the Series 9 premiere, Whovians?? Everything you’ve been dreaming of for nine months? Kim will be your recapper for this week’s episode while I’m off visiting some tall Scotsman in the U.K. Please share your thoughts in the comments.