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’.”