Doctor Who – The Magician’s Apprentice

This isn’t a review of last week’s Doctor Who episode. It’s more a sort of word flail. Which I feel is only appropriate for an episode that made me actually flail – and suppress the urge to flail because dammit, I am trying to listen – multiple times.

There are, obviously, spoilers under the read more/cut tag thingie.

In summary: I love Peter Capaldi. And Michelle Gomez. A lot.

  • I managed to watch this ep unspoiled, which I HIGHLY RECOMMEND though suspect if you’re reading this, my rec is wholly irrelevant since either you’ve seen it, or are cheerfully at one with spoilerfication. I had seen the two prologues and flailed greatly about another trip to Karn (reminder to self – write post abt New Series’ treatment of Karn and the Sisterhood) and been confused because the only person that really fitted who they were talking about was Davros (it couldn’t be the Master – that relationship couldn’t be characterised as “hated since first met” and Moffat definitely doesn’t see it that way anyway; and it had to be someone that a casual fan might know, else why bother with a build-up?) but surely that would be in the promos or suchlike? MORE FOOL ME.
  • To the episode itself: ahh, that opening pan across a vast battlefield, in fact the whole opening scene, so very cinematic. Haven’t they had budget cuts? How does it just keep looking more expensive?
  • Anyway, I was totally, ooh, which planet? Far-future dystopic Earth? Ooh, Skaro, maybe? The plane made me think the first, but the gas mask and the bow and arrow instantly reminded of Genesis of the Daleks’ opening minutes.
  • Hand mines! Lols for cheap pun. In Genesis, the combatants were reduced to mere land mines, and the Doctor stood on one. Harry saved him, but he didn’t get a speech about how he had a one in a thousand chance. POOR HARRY.
  • Capaldi! I get a wee bit judgey at too much focus on the bloody sonic screwdriver, but at least it’s doing something sonic (possibly, there’s sound involved anyway, close enough) and no-one’s waving it around like a weapon.
  • I’ve just noticed this ep is regular length. I was convinced it was longer! So much packed in!
  • Those hands are really freaking scary. There were also scary in Pan’s Labyrinth.
  • STOP MEETING PEOPLE AS CHILDREN DOCTOR.
  • Capaldi’s look totally sells it though: omg, HORROR. It’s even better than Eccleston’s freakout in Dalek, I think.
  • The snake dude…Colony something? And his trip to Mos Eisley cantina, Karn, and all the rest of it, love it: adds a nice feeling of EPIC and SCALE. And I cheered a tiny bit to see the Ood costume get another outing.
  • “The Doctor is required.” Easy way to tell if someone watching is old skool: were they at least a smidgen amused at this line? (In first Doctor story, The War Machines, the evil not!Internet tells its minions ‘Doctor Who is required’. This has resulted in decades of…polite discussion.)
  • KARN WAS BEST THOUGH. Oh! It looks so good, and it’s a bloody quarry AND YET. And I LOVE their disgust at Davros’s pseudo-immortality – and now I want to know, are they being massive hypocrites, or have they moved on from their own pseudo-immortality and stagnation? More trips to Karn please. Interesting questions to answer, dammit!
  • “Dark Lord of Skaro”  – Yeeeah, no. I think that’s just silly.
  • It’s quite a good message though. I could do without the PORTENTOUS “must face Davros ONE. LAST. TIME” but otherwise it is the sort of epicness I like v much.
  • “Doctor, what have you done?” Nothing about that delivery is not awesome. SO GOOD to see the Docto with a character who’s very much a peer. And she’s not even going to be the only one this ep!
  • Capaldi’s silent response to that line? The look on his face? The guilt, the shame, the quiet acceptance of both? That is why he is my favourite.
  • New Who favourite. Obv Trought is still the best.
  • Omg, Davros! And he looks like Davros and he’s got himself a cyberhand, with claws! I didn’t know till the credits it was Julian Bleach in the role again, but I did think him excellent. As was his performance in Journey’s End, though what he was given to do there was…less compelling, shall we say. To be polite.
  • He’s still not Michael Wisher, but he is v v good.
  • CLARA! Oh, I forget how good Jenna Coleman is sometimes. And how much I enjoy Clara – especially now. She was amazing last season, and this ep, she feels even more grown-up, so she’s sort of tipped over for me from being the Jo/Sarah/Ace young woman type of companion, to the Babs/Romana/Liz Shaw grown-up type.
  • “Yeah, that would probably be UNIT.” SO. COOL. And I love she’s still teaching, but cheerfully doing part-time UNIT non-scientific advising.
  • I wasn’t spoilered for Kate Stewart either, so there was QUITE A FLAIL, yes. LOVE HER TOO.
  • Ah, oh, the Doctor doesn’t need to be here – I’d so happily watch Clara and UNIT Investigate stuff
  • That’s Jaye Griffiths! The new UNIT member, if you didn’t know, is quite a familiar face on British telly, though I remember her best for Bugs. More from her pls!
  • We’re almost fifteen minutes in and Missy is just about to make her first appearance…
  • SO GOOD. SO MANY FEELINGS.
  • “Kate, we can’t just phone the Doctor and bleat, he’ll go Scottish.” LOVE YOU CLARA. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a narrative that endorses the Doctor as a patriarchal guardian or moral arbiter of humanity.
  • I watched a documentary where Steven Moffat said something like, “Oh, I love how in the eighties the Master would seem to die at the end of every story but he always came back.” Firstly, you know who else loved that? NOBODY. (Possibly slight exaggeration there.) Secondly, that isn’t GOOD WRITING or DRAMA or anything else. It is silly, and Barry and Terrance never did it, and WHICH MASTER STORIES WERE BETTER ANYWAY? Exactly. (If you answered the eighties ones there, I’m v sorry, but I have to disown you.) And I know the fifth Doctor is Moffat’s Doctor and there is nostalgia and whatnot, but COME ON.
  • That said, even though Missy ‘died’, establishing she had a teleport thingie that looked a lot like ‘getting vapourised’ means I don’t really mind – it’s not like we saw her burnt to a crisp.
  • There is nothing that is not awesome about the whole outdoor cafe scene. Omg. Clara. Missy. The coffee. The Doctor sending his will to Missy because of course he would (also a reflection of the Master asking the Doctor to pick up his remains from Skaro).
  • Missy is a lot like the original Master, which I love, but the viciousness here – that casual killing – is v eighties. I am not thrilled by it, but I suppose it makes a point given the rest of what Missy does this ep: she’s still dangerous and cruel.
  • Michelle Gomez lifting her coffee cup to acknowledge Clara’s arrival = awesome.
  • And the whole sitting down and having a drink with your enemy – I love that, and it’s ALMOST NEVER two women, and here it is and it’s just such a gorgeous, gorgeous scene, and Coleman and Gomez are both SO GOOD.
  • “I can’t find him either, no-one can.” I half-expected her to go on “not in any of his regenerations” but how does this work anyway? Can’t Missy go annoy a non-Capaldi Doctor? I don’t mind that this isn’t addressed, I’m just curious.
  • “The Time Lord known as the Doctor….last will and testament…ancient tradition…eve of his final day….” PORTENTOUSNESS. But I quite love it here. I blame the direction. And Michelle Gomez.
  • HER LOOK WHEN CLARA TRIES TO TAKE THE WILL. OH.
  • “Since always, since the Cloister Wars, since the night he stole the moon and the President’s wife, since he was a little girl.” Firstly, I like a throwaway mention of the Cloister Wars, something we’ve never heard of before, as a new piece of Who mythology, they sound cool. Secondly, LEAVE THE MOON ALONE ALREADY. Thirdly, it’s like Moffat is doing everything he can to make the Doctor regenerating into a woman the most obvious thing in the world. Which I approve of.
  • And the attempts to kill each other being how they communicate and Missy’s disgust at Clara calling it love, and Missy seeing their relationship as something grander, nobler, more complex than anything a mere human could understand. ALL PERFECT.
  • Ahhh, and Clara when Missy starts shooting people – regaining control of the situation so skilfully just makes me flail, yes, BABS COULD HAVE DONE NO BETTER.
  • Love that the plane thingie was a bluff.
  • “Three possible versions of Atlantis.” TIME MONSTER REF, PPL. (The others are Underwater Menace, and the The Daemons.) Who would EVER guess this was written by a fanboy?
  • This is such a cool bit of direction too – Missy, Clara, Kate Stewart, and Ros from Bugs search for the Doctor while we slowly unveil that the Doctor’s had one too many viewings of A Knight’s Tale.
  • And Missy takes Clara with her. She didn’t have to, really. It almost feels like a little respect…or possibly she thinks the Doctor would want her to look after his latest puppy.
  • And Missy….thinking in terms of tiny anachronisms, cause if she were there, she’d bbe lending in, and she hasn’t even finished talking before we hear an electric guitar. OH HER EXPRESSION AS SHE REPEATS ANACHRONISMS.
  • I love how not!crazy Missy is, that it feels like between the Doctor telling the Master to “get out of the way” in End of Time, and the graveyard conversation, where Missy gives the Doctor a lovely present of a giant army, some sort of new equilibrium has been established since they’ve both admitted to caring about each other, sort of. So we can have a GORGEOUS SCENE of the Doctor playing guitar while Missy watches from the shadows and then he serenades her (and Clara) with Pretty Woman. OMG.
  • Yes, weirdly, Peter Capaldi on top of a tank playing guitar is something I enjoyed very much.
  • DAFFODIL! Those were among the first deadly presents the Master sent, back in Terror of the Autons. Obv not as good as the killer inflatable chair though.
  • As much as Capaldi WRONGLY wants to be Pertwee, he’s obv T Baker. Who would also have been awesomesauce in this scene, but less good on the guitar, I’m guessing.
  • “When do I not see you?” OH DOCTOR. OH HUGS.
  • The snake colony dude is a super cool idea. I bet it came from horrid teenage memories of the rubbish snake in Kinda. “I shall make a BRILLIANT pretend giant snake be in Doctor Who,” decides Moffat, “and never again will I be haunted by the Mara!”
  • The snake in Kinda was fiiiiiiiiine. I mean, the paint was dry and everything.
  • “I’l scratch his eye out.” ILU MISSY.
  • So the Doctor asks in Genesis, when he’s torn about whether or not to destroy the Daleks as they’re first being created, “if you knew a child would grow up to become a monster, kill millions, could you kill that child?” and it appears that initially, no, the Doctor couldn’t kill that child, but he couldn’t save him either, and abandons him to almost certain death.
  • It’s a trap, he knows it’s a trap, and that he’s going to die, but he goes anyway. It’s a bit Planet of the Spiders (I find the more Biblical parallels unconvincing – the Doctor isn’t innocent.)
  • OH TEAM!CLARA&MISSY. I love their mutual glance, I love that Clara speaks for both of them.
  • SPAAAACE! A SPAAAAAAACESHIP! Going through SPAAAAACE!
  • The Doctor catches up casual viewers with a bit of an infodump, wonderfully delivered, course. I think fans tend to underestimate how much general viewers can pick up, or assume. This episode refs a lot of Who mythology, but everything you actually need to know is in the story.
  • “Davros made the Daleks, but who made Davros?” So this is something that might eventually come to annoy me. I love this ep so much that the bits I consider Ungood, I don’t rly care abt as they matter so little compared to the OMG AWESOME parts. But this. Who made Davros? THE WAR made Davros. The horrific, unending, grotesque war. THAT’S THE WHOLE BLOODY POINT. Making it so the Doctor created Davros has a nice symmetry, sure, BUT IT’S OH SO STUPID.
  • But we don’t actually know what happened yet, so maybe I’m jumping the gun.
  • LOOK AT THE DOORS. THE CORRIDORS. Giddy thrill at every slant! Those designs imitate the design of the Dalek City in the very first Daleks story.
  • “Gravity.” “I know.” ILU GUYS. Also, that’s tots their version of Han/Leia’s “I love you” “I know”. Fact.
  • THE WAY THE DOORS CLOSE.
  • “How can you and the Doctor be friends? …you spend all your time fighting.” “Exactly.” Omg, Clara, YOU’RE BRITISH. This is a concept I feel you should get.
  • SO much love for Missy’s murder/suicide airlock fakeout.
  • Once upon a time Davros made a great big statue of the Doctor, just so he could drop it on him, and it wasn’t even made out of a material heavy enough to kill him. Now Davros seems to have recorded and watched quite a lot of the Doctor’s adventures. Jut sayin.
  • Damn, Capaldi’s so good. This scene with Davros…that’s a quality scene. There were scenes this good in Genesis, and at least one Big Finish (titled ‘Davros’) but basically, Davros tends to get horribly misused and reduced to a ranting lunatic with delusions of megalomania, and only glimmers of the complexity seen in his debut story.
  • I’m torn by actually showing THAT bit of Genesis. I mean, it’s a great scene, and maybe New Who fans might go watch the whole thing and go yay, but I am V AGAINST telly attacking me with anvils.
  • “You flatter me.” “…I intended to accuse.” ARG. Just gorgeous, the lines, the deliveries, the camerawork.
  • The Daleks have really come a long way wth Making Shit Invisible. They couldn’t even get it right with one Dalek in Planet.
  • SUCH COOL BUILDINGS. SO PROPER SCI-FI SHAPES.
  • The dawning horror on Gomez’s omg, cut to Capaldi with same, V NICE. Missy having an under control freakout, the Doctor having a freakout. Great music. V exciting.
  • But didn’t we visit Skaro in Asylum? I think? Or was that meant as Skaro II, or III since it also got blown up in Rememberance. OH CONTINUITY SO HARD.
  • You can tell it’s a Terry Nation name though – it’s a planet scarred by war, right? Skaro! Brilliant.
  • Missy trying to switch sides to save her life, because of course she would. It’s not like she hasn’t worked with them before (Frontier in Space, yo).
  • The Doctor’s not horrified at her betrayal, is he? It’s that he thinks she’s going to die, right?
  • I like how we’ve got classic Daleks, and special weapons Dalek, and gold Daleks, but NO SIGN of those lovely lovely Skittle Daleks. Where have they all gone? Is there going to be a Dalek Civil War of Skittle Daleks vs Everyone Else?
  • Have we ever seen the Doctor so desperate? He’s begging, and he’s afraid. And he thinks he’s going to die…? Possibly?
  • “I gave the Daleks life, I do not control them.” It’s nice that Davros has developed a whole lotta self-awareness over the centuries.
  • “See how they play with her, see how they want her to run…” Omg, this is chilling, and he appreciates it, this moment between the urge to kill and committing the act. Davros, calm and collected, is far more unsettling than any rants and calls for extermination.
  • The problem is we know Missy and Clara aren’t dead – but I do look forward to finding out how they survived.
  • “Why have I ever let you live?” If Davros had just murdered Tegan in Resurrection, would he have pulled the trigger on the Dalek gun?
  • Yeah, good luck with that Davros, and, as dying, wishes go, yours is kinda rubbish.
  • Omg, they destroyed the TARDIS too! How is everything going to be put back together!
  • ANNOYINGLY GOOD CLIFFHANGER. Thank goodness it’s resolved tonight.
  • In conclusion, LOVE. A stronger opening than last year’s. Stronger than The Impossible Astronaut? I say yes, just now, but tIA has had years to settle down in my head, and this is fresh and delicious and still has that shiny new tang of Best Thing Ever! to it. Still, I’ve seen it three times now, and it continues to make me flail.
  • I give The Magician’s Apprentice nine Missy’s spin-off adventures, please.
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5 thoughts on “Doctor Who – The Magician’s Apprentice

  1. Matthew Kilburn says:

    On the Sisterhood: there was a review of ‘The Brain of Morbius’ in a 1976 issue of TARDIS, written by Jeanette Napier, I think, which welcomed the Sisterhood of Karn as the female counterparts of the Time Lords, at that time presented as entirely male. This binary outlook has been overtaken by events within and without Doctor Who, but suggests the Sisterhood might have been the Doctor Who variants of Tolkien’s Ent-wives, gone away beyond the sight of the Ents (unless you are the Doctor; and of course the Time Lords know where the Sisterhood are otherwise they probably wouldn’t have diverted the TARDIS there in the first place).

    I agree with you on the ‘Dark Lord of Skaro’ nonsense, although it does help build up to the Doctor’s description of Davros as his arch enemy (which also made me wince) which in turn facilitates Michelle Gomez’s delivery of Missy’s perplexed fury at the Doctor not thinking of her in that light.

    • DoctorWho: OnTheCouch says:

      Liz-

      Thanks so much for writing this post! I just found it now in my slightly neglected e-mail feed. I did wonder what you had thought about this episode and getting to read your blow by blow is a treat. I also loved many of the same parts you did-and had missed the daffodil call-back, so thanks for that.

      I was disappointed by Kate-she was disheveled and disorganized, though it did set-off Clara, nicely. I wonder though, why can’t both women be strong and smart at the same time-like the Doctor and Davros. It would only strengthen the story to have Kate and Clara smartly working together as a team. We did get that action between Clara and Missy, however. So, that’s good.

      Anyway, I always love to hear your thoughts on Doctor Who. Thanks for taking the time to write.

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