The Magician's Apprentice

Story No. 276 Rock theme!
Production Code Series 9, episode 1
Dates September 19, 2015

With Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman
Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Hettie MacDonald
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin.

Synopsis: The Doctor has vanished and the planes have stopped.


You so fine, you blow my mind! by Flynn Sullivan 6/11/15

The Magician's Apprentice was something of a surprise to me. On one hand, it contains many of the Moffat cliches that were tiresome already in the second year of Matt Smith's reign as the Eleventh Doctor. But on the other, it is unafraid to be fun, without any of the depressing, painfully misguided moralising that made Series 8 such an awful slog for me to get through.

Clara is still a part of the show but is already feeling like something from a past era, not just as a character but for what she represents: the heroic female co-lead, the "asking questions one", as the Twelfth Doctor put it in his first tale. In the classic series, the purpose of the companion was to function as someone whom the Doctor could bounce off of and as a way to provide information for the viewers (hence the "asking questions").

The first man to question the necessity of the companion was Tom Baker in the late 70s, but I think he did it for the wrong reasons. You see, Baker thought he was cool enough to carry the show on his own (and he sort of was, but it went way too silly), but the reason I'm starting to question it is because there are other, better characters for the Doctor to interact with.

In the previous century, people saw companions as an anchor, someone they could look up to, someone who could interpret the Doctor. But now the Doctor is the anchor and everyone loves to psychoanalyze him. The point of this rambling is that it's time for the Doctor to travel on his own, meet allies on other planets and basically break the formula.

Peter Capaldi has never been better as the Twelfth Doctor, whose increasingly scatterbrained approach to the role harkens back to Robot of Sherwood, which was the only time in Series 8 he seemed to fully embody the character instead of serving as Clara's beck and call or confusedly wondering about invisible monsters or his own moral center. (In other words: I really don't like Series 8.) The moment when he emerges wielding an electric guitar is likely going down in history as his "Basically, run"/"You got a problem with that?"/"I can feel it, the turn of the Earth". Just bloody brilliant!

There are also multiple cameos to other characters and places we've seen in the new series, a possible reference to the series' 10th anniversary? It seems kind of conspicuous, especially the Shadow Proclamation appearance. I'd also hope something from the Eccleston era appears in the episodes to come, since he deserves more recognition now than ever.

Still, the's only only returning character that matters is the apprentice . If I had to give any criticism to him, it's that his mumbling is often hard to make out (it makes sense for the character to mumble, but it's still annoying), but his reunion with the Doctor is excellently written, with one notable tidbit: he approves of the Doctor's regeneration for the first time.

Despite them being the center of the episode's closing minutes, I have little to say about the monsters. Their appereance here is almost by-the-numbers , but fortunately the rest of the story is so good, it carries them through. And we do see the older ones do something. Still, one aches for someone with David Whittaker's imagination to come and write for the characters again. There's so much you can do with the them! Imagine the different ranks plotting against one another, comparing their battles against the Doctor, heck, anything that had to do with their life on the planet sounds exciting to me.

Overall, I loved this episode and I'm really, passionately hoping that Moffat won't let us down with the second half. It promises to be the first truly great season since Series 5. Please let that happen.

"Doctor, what have you done?" by Donna Bratley 22/11/18

A slow burn stuffed with character. The perfect season opener.

I have a love-hate relationship with the two-part format. I appreciate the extra breathing space, but I'm impatient. Cliffhangers mean a week of waiting. I'm not good at that.

Fortunately, the dangling threads of The Magician's Apprentice can be very easily tied up. Many fans grumble about the stakes being implausibly overblown, because we - unlike the Doctor - know there's a full series to come. Clara and Missy aren't dead.

I can't agree. There's a visceral shock in seeing central characters seemingly blasted out of existence. That the rational mind kicks in a second later doesn't detract at all. I'll never forget watching The Masque of Mandragora as a small child, being shell-shocked as the executioner's blade rose. The Doctor's going to have his head cut off, Daddy! He wasn't: there was a preposterous get-out. The vaunted cliffhangers could be cheap in the classic era, too.

I knew what the Doctor was doing when he raised his appropriated gun and uttered the immortal word (did he give them that? There's a sting in the tail!) before the credits rolled. Did anyone seriously think Steven Moffat was about to turn his leading man into a child-killer?

The meandering path from Colony Sarff's galactic tour to that "shocking" conclusion is marked with moments of stand-out brilliance: from Missy's gleeful text reveal (thank goodness she doesn't spend ten minutes expounding on her inevitable escape; back, not dead, big surprise - not!) via the Doctor's extraordinary entrance, a moment I should find embarrassing, which manages instead to be laugh-out-loud funny. It's utterly unexpected for Twelve (hooray!) Perhaps that's why I can't bring myself to object.

It's obvious that Peter Capaldi is having an absolute ball and that Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez are, in their different ways, perfect foils for him. Clara's confrontation with Missy dissolving into shared concern for the Doctor works unexpectedly well (aided by the coldly controlled loathing that underpins every word) in establishing the central relationship for the series. Clara, whatever Missy's prior claim, knows the Doctor better than anyone now.

I wasn't a fan of the Master's gender-swap. I saw and still see a cheap gimmick, "controversy" for its own sake. I was determined to keep Missy a step removed from her predecessors, but I find the best of enemies dynamic between these maverick Time Lords unfailingly entertaining. As someone who detested the last two versions (I exclude that terrifying cameo from Derek Jacobi; there's a Master I'd love to see face off with Capaldi's Doctor), I can only find the Gomez creation a marked improvement. Bananas, yes, but never a full-on panto dame.

Colony Sarff is a nasty piece of work, brilliantly realised by both Jamie Reid-Quarrell and CGI. The "snake nest in a dress" is a revolting concept and deadly with it. Just look what a bite does to poor, loveable Bors.

Moffat's detractors cite a lack of clarity in his scripts (including here). To me, it was instantly obvious that Sarff's intervention caused a nasty side-effect for the Doctor's likeably befuddled sparring partner. As a way for the Daleks to locate and appropriate the TARDIS, it's a highly effective shortcut.

It's brilliant to see Julian Bleach's Davros. His exchanges with the Doctor are a masterpiece on both sides, one of two superb double-acts on offer: deadly quiet and serious against the spikier, more comedic combination of Clara and Missy. I'm never going to object to seeing earlier incarnations flashed onto my screen (who can complain when "Unlimited rice pudding!" gets an airing?), and the explicit tie-in to an all-time classic sent a chill down my spine, but the focus is very much on the present: on two fearsomely well-matched, dangerous men who understand each other far too well.

Who made Davros? It's a moot point, whether evil is nature, nurture or a bit of both, but it's inevitable that the Doctor, for whom the memory is so recent, will feel both guilt and shame for his panicked abandonment of an unsuspecting boy. It adds another layer to their scenes together, as if there wasn't texture enough with Capaldi and Bleach on compelling form.

Skaro looks magnificent, and its reveal is devastating; seeing all those assorted Daleks in one place is thrilling; and the massed "Exterminate!" genuinely chills, especially set against Missy's outrageously flirtatious attempt to strike a bargain. The boy Davros is horribly sympathetic, a suitably stark contrast with the monster he'll become.

I don't care for Clara the super-competent being summoned from her day-job by a call involving the Prime Minister; I loathe seeing UNIT diminished from "major player in defending the Earth" to "incompetent bunch of bumblers who need the Doctor's sidekick to point out the blindingly obvious". We also see a deeply unattractive side to Clara's character as she resorts instinctively to cold emotional blackmail against a Doctor who has enough on his plate already.

Then there's her casual reveal, to a classful of students, of Jane Austen's unexpected talent. Odd how it never came up during her firmly heterosexual relationship with Danny! Perhaps I'm being cynical, but the timing feels uncomfortable: more a schoolboy's snigger - "tee-hee, now her boyfriend's dead she's trying the other team" - than any attempted insight into the character. It wouldn't be the first time (Eleven's leering over Clara's skirt springs to mind) I've heard that in a Moffat script.

Still, The Magician's Apprentice is a rollicking start to a series, with four main characters all given their moments in the spotlight. Callbacks to the Classic era are explained as well as needful for the newcomer, and we're left with the Doctor and Davros both in desperate straits, even if we know he needn't despair of his best friend yet.

So I'm stuck with my old dilemma: loving the room for manoeuvre implicit in the two-part format and cursing the week's wait on broadcast to find out what happens next. If part one gives me that, it has to be a success.