‘If someone who knew the future, pointed out a child to you, and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?’
And we’re back! Did everyone manage to avoid the Davros spoiler? And more to the point, didn’t it used to be the case that these series openers used to be the light and fluffy ones? And yet here we are, 45 minutes in and we’re about to shoot a child in the face.
The Magician’s Apprentice pulls off with considerable panache the no-pressure-guys move of being a sequel of sorts to what was once voted the greatest Doctor Who story of all time, 1975’s Genesis Of The Daleks. There, the Fourth was sent back to the Skaro civil war, tasked by the Timelords with averting the Daleks’ very creation, and, for the first time, we met their creator Davros. This all culminated in the moral dilemma diligently quoted above – albeit with something of a cop-out when the Doctor does-it-with-really-having-to-do-it-himself. Moffat offers no such hope of easy resolution by making that chilling contention – “Could you kill that child?” – the basis of the whole story. And Peter Capaldi’s look of dawning horror when he discovers the child’s identity is topped only by his look of utter hangdog despair as the cliffhanger approaches.
If, in the past, Davros has come over as a little bit of a daft character, the bleak devastation he wreaks by the end of the episode is more powerful than any madcap plot to enslave the universe that has come before. And Julian Bleach, returning to the role, wrings every drop of menace. This time, we don’t even know what he’s up to yet.
There is fun to be had before all that, though. With the Doctor apparently facing his darkest day (which does, admittedly, seem to happen rather often), he does what he would obviously do: hide out in 12th-century Essex at a three-week party replete with tanks, confused warriors and power-chords. That’s quite some entrance, “dude”.
‘Oh, don’t be disgusting, we’re Timelords, not animals. Try, nanobrain, to rise above the reproductive frenzy of your noisy little food chain, and contemplate friendship.’
Things really must be bad if Missy is coming on board as an ally. In The Name Of The Doctor, Clara had to face up to the fact that there was somebody, in River Song, who might hold a deeper place in his “romantic” affections. Here, perhaps an even greater betrayal – she might not even be his best mate. Moffat makes great play of the thin line between best friendship and arch enemyhood.
They say of university that the friends you make in freshers’ week are the people you spend the next three years trying to shake off. That must be epically true of Gallifrey’s Prydonian Academy. The Doctor and the Master/Missy’s dance has spanned thousands of years, and neither much seems to want to shake each other off.
When Clara, aghast at how the pair can be friends, points out that Missy keeps trying to kill him, her reply sounds kind of reasonable: “He keeps trying to kill me.” We’re back to a Pertwee-Delgado frenemy dynamic, although you doubt that Delgado could have pulled off a pirouette like that. Missy’s indignation at the suggestion she’s “turned good” is delicious. With Michelle Gomez back on such dazzling psychotic form, there’s a bit less for Clara to do than usual, but it’s good to see, now that she’s the longest-serving of all the modern companions, that she knows what she’s doing, a trusted agent of Unit who still keeps up that teaching job. You’d have thought that school would hold too many painful memories of Danny.
Vintage blue Daleks on the Planet Skaro! We are truly blessed. Although, as we’ve talked about before, the Daleks are more a design classic infused with decades of shared understanding than they’re supposed to be scary. A great Dalek story needs a bit of extra threat to it. Which we get in the form of the unimaginably creepy hand mines, surely enough to turn any nervous young boy into the universe’s deadliest tyrant.
Mysteries and questions
With Jenna Coleman making the hardly surprising confirmation that she’s leaving this year, the obvious big question will be the nature of her departure. But consider, too, the Doctor’s Confession Dial and what might be in it. The signs are this could be an ongoing series thread, if Moffat’s Radio Times episode guide is anything to go by. He writes of the finale, Hell Bent: “If you took everything from him, and betrayed him, and broke both his hearts … how far might the Doctor go? It’s time, at last, for the Doctor’s confession.”
Leaving aside the Genesis premise, this manically eventful opener contains more references and callbacks than a mutant could menacingly wave an egg-whisk at. Colony Sarff’s quest for the Doctor takes him to all corners of the Whoniverse. The Maldovarium was the 52nd-century black market where River stole the vortex manipulator in The Pandorica Opens (no sign of the now-decapitated Dorium, though). We did see a returning face at the Shadow Proclamation (fromThe Stolen Earth) in the shape of Kelly Hunter as the albino Shadow Architect, complete with Judoon. Back, too, is Claire Higgins as Ohila, from the Sisterhood Of Karn, last seen in webisode The Night Of The Doctor – itself a quite berserk throwback to The Brain Of Morbius from 1976. With all this going on, they can afford to throw in an actor of the stature of Jemma Redgrave with little more than a cameo as Kate Stewart. She’ll be back later in the series.
Deeper into the vortex
The Magician’s Apprentice takes its name from a 2009 fantasy novel by Trudi Canavan.
The location filming for Skaro took place at Parque Nacional de las Cañadas del Teide in Tenerife. The crew popped over to nearby Plaza de la Iglesia for Missy and Clara’s scenes in the “hot country”.
This Doctor does hugging now.
Is it now established that Clara is a bit bisexual? It was hinted that the Oswin version had dated girls, and now she admits in a roundabout way to sexytime with Jane Austen. All you get when you Google “Jane Austen lesbian” is this.
Behold, for a minute, Davros’s delicious dialogue: “Hunter and prey held in the ecstasy of crisis, is this not life at its purest?” Much more of that next week.
“I try never to understand, it’s called an open mind.”
Nice to see that Missy’s keeping her catchphrases.
“This is a space station so the gravity should be artificial and coppery-smelling and a tiny bit sexy. But this feels real, man.”
Does anyone know if Capaldi, veteran of punk band Bastards From Hell, was playing that guitar himself?
Oh dear. Both women are dead, apparently, the Tardis is destroyed, apparently, and the Doctor’s about to kill a child, apparently. So now what? Find out the fate of Davros in The Witch’s Familiar.