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Doctor Who storms back in fine form with Season 9 opener The Magician's Apprentice

Davros, Daleks and Missy – a total treat for fans

By Kelly Fiveash, 19 Sep 2015

TV Review Readers please note: THIS IS A POST-UK BROADCAST REVIEW – THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!

Jennifer says:

Last season, Doctor Who came in for some harsh criticism. Many felt it was poorly written, while others laid the blame at the feet of Peter Capaldi. And some of us, including this reviewer, would sooner have chewed off their own arm than endure another minute of Clara and Danny’s mooning.

So it is with huge relief that Season 9 is back on form with a bang! From the eerie handmines, to the glorious return of Missy to some excellent clowning around from Capaldi, this episode had it all. It even managed to throw in an homage to Star Wars – the opening scene is a dead ringer for the Mos Eisley Cantina bar on Tatooine.

The five minute pre-credits (which are still pants) segment, set us up for what is a big two-part opener. No messing about from series creator Steven Moffat, we’re straight into the big moral dilemma here. Davros as a child: kill him or save him? Capaldi’s stricken face should surely silence doubters as to his fitness for the role.

A missing Doctor is not new, and 10 minutes in Clara is roaring around on a motorbike to help UNIT solve the mystery of the frozen airplanes. But viewers are wrong-footed – it’s not Davros trying to make contact, but the formidable Missy. Michelle Gomez is on stonking form delivering arch put-downs to Clara with gusto. Her apparent death at the end of last season was questioned by fans but, thankfully, “death is for other people”.

Doctor Who, Season 9, Episode 1 – The Magician's Apprentice. Pic credit: BBC

Doctor Who, Season 9, Episode 1 – The Magician's Apprentice. Pic credit: BBC

The Doctor’s bad puns and rock star antics add some light relief, before the inevitable arrival of the Daleks. Recent seasons have held back the Doctor’s ultimate enemies for the finale, but Moffat is clearly thinking bigger this time around.

The Doctor and Missy’s complicated relationship looks to be thawing and depositing the three on planet Skaro in the opening episode is a bold move. The Doctor was always one for standing around chatting to monsters, but the conversation with a dying Davros is a distraction from the real action with Clara and Missy.

Missy’s eventual extermination – is death really for other people? Is this another trick? Is it part of a plan to save the Doctor – felt more like the loss of a companion than the demise of The Master.

Of course Clara wasn’t far behind her, but the destruction of the TARDIS is a genuine shock. I’m not buying it for a minute, but a dead Clara and a destroyed TARDIS could mean we may finally have the answer to that question of the last series: is the Doctor a good man? Pointing a death ray at a small child and screaming "Exterminate!" would seem to imply not!

In short: Moffat looks like he is back on form. Peter Capaldi is magnificent and hopefully death really is for other people and Missy will survive to grace future episodes. This reviewer is crossing her fingers for a season-long search for Gallifrey.

Kelly says:

Oh Missy, how we've missed you. It's like you never left us. And now you're gone – again. But then, you hint at yet another return with your nudge and a wink "Dying is for other people, dear" to Clara.

If that's true, then is Clara gone forever? Exterminated by a Dalek? (As an aside, I've heard that the production crew contacted collectors, asking them to loan out their early models of the Doctor's ultimate enemy. And it's a nice touch to see the retro Daleks in among the newer ones – especially after the rebooted Daleks were a bit like the new, beefed up Minis. Why mess with a classic?)

But let's not get too hung up on the style of The Magician's Apprentice, what about the substance of the story? Was the whole thing an elaborate sleight of hand? After all, Missy points out that the Dalek's planet Skaro has been recreated.

So is this Davros the real deal? At the start of the first episode of this two-parter, directed by Hettie MacDonald who previously brought us 2007's crowd pleaser Blink, the audience is led to believe that the Doctor abandoned Davros when he was a small boy trapped among a sea of creepy handmines. Towards the end of the ep, it's then suggested that he may have in fact been saved by the Doctor, after all, only for Davros to go on to create the Daleks.

'Davros knows ... Davros remembers.'

So what's eating Davros? Is it really the Doctor's abandonment, or something else entirely?

We're left bereft at the extermination of Clara and Missy – who oddly is a friend (albeit a mighty fighty one) to the Doctor in this episode. Gone, too, are the TARDIS and the Doctor's trusty Sonic Screwdriver.

Doctor Who, season 9, Episode 1 – The Magician's Apprentice. Pic credit: BBC

Doctor Who, Season 9, Episode 1 – The Magician's Apprentice. Pic credit: BBC

Meanwhile, the Time Lord is trapped with a dying Davros watching reruns of Doctor Who (I'm surprised that the GOLD TV channel reaches all the way out to Skaro, but there you go). We hear Tom Baker's fourth Doctor discussing the dilemma of whether to kill a child who would go on to be a ruthless dictator.

After Clara's shock death, the Doctor asks Davros why it is that he ever let his nemesis live. "Compassion, Doctor, it has always been your greatest indulgence," Davros tells him.

Might it also prove to be his greatest downfall, and could this explain why we started to see a meaner, more secretive Doctor emerge in Season 8?

As for Clara's death, we know from her history that she is the "impossible girl" who first appeared in among the Daleks and later as different incarnations throughout time and space.

Perhaps Missy, who is the recipient of the Doctor's mysterious Confession Dial, isn't the only one for whom "death is for other people".

But, wait. It's been confirmed that Jenna Coleman is leaving the show. If this is her exit, then death-by-Daleks is certainly a fitting departure.

Then, in the final scene of The Magician's Apprentice, the Doctor returns to the boy as he tries to escape the handmines. "I’m going to save my friend, the only way I know how," the Doctor proclaims, before uttering the word "Exterminate!"

Nothing is quite as it seems. One thing is clear, though: Peter Capaldi is hitting his stride backed up by a twisty-turny plot and plenty of nods to classic Who episodes. More of the same, please.

Gavin says:

She’s back. Balancing on a perfectly turned Victorian heel, twirling an index finger in the air, dropping ferocious slap downs. Ruthlessly offing innocents.

Missy – the Master – has returned in Season 9 of Doctor Who, and I can’t say how relieved I am. Only I’m actually not, I’m quite scared.

Yes, I’m supposed to be talking about the Doctor and Clara and their part in the first episode of the new series of the BBC sci-fi drama.

But I’ll come to that.

Missy’s apparent life-ending frying at the end of Season 8 – “death is for other people, dear” – was not the end for the Doctor’s devious, fishwife anti-hero.

Clearly Who’s writers see an enduring double-act in the making – one that brings a buzz absent from the cosy slippers and misty-eyed dynamic of Clara.

Missy is Who’s equivalent of Star Trek’s the Borg, Silence of the Lambs' Hannibal Lecter and Hans Landa of Inglorious Basterds: a villain who’s presence on screen actually makes you palpably concerned for what is about to go down. I’m almost tempted to hide behind the sofa. That’s what Who was and always should be.

All of which is not good for the Doctor. Missy is the closest thing to damaged goods I’ve experienced since Yodel delivered my order of fine bone china.

Now, she’s talking like a stalker in terms of her “connection” to the Doctor – it goes beyond sex – and is ready to get her bitch face on upon learning Davros is in fact the Doctor’s arch enemy.

But this isn’t all one-way, meaning this goes to the heart of the Doctor, too.

At the climax of Season 8, after everything that had happened, the Doctor remained hesitant to finally, actually kill Missy – it was the Cybered-up corpse of ex-UNIT pal, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who pulled the trigger.

Now it turns out that Missy wasn’t dead and the Doctor knew it, as he’d slipped her his Confessional Dial in the run up to this episode.

The Doctor-Missy relationship is something to be explored.

But back to the main business, the programme as a whole. This being a season opener, the writers had to deliver a big story so we didn’t get one badass, we got two: Davros, last seen rejecting a saving hand of David Tennant’s Doctor in 2009.

Doctor Who, Season 9, Episode 1 – The Magician's Apprentice. Pic credit: BBC

Doctor Who, Season 9, Episode 1 – The Magician's Apprentice. Pic credit: BBC

Are we to believe that Davros is on the verge of death?

That has to be revealed in this onion of a plot line. Whatever the motive, Davros seems to have summoned the Doctor to complete his goal of not just defeating but breaking him: holding him to account for going back on his word and abandoning Young Davros in the 1,000-year war and breaking his ultimate belief in the creed of compassion.

Question: What would you do if a child you saved became a dictator responsible for the deaths of millions?, agonises a video of Tom Baker’s Doctor from decades back.

But riddle me this: what if the very act of leaving that child in the first place had produced the damage which engendered that dictator?

Did the Doctor create Davros, and thus the Daleks and thus the destruction they wrought?

It is this philosophical and existential dilemma the Doctor must resolve in the galactic and timeless chess championship he plays with the creator of the Daleks.

The rest of this opener delivered what we’ve now come to expect from the stable of Steven Moffatt, who wrote this episode: reflection on the Doctor, agonising over his humanity; his wobbly relationship with the apparently soon to be exited Clara; the standard, breathless big set pieces – global emergency splashed on the world’s TV networks; UNIT established as the Doctor’s resident headless chickens, only wearing Star-Trek red sweaters.

There are some unanswered questions, too: if the Doctor was performing his tank and axe standup gig to a court of Daleks dressed as medieval hayseeds, then why did they wait three weeks to spring their trap and – if so – what was the point of the Darth-Maul-like Colony Sarff? This is either questionable plotline editing or hinting at a bigger deception – the kind of deception that hides an entire planet.

Something else was established in this episode: Peter Capaldi’s verbally sharp shooter, clinically acidic Doctor.

Capaldi and Missy (played by Michelle Gomez) at least, are two things that I look forward to seeing more of in part two of this season's opener. ®

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