Doctor Who episode 830: The Magician’s Apprentice (19/9/2015)

‘If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you, and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?’ Moffat takes one of the famous morality conundrums from Genesis of the Daleks and turns it into the Genesis of Davros, with the Doctor wrestling with the very real possibility that he can kill the man who created the Daleks and thus make good his failure all those years ago. The challenge being, in so doing he has to walk away from a child asking for help – to walk away from the name of the Doctor.

Whether putting so much focus on a 40-year question and more brooding introspection on if the Doctor is a good man is what you want as the opening gambit of Capaldi’s difficult second series is up for debate. As is the hook of the episode – that the Doctor is going to face his own certain death. After Lake Silencio and the fields of Trenzalore, it’s not just ‘the Doctor and Clara Oswald in the TARDIS’ that’s same old, same old. Trailing this with a prologue that played heavily on the Doctor’s inevitable (and inevitably avoided) fate rather than an exciting new companion seems to have been a lesson learned for Friend from the Future.

Instead, this is steeped in nostalgia and the imagery of The Daleks, Genesis of the Daleks, The Trial of a Time Lord (the hands emerging from the sand), Asylum of the Daleks, The Night of the Doctor and The End of Time (the Shadow Proclamation). Missy returns from Series Eight. Kate Stewart is back with a new assistant (Jaye Griffiths as “Jac”, missing the chance for that much-wanted Bugs crossover). The gallimaufry of Daleks feels like Moffat making good on the botched promise of the Asylum. All the opening scenes, jumping about different times and places, is a Moffat trick from The Pandorica Opens and chunks of Series Six. There are new elements – Colony Sarff is memorable (who would have guessed the Doctor was a Parselmouth?). I love the Doctor and the Master’s friendship pre-dating human civilisation, and the hidden Skaro that could be a hint the similarly-concealed Gallifrey is just waiting to be rediscovered.

The problem, for me, is that even if the audience bought that the Doctor might kill baby Hitler, that ends up such a small part of the episode. Instead, there’s an understandable focus on spectacle – some of it good (the killing fields of Skaro; the Dalek city reveal), some of it indifferent (the planes stopping to get Clara’s attention so that Missy can find where the Doctor is hidden via a UNIT Google), and some of it quite bad. The latter is essentially the long sequence of the Doctor arriving playing a guitar on a tank before shouting ‘dude’ at a medieval crowd. It screams “we wrote this for the Confidential clips” and makes the already bitty plot grind to an excruciating halt.

What we’re left with is an opening episode mashed together from things that have felt fresher and worked better in the past. The grading and visual look is even more washed out than last series, which adds to the sense that the show is a bit tired, a bit out of ideas. Part of the problem is Clara, who wanders out on her kids like the Doctor abandoning Davros when UNIT comes calling. In the past, the introduction of a new character has been chance to slightly reset the series, start a new chapter. For me, this one’s a miss.

Next Time: The Witch’s Familiar


One comment

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 829: Last Christmas (25/12/2014) | Next Time...

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