Saturday, 19 September 2015

Review: Doctor Who 9.1: The Magician's Apprentice

The Two The's are back together once more.
There was a time, years ago, when the return of Doctor Who would merit excitement and joyous celebration. As far as my reckoning, that was four years ago. Doctor Who for me now is a necessary evil, something to wait through until the good stuff comes back. That didn't stop me from enjoying last year's Series Eight, at least in part, and that was down to a combination of Peter Capaldi and some bizarre increase in the quality of the writing. This week's episode took a few steps forward and fewer steps backwards, and I can't help but feel like that had something to do with Russell T Davies having his name in the credits...
     The plot surrounded another continuity snarl, with it being revealed that the Twelfth Doctor accidentally met a young Davros, later creator of the Daleks, on a Skaro battlefield. Later, we bring Clara into the episode when she investigates a convoluted bid by The Master to gain her attention by "pausing" all of the world's passenger airliners. The Master revealed that she had received The Doctor's last will and testament, and together they travelled to the past, where The Doctor has spent three weeks parting and introducing anachronisms into medieval England. Eventually they are contacted by a serpentine servant of Davros, who teleports the trio to Davros' base - soon revealed to be Skaro, where The Daleks have congregated and rebuilt once more. They kill The Master and Clara, and destroy The TARDIS. In the episode's brief cliffhanger, we see that The Doctor has once more returned to the child Davros - this time with the intent to kill him.
     It's a Moffat plot, so it's as convoluted as Dave Lister's family tree, and this isn't helped by the fact that this season has been formatted into five "loose two-parters" and two stand-alone episodes, with the story being concluded next week. I was surprised at how fast the episode seemed to move, and how I was only driven to tut or groan once or twice. The inclusion of Dalek models going back to the 60s and the welcome return of the excellent Julian Bleach as Davros leant a sense of continuity which didn't feel too heavy handed, the premise of the episode's dilemma being directly related to a Tom Baker quote from Davros' premier story, Genesis of the Daleks - a story which got a number of shout-outs here. While I'm still not thrilled about yet another retroactive incursion into Doctor Who's past (don't get me started on The War Doctor or Listen), I at least think that Moffat is learning to handle these urges of his with some tact and subtlety.
Ah, Throw-Away-Moffat-Villain #23,
please come in and sit down. 
     Due to the pacing of the episode and the rushedness of the plot, there aren't really any secondary characters to speak of, the main character development being placed firmly in the hands of Michelle Gomez' marmite-esque Master, whom I still refuse to call "Missy". As I attested back in January when I reviewed Death In Heaven, Gomez' performance is what makes the character bearable, a lot of her jokes hitting the mark and others just seeming weird and halting to the pace of the episode. I liked the fact that we got to discuss The Doctor and The Master's complex relationship, finally shoving aside the fears that Moffat would try to make The Master fall madly in love with The Doctor in a romantic sense. However, there was still the fact that Moffat writes Gomez' Master as innately sexual in the things she does and says in a way that simply present in any of the male Masters, and that it seems to be a part of the way that he writes his "Strong Female Characters" (imagine huge, arthritis inducing inverted quotes there) that he has to give them overly sexualised banter.
     Something which was true of Dark Water and Death In Heaven is also true here, though. Despite its many, many problems, I still enjoyed it. The continuity didn't feel that tacky, I loved that Julian Bleach is back, I love that we seem to be keeping some semblance of the Dalek storyline established in the 70s and 80s and carried on by RTD, except this time held together in one big timeline. (And I love the fact that everything in Moffat's prior Dalek stories seems to have been ignored this week.) Capaldi, Gomez and Coleman are all on very fine form, and I think that if this episode was a little better-structured, was a little more focused on characters rather than empty mysteries to be thrown away and forgotten about, that we really might be heading into good Doctor Who. One can but hope.


NEXT WEEK: Daleks, Time Travel and retcons. Retcons everywhere. The story concludes in The Witch's Familiar.

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