Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Doctor Who Season 9, Episode 1: The Magician's Apprentice

At long last, Doctor Who's finally back! It's been a whopping ten months since the Season 8 finale (I know, there was a Christmas Special in December, but I'm talking about the actual series). I know there's no way around these extra long breaks when the seasons are only twelve episodes, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

This is either Season 9 or 35, depending on how you count it. 

Last season (Peter Capaldi's first as the Doctor) was very, very, VERY uneven, giving us two of the all-time worst and most nonsensical episodes in the show's history (and that's saying something!). Yeah, I'm lookin' at you, Kill The Moon and In The Forest Of The Night. Let's hope this season is better. A LOT better. It had better be for the show's sake, because I don't know if it can survive another year like 2014.

This episode was written by show runner Steven Moffat, and directed by Hettie MacDonald, who last teamed up for 2007's Blink, which is widely regarded as one of the all time best Doctor Who stories ever. This one contains nearly all of Moffat's Greatest Hits— there's a crisis and the Doctor's missing, the return of not one, but two classic enemies, a villain returning from the dead with little or no explanation, the Doctor going on an extended "farewell tour" to avoid a confrontation, creepy body-horror adversaries, the Doctor making a mistake in the past that dooms him, and on and on.

I feel bad for any new viewers who may have decided to start watching the series with this episode, as it's jam-packed full of characters and references from past shows, with very little explanation. Newbies will be totally bewildered.

There's a lot going on in this episode, and yet not a lot actually happened. It felt like it was all setup for Part 2. I get the feeling there wasn't really enough story for two entire episodes, so they were forced to do a lot of stalling in this one.By the way, rumor has it that this season will consist primarily of two part episodes.

When Peter Capaldi first took over the role last year, his portrayal of the Doctor was much more brusque and alien. Grouchy, even. He hearkened back to the easily irritable First Doctor.

They definitely seem to be taking steps to soften him up a bit in this episode, what with him wearing shades and a concert t-shirt and blasting out power chords on his electric guitar. He even plays "Pretty Woman" to Clara and Missy! A far cry from last season when he took every possible opportunity to imply that Clara was "ugly."

I wonder if the fans who mooned over the dreamy Tenth and Eleventh Doctors didn't much care for a Doctor who was a grouchy old man, and so the producers are trying to make Twelve more viewer friendly?

Lastly, two days before the season started, actress Jenna Coleman (who plays Clara) announced she was leaving the show. What wonderful timing. Kind of takes the wind out of the sails of the season premiere now, doesn't it? Did she absolutely have to announce her departure now? Couldn't she have kept her mouth shut and let the show bask in its return for a few moments, and announce her exit at the end of the season? Bad form, Jenna.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
On a foggy battlefield on an unknown planet, a young boy finds himself trapped in a field of hand mines. They're literally hands that rise up out of the ground and grab their prey. Suddenly the Doctor appears and tosses his sonic to the boy, telling him he'll save him. When the boy's too scared to move, the Doctor asks him his name. The boy replies, "Davros." The Doctor gives us his best "WTF" look, realizes he's on Skaro (the home planet of the Daleks) and leaves the boy to his fate.

Hundreds of years later, an alien hitman called Colony Sarff searches the universe for the Doctor. He has a message for him— Davros, creator of the Dalek race, is dying and wants to see the Doctor one last time.

On present day Earth, Clara is teaching again at Coal Hill School, when she notices all the planes in the sky are frozen in place. Missy appears (apparently back from the dead) and says she's frozen every plane above Earth to get the Doctor's attention. She received a "confession dial" from him, which is the equivalent of a last will and testament. She believes the Doctor thinks he's going to die, and wants to help him. Clara is stunned that Missy considers the Doctor her friend, considering all the times she (and he) has tried to kill him over the years.

Clara and Missy use UNIT resources to track the Doctor to Essex in the year 1138. Missy uses a vortex manipulator to transport them there. They find the Doctor as he's having his last hurrah. He's also contaminating the time stream by playing an electric guitar and while standing on an army tank.

Colony Sarff appears and demands he return with him to see Davros. The Doctor, feeling guilty for abandoning him as a child, agrees. Clara and Missy insist on coming along. Bors, a medieval peasant, is revealed to be a humanoid Dalek agent and transports the Doctor's TARDIS to Davros' headquarters.

They're transported to Skaro, where the dying Davros tells the Doctor he remembers how he abandoned him, and that he made him what he is today. He says he's going to make the Doctor pay for his betrayal by destroying everything he holds dear. Davros commands the Daleks to disintegrate Clara, Missy and the TARDIS.

The Doctor then somehow appears back in the past in the hand mine field on Skara. The young Davros asks if he's come back to save him. The Doctor points a Dalek gun at him and shouts, "Exterminate!" To be continued!

Thoughts:
• Be sure and watch the two prologues to this episode. They're not hard to track down online, and they add quite a bit of background info to the story.

• So what's the deal with the title of this episode? The Doctor's obviously the Magician, but who's his apprentice? Clara? Missy?

• If nothing else, Moffat knows how to create horrifying monsters. Those "hand mines" were nightmare inducing.

Same goes for Colony Sarff, who looks like a cloaked man but is actually a huge pile of intelligent, venomous snakes. Although I'm still trying to figure out how a column of reptiles forms a human face, complete with eyes and mouth.

• Moffat's used this "There's A Crisis And We Can't Find The Doctor" plotline many, many times before. It seems to be one of his favorites, as it lets him write a big entrance for the Doctor near the end of the episode.

Likewise, the "The Doctor Believes He's Going To Die So He Goes On One Last Bender Through Time And Space" plotline has been done at least twice before as well. Both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors went on "farewell tours" to avoid their fates.

• The checkered pants the Doctor wears in this episode look a lot like the ones the First Doctor wore. Homage or coincidence?

• Another Moffat-ism— Missy is alive and well again with only the thinnest of non-explanations. "Not dead. Back. Big surprise. Never mind."

The same goes for Davros. Last time we saw him was in 2008's Journey's End, where he was seemingly killed when the Crucible self-destructed. How he got better is apparently none of our concern.

• Missy tells Clara that she's known the Doctor for a very long time, even "back when he was a little girl." 

Jesus Christ! Moffat just will not rest until he gives the world a female Doctor. At this point I'm tired of hearing about it and I wish he'd just go ahead and do it and get the goddamned idea out of his system once and for all.

• When the Doctor's belting out his power chords, I'm pretty sure that's really Peter Capaldi playing the guitar. Many years ago he was in a punk band called "Dreamboys" (formerly "Bastards From Hell"), which also featured former talk show host Craig Ferguson.

Did you notice that the Doctor was playing a heavy metal version of the show's theme song? Wa-waaaaah! How could he possibly know what that sounds like?

By the way, when the Doctor rides in on the army tank, who's driving it? Did he teach a medieval peasant how to operate it? He can't be using his sonic to control it, as we'll see in a moment.

• There are quite a few references to past shows in this episode. 

The Maldovarium appears again. It's the Star Wars-esque space bar formerly run by Dorian Maldovar. It was populated by many past aliens the production staff had in storage, including an Ood, a Hath and a Weevil (from Torchwood). 

We also see The Shadow Proclimation, which was last seen in 2008s The Stolen Earth. We also see the Shadow Architect (the head of the Proclimation) and her Judoon bodyguards.

Ohilia and the Sisterhood of Karn also reappear. They were last seen in The Night Of The Doctor mini-episode (the one with the return of the Eighth Doctor). 

Clara rides the same motorcycle she did in The Day Of The Doctor.

There were probably others, but those are the ones that jumped out at me.

• I was sad to see Bors turn out to be a Dalek agent. He would have made a good companion. We've not had a companion from the past in quite a long time.

• This episode seems to confirm without a doubt that the Paradigm Daleks no longer exist. We see old school models from the very first Dalek story, Davies-era Daleks, and even the Special Weapons Dalek from the Seventh Doctor episode Remembrance Of The Daleks, but nary a Paradigm anywhere in the episode.

When the colorful, hunchbacked Paradigm Daleks first appeared a few years ago in 2010s Victory Of The Daleks, they were touted as the next big thing. Fans absolutely hated them though, and apparently complained them out of existence.

• When the Doctor says Davros is his archenemy, Missy looks hurt and says she thought she filled that role. I agree with her. Missy, or The Master, is the Doctor's moral opposite, who knows him intimately and can match him step for step. The Master is the Moriarty to the Doctor's Holmes. Davros is more like Space Hitler. An evil foe, yes, but definitely not his archenemy.

• The Doctor says he no longer uses a sonic. Apparently we're to believe that after he tossed his sonic to Boy Davros (which must have happened sometime very recently, between Season 8 and 9), he never replaced it. 

We've seen before that the sonics are grown by the TARDIS, so it's not like he couldn't easily replace it. I suppose the sight of it reminds him he abandoned a kid to his death.

He'd better start using a sonic again right quick though, or Character Options, the people who make Doctor Who toys, are gonna be pissed when sales of their sonic replicas go down the crapper.

• It seemed awfully easy for the Daleks to destroy the TARDIS. I thought it was supposed to be nigh-indestructible? And it's powered by a black hole. Wouldn't that cause problems if they destroyed whatever contains it?

• After the Daleks kill Clara and Missy, the Doctor decides to stop feeling guilty and go back and kill Davros when he was a boy, to prevent the creation of the Daleks and undo the deaths of Clara and Missy. Didn't we already cover this ground way back in 1975's Genesis Of The Daleks? In that episode, the Fourth Doctor has the chance to destroy Davros right before the Daleks are created, and then pauses to agonize over whether he has the right.

We even see footage from that episode (that Davros somehow recorded, and which looks suspiciously like the actual footage from the show!). I guess Davros can get BBC on his monitor.

Killing young Davros would definitely be a bold move for the show. Unfortunately there's no way in hell the BBC's going to let the star of their flagship show murder a kid in prime time (or whatever the call it in England). Not to mention the fact that not even Moffat would be crazy enough to wipe out fifty years of continuity!

Next week: I predict the Doctor will find a reason to not kill Davros, Clara and Missy will get better after dying, and the TARDIS will return.

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