THAT is how you do an opening episode of Doctor Who.
The wait has been a long one, but the Doctor is finally back on our screens … well, he is eventually, because Peter Capaldi is missing for quite a large proportion of ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’.
Apparently he is in hiding – though why, we have no true idea. I sincerely doubt it’s entirely down to his indecisiveness in the battle field. No, I think more is afoot with the Doctor. And since Jenna Coleman is leaving, and the Doctor bequeaths his last will and testament to Missy (oh, Missy, you’re so fine), I’m going to put a wager on Clara dying later in the series, and the Doctor feeling extremely guilty.
Yes, like ‘The Impossible Astronaut’, I think we may have just seen a Doctor from the future…
But back to ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’. This episode is jam-packed full of self references that it would be quite easy for its entirety to become weighed down, but somehow ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ manages to feel fresh, rather than inundated.
After a whistle stop tour of the Maldovarium (let’s play spot the alien – I saw an Ood, the Skullions from The Sarah Jane Adventures, the Blowfish from Torchwood, the Sycorax, the Kahler and the Hath, alongside several unknown species … did anyone else spot something I missed?), the Shadow Proclamation, and Karn, it’s back to present day Earth, in which the sky has been frozen.
I personally liked the fact that we saw the return of several species and characters, as it makes the entire universe of Doctor Who feel much more fleshed out. It makes everything feel more realistic. As did the return of UNIT and Kate Stewart. Her presence may be lacking here, but of course they would summon Clara when the Doctor was nowhere to be found. What else would they do? Hopefully Kate will have more to do when she returns later in the series.
Next to return is Missy, and boy is she fine. It’s quite startling to see the Mistress not as a goodie, but not quite as a baddie either. Aside from killing a few UNIT soldiers, Missy is actually on Clara’s side … mostly, anyway. All she wants is to find her friend, the Doctor, because she knows he is going to die.
Michelle Gomez continues to excel in this role. She has some brilliant one-liners (‘See that couple over there? You’re the dog.’ ‘Since he was a little girl.’ ‘No, wait, hang on a minute! DAVROS is your arch-enemy now? I’ll scratch his eye out!’) and she is as unpredictable as ever, but would we really have it any other way? Missy is key to Clara escaping the prison they find themselves in, so for now it looks as though she’s firmly on the Doctor’s side. For now.
The only part of this episode I didn’t like was the Doctor’s grand return, in which he wowed the peasants of an Essex castle in 1138. This didn’t suit Capaldi one bit. It felt cheesy and forced, unfortunately. I’m still not liking Capaldi’s attempts at humour.
But all of this has been buildup, which makes it clear why a two-part episode was required. With barely 15 minutes left, the Doctor, Clara and Missy are transported to Skaro, where the Doctor meets a dying Davros. Yes, those rumours were true. The Doctor must face his greatest decision to date, for he has a very real way of ridding the entire universe of the Daleks once and for all. But we’ll get to that in a moment.
Julian Bleach is back playing the deranged creator of the Daleks, and he plays the role once more with aplomb. Bleach is simply sublime in this role, and I personally am ecstatic that he has returned. Had another actor taken on the role, I wouldn’t be as excited. I just know that the playoff between Davros and the Doctor is going to be sensational to behold. For Davros is dying, and he recalls a moment of his youth.
Enter the Daleks. In mere seconds the Mistress, Clara and the TARDIS are seemingly destroyed, leaving the Doctor distraught. But it’s quite hard to buy this cliffhanger. It’s clear that all three survived: we’ve seen Clara and Missy in subsequent episodes thanks to the trailers released, and the TARDIS is the Doctor’s constant companion.
The Daleks tried to kill her back in ‘Journey’s End’, but they didn’t manage it there and I doubt they did here. When Missy seemingly died in ‘Death in Heaven’, she actually teleported away, and her death is played the same here. The Daleks leave bodies when they kill, but Missy and Clara simply vanished. They were both teleported elsewhere, clearly.
Bookending ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ are scenes of a younger Davros on a battlefield, and his initial reveal is startling. As is the parting shot. It’s clear that the Doctor won’t kill Davros as a child, but I’ll be very interested indeed to see him entertain the notion. It’s going to be a long wait until ‘The Witch’s Familiar’.