‘The Magician’s Apprentice’
The Magician’s Apprentice suffers from the same problem as many first halves of a two part episode: far too much set-up not enough actual story. The first scene of the new series introduces us to an alien world in the grip of war, seemingly some sort of monsters with eyes in their hands, using a combination of modern technology and out of date weaponry. A boy runs across a hand mine field and when a soldier follows him its clear that’s a death sentence. Then the Doctor shows up and it seems obvious how things will go, he throws the boy his screwdriver and is about to guide the child to safety when he reveals his name: Davros, future creator of the Daleks. The Doctor quickly leaves.
It’s an intriguing start to the new series before the story completely diverges from this point. We are introduced to Colony Sarff, a slightly creepy monster that is made up of snakes, somehow appearing in a human like form. Sarff is on the hunt for The Doctor, to give him the message that ‘Davros knows. Davros remembers’.We are reintroduced to Clara who quickly figures out something is wrong when she notices all of the planes around the world have stopped in midair. For the first half of the episode Clara is without The Doctor and, as seen at several times last season, she’s at her best when acting independently. At first the frozen planes seems like it will be the big threat of the episode, forcing UNIT to call in Clara and everything, but quickly this is dispelled as being a way for Missy to get Clara’s attention.
Missy has received the Timelord equivalent of The Doctor’s will, revealing that he believes he’s about to die. This might have some urgency to it if the idea of The Doctor dying hadn’t been done so many times in the past, not to mention the fact that this is the first episode of a new series. Clara and Missy track The Doctor to medieval Essex, with Colony Sarff hot on their trail. Sarff convinces them to come meet Davros, finally getting to the crux of the episode.
It’s great to see Missy again, her introduction was one of the more fun elements of last season, though at least some explanation of how she’s still alive might have been nice. Michelle Gomez clearly has lots of fun playing the maniacal nemesis/best friend of The Doctor and she makes a great counterpoint to Peter Capaldi’s much moodier protagonist. Speaking of Capaldi, for much of the episode he is at his least moody, including bringing an electric guitar to an axe battle and introducing the word ‘dude’ several centuries early.Unfortunately with all the set-up, little time is left for the episode to get to its point. There’s a rather obvious reveal that the characters have been led to Skaro, before things fall apart as daleks exterminate Missy, Clara and the TARDIS as the Doctor watches. This leads to the shocking cliffhanger with The Doctor returning to the young Davros to exterminate him. Again this lacks a sense of urgency but there is at least the question of whether the Doctor can save the day without killing Davros, which would presumably create a paradox.
It will be interesting to see how this is resolved next week but this season opener doesn’t have much to recommend. This is the first two-part episode that Doctor Who has done in several years and this episode doesn’t make me miss the format.