TV Episode Review: “Doctor Who” “The Magician’s Apprentice” (09.01, 2015)

“Your chances of survival are about one in a thousand. So here’s what you do: forget about the thousand, and concentrate on the one.”

Steven Moffat has always been capable of a great turn of dialogue. He’s had an excellent sense of when to let them play out as melodrama (The “remember every black day I ever stopped you” speech in “The Pandorica Opens”) and when to turn them into a joke (“Who da man?” in “The Eleventh Hour”), but that sense of timing has been less consistent in recent years. Sometimes the show feels like it decides episode-to-episode whether to be completely comedic or not at all comedic. This episode feels like a rarity in that its found the balance that the show once had. That line made me smile because it’s the right level of ridiculous and heroic–a level we’ve seen Moffat hit more rarely in the last couple of seasons.

“Davros is dying.”

Davros is an old member of Doctor Who‘s rogues gallery, which may make it a little more forgivable that he’s really a standard movie mad scientist. He was born in a continual war and used his scientific genius to create the ultimate weapon: the Daleks. He continually sacrificed his own body and ended up something like Darth Vader, “more machine than man” and bound in suspended animation, his withered body essentially serving as a life-support system for his sadistic mind.

In this instance, his battle with the Doctor is over the Doctor’s “compassion.” Davros sees noble emotions like compassion as weakness (hence the Daleks’ lack of any such emotions), but he appears to be interested in attempting to ensure that the Doctor will agree with him about it. Like the Joker in The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, USA/UK 2008), he wants the hero to agree with him–his victory would be in creating a second version of himself.

“Hey Missy!”

I’ve always enjoyed the Master, and I like this version of him a great deal. The last version of him was always teetering on the edge of being annoying, and Missy seems rather a pull back from that ledge, which is much appreciated. Her sense of humor is indeed not too dissimilar from the Doctor’s, which makes sense as the Master is essentially an evil version of the Doctor. Her presence as his “friend” but also enemy plays into the 12th Doctor’s theme of wondering about his own goodness so well that her presence is seemingly necessary.

The one concern I have is that it seems like Moffat is almost just using her as a surrogate for River Song. So much of her dialogue feels like something River would have said and even her plot points are sometimes places where River would make more sense. It would seem that Moffat has excised River in appearance but not in character.

“Goodbye, Clara.”

There seem to be an awful lot of storylines lately that revolve around this idea that the Doctor knows he’s dying. It’s feeling very repetitive for a series whose premise easily lends itself to such a wide variety of ideas. He’s not going to die tomorrow, at least in any meaningful sense, because we know there’s an entire season to finish and there has been no hint that this season is the final one. So why can’t it just stand that he’s having a weird anachronistic party and then gets called to meet with Davros? Why do we need the Time Lord Confession? It’s like Moffat feels like he has to show us that the Doctor has stakes, but (a) they’re fake stakes because of it being the start of a season and (b) he really doesn’t need a personal stake like this.

Notes

  • “Jane Austen: Amazing writer.” Nonsense.
  • Clara is such a controlling weirdo that she has to ride her motorcycle to UNIT instead of them picking her up. And they let her, even though presumably they would be faster picking her up.
  • The guitar scene was fantastic. It’s a ridiculous habit of movies and tv that when a character is supposed to be “cool” with a guitar, s/he gets a Flying V (see, e.g., Dr. Gregory House), which annoys me because I think they’re so damn ugly. If you really want a guitar that stands out and looks cool, give them a Warlock. Thankfully, the Doctor didn’t get a Flying V.
  • The snake man was a fun visual. I wish it weren’t so much CGI, but we’re on a television budget so I’ll accept it.
  • The Fourth Doctor makes another little appearance, essentially explaining the Baby Hitler problem that vexes consequentialist ethical systems. The Doctor, of course, has to question such a system.
  • Wasn’t it quite obvious that they were on Skaro? But isn’t Skaro’s surface so irradiated that it would quickly cause poisoning and, in short order, death? That’s what I remember from the Daleks’ first appearance. (That’s an old episode that I’ve actually watched.)
  • Since Gallifrey is out there somewhere, the Doctor’s TARDIS may be replaceable even if the Daleks actually destroyed it. That may be where we’re going, but I doubt it, since I’m sure that Missy and Clara are not dead.
  • The Doctor is not going to kill the child Davros. I feel pretty certain of that.
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