Doctor Who S9 Ep 1: The Magician’s Apprentice

If the 11th Doctor was Stephen Moffatt’s A New Hope, the 12th Doctor is his Empire Strikes Back — darker, less playful, and probably won’t have a happy ending. Also, since Peter Capaldi has taken over as the space-and-time traveling Doctor, there have been lots of Star Wars references. In the Season 9 premiere, “The Magician’s Apprentice,” there is even a scene taking place in a near-replica of the Mos Eisley Cantina. In many years, media historians will point out that the 9th series of Doctor Who came out in the same year as the 7th Star Wars movie (and, who knows, maybe Star Wars: The Force Awakens will reference Doctor Who, too).

But I digress. “The Magician’s Apprentice” (spoilers ahead) is a bombshell of an episode. More so than I expected it to be. I didn’t look up any spoilers for Series 9 (though a couple got through to me — I’m on Tumblr a lot, it happens), but if someone had told me that the 9th series was going to start with a major Dalek storyline, I would have yawned. I mean, yes, the Daleks are the quintessential Doctor Who monsters, and they always will be… except now, there’s a possibility they never will be.

The Doctor, as he is known to do, takes a wrong turn and winds up on a war-torn planet just in time to find a young boy about to get killed by “hand mines” — like land mines, but they’re hands. With eyes on the palm. And if you don’t stand very still, they will pull you down and, presumably, kill you. The hand mines are classic Moffatt: Monster wants to get you, you have to suppress some natural human function to survive.

The Doctor throws the child his sonic screwdriver and starts to talk him through it. He asks the boy his name, and he tells him — “Davros.”

Wait, as in Davros Davros? Creator of the Daleks? Yeah, that Davros, and it puts The Doctor in that “what would you do if you went back in time and had the opportunity to kill a baby/child you knew would grow up to be a mass-murdering tyrant?” position. Stunned, The Doctor chooses to disappear, leaving the sonic screwdriver with Baby Davros. He doesn’t actively save him, but he doesn’t kill him, either.

Is the survival of Davros fixed, like the annihilation of Pompeii? Maybe, but Davros would have most definitely died as a child if The Doctor hadn’t intervened. It inverts the “would you kill the evil person as a child” trope, because it wasn’t a matter of finding a child who would have grown up to be a tyrant — the real question is, “would you save the life of a child you knew would grow up to be a mass-murdering tyrant?” And that is a more troubling question, I think. You don’t have to kill them, you just have to do nothing. While a child dies.

The Doctor’s disappearance didn’t result in the Death of Davros. The Daleks came to be just as they always had.

Meanwhile, a henchman for Davros is scouring space and time to find The Doctor (this is where the Cantina-like space bar comes in).

doctor who claraBack in our time, Clara is teaching a class when she notices that an airplane in the sky has gone still. She quickly excuses herself and goes to U.N.I.T. for answers. As it turns out, every plane that was in the air has simply frozen in the sky. She claims it’s too soon to contact The Doctor, but in reality, she can’t reach him.

Then comes a message from Missy, who you will remember is the current incarnation of The Master. She also supposedly died in series 8. Clara meets with her and learns, unsurprisingly, that Missy is responsible for the frozen planes. Missy (who is great in this episode, by the way) says she wants to help The Doctor, because she’s his closest friend. Clara is offended by the suggestion that she, The Master, is a better friend to the Doctor than she is, to which Missy points out a nearby couple walking a dog and says, “You’re the dog.”

When Clara scoffs at the idea that Missy has gone good, Missy starts killing the armed guards who are there to protect Clara. Of course she’s not good. Desperate to avoid a full-on slaughter, she agrees to help her. Missy releases the planes, and Clara manages to locate The Doctor — he’s on Earth, in Essex, in Medieval times. Missy transports them just by touching Clara. She is the Master.

Missy and Clara find themselves watching a Medieval man-to-man fight where The Doctor makes the biggest entrance possible, ripping on electric guitar while riding a tank. The whole show is The Doctor’s way of running away — not just from his guilt over Davros, but from the knowledge that he will soon die. It’s a guns-blazing last hurrah.

The Henchman shows up. It turns out he’s a giant snake for some reason. Afraid that he’ll start killing innocent Medieval folks out for a fun night of fights-to-the death, The Doctor agrees to be taken to Davros. After he’s handcuffed with snakes, both Clara and Missy insist to be taken with him. Against The Doctor’s protests, the women are snake-cuffed and taken. (The TARDIS is taken, too, by the guy The Doctor was supposed to fight, who, as it turns out, is a humanoid Dalek).

Let’s just say things don’t go well on the planet of the Daleks. Missy, unsurprisingly, takes the opportunity to try and take control of the Daleks, and is exterminated. But then, she’s been killed before, no big. Then, as The Doctor watches in horror remotely, Clara, our Clara, is exterminated, too.

This is meant to be a big shock (or maybe not, since the BBC spoilered it ahead of the episode), but, with the way Moffatt handles death, it’s a bit anticlimactic for what it is. Worst case scenario, she’s been sent to a sort of unpleasant place. Maybe Danny will be there. Not so bad.

doctor whoThe Doctor hasn’t been desensitized to the show’s not-really-deaths, apparently. He loses it. The next thing you know, he’s back at the hand-minefield in front of Baby Davros, and this time he’s not messing around. Maybe he couldn’t kill young Davros when millions of lives were at stake, but now he can prevent Clara’s death.

Does he actually kill Baby Davros and prevent the existence of the Daleks? That remains to be seen, as his intentions ended the episode. I’m guessing he won’t (what, and erase the Daleks for good?), or if he does, it won’t stop the existence of the Daleks.

As for Clara, she may not ever be able to return to the land of the living, at least not permanently, but her happy ending is with Danny, one way or another. I just wish her death had had more emotional impact.