The Magician’s Apprentice begins on the field of battle. Soldiers, warplanes, shots fired. All the things the Doctor hates. And among the horror, a child, one of the things the Doctor cherishes. It doesn’t take long for things to get dark, even for a battlefield, as something sinister threatens the boy. If this early pre-title scene is any indicator this season is going to be one of the creepiest yet.
Of course the Doctor arrives to save the boy, and asks his name as a way to hep focus his attention. Nothing could have shocked The Doctor more than the boy’s reply: Davros! It didn’t take long for this new season to offer up some heavy surprises. It doesn’t get much name-droppy than Davros.
And before we even have time to process the apparent return of Davros we find ourselves at the Shadow Proclamation. Often referenced, and eventually visited by the Tenth Doctor and Donna, it’s an unexpected chance to link both the show and the Doctor’s recent past.
Early on this episode completely enthralled me. I couldn’t have guessed at Davros’ return in a thousand years. Knowing Missy would be back in the premier was intriguing enough, but to throw in such an epic twist as Davros is almost overwhelming. By having the Master as well as Davros back at the same time, it finally feels as though Doctor Who has completely reconciled its past and present. More than any other time since the revival, Doctor Who feels like its old self.
But things get so much stranger as the story progresses. It seems all planes in the world have just… stopped. They’re just hanging in midair.
It comes as a surprise as UNIT calls on Clara when the plane crisis happens. It looks as though she has been enlisted by UNIT at least in some capacity. Now, with Danny Pink dead, she appears to have embraced a life similar to the Doctors other recent companions, that of normal girl turned Defender of Earth. Continuing Clara’s theme of “becoming The Doctor”, she certainly plays the part now. I can’t help but imagine Sarah Jane Smith being exactly like this after the 4th Doctor left her behind.
But just as she and UNIT try to make sense of the plane situation, another familiar face returns. Missy is back, hacking into UNIT, and saying hello. Using the plane incident as a “hello”, she invites Clara to tea. There’s something they need to discuss.
Michelle Gomez’s performance as Missy is as stunning as ever. Her portrayal of the Master as The Doctor’s old friend adds a delightfully strange element to the show. The Master is still twisted, selfish, and maniacal, but now more intertwined with the Doctor on a personal level than ever before. I love Missy because she fulfills the purpose of giving the Doctor a link to his entire being, to his past, and his home. And hopefully his future, because Missy might be the next character besides Captain Jack to be this unique and necessary. I hang on her every word.
The Doctor, Missy, and Clara eventually reunite in one of the strangest scenes in recent Doctor Who memory. But the reunion is broken up as Davros’ servant arrives, demanding The Doctor go speak with the Dark Lord of Skaro. When asked why he should meet with his arch enemy the Doctor is given sufficient motivation when he is reminded of his encounter with the young boy on the battlefield. Something shameful happened there. Enough so to get the Doctor to meet his mortal enemy one last time. The Doctor goes willingly, with his two friends beside him.
I won’t give up any more from here because the last ten minutes of The Magician’s Apprentice have to be seen to fully process. From a storytelling perspective, there’s some really impressive stuff going on. Calling this episode hugely important in the lore of Doctor Who wouldn’t begin to cover it. It is a massively successful introduction to what I believe is a totally new Doctor Who. Dark. Introspective. Scary. Exciting.
There’s something very strange about this episode from start to finish, and the unfamiliar sensation it produces is welcoming. It’s almost as if I’m seeing my vision of Doctor Who as a child remade in modern times. This premier episode of season 9 is exactly what Classic Who was like!
The Magician’s Apprentice is one of the most interesting episodes I’ve seen in a long time. Building upon both the show’s future and past, while shedding light on, and reshaping the future. It does so by leaving us on a hell of a cliffhanger. Unless things get timey-whimey, it doesn’t look good for Missy and Clara. Or the TARDIS for that matter. By the end of this episode it looks as though Davros has finally gotten his long-sought revenge on The Doctor.