What if you had the opportunity to kill you mortal enemy before he had the chance to unleash his evil on the world? That was the question posed during the opening episode of Doctor Who’s ninth series ‘The Magician’s Apprentice.’
In a rather eerie and beautifully designed opening sequence we learned that The Doctor had once encountered Dalek creator Davros as a young boy. In the sequence we saw the youngster trapped in a field of hand mines; deadly hands planted in the ground which were used to suck people to their death. As young Davros stood amongst the Hand Mines, The Doctor appeared and wanted to save the boy until he learned of his identity and as a result seemingly abandoned him.
I personally thought that the idea of the Hand Mines was absolutely brilliant and it was one that I believe an entire episode could have been built around. A similarly fascinating plot device was that of planes being held motionless in the air, seemingly frozen in time. However, like the Hand Mines, this was just a plot device in order to get Clara to UNIT and reveal that the plane mystery was simply a way for Missy to get the attention of The Doctor’s allies.
I personally thought that Missy was the highlight of last night’s episode and it was great to see Michelle Gomez chew the scenery. From her appearing on the screens at UNIT to her destruction at the hands of the Daleks, I thought that Missy was absolutely compelling. Missy’s best scene had to be the one in which she and Clara met in the middle of an abandoned square that was surrounded by snipers. This scene evoked memories of many crime movies in which the hero and villain meet for the first time and was beautifully choreographed by director Hettie MacDonald. It was also a great way to get through a lot of Steven Moffat’s expositional dialogue without it feeling too contrived. It was here the we established that Missy hadn’t turned good and was briefly aiding The Doctor due to her conflicted relationship with the Time Lord.
The Doctor himself was surprisingly absent for a lot of the first half of the episode, only appearing in that opening sequence and another scene in which he hid out amongst The Sisterhood of Karn. However his big introduction was splendidly executed as we saw him arrive on a tank, brandishing an electric guitar before entering a joust in Essex of 1138. This was a great way of getting the gang together and provided a much needed bit of humour before the weighty content that engulfed the episode’s final third.
The showdown between The Doctor and Davros is expertly done as the latter reveals to the former that he remembers exactly what happened between them in the opening scene. At the same time we learn that Davros is rebuilding Skaro, the home planet of The Daleks, from scratch and that he plans to destroy everything The Doctor loves. The scene in which Missy and Clara first realise that they’re on Skaro is skilfully done and once again praise must go to the production design team for perfectly recreating this arid landscape.
The episode’s final few scenes presented plenty of questions namely about the fate of Clara and Missy, both of whom appeared to have been killed by The Daleks. The Doctor’s means of escape also look to be minimal after The Daleks shot down The Tardis. However, the final scene, in which The Doctor meets the young Davros once again makes me believe that the deaths of both Clara and Missy aren’t as concrete as they may appear.
Although I wouldn’t classify myself as a Doctor Who fan I do appreciate when the drama links back to its past and The Magician’s Apprentice certainly did this. In fact the premise of the episode appears to be based around a question asked by Tom Baker’s Doctor about what someone would do when faced with a childhood version of their adversary. The scene in which previous Doctors’ altercations with Davros are played was a nice little nod to the programme’s past which I’m sure was appreciated by long-time fans of the show.
As for the man playing the current Doctor, I found that Peter Capaldi put in a fantastic performance as the Time Lord. He demonstrated how easily he could jump between the comic antics of the 1138 scenes to the hard-hitting moments in the episode’s final third. I especially liked the interaction between Capaldi’s Doctor and Julian Bleach’s Davros which I found to be utterly compelling. Additionally I felt that Capaldi’s facial expressions told as much of a story as the dialogue did and this was especially true of the brilliant opening scene. Ultimately Capaldi makes me care about The Doctor’s fate which wasn’t in great shape at the end of this episode.
Although I did have some issues with the amount of content that Steven Moffat packed into The Magician’s Apprentice, overall I felt that it was a great episode of Doctor Who. Hettie MacDonald’s direction was superb throughout as were the performances of Gomez and Capaldi. Crucially I was gripped by everything that happened on screen and felt the episode’s fifty minutes passed incredibly quickly. More than anything else, The Magician’s Apprentice made me intrigued by what would happen next and made me excited about what was in store for the rest of series nine.