Throwback Thursday—Doctor Who Series 9: The Magician’s Apprentice + The Witch’s Familiar

Previously on Doctor Who: Last Christmas.

Missy’s back, Clara’s a Dalek, and the Doctor’s got a case of mercy.

Welcome to Skaro.

The thing is, when a rather… snakey messenger comes to tell you that Davros knows, Davros remembers, you can do either of two things. You can keep running — or you can walk into the trap. The one thing you cannot do, however, is prevent your two best friends from walking into the trap with you. That’s the thing, the Doctor’s got a plan, even when all points to him being fresh out of exit strategies, but what he didn’t plan for was Missy and Clara coming along. This is where it all gets a bit convoluted — making the will was deliberate. Getting it to Missy was deliberate, and he could probably guess that Missy would contact Clara. So he did really expect to die, didn’t he? And not even Missy wants to be on Skaro — the Master fought in the Time War, and he died in it.

The Doctor’s fear for Clara on Skaro is real, he’s not playing around. He’s genuinely rendered desperate by her apparent death.

Why have I ever let you live?

The Doctor without hope. Nobody’s safe now. He’ll burn everything. Us, too.

So when did he figure out what Davros was trying to do? When did he understand that the old, shrivelled fig was trying to manipulate him into injecting regeneration energy into the DNA matrix? And did he actually want Missy and Clara to come along, to rescue him once he was stuck pumping new life into the Daleks’ energy hive? I liked the series opener, but the Doctor’s motives and reasoning for doing anything are seriously muddled. The two halves don’t really go together, and the spectacle of a Time Lord’s Confession Dial doesn’t really go with the Doctor revealing that he knew what Davros was playing at all along.

I came because you’re sick and you asked.

That exchange between them about compassion being the Doctor’s weakness was excellent, though. So was Davros’ playing the old, sick man who is genuinely happy for the Doctor to have found his home. Frankly, all I was waiting for was him saying, “I’m so happy you found them — cause now I can kill them all over again, muahahahaha!” That other shoe did sort of drop, by the end. But that’s before the Doctor realised that, in order for a Dalek to beg for mercy, they had to know the concept. And there was only one way he’d be able to teach them that.

The question whether the Doctor would really kill Davros, either as a child or as Emperor of the Daleks, has been raised many times throughout the show. Four contemplated that question with two lives wires in his hands, the Fifth Doctor all but had a gun to Davros’ head, with all opportunity to kill him. He didn’t. But Twelve, he left that child behind the first go around, turned around and ran. That’s perhaps the most perfidious. Audiences could have forgiven him for ending Davros, could have forgiven him for taking revenge on that three-eyed goblin for all that he’d done to him — but to leave a frightened child behind on a battlefield… that brings him shame. And that’s not who the Doctor wants to be. He saves the boy, takes him home, takes him by the hand, knowing who and what he’ll become. Because compassion will always be his downfall.

I wouldn’t die of anything else.

What I loved was that the Doctor noted that Gallifrey is now “[s]afe. From both of us.” He may never know where it reappeared, but that’s ok, because it means that he can’t do any more damage than he already has. (I’m writing this within the context of the episode, even though I already know a bit more than the Doctor does at this point.)

Missy and Clara

Putting Clara into that Dalek is a lovely echo of the episode in which we first met her, The Asylum of the Daleks. But for all that the Master/Missy was supposed to be the Doctor’s best friend, she’s just hell-bent on killing Clara. Ok, yes, fine, she cares about the Doctor, just not about tiny, squishy humans, fine, we get it. But while that bit added a bit of a heartstopper to the episode, making us scared for Clara inside that thing, and it giving the Doctor the insight he needed to go back and rescue Davros, the act itself felt a bit unnecessary. Clara’s upset that he probably knew that Missy was alive, after all that she’s done. She’s not the reason Danny died in the first place, but she’s the reason he became a Cyberman and then sacrificed himself (for Clara — the rest of the world just got lucky), and although they make a good team a lot of the time, Clara’s nowhere near forgiving her. That’s where one of the best lines of the two episodes comes from:

Don’t apologise. Make it up to me.

That’s brilliant, because it holds the Doctor accountable. Saying sorry isn’t going to cut it, he’s going to have to work for her forgiveness for this, for her to trust him again, and she’s not letting him off the hook — whilst simultaneously letting him know she doesn’t hate him. She fully expects him to come back to her, to survive this, and then he can start making amends. But she’ll need him alive for that, and with that line she tells him she has faith in him, and that he has something to fight for.

When do I not see you?

Sound the alarm klaxon, the Doctor’s just initiated a hug.

The Doctor turning up in Davros’ pod is funny, though. “Admit it, we’ve all had this exact nightmare.” So’s the medieval party the Doctor was throwing himself — Missy’s unimpressed face when she hears the first guitar chords being strung is priceless. And playing ‘Pretty Woman’ for her and Clara is, too. (Bless Peter Capaldi having once been in a Glasgow punk rock band.) All in all, it’s an enjoyable series opener, if with a few weaknesses here and there. Anything involving the Daleks is a bit circular, because it always comes round to them surviving and living to kill the Doctor another day. Except, at least this time they’re being eaten by their own kind. But still, the Daleks will prevail, we all know that, so introducing novelty is somewhat difficult. Sometimes, it feels as though the two episodes are cobbled together by taking some funny ideas they really wanted to use (introducing the word dude a couple centuries early) and then glueing it together with enough filler to bring it to episode length; the scripts don’t feel as tight as they used to, and the pace was certainly a bit choppy, with a few lags in the middle; with some concepts, such as the Confession Dial, being introduced for maximum emotional impact and then just sort of… disappearing into the Doctor’s pocket. Let’s see how the series progresses.

Next: Under the Lake.

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