Mark Watches ‘Doctor Who’: S09E01 – The Magician’s Apprentice

In the first episode of the ninth series of Doctor Who, the Doctor makes an impossible choice – twice. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.

Ah, it’s very good to get back to Doctor Who, y’all. I liked series eight more than I expected to, and so I came into this premiere with optimism. I fully accept Capaldi as the Doctor, and Clara excites me as a companion, though I admit part of that is because I feel so familiar with her. She’s comforting!

Yet Doctor Who often relies on that comfort and familiarity. Moffat isn’t afraid to use certain themes more than once, but when does that become repetitive? There are images and tones and story elements in “The Magician’s Apprentice” that we’ve absolutely seen before. Some of those are referential, while others come off more like an attempt to ground us in this familiar feeling that I referenced before. I’m opening with this thought because I have no qualms about any feeling like there is a repetitiveness in this premiere. How many times has something strange affected Earth? How many times has it been resolved without much of an affect on the populace? How many times has Clara died? How many times has Moffat found a way to bring back whomever he wants, even if that deflates the dramatic tension in the show as a whole?

I can’t believe Missy or Clara are dead. That doesn’t feel exciting or new or thrilling to me. At this point, it’s par for the course. It’s shock value for entertainment. Thankfully, that’s not the focus of this episode, and the actual main story is a million times more interesting than the fate of Clara and Missy. “The Magician’s Apprentice” deliberately references “Genesis of the Daleks” by having Davros replay footage from that episode, specifically Four’s line about killing a child you knew to grow up to be a “ruthless dictator.” Now, that’s a very common time-travel moral conundrum, and I’m pretty sure this is not even the first time Doctor Who addressed it since “Genesis of the Daleks.” But it feels so exciting to me!

I know that it interests me because I love the idea of getting to see the war that gave birth to the Davros we know now. I am not terribly familiar with this part of canon, so for me, it feels new. What we see of this war is downright horrifying, and handmines are now the thing I’ll hate forever because WHY WOULD YOU CREATE SOMETHING SO AWFUL. When the Doctor tries to save a boy from the mines, he learns that it’s a younger version of Davros. Thus, he makes a choice: he abandons the child in the minefield. Y’all, I thought the Doctor’s guilt and shame over that scene was because he had saved a child who had grown up to be one of the worst people in the galaxy. NO, HE LEFT A CHILD TO DIE.

There is one major thing that confuses me, though. Why is it that the Doctor’s confession dial gets sent out? Is it an automatic thing, or must the Doctor send it out himself? He doesn’t seem surprised by its existence when Missy mentions it. And if it is automatic, how can it be wrong? It’s the one thing in this episode that feels unmistakably Moffat-esque. He loves to rely on massive ultimatums like this to build drama and tension, but this is the first episode of the series. The Doctor can’t die. It’s impossible. Still, I can’t deny that the impetus is a silly way to introduce THE BEST THING EVER: THE DOCTOR PLAYING ELECTRIC GUITAR. And he’s really playing it, too!!! (Sorry, I have a thing about that; I can always tell when someone isn’t actually playing a guitar correctly.) I just adore how vibrant and playful the scenes in Essex in 1138 are. It’s very Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and that made me believe that the Doctor knew he was going to die. It’s exactly how he’d celebrate his life before he died.

Still, it’s too unbelievable for me to accept. I have nothing vested in this conflict. Instead, I want to see how the Doctor will answer Davros’s question: Is compassion wrong? The Doctor did not show compassion centuries ago when he left young Davros in that minefield. And yet, it’s what the Doctor has clung to time and time again: he cares about others. He is obsessed with compassion. And does Davros deserve compassion after all this time? If the end of this episode is an indication, the Doctor appears to have answered the question. Killing Davros as a child means that sometimes, compassion is wrong. It is a fundamental aspect of the Doctor’s character, so what would this mean for him? Would it unravel time so that he get Clara back? Hell, would it unravel the timeline so much that history becomes unrecognizable?

These are basic questions present throughout most of time travel fiction, yet I admit that as trope-filled as “The Magician’s Apprentice” is, I’m still intrigued by what the Doctor is gonna do. That’s pretty cool.

The video for “The Magician’s Apprentice” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

Mark Links Stuff

– I will be at numerous conventions in 2016! Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be Death Note and Neon Genesis Evangelion. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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