Doctor Who 9.01, 9.02: The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar

Much to our surprise, Dara and I actually enjoyed the two-part season opener for Doctor Who: “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar”. Y’all may recall that we bailed on watching partway through season 8, and we’d been pretty sure we weren’t going to come back.

But after hearing good buzz about the first half of this two parter, Dara decided to check it out and quite liked it. So I joined her on a rewatch of that one, and then we watched part two last night.

Picoreview: this was in all honesty the most enjoyment I’ve had out of a Moffat story in a while! Spoilers behind the fold.

It’s not surprising, really, that after the effort that the show has gone to to make the Master a more engaging character, it should do the same for Davros. This is hands down the most interesting Davros has been to me in some time–because here, he gets to do more than just pontificate about how awesome the Daleks are and how he’ll DESTROY YOU ALL. But let me back up a bit so I won’t get ahead of myself.

I did find the beginning of the episode a trifle dodgy, with this idea about the Doctor being convinced he’s going to die, so he goes off to party in the 12th century. I don’t really get the point of that particular angst, on the grounds that, hey, Doctor! You just got handed a whole new pile of regenerations, remember? Since when does a Time Lord with a whole pile of regenerations at his disposal angst about whether he’s going to die?

I’m also turn about whether Twelve in shades and going at it on an electric guitar works for me, particularly in the context of where the hell he was supposed to be–12th century, right? Geez, Doctor, fucking with the timeline much?

But. Those nitpicks aside, I did find the episode’s start out of the gate very strong. I quite liked Clara’s scene in her classroom–wherein she actually comes across as a teacher who knows what she’s doing, to wit, about damn time. Also adored her throwaway line about Jane Austen being a great kisser. Bwahaha.

The opening setup on Skaro, also very strong. The hand bombs were very creepy, particularly how they just yanked that soldier underground without any sign of an explosion. And the Doctor’s look of “WTFF am I DOING?” when he realizes that the kid he’s about to try to save is in fact Davros. Nice callback to Four, too, with that line of Four’s about whether you could kill Hitler as a child.

It was also great to see UNIT responding to the mystery of the planes freezing in the air. HI KATE LETHBRIDGE-STEWART! And I loved the idea of the Doctor having a private UNIT line that he never uses, ’cause, y’know, that makes absolute sense. And of course Missy hijacks it.

And I gotta say, Missy pretty much walked right off with the first fifteen minutes of part 1. She was glorious.

I was a trifle wary about what I’d heard about certain bits of the end of last season, and in particular pertaining to Missy’s portrayal and the romantic moves she was making on the Doctor. (Note: even though Dara and I bailed partway through last season, I did keep up on reading episode recaps, so yes, I’m aware of assorted major spoilers from the tail end of last season, including who Missy actually is and what happened to Clara’s boyfriend.) But there was none of that here, and it made Missy a much stronger character than I expected. The scene she has with Clara is gold. I adored her proclaiming herself the Doctor’s friend and peer, and comparing Clara to the puppy being walked by the elderly couple across the way.

And I also very much liked her whipping out a weapon and vaporizing a couple of people when Clara disdainfully asks whether she’s supposed to believe that Missy is now “good”. That? That right there? That’s a woman being a goddamn supervillain. Beautiful. 😀

After that, the story wasn’t quite as glorious, but it was nonetheless quite enjoyable.

I liked Davros’ snake-y henchman. Or should I say snake-y collective? I am very curious as to why that particular collective is serving Davros, and operating in a seemingly non-slave capacity. Particularly given that we also see that at least one and possibly more of the 12th-century people the Doctor’s been hanging out with are in fact humanoid Dalek agents. And we know that such agents are converted, generally involuntarily.

Had to giggle at Missy’s offended reaction to hearing that Davros was the Doctor’s arch-enemy, and not her.

Not terribly moved by the “extermination” of Missy and Clara, since I didn’t think for a minute that they were actually legit killed on camera. Doctor Who, after all, is not the kind of show that kills off two major characters in a season opener. Although I expect more than a few children shrieked at that scene. A reminder that this show is, at the end of the day, targeted for younger viewers than me.

The Dalek sewers were also super-creepy. Really liked the idea of decaying Daleks being banished down to the sewer/graveyard, and eew sentient Dalek goop eew eew eew eew.

Which brings me to my favorite part of the whole episode: Missy getting Clara into the Dalek shell and OH GOD nice creepy callback there to the first time we ever saw Jenna Coleman on screen. 😀 Great detail there with the Dalek shell responding in Dalek-y ways to things Clara tried to do, and yelling “EXTERMINATE” no matter what she tried to say.

Meanwhile, we’ve got the Doctor being tempted by Davros to wipe out all the Daleks at once… and then being coaxed into helping Davros see a final sunrise. Of course, Davros is playing him like a goddamn fiddle, and it’s a nice change of pace from Davros being all rant-y and exterminate-y and I WILL DESTROY ALL OF TIME AND SPACE BECAUSE FUCK YOU ALL. This was subtler manipulation and a lot more fun to watch, since it was a test of will against will. And some really great dialogue there for both Davros and the Doctor.

Because the Doctor, not only not being an idiot but also being the goddamn Doctor and therefore the smartest man in the room, of course realizes he’s being played as he bloody well should. And I’m willing to handwave my “buh huh wut?” reaction to him just arbitrarily whipping up a bit of regeneration energy (although I suppose we’ve got a bit of precedent for that now with River Song having slung him some when he was still Eleven) for the delicious result of all the sentient Dalek sewer goop rising up to glompf all over the other Daleks. Because EEW. And also YAY.

Missy loses just a little bit on the dismount, though. Dara and I weren’t entirely sure what the hell she was thinking with the whole thing of trying to get the Doctor to destroy Clara-in-the-Dalek. Whether this was just a matter of Missy trying to eliminate Clara as a obstacle between her and properly screwing the Doctor over, or what. And I also wasn’t sure what was up with Missy’s final line of “I have a great idea” or however she put it.

But even given that, I quite liked the whole standoff there. Clara desperately trying to express herself from within the shell and to get the Doctor to believe that it’s her, that was all great. Particularly when the payoff is her managing to make the shell yell MERCY–and clue the Doctor in that something non-Dalek is going on.

All in all… pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed this quite a bit. Dara and I are still wary about how the rest of the season will hold up, but we’ll be tuning in for the next episode. I’m hopeful. It’d be nice to be able to like Doctor Who again!

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