New Who Review: The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar
“If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you, and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives…could you then kill that child?”
It’s a classic philosophical question, one that the average person would never truly have to face. Of course, The Doctor is not the average person, and as such, has to face it nearly constantly. But never so personally, and so literally as when a young boy calls for help…and The Doctor walks away.
THE MAGICIAN’S APPRENTICE / THE WITCH’S FAMILIAR
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Hettie MacDonald
The Doctor lands on a planet torn asunder by war, a war going on so long that it’s using progressively declining technology – space fighters are being shot at with bows and arrows. When a young boy is trapped in a mine field, The Doctor tries to cheer him up by asking his name. The boy says his name is Davros, and The Doctor suddenly realizes where he is: Skaro, decades before the creation of the Daleks…by the boy whose life is in his hands.
Meanwhile (well, I say “meanwhile”…) on Earth, Missy has returned (and rudely, won’t explain how) and is asking to talk to Clara. She’s been given The Doctor’s Confession Dial, effectively his will and testament, which means he’s expecting to (or planning to) die. Missy asks Clara for help in finding him, “asks” meaning “kidnaps her”.
After finding him by looking for the biggest party they could find, The Doctor and his friends (more on this later) end up on Skaro, rebuilt from the ashes of the Time War. Davros is dying at last, and wants The Doctor there, to make him suffer a final defeat at the man he could have saved so many years ago, but didn’t.
Anyone who still claims that Steven Moffat can no longer write a solid episode of Doctor Who now has the credibility of Donald Trump. From a truly scream-inducing pre-credits sequence to a corker of a cliffhanger, to a perfectly touching ending, with some of the biggest laughs in years peppered in between. A great deal of growth in the relationship between The Doctor and both of his greatest enemies, and a harrowing climax, all playing perfectly against past events that get called back in the most amazing ways.
The story bookends two important Dalek stories of the past: Terry Nation’s Genesis of the Daleks, which brought us the introduction of Davros, and Moffat’s own Asylum of the Daleks which introduced us to Jenna Coleman, and at least one aspect of Clara Oswald. Steven Moffat has elevated the narrative callback to an art form – he’s pulling details from past stories to give them new meaning, as well as the simple practice of Chekhov’s Gun – introducing a seemingly throwaway point early in the story, only to have it come back with a surprise importance at the end.
GUEST STAR REPORT
Michelle Gomez (Missy) makes a surprising but not entirely unexpected return to the series as The Master, much sooner than anyone expected. She was recently featured in the HBO comedy series The Brink. Before Missy, she was best known in the UK for Green Wing, a comedy about a local hospital, and The Book Group, a comedy drama about a curcle of folks who get together more just to find friendship than to actually discuss the books they’ve been assigned to read.
Julian Bleach (Davros) has made several appearances on the various Who-niverse shows. First appearing on Torchwood as The Ghostmaker, he appeared as Davros in the David Tennant adventures The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End. He also played the eponymous monster in the Sarah Jane Adventures tale The Nightmare Man. He played Machiavelli in The Borgias TV series, and played the ballet instructor in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
THE MONSTER FILES –
You could easily argue that The Daleks are more responsible for the success of Doctor Who than anything. After producer Sydney Newman decreed there would be “no bug-eyed monsters” on the series, the team struggled to come up with a truly unique and innovative design for the first alien race for the series. To say they succeeded is an understatement. Terry Nation’s description of the creatures in his script was simple:
Hideous machine-like creatures, they are legless, moving on a round base. They have no human features. A lens on a flexible shaft acts as an eye. Arms with mechanical grips for hands
The Daleks were almost designed by Ridley Scott, who would go on to other triumphs in directing both in and out of science fiction. It was eventually designed by Raymond Cusick, passing the basic plans to Shawcraft Models. After the broadcast, Dalek-Mania hit Britain, and Doctor Who became must-see television.
The basics of the origins of the Daleks were there in that first story – an interminable war between the Daleks and the Dals, the Daleks holed up in their city, their endless hate for everything non-Dalek. But it was years later in Genesis of the Daleks that Terry Nation introduced us to their creator, Davros. Horribly disfigured in an enemy bombardment, when we first meet him, he is literally half a man, his lower extremities gone, attached permanently in a traveling wheelchair and life-support system that greatly resembled his eventual creations. His idea for the eventual triumph in the war against the (now called) Thals was twofold – through experimentation, he developed what he theorized was the final form of their race, the Kaleds – a mutated tentacled monstrosity, almost incapable of surviving on its own. The second step was to build a housing for the creature – a portable tank, both medical and military. He went further – manipulating the DNA of the Kaled mutants further, breeding out “useless” emotions like love and pity, and building a computer system that would weed out any stray benevolent thoughts. The result – a nearly indestructible warrior that cares only about the destruction of anything and everything that isn’t like itself.
Davros has appeared multiple times since Genesis – usually using the same exact makeup, which showed extreme signs of wear over the years. The majority of what has been revealed about his younger life was told in a series of audio plays from Big Finish.
Colony Sarff is the latest in a series of being that Davros and the Daleks have used as mercenary might over the years. Their most often seen were the Ogrons, simian aliens with limited intelligence – perfect grunt soldiers.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS – Trivia and Production details
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION – Spain played the role of two locations in the adventure – a national park near a dormant volcano in Tenerife stood in for Skaro, and the “hot country” Missy waited to speak to Clara in was Garachico, just a bit South.
The Maldovarium is the black market and bar founded and run by Dorium Maldovar, at least until he was decapitated by The Headless Monks.
The Shadow Proclamation makes a return to the series as the interstellar police force. Kelly Hunter also returns as the Shadow Architect, last appearing in The Stolen Earth.
The Planet Karn is the home of the Sisters of Karn, home of the Elixir of Life, used by Time Lords in cases of emergency when regeneration fails. They first appeared in The Brain of Morbius, and most recently in the mini-episode Night of the Doctor.
“Don’t send a helicopter – I can get through” Clara is once again driving the Triumph motorcycle she had in The Day of the Doctor, the one The Doctor drove up the side of The Shard in The Bells of Saint John. She is heading for the Tower of London, secret home of UNIT.
“Not dead, back – big surprise, never mind” – In a recent interview, Steven Moffat went on about how much he loved how The Master, particularly in the Anthony Ainley years, would return from a sure and certain demise, with no more of an explanation than “I escaped at the last moment”. As such, I fully expected to get no solid explanation for Missy’s survival at all. After all, this is the man who presented several fan theories as to how Sherlock survived his plummet from a hospital on Sherlock, and confirmed none. In this case, though, he went with an obvious explanation, indeed, the one that just about everyone had guessed, and good on him for it.
“I’m his friend, you’re just…” The relationship of The Doctor and The Master has been the subject of so many Clever Theories, and only a handful of actual statements on screen. In Death in heaven we got the line “I had a friend once…we ran together when I was little”, so the idea of them being best friends is not far from a lie.
“You’re the puppy” – This whole scene is about exactly how far beyond Human understanding the Time Lords truly are. They attempt to destroy civilizations as a practical joke. They steal moons the way frat boys steal mascots. And as far as Missy is concerned, there’s a reason some Earthlings refer to their pets as “companions”.
“We’re looking for a party” – This is another look at the same swaggering procrastination we saw at the end of Ten’s life in The End of Time, and the more quiet dawdling Eleven did before he headed to Lake Silencio.
“Cheap and nasty time travel” – the Vortex Manipulator has been used by Jack Harkness in several episodes, and later by River Song, though likely not the same one.
“Anachronisms” – Peter Capaldi is an established guitarist, and was once in a punk band called The Dreamboys with a fellow named Craig Ferguson. Also, thought you can’t see it on screen, the amplifier on the tank bears a label from Magpie Electricals, the company that made the cheap TVs in The Idiot’s Lantern.
And here’s a question for you…When he starts playing the opening to “Pretty Woman”…is he playing it for Clara…or Missy?
“Inform High Command – the TARDIS is located” – Bors has been made a Dalek Agent, a sophisticated duplicate first seen in Asylum of the Daleks.
“How scared must you be, to seal every one of your own kind in a tank” – Davros’ motivations are at the core of this adventure. Having seen him as a scared child at the story’s start, the question about being scared here takes a new depth. Until this, save for the audio plays, we’ve never seen Davros as anything but a nearly total megalomaniac. Now we see him much more emotional, and at points, it’s hard to believe it’s all lies.
“I think you’ve been lying” – Oh geez, you THINK?
“Gravity” – As in Kill the Moon, both The Doctor and Missy are walking and dancing about to test the gravity of their location. In both cases, the gravity is natural, leading both to presume that they are on something far more massive than they thought.
“Did you miss our conversations?” – We’re presented with a montage of The Doctor’s past conversations with Davros, from their first meeting in Genesis to their most recent in The Stolen Earth. But it’s the quote at the start of this article, about a child who would grow up to be a dictator, that holds the most importance, as that’s precisely the situation The Doctor found himself in, and to his shame, he walked away.
“This is the planet of the Daleks” – and we see oh so many of them here – models in the style of the first adventure, straight through to the modern age, and all in between. They built an amazing assortment of models for Asylum, and clearly they got a dust off and re-used here, especially that Special Weapons Dalek we all got so excited about and barely got a moment on screen.
But once again, the New Paradigm models are nowhere to be seen. Moffatt admitted the redesign was a mistake – as he put it “They’re scarier when they’re wee”.
“Doesn’t matter which face he was wearing, they’re all The Doctor to me” – Once again, this is a suggestion that Time Lords “see” each other differently – their faces may literally change from visit to visit, but they always recognize each other. This is something how The Doctor says he doesn’t really see faces, especially Clara’s – he can’t tell the difference between when she’s young or old.
“The Doctor gave it to me when my daughter…” – Yeah, the thing about not knowing much about a character, ANY little tidbit is important.
“This is exactly where you dump a smelly old uncle” – The Daleks and Davros’ relationship has always been…contentious. They intended to kill him in Genesis, and only returned to Skaro to search for him in Destiny of the Daleks because they had no other options. He’s been able to order them around to a degree when his plans suited them, but the best description of his position with them is “kept man”. Not a prisoner, just someone useful and handy to have about.
“A man should have a race” – This is the start of the comparisons between Davros and the Doctor – both went to great lengths to make sure they would not be alone in the universe.
“Am I a good man?” – One could argue that everyone asks themselves that at one point or another. An old philosophical question is “Is Hitler in heaven?” – since Catholics believe that intent dictates sin, if he honestly thought he was doing good for the world, could he have been allowed to escape punishment? The end of Genesis of the Daleks tries to get philosophical too – The Doctor thinks about the races whose wars with each other ended as they united to face the Daleks, and wonders if somehow in such evil, there could result some good.
“You are not a good Doctor” – This moment, with two arch-enemies suddenly start laughing as a bad joke, is very reminiscent of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. The situation is largely the same – these two men know there will never be anything less than war between them, and the situation seems so helpless, and the surprise of a moment of comedy breaks the tension. Worked wonderfully. Throughout all this part of the story, one has to wonder how much of what Davros was saying was accidentally honest, perhaps even if only to further bait the trap, but honest nevertheless.
BIG BAD WOLF REPORT – So far there’s no blatant threads hanging out there to lead us to the finale. Presuming we’ll see either (or both) the Daleks and Missy again, their appearance alone may yet be the only connection.
“I am a Dalek” – It’s here with Clara in a Dalek we’re seeing the parallel to Asylum of the Daleks, where we saw Oswin Oswald in a similar predicament. While Oswin was part of the Daleks for quite a long while, she had time to hack into their databanks and play merry hell with their systems. Clara has no time to do such things, but she’s got time to be affected by something else – Dalek Nanotech. In Asylum, the air was permeated with it, slowly converting anything on the planet to Dalek Agents. Clara’s just had herself connected to one directly, the nanotech “repairing any damage”. That…may not end well.
“Gallifrey is back, and it is safe…from both of us” – We thought that the return of Gallifrey might be the story of an upcoming season, but this line may suggest that it will be left alone for a bit. The Doctor may be content with knowing that his people are safe, and not worry about the details.
“This is why I gave her to you in the first place to make you see – the friend inside the enemy, the enemy inside the friend” – It was rather left undiscussed, but it was indeed Missy who arranged The Doctor and Clara to meet. She gave clara the phone number of the TARDIS back before The Bells of St. John, and planted the ad in the paper that brought the pair back together in The Eleventh Hour. Eleven asked Clara if she was “a trick; a trap” – might that question still not be answered?
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – Clara has a big mouth, and should stop asking for adventures with monsters. After the Lake, passing through this Saturday.