STORY 257.1: DAVROS' REVENGE
PART 1: THE MAGICIAN'S APPRENTICE
PART 1: THE MAGICIAN'S APPRENTICE
You foolish Whovians. Who has bewitched you? Perhaps that is apropos given that the second part of this two-part story is titled The Witch's Familiar. However, that's for another time. Right now we are discussing The Magician's Apprentice, the ninth season/series opening episode of Doctor Who. A lot of people, even Classic Whovians (for the record, I don't find the term offensive or horrible), are in thrall of The Magician's Apprentice. OLD SCHOOL DALEKS! TOM BAKER (VIA ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE)! DAVROS!
However, it takes more than a few nods to the past to get me pumped up and forget that I'm watching something that leaves much to be desired.
There's a war going on, and in that war is a little boy trapped on the battlefield. He finds himself trapped in a hand-mine field (a field where hands with eyes on the palms reach out from the ground and drag you down). In comes The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) who offers to help the boy, even throwing him his sonic screwdriver to help him out of this dangerous situation. The Doctor asks the boy his name.
It is Davros, who will create the Daleks, the greatest Doctor Who antagonists of all.
The Doctor disappears, and he disappears for quiet a bit of The Magician's Apprentice. In the interim, a snake-like being named Colony Sarff (Jamie Reed-Quarrel) is now searching for "THE DOC-TORR", with the cryptic message, "Davros knows. Davros remembers". Still, the Doctor cannot be found. Davros, dying, tells his Boba Fett to go seek the Doctor's friends.
We then go to present-day Earth, where the Doctor's part-time Companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) spots something strange in the air during her class (where she tells her students that Jane Austen was a great kisser...obligatory gay reference, check). The planes are all frozen in the air, the pilots incommunicado. Clara rushes to UNIT HQ, where for reasons the story doesn't state Clara, public school teacher, gives orders to UNIT head Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) who does as she's told.
One thing Kate doesn't do is mention who her father is, so perhaps that deserves a point in itself.
|I ain't Missy you at all...|
Anyway, the maker of all this mischief is Missy (Michelle Gomez). I honestly don't know whether to refer to Missy as a transgender version of The Master, but in any case, there she is, taunting UNIT (complete with a 'boing' sound effect when her head digitally pops out from the screen). Missy tells them she wants Clara to meet with Missy somewhere.
In a little plaza Missy tells Clara that Missy has possession of The Doctor's Confession Dial, the Time Lord equivalent of a last will and testament. Of course Missy would have it, since Missy is the Doctor's best friend (never mind that the Third Doctor referred to The Master as "my greatest enemy" in Terror of the Autons if memory serves correct). This dial was given to Missy on the eve of the Doctor's final day. Missy now needs Clara's help in finding The Doctor, and with a little help from UNIT, track him to 1138 A.D.
Ah, ye olde England (in a rarity, they opted for a time period in British history that wasn't either Victorian or the Blitz). The Doctor is going to do battle with ax-man/follower Bors (Daniel Hoffman-Gill), but he's going to do it his way. That way is to enter the arena on a tank while shredding some mean electric guitar. The Doctor is in a particularly frenetic turn: not only does it not bother him that there's a tank in medieval Britain, but he's managed to introduce the word 'dude' into the lexicon. Well, wouldn't you know it: Colony Sarff finds the Doctor by following Missy & Clara, and now demands that the Doctor return with him to meet Davros one more time. The Doctor declaring Davros his greatest enemy takes Missy by surprise, and despite his insistence Missy and Clara insist on going with the Doctor and Colony Sarff.
Missy and Clara are locked up, and the Doctor meets a dying Davros (Julian Bleach). He reminds the Doctor that he left Davros to die on that field, and insists that the Doctor admit that compassion is wrong. Missy and Clara, and the Doctor who is watching them, discover they are not on a space station, but on Skaro, the lost-and-found-and-lost-and-refound Dalek homeworld. Missy attempts to bargain with the Daleks, saying Missy could be of great help in using the Doctor's TARDIS (which they have procured from their agent Bors, a Dalek clone) rather than destroy the TARDIS. No dice: Missy is 'exterminated'. So is Clara, and the Doctor somehow ends up back at the hand-minefield. Little Davros asks if he's going to rescue him. No, says the Doctor. He's come to 'exterminate'.
|Reflecting audience attitude...|
After watching The Magician's Apprentice, a few words came to mind.
I am going to be quite clear here to all those insisting The Magician's Apprentice is some sort of television miracle.
The Doctor is dying...again. Wasn't the whole of Season/Series Six all about how the Doctor was going to die at Lake Silencio? Then there was Season/Series Seven, all about how the Doctor was going to die on Trenzalore. Now, I'm suppose to believe that The Doctor is going to face his mortality yet again.
He's now going to really, REALLY die because he gave his Confession Dial to Missy, which I guess means that when he was going to die at Lake Silencio he knew he wasn't going to die, and when he was at Trenzalore he knew he wasn't going to die there either. After all, this Confession Dial didn't play a part in either of his previous deaths.
Then there's the issue of Missy and Clara getting exterminated. Call me cynical, but by now death on Doctor Who is such a non-event that there simply is no sadness, no excitement, no suspense...nothing, really. It's now rote, routine, repetitive. Death is a joke on Doctor Who. My Rory Williams Death Count has him dying SEVEN times.
And for the record, it isn't just Steven Moffat who once again rewrites Doctor Who Canon to suit his own ideas (and suggests that he thinks he invented it all). Death (And How to Avoid It) was present in the Russell T Davies era. It just didn't become a full-on comedy routine (and a tired one at that) until Moffat got to over (show) run Doctor Who.
Take a look at the exchange between Clara and Missy. Missy bitchily asks Clara if her boyfriend is still dead. Clara tells her coldly that her boyfriend (Danny Pink) is still dead.
As a side note, I tweeted to my favorite bete noire, Kyle Anderson of The Nerdist, about how Orson Pink being possible if Danny was killed off in Dark Water/Death in Heaven. Here's the exchange:
Kyle Anderson (@FunctionalNerd): I showed my girlfriend "Listen" in anticipation for the Fathom Event this week. Her first words after it was over: "That was confusing."
My Reply: @FunctionalNerd: If Orson Pink is Clara/Danny descendant, how's that possible since Danny's dead & we've no sign Clara's pregnant?
His response to me: @RXCafeTX: Time can be rewritten. Or Danny isn't dead. Or Orson isn't Danny and Clara's descendant. Lots of things.
Sorry, oh Analytical Critic Anderson. Danny is Most Sincerely Dead. Either that, or we're going to come up with something more outlandish (like another Twitter suggestion that Orson isn't Danny & Clara's descendant, but THE DOCTOR'S! Oh sure, why not...anything goes).
One last point on death. I note with disgust that Missy is back, and Missy is not dead 'because death is for other people'. I think that's as close to an explanation as to how Missy bounded back for another go-round. Given it's Moffat, perhaps we should be thrilled that we got something of a rationale to the irrational.
Well, as it stands this "Death Is NOT The Final Answer" bit has gotten just so awfully trite and dull. However, there's something else in The Magician's Apprentice that made me think, "Hold on, I'm not buying this".
It has to do with the sonic screwdriver. Let's just go along with Moffat's plot and say, Little Davros had himself a sonic screwdriver ALL THESE CENTURIES. Am I suppose to believe that not once did he ever try to figure out what this thing this old guy gave him was? Davros has had quite a few encounters with The Doctor, and my Spidey-sense tells me that Davros must have known of The Doctor's sonic screwdriver. I know that one grows more senile as they get older, but somehow, the idea that Davros, brilliant mad scientist, had this sonic screwdriver just lying about and only now, as he lays dying, does he put two and two together is really just stupid.
His curiosity about the strange object that allowed him to escape the hand-minefield must have overtaken him at one point or another in his long existence. Therefore, this whole "I've had this in my attic and only now do I remember that the Doctor brought me to this state" plotline is just so inept that it makes me wonder why so many people think it's brilliant.
Also, I kept wondering why at the conclusion of the episode The Doctor wouldn't rather attempt to reform Davros into a good being rather than the evil figure he grew to. Why run off if you have a golden opportunity to save Davros and train him in the right way?
Just a thought.
There was just so much wrong with The Magician's Apprentice apart from the overall story. Granted, at least even those who loved it concede that the "Doctor Hendrix" moment was embarrassing. It takes away from whatever seriousness we're asked to give the episode if your main character is so willing to make a fool out of himself. Whom was he playing Oh, Pretty Woman to, I wonder (and shudder)? Another awful thing is Murray Gold's penchant for overscoring. My goodness, does he get instructions to fill EVERY SINGLE MOMENT with music? I've heard operas that have less music in them than the typical Doctor Who episode.
And before I forget...that damn "BOING" sound effect when Missy's head pops out. NO, NO, NO. That was bad, kids. Just bad in every way possible. Moffat and director Hettie MacDonald should be taken to task for such idiotic blundering.
Now, let's go into the few good things in The Magician's Apprentice. First, Peter Capaldi. One knows he is so above the material, but he gives it his all to convey the anger and sadness and almost devil-may-care attitude of a man re-facing death. I thought that by the end, he couldn't muster enough interest to keep me interested. Bleach was excellent as Davros (though I sometimes found him hard to understand). As illegitimate as I consider the whole concept of Missy, Gomez is committed to making Missy into a full-on crazy-ass...
Coleman still makes for the most blank and uninteresting Companion (and given her competition, that says enough). Her performance is already bad, but again, why is CLARA OSWALD in charge of UNIT?
One thing I did like that apparently most didn't was Colony Sarff. Yes, his speaking came across as a parody of a Doctor Who villain, but apart from that I thought the Snake-Man visually was well-done and a good idea. I admit that when he came apart, I was surprised.
As this is a two-part story, I can't give a full score until next week. However, for this part, I, like my bete noire Kyle Anderson, am a bit of a broken record. He with his enthusiastic praise, me with unenthusiastic disdain. We've seen all this before, and after finishing The Magician's Apprentice, I can say that I really don't care what happens next. I just don't.
As the Great Oscar-Winner Bob Dylan said, "I used to care, but Things Have Changed". Steven Moffat has changed them, but about the only thing he doesn't change is his writing. If it's broke, why fix it?
Next Episode: The Witch's Familiar