Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Magician's Apprentice, aka The Episode of Returns

If anyone was unsure, I am a Whovian. Need proof? There's a Doctor Who reference in Consequences. There's another couple in Demon at the Window. I didn't force them in, they just came naturally.

Anyway, as a fan of the show, I was waiting with anticipation for the start of Series 9. After seeing it, I had to offer a review.

In case you haven't watched yet, be warned. Spoilers.

We started like most premieres, with an unknown place in an unknown time filled with unknown people. As the opening scene winds down, we find a lone child, trapped by "hand-mines", one of the more brilliant concepts I've seen on the show. Childish and creepy at the same time, as befitting this British staple that was originally designed for kids. The Doctor, as normal, shows up to save the day and asks the kid his name. Once he answered, I knew I was in for a tremendous ride.

The kid's name? Davros. Yes, that one. He's back. Nerdgasm number one.

Back in the here and now, Clara is teaching class when she notices the planes have stopped. Not stopped running, but actually stopped in place in the sky, unmoving. Naturally, this is not normal to anyone except for her. She gets a call from UNIT and is rushed to their base where we see the wonderful Kate Lethbridge-Stewart is still running things. As they try to reach the Doctor, they get a message on a UNIT channel exclusively for his use, and one they think he's probably forgotten about. When they decode it, it's glorious.

You so fine.

You so fine you blow my mind.

Nerdgasm number two.

Yep, it's Missy, formerly the Master, back from death once again. Let's face it, no matter who played him before, Michelle Gonzales has claimed this role for her own, happily stealing every scene she's in and providing the perfect foil for Peter Capaldi. At this point, I'm beside myself.

The basic premise is this: Davros is dying and wants to speak to the Doctor one last time before he goes. He sends a messenger to find the Doctor and collect him, using the lure "Davros rememembers".

In the interim, we get a wonderful Clara / Missy showdown that puts Clara in her place better than either Doctor she's traveled with ever could. As Clara has to come to grips with the fact that the evidence points to the Master / Missy still being the Doctor's best friend in the universe, Missy casually points out a man and woman walking their dog to explain Clara's relationship with the Doctor: "See that couple there? You're the puppy."

The two of them team up (an interesting concept in its own right) and track the Doctor to England in the 1100's. Missy gets them there through the use of a vortex manipulator and tells Clara to be on the lookout for anachronisms. No sooner than the words leave her mouth, an electric guitar rings out over the fighting arena where they materialized. It seems the Doctor, known in this place and time as The Magician, has gotten himself challenged to an ax fight. Only he hears it as "axe" and enters the arena wailing on the guitar while riding a tank. Sounds like anachronisms to me

With this scene alone, any lingering concerns about Capaldi's Doctor are eliminated. The interplay between Missy, Clara, and himself using the guitar as counterpoint are testament to the skill of the actors involved and the love they clearly have for what they're doing.

The plot starts moving here, ending with the Doctor face-to-face with Davros. Any question about what Davros remembers are answered when he shows a recording of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, in Genesis of the Daleks, debating whether or not he should commit genocide on the newly-made Dalek race: "...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?"

Davros remembers indeed.

Davros shows the Doctor that Missy and Clara have escaped their confinement and gone exploring, revealing where they really are. Skaro, rebuilt and reformed, filled to the brim with Daleks once more.

Missy discovers the Daleks have acquired the TARDIS and tries to bargain with them: her life flying them around in it in exchange for not killing her. Their answer? Maximum Extermination. Clara runs. Exterminated. Then the TARDIS itself, Exterminated. The Doctor has nothing left, even if we as viewers know there is absolutely no way this will be permanent.

Snap to the final bookend. The Doctor and young Davros. Davros asks what the Doctor is doing. The Doctor responds that he's saving his friends the only way he knows how and raises a Dalek weapon to point at the child.

Then the moment that made me swear at my television and want to fly to Wales to strangle Stephen Moffett: To be continued.

You suck, Moffett. And it's a beautiful thing. The last season felt clunky in many areas, but if this start is any indication, we're in for a treat this time around. Capaldi feels comfortable in the role he spent most of last season acclimating to, and even though Jenna Coleman's Clara still feels as controlling and more important than she should be as a companion, she was more tolerable this time. That may have more to do with sharing most of her screen time with Michelle Gonzales's wonderfully insane Missy, but only time will tell for sure. We know this is her last go-around as the Doctor's companion (, so we shall see.

All in all, this episode left me more excited about the new season than last year, and considering that was a regeneration recovery episode featuring Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, it says something. We've been promised the return of Osgood and River Song this year as well, so let's cross our fingers and hope they keep up the good work.

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