Saturday, 19 September 2015

Doctor Who: The Magician's Apprentice

"Pardon my sci-fi..."

Well, there's me floored. At last Steven Moffat, in what is possibly his last full season as showrunner, writes a proper, epic Dalek story. Awesomely. And... I really wouldn't be surprised if Clara turns out to be actually, irreversibly dead. We know she leaves at some point during the season, and it would be just like Moffat to unexpectedly have her not leave after all in Last Christmas and then just kill her off in the next episode.

Anyway.. we begin on ancient Skaro, in the trenches outside the Kaled citadel, only we have CGI now, unlike in 1975 when they did Genesis of the Daleks, so we can now have biplanes firing laser beams and hand mines with actual hands, with eyes in them. Bit scary for the little ones, that, and part of me worries if all this continuity may perhaps alienate the casual viewer, but let's go with it. How long, I wonder, until someone does a version of Episode One of Genesis where Harry stands on a hand mine?

I knew the boy was Davros before we were told- what other dramatic purpose to the appearance of a little boy in No Man's Land could there have been? And, of course, I knew that the Doctor wouldn't save him, and would be ashamed. It's awfully clever of Moffat, later in the episode, to have Davros play a clip of the Fourth Doctor's musings to Davros in the ethics of killing a child who would grow up to be a murderer. Nice foreshadowing of the cliffhanger, too.

Colony Sarff is an awfully cool idea: a colony of CGI snakes in, as the Doctor later says, a dress. Sarff is essentially used to drive forward the plot by telling us that a dying Davros is looking for the Doctor, who is missing. We also get nice, nostalgic cameos from the Shadow Proclamation and assorted moderately old monsters. But by the time we get to the Sisterhood of Karn I again wonder how the casual viewer would take all this continuity. Yes, it's done well- this is good writing, not Attack of the Cybermen- but I somehow suspect that the next showrunner may react against all this dense reliance on the show's own mythology.

Anyway, Clara and Missy are on the trail, but not without some fascinating little character moments for them. Clara not only pretty much behaves like the Doctor in her approach to the mystery of the suspended planes, but is actually treated in the same way as the Doctor by UNIT. Here is a companion with nowhere further to grow.

Missy is her delightfully witty, evil old self, of course, casually refusing to explain how she somehow isn't dead, an old Anthony Ainley tradition done in a delightfully metatextual way by Steven Moffat. Fascinatingly, it is her, not Clara, to whom the Doctor has sent his "confession dial", traditionally sent by Time Lords to their closest friends on the eve of their death. Never more has hers and the Doctor's fascinatingly ambiguous relationship been proved and explored in some fascinating dialogue.

The Doctor's eventual entrance is, of course, awesome, but it isn't long until the trio are teleported by the Colony to the hospital on a space station where Davros is spending his final hours. The conversation between the Doctor and his archenemy Davros (Missy's reaction to the Doctor's use of the word is priceless) is electrifying. This story is, in several different ways, a kind of sequel to Genesis of the Daleks.

Moffat, having explored the characterisations of most of the recurring characters in Doctor Who, finally turns to Davros' own psyche. (Although, I fear, the canonicity of the I, Davros audios may be in danger.)

The big reveal, of course, is that they're not on space at all but on a hidden, reconstituted Skaro, with a landscape that recalls Destiny of the Daleks and an awesome modern riff of the Dalek city. I notice, also, that we get Daleks from all eras, which is well cool. It looks as though the cliffhanger is going to be Missy offering to show them how to use the TARDIS but no- they quickly and shockingly just kill her, and then destroy the Ship. I just hope the Doctor remembered to set the HADS.

What happens next is slower, agonisingly so, as Davros verbally teases the Doctor with the inevitability of Clara's death. But, inexorably, killed she most certainly is. And that still isn't even the cliffhanger.

No- the cliffhanger is the Doctor crossing his own time stream (naughty) and seemingly about to kill Davros as a boy...

I can't pass final judgement yet, really: this was an episode of set-up, albeit awesome set-up. But I'm buzzing. Oh yes, I'm buzzing.

Finally... this is my first live episode of Doctor Who since becoming a father. So what did Little Miss Llamastrangler (seven months) think of it? Er, she didn't really notice it was on.

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