In the opening episode of Season 9, “The Magician’s Apprentice,” Doctor Who reminds us that though he is a fearsome and dangerous opponent, that best part of the Doctor is his compassion. He may not exactly be a man of peace, but he is man that, at his best, finds the good in others. In the prologue to Season 9, the Doctor says, “An enemy’s just a friend you don’t really know yet.” The Doctor has lost many friends and loved ones over the course of his long life, and at the same time he has battled some of his foes for more than a millennium. In “The Magician’s Apprentice” we learn that being a Time Lord makes for some very complex relationships.
At the start of “The Magician’s Apprentice,” the Doctor finds a boy alone and in terrible danger on a war-torn field. He tells the boy that he’s got to make a choice: he must choose to survive. But it turns out the Doctor is the one that has to make a choice—a choice that will impact the future and those he cares about. And he chooses wrong.
Though we’d heard the TARDIS had gotten a makeover for Season 9, we didn’t get a chance to see it in “The Magician’s Apprentice.” Instead we see a landscape devastated by war, an alien-filled bar, the rocky cliffs of Karn, London streets, a tropical city square, a medieval castle, an unusual spacewalk, and a long-forgotten planet. Showrunner and writer Steven Moffat has given us a feast for the eyes as the backdrop for his dramatic story.
A Helping Hand
A young boy (Joey Price) finds himself trapped amongst Handmines (one of the best names we’ve heard on Doctor Who since the Weeping Angels). A soldier (Jonathan Ojinnaka) is unable to help, saying, “OK. It’s OK. Everything’s going to be fi…” as a Handmine sucks him into the ground. These Handmines mean business. Alone, the boy screams for help, and a sonic screwdriver lands at his feet. The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) tells the boy that he has one chance in a thousand to get out this predicament. We know that the Doctor has overcome such odds himself many times before. The Doctor doesn’t know where he has arrived in space and time, but he knows this child is in terrible danger. The Doctor asks the boy his name, and we learn he is Davros, who will grow up to create the Daleks. Meeting his archenemy as a child in mortal danger presents quite the conundrum for the Doctor.
Where’s the Doctor?
Somewhere else in space and time, a creepy fellow is slithering into a bar reminiscent of the cantina in Star Wars. But instead of Imperial soldiers looking for Luke Skywalker, Colony Sarff (Jami Reid-Quarrell) has come in search of the Doctor. He doesn’t find him, but appears to leave an impression on those he has questioned.
Local bars are not the only place he hunts. Colony Sarff arrives at The Shadow Proclamation where he questions the Shadow Architect (Kelly Hunter) about the Doctor’s whereabouts. She doesn’t know where the Doctor is, but asks what Colony Sarff’s employer wants with him: “What does Davros want with the Doctor?”
Did everyone gasp when her question reveals that Davros is involved, and alive? Or was that just us? We haven’t seen Davros since the Season 4 finale, “Journey’s End,” when Davros appeared to perish in a fire. These ancient villains are hard to kill.
Colony Sarff arrives on Karn, where he is greeted suspiciously by High Priestess Ohila (Clare Higgins) and the Sisterhood of Karn. When he asks where the Doctor is, Ohila responds, “Where is always is—right behind you, and one step ahead. Tread carefully when you seek the Doctor, Colony Sarff, or he will be the last thing you find.” Davros is dying and Colony Sarff has been dispatched to deliver a message for the Doctor: “Tell him Davros knows. Davros remembers. Tell him he must face Davros one last time.” After Colony Sarff leaves, we see that the Doctor was at Karn all along, listening to Colony Sarff’s pronouncement.
Colony Sarff reports back to Davros, telling him the Doctor cannot be located. Davros doesn’t accept this, advising, “Of course he can. He has a weakness. If you seek the Doctor, first seek his friends.”
Back on Earth, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) is teaching at Coal Hill School. She notices that a plane seems to have stopped mid-air, and asks the kids to check their phones for news about #planeshavestopped. After being called by UNIT, Clara takes a personal day from school and heads towards London on her motorcycle. At UNIT, Clara and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) try to figure out why 4,000 planes have been frozen in the air. Kate wonders why the Doctor has not come to help, but Clara knows better than to call him with so little information. Clara realizes that someone is trying to get their attention.
Just then they get a text through the long-forgotten Doctor channel that says: “You so fine. You blow my mind. Hey Missy you so fine, you blow my mind. Hey Missy!!!” Turns out that Missy (Michelle Gomez), aka the Master, isn’t dead either. We love Missy and the dynamic she has with the Doctor, so this is fantastic news. She wants Clara to come and meet her, and suggests she bring eight snipers with her for reassurance.
Clara and the UNIT team arrive in the square designated by Missy.
Missy: “How’s your boyfriend? Still tremendously dead, I expect.”
Clara: “Still dead, yep. How come you’re still alive?”
Missy: “Death is for other people, dear.”
Clara: “Would you like to sit in the shade? I know how you humans burn.”
It turns out that no one can contact the Doctor, including Missy. Missy shows Clara the Doctor’s confession dial—the Last Will and Testament of the Doctor to be delivered to his closest friend on the eve of his final day. Clara seems to think the confession dial is for her, but it was delivered to Missy.
Missy: “Well of course it was sent to me. What have you got to do with it? I’m his friend. You’re just …”
Clara: “I’m just what?”
Missy: “See that couple over there? You’re the puppy.”
Clara: “Since when do you care about the Doctor?”
Missy: “Since always. Since the Cloister Wars, since the night he stole the moon and the president’s wife, since he was a little girl. One of those was a lie. Can you guess which one?”
Clara: “He’s not your friend. You keep trying to kill him.”
Missy: “He keeps trying to kill me. It’s sort of our texting. We’ve been at it for ages.”
Missy is definitely winning their argument. She tells Clara that she and the Doctor have “a friendship older than your civilization and infinitely more complex.” Missy kills a couple UNIT men to show that though she wants to find the Doctor, she is definitely not playing the hero role. We’re convinced. Clara persuades Missy to stop killing UNIT suits and to release the planes as a sign of good faith.
Clara and Missy work together to figure out where the Doctor would go for his last night. Clara figures out that he’s not looking for a crisis, but a party. With UNIT’s help they realize he’s in AD 1138 Essex. Missy grabs Clara’s wrist, and using a vortex manipulator (“cheap and nasty time travel”), takes her to the castle the Doctor has gone to for meditation.
The Doctor is Discovered
The Doctor’s meditation has turned into an axe fight. While his medieval companion Bors (Daniel Hoffmann-Gill) has brought an actual ax, the Doctor enters the arena wearing sunglasses, playing the electric guitar, and standing on a tank. It’s a Time Lord version of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. The Doctor introduces his friends to the excited crowd. When Missy asks him about his impending death they are interrupted by the arrival of Colony Sarff. The Doctor thought his guitar would make a lasting impression on the 12th-century crowd, but that was before they got a load of the guy with the slithering gait who transforms into snakes.
Colony Sarff tells the Doctor that Davros is dying and “he would speak with you again, on the last night of his life.” The Doctor responds, “Davros is my archenemy. Why would I want to talk to him?” which doesn’t sit well with Missy, who likes to think of herself as the Doctor’s most important nemesis. Colony Sarff tells him, “Davros knows. Davros remembers,” and throws the abandoned sonic screwdriver at the Doctor’s feet. The Doctor appears ashamed, and agrees to go with Colony Sarff, wearing snake handcuffs. Clara and Missy insist on joining, despite the Doctor’s objections.
After they leave the castle, it becomes clear that Bors has been converted into a Dalek—the modern kind that looks like a person until an eyestalk comes out of their forehead. Bors tells Dalek High Command that the TARDIS has been procured.
Welcome to Skaro
In Colony Sarff’s ship, the Doctor tells Clara how Davros created the Daleks, guiltily adding, “Davros made the Daleks, but who made Davros?” They arrive at what appears to be a floating satellite, which the Doctor speculates is a hospital of some kind. Colony Sarff takes the Doctor away to meet with Davros. When the Doctor arrives, Davros plays back his own words to him. His former incarnation as the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) says: “If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?”
Back in the cell, Missy has figured out they’re on a planet, not a space station, due to the natural-feeling gravity. She and Clara make their way outside, and once they are able to see the invisible planet, they discover it is Skaro, planet of the Daleks. The Doctor also realizes where they are, and Davros tells him, “Where does an old man go to die, but with his children?” Neither Gallifreyan seems happy to be on Davros, but Clara seems slightly unaware of the degree of danger they’re in. The Doctor should probably create a video or wiki of some kind to educate new companions to his many enemies and significant aliens.
The Daleks capture Missy and Clara and bring them to a room where they are also holding the TARDIS. They want to destroy the TARDIS. Missy offers herself up to be a Time Lady pilot and usher in a new era of cooperation, but they aren’t interested. Instead, they exterminate her. We aren’t sure what to think. Did she escape using the vortex manipulator? It sure looked like they killed her, but again— hard to kill. The Doctor begs Davros not to kill Clara, but there’s no stopping the Daleks. Clara makes a run for it, but is exterminated. WHAAA??? Clara can’t be gone too. We’re mystified, and the Doctor is angry.
Doctor: “Why have I ever let you live?”
Davros: “Compassion, Doctor. It has always been your greatest indulgence. Let this be my final victory. Let me hear you say it, just once. “Compassion … is … wrong.”
After killing the Doctor’s oldest friend and his companion, the Daleks proceed to destroy the TARDIS.
Saving a Friend
In the last scene of “The Magician’s Apprentice” we find the Doctor back with young Davros. Young Davros asks if he’s going to save him, and the Doctor responds, “I’m going to save my friend. The only way I can.” The Doctor holds up a Dalek weapon and says, “Exterminate.” Who does the Doctor intend to save? Is it Clara, Missy, or perhaps Davros himself?
Season 9 of Doctor Who is mostly a series of two episodes linked together in some way, and we kind of love it so far. “The Magician’s Apprentice” had all the excitement of a season finale, and by dividing the complicated story into two parts it doesn’t feel rushed. This season opener connects us back to the Doctor’s past with the Master/Missy, UNIT, Davros, and the Daleks, while keeping to a fresh story that new viewers can enjoy. The Doctor Who history is weaved throughout the narrative, while remaining very much in the present.
Moffat did a great job of bringing back Missy, and for that matter Davros, without making a big deal about it: “OK, cutting to the chase. Not dead, back, big surprise, never mind.” Season 9 of Doctor Who might have the feel of the CW series Supernatural, where no one stays dead for long.
Though they had very little dialogue together, the dynamic between the Doctor and Missy remains extremely entertaining. Though it’s not quite believable that Clara woudn’t constantly be trying to kill Missy herself after everything she went through with Danny in “Death in Heaven,” the one-upmanship in terms of who is more important to the Doctor is great to watch. Missy basically stole the show in “The Magician’s Apprentice.” There were some pretty great Doctor moments in Essex, but most of them took place during “The Doctor’s Meditation” prequel.
Will the Doctor be able to change what has come to pass? And what will it cost him? Beyond all the questions of crossing time streams to get back to young Davros, will the Doctor sacrifice his compassion? The exciting start to Doctor Who Season 9 will continue with next week’s episode “The Witch’s Familiar.” We look forward to completing the narrative journey we started with “The Magician’s Apprentice.”