Doctor Who – Series 9, Episode 1: “The Magician’s Apprentice”

So, after far too long a wait, Doctor Who is back on our screens. And just beforehand, we’ve received the news that this series will be Jenna Coleman’s last on the show. Am I sad? Certainly, especially considering I was able to experience how nice she is in real life recently. But I wouldn’t say I’m truly cut up about it – not because I’m tired of Clara or anything like that, but because I’m fully accepting of the fact that change is key to Doctor Who. No Doctor or companion is going to stick around forever; usually not even for more than a few seasons. But that’s been a big part of how the show has lasted and kept itself fresh. So I wish Jenna Coleman all the best in her future endeavours, and hope that the Doctor’s next companion is also wonderful to watch in their own special way.

Right then, how was the episode itself? (Warning: spoilers.)

  • The grim, peculiar opening with soldiers wielding a motley assortment of weaponry did bring to mind Genesis of the Daleks, given that the Doctor highlighted the strangeness of that very thing at the beginning of that story. But I certainly didn’t anticipate the twist at the end of this scene, and I loved how that classic heroic setup was turned on its head by a single word.
  • “Davros is dying”? Shouldn’t he already be dead? How is he still around? Maybe they’re just taking the whole Missy approach: “Not dead, big surprise, never mind.” It really does hardly matter in this show – we know the bad guys can always come back if the producers wish it.
  • The first ten minutes or so effectively demonstrate how diverse the show can be even within a single episode: from the dark and ominous scenes involving Colony Sarff, to planes freezing in the sky on Earth – quirky, yet still alien and cause for concern.
  • The name “Colony Sarff” brings up all sorts of interesting ideas; I was envisioning some Portuguese man o’ war-style collection of entities. Colony Sarff turning out to be a pile of snakes was cool, but a little disappointing too. After seeing the trailer for the new Jungle Book, I was just commenting on another blog how snakes are used in villainous roles too often – and there goes Doctor Who, reinforcing the concept.
  • Missy is back! Hooray! It feels a bit different watching her now that she’s a more established character; sometimes, she acts rather like the Doctor in his more eccentric incarnations  – minus the love of killing, obviously. Having gotten more experience of the Master’s past incarnations, I find myself wondering how Missy fits into the chain, as it’s hard to pin down what qualities she shares with them besides basic villainy; maybe it’s a combination of the regenerative process and getting older, I don’t know. But I do buy the concept of the Master being the Doctor’s friend in a warped way. It sounds like what the Joker occasionally brings up with Batman. The Master’s been in the Doctor’s life far longer than anyone else and they do share some kind of bond, albeit not a pleasant one.
  • You can see why Clara’s concerned: playing electric guitar, on a tank, in 12th century Essex is far more typical of the Eleventh Doctor than this one. But you can still just roll with it, as Clara’s clearly doing when she steps out in front of the crowd.
  • That callback to Tom Baker’s speech in Genesis of the Daleks and how it relates to the Doctor meeting young Davros – absolutely brilliant. Plus, is that first Dalek we see on the rebuilt Skaro supposed to be an original? It’s coloured the same as the ones in An Adventure In Space And Time.
  • It’s hard to get that invested in what happened to Missy and Clara when we know they can’t really be gone – but that last scene was still a pretty shocking cliffhanger, wherever it leads.

Overall, some clever writing and ideas on display here, in an appropriately intense start to the season. Rating: 3.5/5.

About R.J. Southworth

Hi there. I've been blogging since January 2014, and I like to talk about all sorts of things: book reviews, film reviews, writing, science, history, or sometimes just sharing miscellaneous thoughts. Thanks for visiting my blog, and I hope you find something that interests you!
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5 Responses to Doctor Who – Series 9, Episode 1: “The Magician’s Apprentice”

  1. isoltblog says:

    I totally agree Richard, that change is key with Dr Who & there’s always doubt that any death is final. I wasn’t keen on the whole guitar playing scene, but enjoyed the rest. The ending was a complete shocker!


  2. Elle says:

    I haven’t watched the last few series of Dr Who as diligently as I used to. I didn’t like the last Doctor and I don’t like Clara so I won’t miss her when she’s gone.
    I’m intrigued by the Davoros / Doctor storyline. I wasn’t sure about the tank and the guitar scene either.


  3. Kibbin says:

    I think one of the big problems was as you said that they can bring back anybody they want at the drop of a hat. Not only do we not care much if Davros is dying we also don’t care much about the shocking conclusion to the episode for the same reason. Well that and they are main characters so they wont get rid of them like that.
    The rest is decent enough and I think Missy is better this time around for sure.


    • That’s the thing about shows which a) have no definitive end point and b) take place in a universe that doesn’t necessarily operate on the same laws as our own, much as in comic book universes – killing off a major hero or villain provides shock value, but at some point, people will want to see that character again. And once it happens too many times, you get accustomed to it.

      And as you say, you also learn to recognise whether a main character actually is going to be killed off, or whether it’s just a fake-out. The worst instance I can remember is the climax of The Poison Sky, which seemed to actually want you to believe that the Doctor was going to sacrifice himself. I was just thinking, “Hmm, who’s going to die here? The Doctor? His current companion? His former companion? Or the misguided villain who was only introduced last episode and needs an opportunity to redeem himself?”


      • Kibbin says:

        I see the point but it just feels like now they’re not even trying. I mean I can see Missy kind of waving off her death seen as the Master is kind of famous for that but to just bring Davros back to life with no explanation either and then expect us to interested in the fact that he’s dying, eh.
        But then after bringing two old characters back to pull the “we’ve just killed the companion” card in the same forty odd minutes seems a bit much.
        Doesn’t anyone remember how annoying the Daleks were when we killed the last ever Dalek every season until they got to the point where they said “screw it” and just brought them back? I hope they do the same at the end of this and just have Missy escape, the master can do that right?


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