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Review: ‘Doctor Who’ Season 9 Episode 1, ‘The Magician’s Apprentice,’ Lives Every Day Like It’s The Last

Review: 'Doctor Who' Season 9 Episode 1, 'The Magician's Apprentice,' Lives Every Day Like It's The Last

Does He Have The Right?

Way back in days of yore, when Tom Baker was the fourth man to play the Doctor, he was given the chance to destroy the Daleks before they were ever even created. The Twelfth Doctor gets to go one better — he can kill Davros, the man who invented them. The only catch is that it means letting a little boy die in a creepy field where hands with eyes are sticking out of the ground. This Doctor is at his best when inhabiting the grey areas — but can he really go that far?

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But we begin with the Doctor being hunted by a man who looks like he’s face-planted into a grill and is actually made of snakes (this makes no sense, but it is wonderful), who wants to take him to an older, dying Davros. (If it turns out that these are just two people with what is a relatively common Greek name, the Doctor is going to feel really stupid.)

Rock And Roll Doctor

If you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do? If the answer is “Drive a tank into 12th century Essex and play electric guitar very loudly” then you might be a Time Lord. It’s one of those moments that last season would just have been a big shiny gif-able moment to detract from a flimsy plot, but here it’s both touching and fantastic. Bonus points for serenading Missy and/or Clara with Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” and entering in sunglasses whilst playing the Doctor Who theme.

School’s in Session

Clara is back in the classroom — it’s good to see her teaching again, getting her groove back after losing Danny, with a sassy new haircut to boot. Breaking every rule in the teacher’s handbook of not telling your students about your personal life, she reveals that Jane Austen was a “phenomenal kisser”; I want 2,000 words of femslash on my desk by Tuesday, or you all have detention.

Oh Missy, You’re So Fine

It’s a testament to how good this episode was that it was 15 minutes in before we even remember that the Time Lord’s best enemy/worst friend is meant to be showing up. But when she does, it’s a thing of beauty. The camp from last season’s finale has been toned down in favour of an acidic wit and another glance into what makes this Time Lady tick. Michelle Gomez does a good job of decrying human sexual urges whilst still implying that she’d ride the Doctor like the favorite in the Kentucky Derby (and probably has). Missy also clarified how she sees Clara’s relationship to the Doctor: “See that couple over there? You’re the puppy.”

As far as Missy is concerned, Clara is the pet that the Doctor promised he’d walk every day, but somehow Missy always ends up having to to it. And she doesn’t like it, exactly, but it’s not the worst thing that’s ever happened to her and at least it gets her out of the house. But she still kicks it every so often, just to remind it that she can.

We’re also offered a tantalising glimpse into just how long these two old frenemies have known each other — “Since the Cloister Wars. Since he stole the moon and the President’s wife. Since he was a little girl.” It’s Missy’s own game of Two Truths And A Lie, but she’s not telling which is which.

Never Send A Civil Servant To Do a Hero’s Job

UNIT are spectacularly useless unless you count pointing guns at Missy and then getting shot by her, but they’re useless in a charming way so that you barely notice.

The late, lamented — and frankly, irritating and fan service-y — Osgood has been replaced by Jaye Griffiths’ snarky scientist. Griffiths is a household face on British television, so hopefully she’ll return later this season for more than three lines. A proper UNIT spin-off where she and Kate Stewart save the universe would be a thing of wonder. It’s very unlikely to happen, especially now that Jemma Redgrave has joined soapy British medical drama “Holby City,” but every time “Doctor Who” underuses UNIT, you remember just how terrific they are.

Kate Stewart herself appears to be having a bit of a meltdown — could this be related to the shapeshifting Zygons, who will be making a reappearance later this season? We’ve already seen them imitate her once… Then again, last year she did get pushed out of a plane only to be rescued by her dead father’s remains in a robot suit, so it’s understandable if she’s off her game, and at least she has Clara to give the orders.

Blast From The Past

The Judoon! The Ood! The Shadow Proclamation! If you’d invented a drinking game based around shout-outs to previous episodes, you’d be on the floor before the episode was halfway through. It’s perfectly done without feeling heavy-handed.

Questions (That Aren’t “The Oldest Question”)

Does the Doctor really go back in time to kill young!Davros?

Why was Kate Stewart dressed so casually for the office? Did she come in on her day off? Either way, jeans, a plaid shirt, a Barbour jacket and a messy bun is an A+ look for Jemma Redgrave.

Is Missy really teaming up with the Daleks? Yes, she’s the Queen of Evil, but the Daleks and the Time Lords are mortal enemies.

How are Clara’s school so relaxed about letting her take off in the middle of a lesson? Do they have a substitute teacher on standby at all times?

Are the titles better than last season? They feel better. Maybe it’s just because the Moffatt/Capaldi era has finally come into its own.

No, seriously — is the Doctor going to kill Davros? How can we wait a full week before finding out?

Grade: A+++++++++++++++++++++

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