Doctor Who is back… Darker, meaner, and more daring than it’s been in a while. Where the season premiers have usually been light-hearted and silly, this one is serious in tone, puts all of our favorite good guys and bad guys in dire situations, created unlikely team-ups, introduces some wonderful and unexpected character interactions, and asks a philosophical question that the Doctor struggles with all the way until the “To Be Continued” whips out its plot-mallet and smacks you in the face with it.
This is, quite simply, why Doctor Who needs less self-contained episodes and more two-parters.
Missy reappears on Earth (yes, she was dead but she got over it) and demands to see Clara. The Doctor is missing and has sent her his last will and testament and, as the Doctor’s oldest frienemy, she intends to find him and save/kill(?) him. Meanwhile, the Doctor is rocking it in the middle ages on an end-of-life party. Davros, the creator of the Daleks, is dying and he wishes to have final words with the Doctor… “Davros knows… Davros remembers.”
The Doctor knows it’s a trap, but he’s strangely resigned because he’s done something terrible.
There are a lot of question marks and exclamation marks in this episode from the opening five minutes to the closing five. Doctor Who was really hitting all the marks with “The Magician’s Apprentice” and I loved every last minute of it.
I love Missy so much. Michelle Gomez is fan-damn-tastic as The Master and is so much more multi-layered than I have ever seen the Doctor’s oldest enemy/friend be. While I am stunningly ignorant on classic Doctor Who (which I am working to rectify) she has to be my favorite incarnation of The Master so far (with all respect to the classic Masters). I just love how there’s just more to her than “Kill the Doctor!” and “Conquer the universe!” and the idea that she is, deep down, the Doctor’s oldest friend is a fascinating dynamic between the two.
For an episode that goes to so many dark damn places, “The Magician’s Apprentice” does manage some light hearted fun. The Doctor’s axe battle, for example, was inspired (and I also understand that Peter Capaldi played the guitar himself which is a whole new level of awesome). Clara and Missy had some great scenes together and Missy, being bananas and all, never lost her teeth once and still came off as a dangerous and unhinged individual.
Speaking of callbacks… My gosh, Davros? Skarro? 1960’s Daleks? A speech from the Fourth Doctor coming back to bite him in the butt almost forty years later? For a while, it almost seemed for a while that NuWho was ashamed of its long history, throwing in an ooccasional Sara Jane episode or Jamie callback, but now it seems as though NuWho is fully embracing where it came from. Seeing the ruined city from the original First Doctor serial “The Daleks” was such a geek-out moment that I couldn’t handle it.
So… that ending. Calling back to the question asked at the very beginning… if you ran into a child that you knew would do a terrible thing and kill a great number of people, would you let that child live? There’s simply no answer to that question because, if the Doctor did kill the child, it would prove Davros right and corrupt the Doctor forever. If he saves the child, millions will die and it will partially be his fault. It’s an evil conundrum and makes for great television.
Without spoiling, bad stuff goes down in the final few minutes. Whether the next episode fixes it in the first five minutes or doesn’t will probably determine whether or not this two-parter is a classic, but for now — without seeing “The Witch’s Familiar” which airs next week, this episode really hit it out of the park with probably the best Peter Capaldi episode yet.