AND SO it goes all over again. Doctor Who is back for another year of time and/or space-based adventures, this time with six all-new two-part adventures. As that seems to be the format for this year, we’re going to bring you a review every two weeks after each section has resolved itself. But don’t worry, we’ll still try to provide you with the same analytic eye towards the Who that you got last year. Also two weeks from now, you’re getting Dan Abbott so that’s going to be joyously positive.
Anyway onto the first of many, the surprisingly un-supernatural The Magicians Apprentice and The Witches’ Familiar. We open the series being thrown in media res a war, what war we don’t know but it’s a war and of course because it’s Doctor Who, there’s spaceships, bows and arrows and a child lost and alone. It’s all pretty standard fare, then the hand mines turn up.
Moffatt, almost better than anyone, knows how to take a simple idea or image and make it bloody creepy and this is vintage work. The hands coming out of the ground and pulling the series’ first disposable soldier into the ground was a great moment and really set the muted, sinister tone for this first story. Oh and did I mention the child was Davros?
Yes that’s right, ol’ robo-bindi, wrinkle-face is back and he’s never looked… well he’s dying and he’s come back home to the Daleks for the end. I promise you’ve never seen Davros this way, even his moments of malevolence seemed tempered with a melancholy agedness, when he eventually opens his real eyes to look upon the face of the doctor (I’m glad you chose a new face similar to mine – he opines about Capaldi’s regeneration), it’s hard not to see a twinge of fear. This isn’t a genius scientist or a master technician, this is an old man in a fancy wheelchair that once was a threat but he’s lost it.The episodes well maintain a funereal mood throughout, presenting a muted colour palette, meditative pacing and more sombre performances. Well that is apart from Missy.
This is a story of two odd-couple pairings: Missy and Clara, Doctor and Davros. Throughout last series and it’s occasional hiccups, Michelle Gomez revived portrayal of the Master was never one of them. Her Mary Poppins by way of Hamill’s Joker were always on point and flipped between comedy and threat with an impressive smoothness. To be mildly controversial, she has better chemistry with Clara (Jenna Coleman) than Capaldi ever did. They bounce off each other like the best Doctor and assistant combinations do managing to add shades to both of their characters. And, for the first time I’ve seen, making The Master feel not just like ‘The Doctor but Evil’ but instead showing Missy’s perspective and from her eyes. It’s more of a sinister game of one up-personship with Missy’s plot to trap Clara in a Dalek suit and have the Doctor kill her a particularly nasty twist in their ‘friendship’.
Some interesting questions were posed about the Daleks. Oddly, considering Capaldi’s first Dalek episode they literally went inside one of the tinheads, in this one it really made you wonder what goes on in their minds. So we now know that ‘exterminate’ is a mantra, a battle cry but also that many of the words programmed into them are in place of many words they aren’t taught, their laser beams are powered by emotion and that they have been programmed with mercy for Davros. It makes them far more interesting creations to suggest that they aren’t the creatures of pure rage we were told before but instead stunted malformations, only taught to express themselves through violence and unaware of their names, they are just Dalek (because Daleks are basically Project Mayhem). If we take that standard Batman idea that the supervillains are created by the superhero, are the Daleks as much the child of the Doctor as Davros? They’ve certainly never really done a very good job of killing him. Or he’s very good at not dying, either way, same difference.
As a two-parter, it was very good but it was far from perfect. Whilst I like the set-up/payoff format, it does leave the first half feeling a bit one-sided, these aren’t episodes you could just pick up and watch again without the other. Clara continues to frankly be a bit useless. Don’t get me wrong, I like Jenna Coleman, I think she’s good but even after a whole season last year of examination of the role of the assistant, they still seem to be afraid of giving her anything worthwhile to do beyond motivate the Doctor into actually responding. Also there was Mr.Allthesnakes because of course Davros, creator of the Daleks, also keeps around a weird manservant made of all the snakes. It is never explained who this character is and boy do I hope this is the last we’ve seen of him because he was just silly and not even good silly.
The choice to open on this was a fantastic one as it feels more like a series finale in fact heck, if this had been the finale I’d imagine it could’ve been a pretty brilliant series. As it is, it sets up for an interesting series with a few unanswered questions to leave running (what was the Doctor’s last will and testament being a pretty key one) but man, does the actual finale have to go bigger than this. That shouldn’t be too difficult on a scale game because for a second-parter involving the destruction of thousands of dalek via old sludge daleks, it was reasonably small scale. I’m interested to see where they go from here and on the basis of this first two-parter, it’s going to be good.
Oh, and the Doctor played Electric Guitar on a tank. That was the best thing. Ever. I’m not kidding. It was great.
Something happens with ghosts and water and a base but it’s not Waters of Mars. Promise.