Recap: 'Doctor Who' - 'The Magician's Apprentice' goes back to where it all began
Annnnnnnnnnd we’re back! After a literally explosive series finale in which the entirety of human history’s afterlife turned out to be a recycling bin for Cybermen brains, Missy was vanquished and the Doctor and Clara were both forced to move on without the person who understood each of them better than anyone else in the galaxy.
By the end of the Christmas special, they’d both grieved their losses and were ready to move on to new adventures. But while Clara truly mourned the loss of Danny Pink, it appears the Doctor was either lucky enough to know Missy still breathed or lived in the hope that she did.
The first episode of Series 9 might be light on action, but it’s heavy on set up and character exploration. Two of my favorite things! But the real question is “Just who is the Magician’s Apprentice?”
It could be Clara, as the apprentice to the Doctor. She’s back on her feet in the classroom, just as clever as ever. But she’s also on retainer to UNIT. When #PlanesHaveStopped gets the world’s attention, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart wastes no time calling Clara in to consult. And while Kate asks if Clara’s heard from the Doctor, it appears UNIT is asking for Ms. Oswald’s advice, not just using her as a conduit for reaching Earth’s personal Time Lord Batman. It’s Clara who first works out the planes are a message and — in hindsight — she may have been keeping UNIT from panicking about the Doctor’s absence, playing it off as his dislike of “gossip.” The Doctor lies, but Clara is a fantastic understudy.
But since Clara has been exhibiting signs of very Time Lord-ish behavior for a while now, the apprentice in question is probably Davros.
One of the Doctor’s oldest enemies, Davros is basically the Time Lord equivalent of Hitler. So when Twelve finds himself accidentally saving the man who will be responsible for the creation of the Daleks, it is as if the yawning chasm of inevitability opened beneath the Doctor’s feet and swallowed him as easily as any Hand-Mine.
From Kid Davros’ point of a view, a magician in a Blue Box appeared and gave the child a magic wand and the strength to survive. “Survival is a choice. Choose it now.” This mantra given by the Doctor in a moment of compassion somehow metastasized with the fear Davros' childhood was steeped in. When the Doctor questions how scared a person must be to seal their entire people inside personal tanks, he already knows the answer. His words of encouragement created a monstrous tyrant. The Doctor is responsible for the Daleks...again.
And yet... As fans well know, there are fixed points in time in the “Doctor Who” lore. If Twelve manages to pull the trigger — which we all know he won’t — to destroy Kid Davros, it would unwind so much time the universe would be unrecognizable. Not to mention all of Nu!Who would cease to exist. So is this a case of self-fulfilling prophecy? Will it turn out the fear that drives Davros to create the Daleks isn’t due to being abandoned by the Doctor, but from having a Time Lord attempt to murder him in cold blood?
We’ll have to wait and see.
However the Doctor’s relationship with Davros is only the engine that drives the meatier subplot; Doctor’s relationship with Missy. Since coming on board, Capaldi’s version of the Doctor has been far less ‘human’ than his predecessors. Now Moffat and company seem to be setting up this season to pull off the mask and really dig into the fact that Time Lords are alien.
Yes, Missy is insane. But she’s also the only other Gallifreyan in this universe. Even if the Doctor were able to save his people and pull them back from the pocket universe, none of them would understand the isolation and despair he’s gone through like Missy can. The push/pull dynamic between these survivors rises above friendship and becomes more akin to family. You don’t have to like your family, but you can’t abandon them. So it makes sense the Doctor would send his Confession Dial to the only person in all of time and space that would understand.
Freed from the insanity-inducing drumbeats of the Time Lord Council, Missy is less evil villain than sociopathic foil to Twelve. Humans mean as little to her as spiders do to us, so why cry over a few disintegrations? From that perspective, she is merely doing everything in her power to save the last and best friend she has. The Doctor may not share that nihilistic brute force approach, but it’s been clear from past adventures he’ll sacrifice those he considers expendable or make decisions for people he loves, all while deluding himself into thinking he’s the hero.
With Jenna Coleman admitting this is her final season, I’d be more than happy to see Missy step into the TARDIS to join the Doctor as they find a way to retrieve Gallifrey. Michelle Gomez brings a fragile depth to Missy — “Say something nice” — that I’d love to see more of. Her possessiveness of the Doctor and his reliant disdain of her would make an enthralling dynamic.
Odds & Ends
• Missy played two truths and a lie with Clara! Which of these is not true? “Since the Cloister Wars, since the night he stole the moon and the President’s wife, since he was a little girl.”
• Watching Clara tumble face first into some truly ancient “Doctor Who” storylines was a great way to throw her off-balance. The Doctor does a good job of convincing companions — and the audience — that they know him when they’ve barely scratched the surface of his life.
• Did that alien monk roller-skate through Mos Eisley? I swear I saw a Jawa. Someone play Xanadu!
• Sooo, Clara snogged Jane Austen. Guess that’s canon confirmation that she’s bisexual.
• The Doctor’s reaction to his imminent demise was just another quip that hammered home how inhuman he is. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact the Doctor doesn’t lose all his previous regenerations’ memories and mannerisms. He wears personalities like we wear fast-fashion. “Yesterday in a bow tie, the day before in a long scarf. It’s a party and all of me is invited.”
• Based on her singing voice, Missy could’ve been a Disney princess.
• Who wants odds on Missy and Clara using their vortex manipulators to get away from the Daleks?