‘THE MAGICIAN’S APPRENTICE’/’THE WITCH’S FAMILIAR’
Please feel free to comment on my review.
Davros, the Daleks and Missy with the Twelfth Doctor and Clara
N.B.: Watch ‘Prologue’ and ‘The Doctor’s Meditation’ before this.
Well, we’ve reached this point, everyone! We’ve reached a point where I’m now reviewing a season of ‘Doctor Who’ that was transmitted on BBC TV at the same time I created my ‘Bradley’s Basement’ blog in September 2015. I even shared a few thoughts on two episodes from that season on my blog.
I decided against reviewing Series 9 of ‘Doctor Who’ from its initial transmission on TV because I was currently getting to grips with learning how to use my blog. I also felt that it would be unfair of me to review a ‘Doctor Who’ season that was already underway as I would have a lot of catching up to do.
So therefore I didn’t review any ‘Doctor Who’ episodes from their initial transmission until Series 9 had ended. I’ve had a chance to look back on Series 9 overall and my thoughts have changed since then, much the same way that my original thoughts on the original ‘Batman’ film series have changed.
When I reviewed Series 8 of ‘Doctor Who’, I tried to be fair on it since it was Peter Capaldi’s first season as the Doctor and I wanted to give him a chance to prove himself. And he turned out to be pretty okay in my humble opinion. My experience of Series 9 though isn’t as similar as with Series 8.
My main issue with Series 9 of ‘Doctor Who’ is the inconsistent character development of Clara Oswald. And this is where I think the problem happened. During the making of ‘Last Christmas’, the Twelfth Doctor’s first Christmas Special, Jenna Coleman had initially decided to leave the TV series.
But soon Jenna changed her mind and decided to stay on for the next season. Steven Moffat rewrote the ending for ‘Last Christmas’ that was meant to exit Clara out. And to give credit to Steven Moffat, it really was neat how he managed to keep Clara to stay on due to the dream nature of that episode.
However I don’t feel that’s reflected with Clara’s appearance in Series 9. Compared to Clara’s journey in Series 7 and 8, I get the impression that her character was rather sidelined in many of the episodes. I’m also assuming Steven Moffat didn’t have any major plans to include Clara for Series 9.
But for whatever reason, it seems to me Steven Moffat was struggling to find new ways of making Clara an interesting character. As a consequence, it made her character blander and not exciting enough as she could have been when promised since her time in ‘Doctor Who’ began. And it shows.
Look, I’m not going to lie to you about this. Series 9 is not one of my favourite seasons of ‘Doctor Who’. But it’s not as bad as say Series 6 which was a convoluted jigsaw puzzle of a season to get through. Series 9 had some promise in the first half, but it soon fell flat by the time the finale came.
This seems to be a recurring thing for Steven Moffat’s seasons of ‘Doctor Who’, especially in the case of the Peter Capaldi era. It was the case for Series 8, the case for Series 9 and the case for Series 10 afterwards. My experience of Series 10 is happier compared to Series 9, but that is for another time.
Some would argue that the writing for Series 9 is better compared to last time and I would agree on some level considering there are more two-part stories in the season. But like I said, it’s not reflected in how the series is resolved by the end and especially how the characters are defined in the season.
But for now, let’s just get started with Series 9.
‘PROLOGUE’ and ‘THE DOCTOR’S MEDITATION’
Surprisingly, I managed to watch the two prequels that would lead into the first episode of the season, ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’. Ordinarily, I would miss these prequels by a mile. But thanks to the Internet and promotions elsewhere, I became aware of these prequels and I watched them first.
Bizarrely though, ‘Prologue’ was shown on BBC iPlayer and the ‘Doctor Who’ website whereas ‘The Doctor’s Meditation’ was shown via Facebook in the UK. I managed to see ‘Prologue’ on BBC iPlayer the day before ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ on TV. I also saw ‘The Doctor’s Meditation’ via Facebook.
And this was early in the morning on the day that ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ was to be shown on BBC television. It makes me curious in wondering why both prequels weren’t shown on the same channel. Why weren’t the ‘Prologue’ and ‘The Doctor’s Meditation’ shown on BBC iPlayer together?
The same case applies to why they weren’t shown at the same time on Facebook. I know this is only a minor thing to harp upon, but the reason I raise these questions about the prequels is asking how are the people going to watch them if they’re going to miss them online like I have done in the past?
‘Prologue’ is more serious and moodier compared to ‘The Doctor’s Meditation’. ‘Prologue’ features Peter Capaldi’s Doctor with Clare Higgins as Ohila from ‘The Night of the Doctor’ on Karn. The Doctor seems to be hiding from someone who’s looking for him across space and time. This gets intriguing.
‘The Doctor’s Meditation’ features the Doctor at a castle in medieval times during his meditation. He’s with Daniel Hoffmann-Gill as Bors, who seems to be a loyal friend of his. This prequel is comical compared to the first ‘Prologue’, especially when the Doctor is restless in trying to find some water.
After watching ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’, I see that these two prequels are set during the early part of the episode in relation to the Twelfth Doctor’s timeline. I wondered why Steven Moffat didn’t include these scenes in the actual episode itself, but I guess it was due to timing upon transmission.
Anyway, let’s begin looking into Series 9 with ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’/’The Witch’s Familiar’.
‘THE MAGICIAN’S APPRENTICE’ (Part 1)
This is a two-part story by Steven Moffat to open Series 9. And it’s a fairly impressive two-parter featuring Davros and the Daleks in it. Sadly, I did miss the first episode via its initial transmission on TV.
Thankfully however I managed to catch up with watching the first episode by seeing it on BBC iPlayer. I enjoy watching new series episodes on BBC iPlayer especially when I’ve missed them on TV.
The episode begins with a young boy lost on a battlefield. This turns out to be on the planet Skaro and the little boy gets caught in a field of ‘hand mines’. I found this opening scene pretty scary here.
The Doctor then turns up to rescue the boy. I just like it that the Doctor happens to show up at that moment when the boy calls for help. He says he’s looking for a bookshop whereas he ended up in a war.
The little boy is played by Joey Price and he turns out to be Davros. This shocks the Doctor as he realises that this is the Davros before he became Davros in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’. That was a twist!
We cut to years later and there’s this strange, gliding alien looking for the Doctor across space and time. This happens to be creature formed of a colony of snakes – Jami Reid Quarrell as Colony Sarff.
Colony Sarff works for Davros as he searches across all of space and time to collect the Doctor. He goes to the Maldovarium, the Shadow Proclamation and even the planet Karn where Ohila sees him.
Meanwhile on Earth, Jenna Coleman as Clara has her teaching at Coal Hill School interrupted when planes freeze up in the sky. Clara is summoned to U.N.I.T. to meet Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart.
It turns out that the frozen planes in the sky are all a ruse by Michelle Gomez as Missy who’s being trying to get their attention. Clara soon goes and meets with Missy at a café somewhere at 4 o’clock.
Now I’ve made it no secret that I’m not happy with Michelle Gomez’s characterization of Missy as a female version of the Master since she debuted in Series 8. But I wanted to give her another chance.
In certain cases, Missy could be quite horrible and cruel especially when she kills off U.N.I.T. soldiers one by one at the café during her meeting with Clara. Those moments did get me horrified to watch.
Sadly, it doesn’t match in Michelle Gomez’s performance as Missy. There were times where she could sound silly in funny voices and be less intimidating. She also needs to ditch that Mary Poppins outfit.
Clara and Missy with U.N.I.T. track the Doctor’s whereabouts, in the most complex way ever, as they locate him back in time on Earth. Clara and Missy go off to look for him via two vortex manipulators.
They end up in 1138 at a medieval castle where the Doctor is having his meditation. An axe fight is taking place and the Doctor comes out in…what does he think he’s doing playing an electric guitar?!
Yeah, this has become the trademark for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor now. By Series 9, his Doctor’s become a junky wearing sonic shades (more on this later) and playing that electric guitar about him.
Not that I would object to the Twelfth Doctor’s trademark, since the Fourth Doctor has his scarf and the Eleventh Doctor has his bow tie. But the Doctor behaves so anachronistically for medieval times.
This is one of the frustrations of Steven Moffat’s era of ‘Doctor Who’. The Doctor’s supposed to not change history and yet we see him do it in the most absurd and often silliest of ways that’s so wrong.
With the Doctor in medieval times, as well as playing his electrical guitar, he gets the medieval locals to say “Dude!” It feels pretty ridiculous as ‘We Will Rock You’ in ‘A Knight’s Tale’ with Heath Ledger.
I liked it when the Doctor sees Clara with Missy from a distance. The reunion between them is pretty wonderful. Clara becomes so surprised when the Doctor hugs her which isn’t really in his character.
Eventually, the Doctor gets found by Colony Sarff. It was horrifying when Sarff dropped to the ground to reveal itself as snakes. The Doctor eventually agrees to go with Sarff to meet with Davros.
Clara and Missy insist on coming too and they with the Doctor are taken on Sarff’s spaceship to go and meet Davros. They eventually end up on this space station that very soon turns out to be Skaro.
Julian Bleach returns as Davros. I was delighted to see Julian Bleach’s Davros return from ‘The Stolen Earth’/’Journey’s End’. No explanation is given on how he had managed to survive that story though.
I enjoyed how Davros interacts with the Twelfth Doctor in this story. Davros is dying and recalls what happened on the Skaro battlefield years ago. It seems that the Doctor may have abandoned Davros.
But of course the Daleks return and they’re in full galore as it’s a mixture of both classic series and new series Daleks in this story. And it’s much better than how it was done in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’.
We see the blue and grey Daleks from the 1960s, the Special Weapons Dalek from ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ and the blood-red Supreme Dalek from ‘Journey’s End’. It was amazing to see the Daleks.
It was a shock when the Daleks seemingly exterminate Missy on the spot; then Clara and then presumably the TARDIS. But of course this can’t be the case as the episode draws to its cliff-hanger…
The DVD special features on this episode are as follows. On Disc 1 of ‘The Complete Series 9’ of ‘Doctor Who’, there’s a ‘Series 8 Recap’; the ‘Prologue’; the Series 9 prequel ‘The Doctor’s Meditation’; a Series 9 trailer and ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ trailer.
‘THE WITCH’S FAMILIAR’ (Part 2)
I saw the second episode of this two-part Dalek story at the ‘Pandorica 2015’ convention in Bristol, September 2015. I joined the fans to watch the episode on the big screen. It was a pretty enjoyable.
There was a Q&A session afterwards with the two Dalek operators, Barnaby Edwards and Nicholas Pegg who performed in the two-part story. It was intriguing to hear them share their work on this tale.
The second episode follows up what happened to Clara and Missy when they got shot by the Daleks. They managed to survive via teleport and this gets explained in the most complicated way possible.
The Doctor meanwhile is angry and upset about Clara being seemingly dead. No concern for Missy then. What does he do? He forces Davros out of his chair to get a ride in it himself to face the Daleks.
When I saw that for the first time, I did think it was rather silly of the Doctor to do that in Davros’ chair. But watching it again, I realise that the Doctor was doing it to get his authority over the Daleks.
The Doctor threatens the Daleks to get Clara back, even though they claim she is now dead. Davros then outwits the Doctor with Colony Sarff’s help. Snakes attack to entrap the Doctor in Davros’ chair.
The Doctor is soon brought back into Davros’ chamber where there’s more talking between them. Again it’s pretty intriguing how Twelve and Davros compare notes compared to previous encounters.
Davros sounds like he’s really dying and even has a moment when he uses his proper eyes instead of his electronic one. Wait, wasn’t he blind? How did he manage to get his real eyes back into his sockets?
The last wish that Davros makes is him wanting to see Skaro’s sun with his own eyes. The Doctor obliges as he donates his regeneration energy to Davros’ life-support. But it all turns out to be a trap.
The Doctor actually touches the snakes of Sarff which he assumed were cables. The Doctor’s regeneration energy gets sucked out of his body. Davros revives quickly as he cackles away like mad.
The Daleks also seem to be affected as regeneration energy floods through their casings. But this also affects the liquefied remains of decaying Daleks that have been living underneath the Dalek city.
Meanwhile with Clara and Missy, they find their way underneath the dark dank tunnels beneath the Dalek city which happen to be the sewers. Missy then uses Clara as bait to capture a Dalek and kill it.
Now this is where my cringing moment comes in. It’s one thing for Missy to be clever and catch a Dalek to kill and use it as a bluff in the Dalek city. But it’s another when she uses an American accent.
From what I’ve read, many critics praised Michelle Gomez’s performance as Missy. Barnaby Edwards and Nicholas Pegg were on the same lines at ‘Pandorica 2015’. But I say, I found this pretty annoying.
Missy doesn’t need to sound all American when she’s dismembering a Dalek by using dark star alloy and dead Dalek fluid from the tunnels. I held my head in shame whilst I re-watched those moments.
But eventually Missy empties the Dalek and forces Clara to get inside it. Now to be fair, I think Missy is rather cruel here. She mistreats Clara as her companion, especially when they search for the Doctor.
Clara unfortunately sits inside the Dalek and Missy closes the casing with her inside it. What’s surreal is that it comes full circle with Oswin Oswald from ‘Asylum of the Daleks’. Shame it’s not followed here.
Clara tries to speak inside the Dalek but the words come out of her with the voice of a Dalek and in Dalek vocabulary. Missy is amused by this whereas Clara is upset and terrified as I’m sure I’d be too.
Missy and Clara Dalek find themselves in the Dalek city before the regeneration energy floods through each Dalek in turn. Missy realises what has happened and soon runs off to Davros’ chamber.
She thankfully frees the Doctor from the snakes in Davros’ chamber and the regeneration stops flooding. But as Davros and the Daleks become re-energised, they are attacked by dead Dalek fluid.
It was tense when the Doctor faced Clara Dalek and Clara couldn’t get the words she wanted to say with that Dalek vocabulary in the way. Missy even lies and tells the Doctor to shoot the Clara Dalek.
I was anxious when Clara kept saying through Dalek vocabulary “I am a Dalek!” instead of “I am Clara!” But thankfully Clara gets to say “Mercy!” through the Dalek and it makes the Doctor curious.
The Doctor wonders why the Dalek is saying ‘mercy’ as it’s a word not been used in the vocabulary before. But then again, the Doctor wasn’t there when one Dalek pleaded “Mercy!” in ‘The Big Bang’.
Eventually the Doctor and Clara manage to escape the Dalek city by getting their TARDIS back. How does the Doctor do it without his sonic screwdriver? He uses his latest…sonic sunglasses! ARGH!!!!!!
Again, this is another annoying thing that Steven Moffat tries to incorporate into his ‘Doctor Who’ stories. He tries to introduce new elements to the show that make it sound very silly and ridiculous.
Simply saying, I don’t like the Doctor’s sonic shades. I preferred it when the Doctor had his sonic screwdriver. Admittedly, the Twelfth Doctor does look cool with sunglasses. But not as sonic shades!
The episode ends with the Doctor eventually saving the young Davros on Skaro years ago. He does this to ensure ‘mercy’ is in the Dalek vocabulary. Not sure how this all adds up in other Dalek stories.
‘The Magician’s Apprentice’/’The Witch’s Familiar’ is an enjoyably flawed season opener to feature the Daleks, Davros and Missy. Whilst it doesn’t work a hundred percent for me, I’m pleased I saw it.
By the way, Davros mentioned this prophecy of some ‘hybrid’ that is assumed to be half-Dalek, half Time Lord. This is a recurring theme throughout Series 9, but I’ll share more when I get to it later on.
The DVD special features on this episode are as follows. On Disc 1 of ‘Series 9 – Part 1’ of ‘Doctor Who’, there’s ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’/’The Witch’s Familiar’ – Doctor Who Extra’ featurette.
On Disc 2 of ‘The Complete Series 9’ of ‘Doctor Who’, ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’/’The Witch’s Familiar’ – Doctor Who Extra’ featurette can also be found on there. There’s ‘Dalek Devotion’ with Peter Capladi and showrunner Steven Moffat and there’s ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ trailer.
‘The Magician’s Apprentice’/’The Witch’s Familiar’ rating – 7/10
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