WARNING: This post contains spoilers for The Magician’s Apprentice.
Saturday night saw Series 9 kick off with a bang with part one of an opening two-parter, which included a snake made of other snakes, the Doctor playing the electric guitar on a tank – and of course, the long-awaited return of Davros. What did our team make of it? Read on to find out!
Stuffed with an encyclopaedia’s worth of references, characters and plotlines, The Magician’s Apprentice should, to be honest, have collapsed under the weight of it all. And sure, this was not Doctor Who at its most tightly-plotted or at its most dramatically accomplished, with a sense that it’s one misstep away from becoming a mess, but the fact that The Magician’s Apprentice remains a thoroughly entertaining opener despite it all is a huge achievement. Ambitious, risky and tense, this was an opener with far more stakes and scope than ever before – and at the centre of it all is a rock-solid, perfectly simple concept: one day, the Doctor abandoned a little boy on the battlefield, and now that little boy has grown up to be his arch-enemy. The re-introduction of Davros has been a long time coming, and he’s put back into the equation in style, with Julian Bleach delivering a chilling, sinister performance – and on the other side of the villainous coin, we have Michelle Gomez, who seems to have been born to play this gleefully nuts incarnation of the Master. Top it off with a whopper of a cliffhanger, and you have an opener that’s one of the best the show has put out so far. 8.5/10
Ben (Assistant Editor)
Remember when Doctor Who was exciting? I mean like proper edge-of-your-seat popcorn-spilling gasp-inducing wow! Like, for example, when we first heard Tom Baker’s voice in Day of the Doctor. That was how The Magician’s Apprentice felt for me. The surprises, the many Daleks, Davros, the effects, the Doctor on guitar, the Ood cameo… it was an episode that promised much and delivered. The effects were particularly impressive, with the hand-mines – which I think is a genius play on words – and Colony Sarff’s transformation into snakes being especially memorable. It was also thrilling to see the classic Daleks in all their glory, a far cry from the fleeting glimpses in the dark corridors of Ayslum of the Daleks. The only quarrel I have with the episode is Missy, who I am slowly starting to go off. As great as Gomez’s performance is, the character feels less ‘evil insane’ and more just ‘silly insane’. I miss the Master’s maniacal laughing, the sinister exchanges and the well-kempt facial hair. Overall, the episode is a promising start for Series 9, which looks to be an exciting series with more scares and surprises. 9.5/10
Owen (Instagram & News)
Whilst cryptic in its promotion, The Magicians Apprentice proved to be royally executed in it’s deliverance of an screamingly epic, bonkers, yet beautiful episode. A little clunky in its pace, and messy with exquisitely complicated stories, it’s not the most perfect episode, but it’s at a standard which, if remained throughout Series 9, could set this series high above the, in comparison, fragile and timid inquiries in the history of Who. It’s a spectacle, with a touch of meaning, hesitance, and soul – this is a Doctor Who at it’s most daring, yet, most honest, and that honesty allows it to really hit the mark with elegance and originality. This is how Series 9 was meant to start, and it was triumphant. 9/10
Doctor Who is back! This is cause to celebrate on its own. However, the first episode of the new series is possibly one of the best episodes ever made and deserves limitless praise. To call The Magician’s Apprentice a tick box exercise would be unfair. There are however a lot of elements, Davros, UNIT, Missy, Daleks, all vying for space within the script. Steven Moffat balances it all perfectly. Although I’m still not comfortable with Missy being the Master, Michelle Gomez is brilliant in everything she does! Without giving too much away the two episodes are a love song written for the 1975 story Genesis of the Daleks. A quote from that story, used in the episode, became the starting point. A young Davros. Could you kill that child? Given the cliffhanger it appears the Doctor has made his choice! 10/10
Darkness! And more darkness! I was transfixed from the start, I would never have imagined Series 9 would open with such an eerie and powerful impact. I’m someone who tries hard to be oblivious to any spoilers, and I was overjoyed by every shock and surprise. A friend said to me when he first heard the name spoken by the young boy, he almost spat his dinner out – totally understandable! Great credit to Joey Price for conveying the fear and terror felt by a lone child in a war zone – my eyes were as wide with alarm as the Doctor’s once ‘Davros’ was uttered. I was struck by the length of the scenes we saw throughout, the script was good enough to allow some of these to be slow paced, working towards creating the overall tension. Also, the secret confession of the Doctor, the one that causes him such shame, is a brilliant concept, it almost makes me think ‘well what really was the big deal with knowing the Doctor’s name some Series back?’ this surely is better. The almost comical teaming up of Clara and Missy was great to see. I felt the only flaw was the medieval party scene. The episode did need some kind of light relief at some point, but the oddity of a random tank and not the best of jokes provided for someone as good as Capaldi felt disappointing. I did however enjoy seeing the Doctor with a guitar and playing Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Woman’ for his female loved ones. Also his genuinely affectionate hug for Clara was touching and seems telling. Most of all it was the grimness of Skaro that made the episode, the fear induced in both Master and Doctor by the very place was palpable. Sure there were Daleks, but the Doctor being one on one with Davros in such a morbid scenario was almost too good to be true. 9.5/10
If there were any concerns about Series 8’s narrative strength, the opening episode of Series 9 could well be the remedy. It is also possible too that Steven Moffat has never crafted an episode before that is so confident in it’s direction. The Magician’s Apprentice is driven, confident and completely assured in itself to push the story along. The idea of The Doctor facing his death is well tread ground at this point, yet new ground is revealed simultaneously. The Doctor finds himself with nothing, faced with evil in its purest form and within that is an episode thematically darker than any since New Who began. And what of the Daleks? Their consecutive series appearances now have wilted the fear and impact of any return they might enact, so much credit must go to Moffat for making their scenes perhaps the darkest in many years. These are Daleks presented as their most evil, most merciless. We all know what they are capable of, yet their actions in The Magician’s Apprentice are conveyed with such bluntness. With The Doctor powerless to stop them, the Daleks’s evil is enhanced tenfold. The Handmines must also receive much applause for their visual design and implementation. Director Hettie MacDonald’s creeping cinematography frames the Handmines like a field of the dead, evoking thoughts of the deceased stretching up to their lost world. For all their brief appearance, Series 9 begins with a stellar new creature to add to the roster. Peter Capaldi has the aura of a man now completely settled in his role, free to experiment with where his Doctor can progress and evolve. Humour and darkness are juggled effortlessly, culminating in a rocking (sorry) scene that many are likely to define this episode with. It’s important to take this scene as a good slice of cheese, an example of Capaldi’s much lighter Twelfth Doctor amidst the greater darkness. Speaking of darkness, Michelle Gomez continues to steal the show with her manic and flirty Master. Side by side with the ever excellent Jenna Coleman, it is simply a joy to witness The Master as a very temporary Doctor companion. It remains to be seen how effective and impactful the events of The Magician’s Apprentice will remain once The Witch’s Familiar comes around, and in that lies The Magician’s Apprentice’s underlying concern, but for now I can rest easy knowing I have witnessed the strongest Doctor Who opener since The Impossible Astronaut. 9/10
Our team’s average score totals out at 9.25/10, a pretty strong way to kick off the series! Our spoiler-free review of The Witch’s Familiar will be coming tonight, and we’ll have our spoiler-filled team review on Monday!