The difficult second series. In quite a few ways, a more strenuous task than the first. Don’t get me wrong, first series’ of TV shows aren’t easy to, establishing the codes and tropes which make up your show (or in this case, your era) must be an immensely tiring task, and often require a lot of trial and error (hence why I personally find many first series inconsistent). However, what they do provide you with is almost infinite potential. Of course, what sets Doctor Who apart is that although each era can feel like a new show, it isn’t, and there’s no harm in borrowing ideas and styles from years back, but it still has the ability to do whatever the hell it wants for the most part. With the second series, you know what worked last time and what didn’t, which seems easy enough, but you also have to now use these good things in a new and interesting manner, to keep your viewers interested. Everyone wants to see more of what they liked last time, but nobody wants a rehash. While the first series almost naturally require you to think outside the box, the second series forces you to.
Does The Magician’s Apprentice use the good “ingredients” from the previous series while also offering new ones? And is it a good episode in its own right? While it isn’t perfect and is obviously build-up, yes I think it is. The Magician’s Apprentice is certainly a great piece of Doctor Who even if it isn’t much else.
To determine whether The Magician’s Apprentice is a good opener to the second series of Capaldi’s run, it needs to answer a couple of questions. The first one being “does it build upon what worked well in the first one?”. I like to think the answer to that one is a definite yes.
So what did work well in Series 8? The first thing which springs to mind is the characterisation of the lead characters, particularly of Clara Oswald. Series 8 was essentially a journey of Clara becoming the Doctor, starting out in Deep Breath as sharing a few traits, and towards the end of the series almost being a clone in a human female body. Almost. Here, in this episode, she undoubtedly is the Doctor. Notice how all the other characters, including Missy, act and speak towards her. Everyone speaks to her like she has some sort of moral authority. Of course, The Doctor isn’t there physically, but compare the way Kate Stewart speaks to Clara here and in The Day of the Doctor. In Day, it’s clear that Kate is the more authorities figure, she talks to Clara almost like a teacher would to their student. Here, Clara’s the boss. Kate now speaks to her with admiration, but also with a tone of inferiority, like she knows Clara is more qualified to deal with these occurrences than she is. If that’s not enough, notice how Clara acts when Missy starts shooting the random people. She steps in and tells her to stop, as I imagine many other companions would have done. The difference is Missy actually listens. Missy obviously has respect for her as she does for the Doctor. If that’s not enough, notice how she tells the Doctor off for lying, just like he did the last series, applying some moral high-ground despite the fact that she lies too. And if that’s not enough, notice how Twelve’s theme music plays as she rides her motorbike to UNIT. The Magician’s Apprentice in some ways is a bit of an inaccurate title. Clara, the eponymous character, has gone way past the “apprentice” stage, with apprentice implying training. Here, she is entirely The Magician’s Equal. She isn’t becoming the doctor anymore, she now is the Doctor. And isn’t it wonderful?
Another thing which worked in Series 8 is Missy. Now, those who know me or have read my series 8 finale review will know I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the character, but what worked for me isn’t necessarily what worked in general. She was definitely a popular character, and it makes sense to bring her back. Missy is built upon as a character, and for better, to the point where there are moments here where I actually like her. Gone is the “up-to-eleven” madness and insanity, both of which are in an interstellar war to be the dominant emotion, here is a more three dimensional, more masterful version of Missy. The madness and the evilness are still there, but it’s toned down and shown not told, as she doesn’t mention how “bananas” she is once. She also shows charm here, a very common trait of the Master which she was lacking before. Sure, she’s still evil, but she’s a more likeable evil. The best Missy scene is when she realises she’s on Skaro though. It’s played very subtlety, and Michelle gives a stunning performance there, both facially, and it’s delivered beautifully. I honestly think Gomez is a much better straight actress than she is comedic, controversially.
There’s a lot of good stuff here additionally. The Doctor is characterised very well, appearing lighter at first, armed with a silly gimmick and fooling around as the Doctor does, but there’s also a layer of regret and sadness there. These scenes are beautifully acted by Capaldi, and the lighter comedy here works. Sure, it’s a bit silly, but it’s almost a self-aware silly. It’s funny because the script knows it’s really not, unlike in Deep Breath, where the childlike comedy tries to be funny and fails miserably. Davros is also really good too. He doesn’t do that much here, but Julian Bleach is amazing the scenes he is in. That cliffhanger is exceptionally exciting too. The best cliffhangers are the ones which aren’t conventionally mindblowing, but instead urge the viewer to want to watch the next part instantly. And it certainly fits that bill, I had to stop myself from changing the disc and watching the next part, so I could write this thing.
If this episode does have one flaw, it’s a tad too fan-wanky. The continuity here is turned up to twelve, let alone eleven. While I smile at the odd reference, the amount here is a tad distracting. Not necessarily bad, but it does get a little bit tiring, and in some ways takes you out of the story. This certainly isn’t an episode for the casual fan, and I doubt that anybody who turned onto Doctor Who for the first time that night was likely to have a clue what was going on. But that’s okay, the fans deserve their episodes, it just maybe isn’t the choice for the series opener. It honestly feels more packed with nods and references than the 50th anniversary. There’s also not much of a plot. It’s not noticeably missing, but this episode does feel like it is build up to another part. In fairness, it is, but I doubt I’ll ever be watching this one again without the next part. I’m surprised this serial wasn’t a feature length with the next part as the opener, as this is one of those episodes which does need to be viewed as a whole I feel.
Production wise, it’s fine. The direction is good, feeling very cinematic at times, and there are some nice shots, the zoom in at the beginning on Capaldi’s face being a highlight. The music is stunning, reminding me once again why it’s a crime I don’t have the S9 soundtrack in my collection. For god’s sake, hurry up.
Overall: One for the fans, but it’s a good one.
Previous score: 8
New score: 9.