Colony Sarff is searching the Universe for the Doctor on the orders of the creator of the Daleks, Davros, but the Time Lord is nowhere to be found. Even Missy doesn’t know where he is, although she has received his Confession Dial, the Time Lord equivalent of a Last Will and Testament…
The Magician’s Apprentice is a bit of an odd series opener, which should really feel like they are a jumping-on point for new viewers whilst continuing to keep the existing fans onboard. This story comes with so much continuity that I can imagine that it may well seem daunting to new viewers, with references to stories going back all the way to Genesis of the Daleks. It’s difficult for me to review from that perspective. As a fan, it feels like a solid series opener.
Steven Moffat’s story centres itself on the Fourth Doctor’s question:
If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?The Fourth Doctor
With the story bringing us initially to the battlegrounds of Skaro, with the war being fought with the weapons the Doctor predicted in Genesis of the Daleks, we get to see a part of the origins of Davros. The revived series deals a lot with the consequences of the Doctor’s actions, which is certainly what the Doctor is hiding from after the cold open. It starts on a universe-spanning journey as Davros’ servant hunts him down, including visiting the Maldovarium, the Shadow Proclamation and the Sisterhood of Karn. It’s something that I like about Moffat’s Who that the Universe feels joined up and even brief glimpses like this go a long way to helping me find this. The story itself does suffer from being set up for the second part, which is a problem with a lot of two-part stories and the medieval part and the plot with the planes feels like largely filler just to spend some time before we get to the Doctor and Davros finally being brought face to face. It’s a shame as there are probably some good ideas for full stories being thrown in here, the planes subplot especially. The cliffhanger is also slightly on the verge of ridiculous, even for this show – we may be able to believe that either Clara and Missy are dead or that the TARDIS has been destroyed, not both. A lot of the problems are helped by superb direction of Hettie MacDonald, who makes Colony Sarff’s jet setting across the Universe and the opening shots of the battlefields of Skaro feel suitably epic.
This story benefits massively from the return of Julian Bleach as supposedly near-death Davros, last seen in Journey’s End, as well as giving us a glimpse into his past. Bleach is fantastic in this role, so malevolently evil and cunning, and he is given more of an opportunity here to shine in calmer surroundings than in Series 4’s character-packed epic. It is a shame that we see so little of him and Capaldi together onscreen in this episode, as they have an utterly believable relationship as old foes, which is helped as Davros seems to have got all the old Dalek home videos out, and we see clips of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Tenth Doctors. Joey Price does a great job as the younger Davros, something which is a small but pivotal role, and his servant Colony Sarff equally has little to do but the idea of a giant snake man gliding around is pretty freaky. The Daleks are here to rebuild Skaro and generally act as Davros’ muscle – for the fan it’s nice to see almost all models of Dalek in a scene, but it must be a bit confusing for the newcomer.
No, wait, hang on a minute. Davros is your arch-enemy now?
I’ll scratch his eye out.Missy and the Twelfth Doctor
Michelle Gomez returns here as Missy, and like Davros, we are given no explanation as to how they escaped last time. I know that this frustrates some modern audiences, but having watched Classic Who where there were often no answers forthcoming on this subject, it bothers me less. You can almost guarantee that if the Master or Davros appears to die at the end of a story, they’ll be back. Gomez brings life to some of the earlier parts where not a lot is happening, and really livens up the scene in the square with Clara, batting away her assumption that the relationship she has with the Doctor is anything special and the way she casually disposes of the spare UNIT troops that Clara has brought with her. It is important in an episode like this one, where another of the Doctor’s main adversaries is along for the ride, that the main threat is taken seriously and Gomez certainly does react suitably seriously when it is revealed that the trio have been brought to Skaro.
Clara’s character has significantly changed from the previous series, and this is something that doesn’t quite feel like it works as well as Moffat would have liked to. It feels like, having gone through the conclusion of the whole Danny Pink relationship, Clara has outgrown Coal Hill School and part of the arc of the series focuses on how she might have also outgrown the role of companion. Perhaps it might have been better to see Clara as a part of UNIT at this stage, then it wouldn’t make them seem so utterly hopeless when the planes have stopped. It makes sense, given the longevity of the Doctor and Clara’s relationship, that UNIT would look to consult her but it gets to such a point that Clara makes Kate and Osgood look obsolete. Jenna Coleman does give a good performance, even if she’s playing the straight role to Michelle Gomez’s Missy for the most part.
How did you know I was here? Did you see me?
When do I not see you?
What, one face in all that crowd?
There was a crowd, too?
Wow, we’re doing charm as well, now, are we? Which one of us is dying?Clara Oswald and the Twelfth Doctor
Peter Capaldi’s Doctor has softened significantly from his first series and it seems like he is having a lot more fun with it. His sudden appearance on Skaro and then absence from the story do feel like a void that necessitates the padding mentioned in my paragraph above, even if the medieval scenes don’t entirely land. He is great when speaking to Davros across the battlefield and has great chemistry with both foes he faces here. He and Gomez have a Pertwee/Delgado style relationship where they are constantly trying impress or one-up the other, like when they notice that the gravity is all wrong on the space station.
Verdict: The Magician’s Apprentice is padded but it is a lot of fun. It is helped by superb performances from Capaldi, Bleach and Gomez and some great direction from Hettie MacDonald. 8/10
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Michelle Gomez (Missy), Jami Reid-Quarrell (Colony Sarff), Julian Bleach (Davros), Jemma Redgrave (Kate Lethbridge-Stewart), Jaye Griffiths (Jac), Harki Bhambra (Mike), Daniel Hoffman-Gill (Bors), Joey Price (Boy), Benjamin Cawley (Kanzo), Aaron Neil (Mr Dunlop), Clare Higgins (Ohila), Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Daleks), Kelly Hunter (Shadow Architect), India Ria Amarteifio (Alison), Dasharn Anderson (Ryan), Stefan Adegbola, Shin-Fei Chen and Lucy Newman-Williams (Newsreaders), Demi Papaminas (School Girl), Barnaby Edwards and Nicholas Pegg (Daleks) & Jonathan Ojinnaka (Soldier).
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Hettie MacDonald
Behind the Scenes
- Steven Moffat revealed in Doctor Who Magazine’s “Showrunner Showdown” that he approached Russell T Davies to write this story and had sent him an early draft of the pitch, which would have seen Davros on trial. Davies declined the opportunity, and so Moffat wrote the story.
- To hide Julian Bleach’s return, Joey Price was credited only as “Boy”.
- The first BBC Wales series opener to be directed by a woman.
- From this episode onwards, the title sequence was modified to make the clock gears, gas and the first Roman numeral clock face tunnel have a purple hue.
- The Dalek models featured in this story include the original silver and blue design (The Daleks to The Space Museum), the second silver and blue design (The Chase to The War Games), the Emperor’s personal guard (The Evil of the Daleks), the grey and black model (Day of the Daleks to Remembrance of the Daleks), the Special Weapons Dalek (Remembrance of the Daleks), the bronze “Time War” model (Dalek to present), a black Dalek resembling Dalek Sec and the Supreme Dalek (The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End).
- With this story showing the Special Weapons Dalek talking onscreen, it settled a debate about whether it would light up that had persisted since its first appearance in Remembrance of the Daleks.
- Peter Capaldi is really playing guitar, as he does throughout this series.
- Jami Reid-Quarrell would make two further appearances this series; as the Veil in Heaven Sent and a Cloister Wraith in Hell Bent.
- Julian Bleach reprises his role of Davros in this story, making him the second actor to reprise the role in the television show after Terry Molloy. Bleach also holds the distinction of appearing in Torchwood (From Out Of The Rain) and The Sarah Jane Adventures (The Nightmare Man).
- Jaye Griffiths has appeared in several Big Finish plays, including The Neverwhen (part of The War Doctor range) and Abbey of Heretics (part of The Diary of River Song range).
- Aaron Neil appeared as Varun Singh in Doctor Who spin-off Class.
- Clare Higgins had previously appeared as the character of Ohila in The Night of the Doctor and Prologue, and would go on to appear in Hell Bent. This is the first time the character had appeared on the television show, with the previous two appearances being webcasts.
- Kelly Hunter reprises her role as the Shadow Architect from The Stolen Earth.
I do like the gradual reveal of Skaro, and Capaldi’s reaction is really nicely played.
I approve of your new face, Doctor. So much more like mine.Davros
Previous Twelfth Doctor review: Last Christmas