Doctor Who: Magician’s Apprentice – Review

SPOILERS ABOUND.

What can I say, but ‘meh’? I don’t get excited about Doctor Who anymore. I just get more apathetic. Plots don’t interest me, witty dialogue is repetitive and Moffat keeps writing the same woman over and over and over….

It’s the most British of all British things though, next to tea, the Beatles and Her Majesty. So I can’t turn my back on it. Plates mounted with French Toast to assuage our hopelessness, my flatmate (who is not actually a mens rights activist, he is very keen to remind everyone) and I began.

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It didn’t take long before we were disappointed.

Brief summary for anyone who cares.

Missy freezes sky to get Clara’s attention. Missy and Clara find The Doctor in Essex. “Dude.” Snake man tricks the gang to landing on planet Skaro, where Davros, creator of the Daleks, is dying. TARDIS blown up, Clara and Missy “killed”. Doctor feels bad about not saving?/not killing? baby Davros in a field of creepy eye-hands. Cliffhanger, the End.

Here follows a list of my woes.

1. Too many concepts thrown at you, then thrown away.

Creepy eyes on hands in the middle of a battlefield that suck people into the ground. It’s a visually striking monster. Silent, the hands twist round so the eyes can look at you as you are forced to stand still in case one grabs your ankle and pulls you down. Classic Moffat monster, something that can terrify children and creep out the parents. These are given about five minutes of screen time, tops.

The sky freezing. Aeroplanes being stuck in mid air. UNIT calling on Clara for help. Oooh! A time freeze in the sky, but not one the Earth? How does that happen? Is it an attack? Is it something to do with the atmosphere? No, it’s Missy trying to get Clara’s attention. Again, five to seven minutes maybe spent on this idea before Missy waves her hand, “Oh just a simple time freeze. A parlour trick, really.” I think Moffat imagines that the more awesome ideas he has crammed into an episode, the more excited we will be. It’ll be bigger, brighter! More exciting! With lots of exclamation marks! But the result is it feels like a waste. This could have filled a whole episode. Why shove it aside so quickly? I miss small stories with one single concept, that doesn’t feel the need to jump from scene to scene all the time, leaping ahead to the next big idea.

The last will and testament of The Doctor, delivered to Missy. Snore. How many times under Moffat’s time as show runner has The Doctor nearly died? There is no tension. We know he doesn’t die. It’s the first episode of the new series. I imagine Moffat in an interview saying “We know the Doctor always survives. It’s not about whether or not he lives, it’s how he escapes death that is so interesting.” Well, I don’t find it interesting anymore. It just seems like a cheap rehash. And if he’s going to get out of it through some Deus Ex Machina device, why do I care which particular plot hole he jumps through?

Not only does Moffat waste potential ideas to make the show seem bigger and more bombastic, but I also find it incredibly distracting to jump from one thing to the next. We have four minutes of swelling orchestral music, leading us to dramatic tension, with nothing more than a whoopie cushion at the end of it, before the orchestra starts up somewhere else again.

2. The glib asides. Make them stop. Please.

Three lines annoyed me particularly.

First, Clara tells her students that Jane Austen was a great writer, and a great kisser too! I’m rather tired of these tee-heeing references to Sapphic love. Whilst I’ve always liked that Doctor Who promotes a liberal world view (Madam Vastra and Jenny’s homosexual and cross-species marriage, for one example) but this doesn’t feel like a liberal wink and a nod, but an elbow in the side of the dad’s watching, because the executives desperately trying to pump life into the BBC demand that all primetime family shows fulfil the disgusting requirement of having Something For The Dad’s. Yurgh.

Second, Missy saying she knew The Doctor as a little girl, but perhaps she was lying. No, let’s combine that with the third thing. Missy also accuses Clara of being too human and obsessed with reproduction to understand the higher concept of friendship. I’m calling BS. This to me seems a pretty blatant reply to all the criticism levelled at Moffat, and to cheekily say “I know this is a problem, guys!” Moffat has been criticised for not casting a female Doctor and his public reluctance about it. He has also been criticised for writing every major female character as in love with The Doctor. Note, it was Capaldi who put his foot down and said he would not flirt with Jenna Coleman, a woman 28 years his junior. I truly hate when writers reply to their critics in their scripts this way. It’s cheating. It’s pretending to acknowledge the criticism, without actually doing anything to change your actions.

3. There is just no tension

It’s the first episode. Anyone who’s a fan knows that Jenna Coleman is not leaving until Christmas. So, we know the Daleks haven’t killed Clara. Also, while the Doctor is angry that she died, he seems to feel nothing about Missy’s death. Remember all those other encounters between the last two time lords? They are enemies, but apparently, according Missy, also the closest of friends. The Doctor has always been conflicted about their relationship and being the last Timelord has weighed heavily on him in New Who. So, this feels off from the start.

Personally, I’ve never been frightened of the Daleks. While they’re iconic Doctor Who monsters, there’s nothing scary about pure uncomplicated evil when it’s dressed up as a salt shaker on wheels with a plunger for an arm. What doesn’t help is Davros’ new sidekick.  A man with a weird face and a dark robe who glides around without feet touching the floor is meant to be scary, I’m sure. But, whenever he’s on screen all I can think is that he’s an eight year old in the early 2000s with those sneakers with wheels on the back.

The exciting part about the Daleks’ involvement is whether or not the Doctor will kill young Davros back on the field of creepy eye-hands. But again! This is something Moffat has done before. In fact, we had something very similar last season with ‘Into the Dalek.’ Is The Doctor purely good? Seeing the complicated side of The Doctor, without compassion.

I find all of this so frustrating, because reading interviews with Moffat it is clear he is very knowledgeable about the Whoniverse. He’s been a fan since he was a child, and he has Peter Capaldi, an incredible actor, to convey his ideas! But it’s all wasted potential. This post has come across as more angry than apathetic. Oops. I guess I’m angry about the pitfalls, but in terms of plot, I’m apathetic, because I just don’t care anymore about what happens.

I sincerely hope Part 2 is worth it, and the season gets better, but I’m not holding my breath.