Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice.


In which Ricky Young brings the now-traditional MostlyFilm HOT TAKE to the Who series opener, and is just glad that hot takes are supposed to be short.

Hands up – who was looking forward to Doctor Who coming back? You were? Good for you! Despite the ultra-low energy of the trailers, and the prequel shorts, and any cast-and-crew interviews you may have seen, if you were still jazzed up to the nines to see the Doc back on your screen, then you were in luck. This episode was designed exactly for you. Hope you enjoyed it!

If you were holding anything less than a Reasonable Chub for it, the message was clear – “Go fuck yourself, buddy. We’re busy here.”

We liked lots of series eight, honest. And we like Capaldi, even if he’s not yet become the epic draw we’d hoped. But for every super-annoying tic that Executive Producer and Head Writer Steven Moffat seems to get out of his system, another one pops up like some grumpy, graceless, curly-haired whack-a-mole, and has our eyes rolling up into our skulls like they’ve been dragged there by bored cats.

Happily for everyone, this was the first half of a two parter – two-parters being so in right now – so in a week’s time even if we’re proved totally wrong about everything, we were only sitting in judgement on a half-completed work anyway, so all will be jake

The Good:

1) As we’ve noted before, few can open a show like Moffat, and the little boy caught up in an endless conflict and needing rescued turning out to be flippin’ DAVROS was brilliant.

(Unless, and this may be hard for certain people to understand, you don’t actually know or more importantly care who Davros is – more on this later.)

2) The cast, of course. Julian Bleach as the now-dying Dalek honcho hit every note required of him, Michelle Gomez’s distaff take on the Master remains an unhinged delight (although if you’re after further middle-aged Scotch couples bickering with backstory-heavy insights into shifting male/female power differentials, simply head to the Clydeside IKEA at the weekend – they’ve got loads of it.)

I'm here to eat apples and kick your ass. I'll be finished this apple in a minute.
I’m here to eat apples and kick your ass. I’ll be finished this apple in a minute.

3) That the story bends heavily to 1975’s original-series highlight Genesis Of The Daleks is exciting too; even casual fans might remember Tom Baker’s toothy angst over whether to do the Daleks in once and for all – handily, we were given a reminder as the plot-gears crunched just in case your forty-years-ago telly knowledge ain’t all that – and it looks like a big old balls-out moral quandary to kick the season forward is on the cards. If it works, then GRATE. Yes, I said it. That would be awesome.

The Bad:

1) If, on the other hand, you weren’t steeped in Who from soup to nuts, you were in deep trouble.

The reboot’s now-decade-old freshness and zip came directly from jettisoning everything that had ever dragged Doctor Who down and keeping only the iconic essentials. Now, over time, the obsession with the programme’s history, the constant low-level bubbling continuity concerns and the near laser-like focus on pleasing only those who were going to be pleased anyway? It’s threatening to strangle the show.

It was a first episode, mind, packing in everything but the kitchen sink to get matters up and running, and that’s okay, to a degree – you’ve got to show off a bit to get people’s attention. The risk is that there’s so much storyline, thuddingly flagged up (by obvious exposition or confusing omission) as tied to other, irrelevant storylines, that if you’re not actively pre-invested then watching it feels like a schlep rather than a joy.

This is Ohila, of the Sisterhood of Karn, an order first seen in 1976's 'The Brain Of Morbius', or, as you might know her, 'Whothefuckisthatagain?'
This is Ohila, of the Sisterhood of Karn, an order first seen in 1976’s ‘The Brain Of Morbius’, or, as you might know her, ‘Whothehellisthatagain?’

And so from our position, the Official MostlyFilm Benefit Of The Doubt at this point is hanging on Moffat’s reputation for tying up complex and overbearing plots neatly and satisfyingly.

“Oh”, as you may very well say at this point, possibly remembering all of that How Did He Survive That? Oh I Don’t Now Give A Fuck from Sherlock, “dear”.

Remember when this sort of thing happened before with Doctor Who, in the mid-eighties? Well, we all recall how that turned out. Or, unbelieveably as it may seem to the production team, maybe you don’t – it’s not a crime, although watching this episode you might start to think that it is.

2) Lumpy-faced snake dude with a head like an unappetising penis? God he was boring. (Note to self: get penis checked.)

3) Oh, by the way, tell you what? We had a weird dream last night, with a tank, and a guitar, and Peter Capaldi being uncharacteristically charmless and grating and everything was slap-your-thigh embarrassing and pointless and shit. It went on for about ten whole minutes! Man, we’re so glad that never happened.

So, a handful of plot, some nice visuals – even if Moffat’s magpie-like tendencies are getting a bit much (Guillermo del Toro and George Miller might be on the phone to their lawyers right now) – well-ish-disguised filler, a pleasing lack of corridor-running and a slightly-annoying if sorta-cool cliffhanger? Big deal, we’ve been here before. We’ll get a big old pointless run-around next week, with none of the dead people being dead and a lukewarm technobabble finale served with a fat slice of reset-button as a side. We’re sure of nearly all of that, although we’re using our pulpit as a snarky, pointless corner of the internets that’s actually a grown man talking about Doctor fuckin’ Who to wish, wish, wish that we’re dead wrong.

We won’t be. Tired is the word – this is a tired franchise, initially revived by something of a genius (who was later similarly ground down) and currently served by something of a hack. Going by this episode, if you handed the script to a commissioning editor today, you’d be laughed out of Media City, and rightly so.  

This show needs a some sort of physician, or healer, or sawbones or quack, and it needs it right now. We’re sure there’s another synonym here we could use, but nothing’s coming to us.


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