WARNING: Spoilers ahead!
Following the eighth series of the BBC’s favourite child, there were a number of things I was hoping for when the show returned this year: more attention towards the development of the Doctor, and better episode structure and pacing. Thankfully, Doctor Who’s ninth series opener, The Magician’s Apprentice, successfully delivers most of this criteria, following Clara and Missy’s search to find the Doctor after he encounters something terrible on an ancient battleground.
As is often the case with most actors to take on the Doctor, their first series is always wobbly, especially considering both the actor and writers who are experimenting with the character’s behaviour and dialogue, developing a new personality, but still remaining very much the same iconic sci-fi figure. Now in his second series on the show, Capaldi’s teething stage has well and truly passed, leaving the star’s incarnation of the famous Time Lord as one I can finally revel in watching. Gone is the incessant grumpiness about practically everything, and the scathing attitude with a no hugging rule. In their stead, we have a twelfth Doctor whose post-title sequence entrance looks like it was ripped straight from a dodgy eighties music video with Capaldi putting his seventies punk musician days to good use as he riffs Pretty Woman on his axe whilst straddling a tank in twelfth century Essex. Even an embrace of Jenna Coleman’s Clara is on the table; a massive juxtaposition to his personality a mere year ago. In short, we have a FUN Doctor again.
When the party goes sour, Capaldi’s performance still packs an emotional punch with any dramatic lines rolling off Capaldi’s tongue with enough balance between nimble and Scottish gravel to keep your eyes glued to the Doctor for the stretch of the episode. In fact, for the first time since Matt Smith’s farewell special, it feels the Time Lord has finally won back the screen from his time-travelling partner-in-crime.
While moments with Clara seem to flop without a Time Lord nearby, we’re lucky to have two as Michelle Gomez’s Missy crackles next to both stars of the show, adding much more of an interesting dynamic to the maniacal Mary Poppins than the throwaway panto villain she seemed in the finale of the last series.
The writing of the episode itself feels rather padded at times, blowing its grandest set piece and biggest twist all before we hear the obligatory DUN DUN DUN DUN… A variety of brief cameos from U.N.I.T. and the Shadow Proclamation fall flat – and if you’re not enough of a fan to know them, case and point – with a bizarre and equally brief ‘worldwide emergency’ back home on Earth also failing to maintain the interest, plodding along until the aforementioned Missy takes to the stage. However, despite the predictably solved will they survive? suspense, once the Big Bad is met with, we are set up for something dearly missed in Doctor Who: a cliffhanger with a genuinely interesting moral dilemma.
While this is by no means the strongest series premiere written by head writer/executive producer Steven Moffat, it must be remembered that this is still only the first in a story with two parts AND the first episode of the series, possibly excusing the man as long as the only way is up. Frankly, if we see more of Capaldi working at this level, I will happily stick around!
What did you think of The Magician’s Apprentice?
Comment with your thoughts.
– Charlie Hamilton