Right then; so as I explained last week, I don’t see the point in doing reviews of single episodes when they are part of a larger story, and that’s why I’ve waited until now to fully review The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar.
I’m not exactly sure why these episodes are named as they are mind you, considering there’s no obvious link between them and what happens on-screen. It’s like calling The Power of Kroll ‘The Lugubrious Teapot’.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not daft; I realise that they are paired episode titles where The Doctor is considered The Magician and Missy is The Witch, but still…any episodes involving them could be called that. Should this not have had a title more relevant to the matters at hand?
But anyway, on to the review.
Doctor Who – The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar Review: What’s This One About?
Davros – who it turns out has just been keeping his eyes closed out of laziness all these years – says he’s dying and wants to see The Doctor one last time having just remembered that he left him to die as a child.
But what he really wants is to trick him into giving away some of his Time Lord energy so that the Daleks can be made more powerful.
But the Doctor actually knows this and it’s a double bluff.
Thoughts – Don’t Look Too Closely, It’ll Just Ruin The Moment
So I’m a bit torn over my review of this one.
I liked it and I thought it was great fun to watch, but that was while I was still in a position where I didn’t really know how it was going to end.
I think if I watched it again with the benefit of knowing how the entire story pans out, it wouldn’t be quite so good.
And in 2015, I think that a story needs to be able to hold up to repeated viewings if it’s going to be considered a success in the long run.
But what’s the problem with it, I hear you ask?
Well there are a few things.
For one, despite some fantastic build-up in Episode One and for the majority of Episode Two, the ending was a bit flat. I could accept that Davros was tricking The Doctor into giving away his Time Lord energy; that was actually a good twist considering the emotion and tone of the scenes building up to it. However, The Doctor operating a double bluff whereby he knew exactly what was going to happen all along doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Quite honestly, it let down all that had come before it.
Then there’s last week’s cliffhanger. Now I appreciate that Doctor Who has struggled for years with cliffhanger resolutions because 90% of them involve The Doctor and/or his companion quickly getting out of a life threatening situation, but this one’s a bit different. This was a trick cliffhanger.
It was a misplaced scene deliberately presented out of context. Long term readers of this blog will remember I criticised Image of the Fendahl for doing the same thing.
The implication last week was that The Doctor was going to travel back to kill Davros as a boy to prevent Clara from being killed. That was exciting. But the actual reason – that he wanted to instil the concept of mercy into a character who famously tried to save his own life at the end of Genesis of the Daleks with the line “Have pity” – wasn’t exciting at all. Especially when you realise that Davros only actually remembers his meeting with the Doctor a long way into his own future.
Meanwhile, the rewriting of lore bugged me a little bit. The notion that the Dalek casing translates the words of the occupants into basic Dalek-isms is adding new detail that doesn’t hold up, while the idea of the sewers being alive with living Dalek remains was only there to explain away the ending.
You could argue that any Doctor Who writer is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t with the Daleks. If they try to add a new twist to Dalek lore, people like me will criticise it for not holding up to what was previously established. But if they don’t add anything new then it’s just another story based around a tired old monster that should have been put out to pasture years ago.
I guess once again I’m coming to the conclusion that this is another Dalek story that would have been better if the Daleks weren’t in it.
We Almost Got The Davros Story I’ve Been Asking For
And that’s a point. I’ve said a few times over the years that what Doctor Who really needs is a Davros story and not a Dalek story.
These two episodes are evidence of that.
As much as I’ve criticised certain elements of this two-parter, I thought the exchanges between The Doctor and Davros were magnificent. Both Peter Capaldi and Julian Bleach were on top form and were ably assisted with – credit where it’s due – some superb dialogue written for them by Steven Moffat.
The scenes where they discuss how they’d love to have fought on the same side, and share their passion for their own planets was top-notch, and the one where they share a laugh was something I didn’t think I’d ever see.
And even though it doesn’t make even a lick of sense, the bit where Davros opens his eyes was touching. It actually had me sucked in thinking we were going to see a situation where Davros repents for the choices he’s made and asks the Doctor to go back in time to kill him as a boy.
That would have been a braver and better ending; an ending that people would either be furious about or remember with reverence for years to come.
Alas it was not to be.
I’ll repeat though; if this was just about Davros on his deathbed it would have been a vastly superior story.
- My attitude to fanwankery sways with the wind. Sometimes I think it’s cool and other times I think it’s there to paper over the cracks. In this story, I thought some of it – like trying to recapture the design of the Dalek base from their 1963 debut – was great, and yet in others – namely having the Special Weapons Dalek hanging around the control room and never even shooting its gun – was daft.
- Armed with the knowledge that Jenna Coleman is leaving the show, but ignorant to how and when that happens, I was quite excited by the thought that Missy might have tricked the Doctor into shooting her
in the case. Then when that didn’t happen I thought she might die when being disconnected from the plugs in her brain. After all, didn’t Missy allude to nobody knowing what would happen when they unplugged her? But they just dropped that bit.
- Going back to my point about the Dalek case translating Clara’s words, I’m sure you all know that I’m just thinking “Ian Chesterton, The Escape, 1964”.
- As much as I would have preferred it if Missy was a character in her own right rather than The Master turned female, I do think she’s a great addition to the show. Michelle Gomez is pretty fantastic.
- The line about sourcing the only other chair on Skaro was good.
- So was the one where Missy says she’s been wanting to meet Davros for years.
- As I suspected last week, the stuff with UNIT at the beginning didn’t really have any purpose beyond shoe-horning them in. Not that I mind that, but still…
- I won’t be fussed if they’ve decided to write out the Sonic Screwdriver in place of the super-shades. Change isn’t always a bad thing.
Doctor Who – The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar Review: Final Thoughts
I think The Magician’s Apprentice & The Witch’s Familiar could be summed up as a story where the performances of the actors and strength of dialogue in certain scenes make up for a rather dodgy plot that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
Knowing how everything pans out, I don’t think it will be as enjoyable on repeated viewings, but at least we’ll have the scenes with Capaldi and Bleach to make up for that.
Calls to Action
b) Read about my books – focussing on reviews of Doctor Who from the very beginning – here
c) If you appreciate my sense of humour, go ‘Stuart’s Exciting Anecdote of the Day’