Sunday, 20 September 2015

Review: Doctor Who - The Magician's Apprentice

Doctor Who returned for another series tonight - but was there magic in this opening episode?


"This is the last will and testament of the Time Lord known as the Doctor."

Series openers are the ones that set up the year to come, usually with a fresh problem to solve; they're definitely dramatic but the general aim is to welcome you home with a pat on the back rather than a slap in the face. Series finales, however, are the ones that bring back the (multiple) returning villains and raise the stakes so high nothing can possibly beat it. Yet after watching tonight's blockbuster of an episode you'd be forgiven for thinking you had missed an entire series.

Right from the off, 'The Magician's Apprentice' zips along with a dizzying array of settings (Karn! The Shadow Proclamation! The Tower of London!) and various new and familiar characters (UNIT! Two iterations of Davros! Even an Ood!). The ideas come thick and fast and the dialogue flies along with Moffat's customary wit and fixation with flirting (nearly every character, with the exception of Davros - ha, imagine! - has a nudge-nudge-wink-wink moment). Make no mistake, this is the biggest, broadest Doctor Who story since 'The Day of the Doctor.'

It's amazing, then, that the episode doesn't get overwhelmed by all this and the characters and the actors' performances still shine through. Missy, in the companion role, was a delight. Although her "infinitely complex" friendship with the Doctor was explored, she was still as bananas and dangerous as ever - lightly killing off red-shirts, sorry, UNIT agents and making deals with the Daleks. Having the Master as a full-time companion would previously have rung alarm bells for me but after the fun of this episode (the highlight? Probably Missy's jealousy at the Doctor calling Davros his arch-enemy - "I'll scratch his eye out.") I'd love Missy to hang around - that is if she's not been blasted into atoms...

Jenna Coleman was given less to do than we are used to after the Clara-heavy Series Eight but she was as classy and confident as ever. The real star, however, is Peter Capaldi. Rather than being rude and anti-social, the new Twelfth Doctor is entertaining crowds, charming Clara and a veritable rock star. One moment he's saying "dude" like your dad trying to be cool, the next he is solemnly accepting his fate after fearlessly facing a snake monster. This is perhaps more the Doctor than Capaldi ever was last series. Also, hooray for Julian Bleach returning as Davros - I hope to see him up and cackling next episode so that he may have a proper head-to-head with the Doctor.

With enemies, fan-service, laughs, drama and shocks galore, this was an expert way to start the series, and perhaps the best since 'The Eleventh Hour' all the way back in 2010. If I have a criticism, it's that there is no real reason for why the Doctor believes he is going to his death (after all, the Daleks have never managed to kill him all these years) but that is something that could well be explained next week. Speaking of the future, if this many ideas and characters are featured in only the first episode, then this opener promises even bigger and better things to come. And that surely is a true work of magic.

The Doctor and Clara hit the ground running in this series opener.
Next week: Alone and trapped in a Dalek city with his greatest enemy, the Doctor has to resort to terrible means to save his friends. 'The Witch's Familiar' - Saturday 26th, 7.45pm, BBC One.

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