Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice
Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar
(2 episodes, s09e01-02, 2015)
Courting death with Daleks.
The Doctor arrives at Karn and discusses the nature of friends and enemies with Ohila, the leader of the Sisterhood. The Doctor has an invitation to meet with an unnamed individual, an adversary who he has known for a long time.
He eventually gives Ohila a confession dial with the vague instruction that she knows who to give it to. He then suggests that he’ll go meditate somewhere.
The Doctor’s Meditation
The Doctor’s next stop is a castle in Essex, 1138. There he meditates, periodically interrupted by a man named Bors who has pledged his life to the Time Lord for removing a splinter. The Doctor muses about his future task with Bors but first decides that the denizens of the castle need a well for proper water.
The Doctor ends up burning time by engineering a well and various extensions to the castle. Bors eventually calls him on his procrastination. The Doctor concedes that Bors is not the idiot he originally thought him to be.
Four days later, the Doctor enters his final meditation but stalls because he can’t face the man he’s destined to face. Bors stands his ground, demanding an answer or he will not leave the room, intending to force the Doctor to tell him his story. The Time Lord states that he recently let someone down. He found a battlefield, and although he had come across many before, this one would be his last.
Speaking of that battlefield, the sound of gunfire and shouts of soldiers penetrate the mist of a world far away.
The Magician’s Apprentice
On that misty battlefield, soldiers with bows and arrows run from laser-wielding airplanes. A single child runs into the mist as soldiers give chase. The boy admits that he is lost but has no idea that he ran into a minefield. In particular, the ground is littered with handmines, one of which has grabbed a soldier and pulled him beneath the ground. As more hands – each sporting an eye – pop up, the boy yells for help.
His request is answered by a man who tosses a sonic screwdriver onto the ground at the boy’s feet. The boy picks it up and spots the Doctor. The sonic screwdriver has opened an acoustic corridor between the two and the Doctor tells the boy that he has one chance in a thousand to survive. When asked his name, the Doctor is shocked to hear it.
The boy’s name is Davros.
Elsewhen, an envoy of Davros arrives at the Maldovarium. His name is Colony Sarff and he is looking for the Doctor, but no one will tell him. He next travels to the Shadow Proclamation, but the Shadow Architect also refuses to reveal the location. Finally, Sarff travels to Karn and tells Ohila that Davros is dying and is anticipating his final meeting with the Time Lord. He leaves a message with Ohila for the Doctor, unaware that his target is hiding in the rocks behind him.
Colony Sarff returns to Davros. The creator of the Daleks is weakened but cradles the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver. He suggests that if Sarff cannot find the Doctor, then he must target the Doctor’s friends.
At Coal Hill School, Clara Oswald is teaching a lesson on Jane Austen when she notices that an airplane is frozen in the sky above. It appears to be a worldwide phenomenon, and UNIT reaches out to Clara, forcing the woman to leave school and rendezvous with Kate Stewart at headquarters. Clara deduces that the thousands of planes suspended in mid-air are not an invasion because they are a spectacle. At that moment, a message is sent to UNIT via the dedicated channel for the Doctor.
The messenger is Missy, she’s responsible for the planes, and she requests a meeting with Clara. The meeting goes forward, complete with UNIT snipers, and Missy demonstrates her ability to suspend the planes through a simple Time Lord trick. She reveals the confession dial – the last will and testament of a Time Lord – and explains that she cannot find the Doctor either. Since it was given to Missy, Clara literally cannot touch it.
Clara wonders if Missy has turned good, and the Time Lady responds by vaporizing UNIT agents. She only cares about her best friend being in danger, and Clara demands that Missy make her believe it. Missy releases the planes, then muses about where the Doctor would go while facing his demise. Clara knows that his chosen place is Earth, and based on the amount of noise he likes to make, she narrows it down to a party. Missy uses a vortex manipulator to travel with Clara to the Doctor’s location…
…where the Doctor enters a one-on-one battle riding a tank and shredding an electric guitar.
After all, Bors wanted an axe fight.
The Doctor’s jokes fall flat, but his rendition of Pretty Woman when he spots Missy and Clara makes the crowd cheer. The Doctor celebrates the good he’s done and the anachronisms he has introduced before admitting that he has to leave tonight. He introduces Clara and uncharacteristically hugs her. Missy joins the party as Bors falls to the ground. A snake slithers back to Colony Sarff, who has followed Clara and Missy to the Doctor’s side. Sarff reveals his serpentine form but the Doctor forces him to back down. No one will die this night.
The Doctor demands to know what his archenemy wants – much to Missy’s chagrin – and Sarff replies that Davros remembers with a toss of the sonic screwdriver at the Doctor’s feet. Missy is amused at the Doctor’s shame and Clara wonders what he did.
It turns out that the Doctor abandoned Davros in the handmine field.
The Doctor attempts to say goodbye and travel with Sarff, but Clara and Missy compel Sarff to take them as well (against the Doctor’s wishes). After they leave, Bors locates the TARDIS and reveals himself as a Dalek spy, signaling his find to Dalek High Command.
En route, the Doctor tells Clara about Davros’s history. They arrive at a space hospital and are escorted to a cell. Sarff eventually retrieves the Doctor, but Clara confronts him about knowing that Missy was alive and able to receive the confession dial. Missy reveals that she and the Doctor knew about the local gravity, particularly how it is natural rather than artificially generated. Missy decides to open the airlock to test the theory.
The Doctor is escorted to Davros’s side. They talk about their conflicts and how they were fueled by a single disagreement: Was Davros right to create the Daleks or was his lack of compassion wrong? He plays recordings of their previous meetings and the Doctor’s struggles with morality.
Missy and Clara step through the airlock only to find that they are on a planet. The planet is initially hidden but is soon revealed to be Skaro, the planet of the Daleks, and the women are taken before the Supreme Dalek. A large weapon is pointed at the TARDIS, which the Daleks procured, and Missy tries to reason with them. She tells them that they can use it to go anywhere and kill anyone, and she offers to pilot it for them. The Supreme Dalek is unimpressed and orders her extermination. Missy is seemingly vaporized in the blast.
The Doctor pleads with Davros to spare Clara but Davros reveals that he doesn’t control the Daleks. The Daleks wait for Clara to run, and when she does, they exterminate her in the same way that they did Missy. Davros demands that the Doctor declare compassion wrong as the Daleks open fire on the TARDIS, supposedly destroying it.
Back on the battlefield, a young Davros pleads with the Doctor to help him. The Doctor appears behind him, claiming to be from the future, and proclaims that he’s come from the future to save his friend in the only way he can. He raises a severed Dalek gunstick and points it at Davros with a word: “Exterminate!”
The Witch’s Familiar
Clara awakens upside down dangling from a rope. She and Missy are on the outskirts of the Dalek city and Missy is musing about the time when the Doctor faced 40 assassin robots without his TARDIS. Clara determines how the Doctor escaped from the assassins and links it to Missy’s survival.
Missy frees Clara as they discuss the Doctor’s current predicament. Together, they decide to help him.
Inside the city, the Doctor searches the infirmary and comes up with a Dalek gunstick. He threatens Davros with it and then demands that he leave the chair. The Daleks respond as Davros calls for help, and as the chair approaches the room where the Daleks have been congregating, the Doctor is revealed in the chair. When the Daleks attempt to exterminate the Doctor, they fail due to the chair’s shielding which was installed due to Davros’s paranoia.
As Missy and Clara try to enter the city through the sewers, the Doctor continues his standoff with the Daleks. The relationship between the women is contentious, and Clara is disgusted to learn that the sewer is actually a Dalek graveyard, constructed from decaying members of their race. Daleks, after all, are too stubborn to die of old age so they just waste away. They listen as the Doctor rants about Clara, demanding to know if she is truly dead. The Doctor is soon overcome by Sarff’s serpents.
Missy uses Clara to trip an intruder alert, then uses her as bait to trap and kill a Dalek. Missy uses a brooch made from dark star alloy to breach the Dalek’s shell, after which the dying Daleks flood the shell and destroy the Dalek from within. Missy then tells Clara to climb into the dalekanium shell.
The Doctor awakens in the infirmary with Davros back in his chair. The Doctor finds out that Davros is playing vampire, leeching life force from the Daleks to stay alive. This is because Davros is taking advantage of the Daleks’ respect for the one who gave them life. The cables making all of this possible also contain Colony Sarff.
Davros offers the same power to the Doctor but the Time Lord refuses. He explains that he came back to Davros not because of shame but rather compassion. Davros scoffs at this notion before asking about Gallifrey. He also returns the confession dial and the Doctor’s sunglasses, the latter of which the Doctor seems to prize more.
Missy connects Clara to the Dalek shell’s telepathic circuits and then seals her inside. Clara finds out the hard way that Daleks have no sense of individuality, fire their guns through emotion, and translate positive emotions into negative ones. They then return to the upper levels with Missy as Clara’s prisoner.
The Doctor pushes Davros’s buttons by revealing that Gallifrey has been saved. He and Davros also discuss the return of Skaro, which was made so by both Davros and the Daleks longing for a home. Davros claims that he is happy for the Doctor and the restoration of Gallifrey, asking to see the Doctor up close with his own eyes to advise the protection of the Time Lords. After all, he failed to save the Kaleds and questions if he is a good man.
Since the Doctor doubted the fact that Davros was dying, they both share a laugh about the Time Lord being a terrible doctor. Davros expresses a desire to see the sun once more with his own eyes.
As Missy and Clara return to the Supreme Dalek, Missy declares that she wants to see Davros and offers Clara in exchange for a means to control the Doctor. Meanwhile, the Doctor expresses sympathy for Davros by channeling part of his own regeneration energy into the life support system. Davros laughs as he begins to siphon more and more of it, regaining his strength and feeding it to the Daleks.
The regeneration energy forces the shutdown of the Supreme Dalek and its associates, forcing Missy to panic and go in search of the Doctor. Meanwhile, Davros asks if the Doctor truly fled Gallifrey because of a prophecy about a “hybrid creature” built from two great warrior races that overshadowed both. Davros assumes that this hybrid is part Dalek and part Time Lord.
The energy transfer is interrupted as Missy enters the room and blasts the cabling with a gunstick. Sarff is destroyed but the Daleks are awakened. The Doctor retrieves his confession dial and begins a countdown that ends with the city quaking around them. He knew what Davros wanted, understanding that the regeneration energy would be transmitted to every Dalek on Skaro, including the ones in the sewers.
As the Doctor runs he is confronted by Clara in the Dalek shell. Missy attempts to convince the Doctor that the Dalek before them killed Clara, pushing him to shoot this one in retaliation. He stops when the Dalek asks for mercy, then instructs Clara on how to open the casing. The Doctor tells Missy to run for her life as he frees Clara.
The Doctor and Clara end up before the Supreme Dalek as the city collapses. They stand on the spot where the TARDIS was destroyed, and the Doctor declares that the Hostile Action Displacement System only needs a buzz from the sonic to reassemble the time capsule. When Clara points out that the Doctor no longer has a sonic screwdriver, he reveals that his sunglasses are now wearable technology. The TARDIS reassembles and the duo escapes.
Missy is cornered by the Daleks but her fate is left for another day as the Doctor and Clara watch the city collapse from a safe distance. The Doctor wonders how the concept of mercy got into the Dalek DNA, then rushes off with his gunstick. He travels back to the moment where he left child Davros and uses the gunstick to eliminate the handmines. Davros asks if he is an enemy Thal but the Doctor tells him that it doesn’t matter so long as they have mercy. The Doctor then returns the boy home.
This was a rocking adventure full of intrigue and suspense that played with so many elements of the Daleks, from the opening moments with the handmines – a beautiful extension of the body horror that has accompanied the Daleks in the revival era – to the continuation of what happens to the hateful pepperpots as they enter their twilight years.
The Dalek congregation on Skaro included a wide swath of models from the show’s history, including the original silver and blues (seen from The Daleks to The Space Museum), the second version of the silver and blues (seen from The Space Museum to The War Games), the Emperor Dalek’s personal guard from The Evil of the Daleks, the grey and blacks (seen from Day of the Daleks to Remembrance of the Daleks), the Special Weapons Dalek from Remembrance of the Daleks, a Dalek Sec model (seen from Army of Ghosts to Evolution of the Daleks), the Supreme Dalek version from The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End, and (finally) the bronze standard that we’ve seen since Dalek.
Of course, Davros plays a long game with his latest gambit, introducing the concept of mixing Time Lord biology with one of the Doctor’s enemies. This was apparently first introduced in the comics, particularly a spoof strip called Regeneration of a Dalek. Davros also gives us glances back at his history in Doctor Who with footage from Genesis of the Daleks, Resurrection of the Daleks, Revelation of the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks, and The Stolen Earth. Davros also had a flashback of his own with a gun to his head, à la Resurrection of the Daleks. (Missy also gave us a few glances at previous faces with the First and Fourth Doctors in her flashback story.)
The use of regeneration energy here brings up some questions – the Doctor previously offered it to River Song in The Angels Take Manhattan, an act that may have either returned what she gave him in Let’s Kill Hitler or expended what little he had left in the tank before The Time of the Doctor – but we have no idea how many regenerations the Twelfth Doctor is starting with (or if he even has a limit at this point). We don’t know how many lives he may have lost in this story.
The regeneration plot is where this story stumbles for me. Once again, we get the Steven Moffat trope of the Doctor holding a magic piece of information to play, and I find it implausible that he would know that Davros would try to steal regeneration energy or that he would know that someone would break Davros’s grasp on him.
Another interesting point to consider in light of future events in the series is Missy’s statement about her friendship with the Doctor. She refers to the Cloister Wars, the Doctor stealing the moon and the President’s wife, and the Doctor being a little girl, but adds the caveat that one of those was a lie. That caveat (as well as regeneration energy for enemies) will be fun to look upon in a few seasons.
This story again puts that Doctor on the precipice of destroying all the Daleks, an opportunity he has held and rejected multiple times (Genesis of the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks, The Parting of the Ways, and The Day of the Doctor). We also get some connective tissue linking the Doctor’s famous moment in Genesis of the Daleks with the start of the Last Great Time War.
Perhaps one of the greatest elements in this story answers the question of what happens to Daleks in old age. The Fourth Doctor came across Dalek mutants that had been liquified (Destiny of the Daleks) and the Cult of Skaro had abandoned their non-viable mutant embryos to die in the New York City sewers (Daleks in Manhattan), but I don’t think that I have ever considered Daleks in their twilight years. It makes sense that they are too stubborn and too angry to die, allowing themselves to decay away instead of surrendering to death.
A few last Dalek notes: The design of the Dalek city and the sliding doors pays homage to the set The Daleks; Missy’s offer to teach the Daleks how to fly the TARDIS harkens back to the First Doctor bargaining for Susan’s life in The Daleks; Davros’s views on compassion echo the Daleks in Victory of the Daleks; and heroes inside Dalek casings played parts in both The Daleks and The Space Museum.
The tension surrounding Clara in the Dalek casing, especially with Missy’s mean trick at the end, was fantastic.
Missy’s mysterious resurrection calls back to the classic series, specifically, the “Tremas” Master (introduced in The Keeper of Traken) who escaped certain death with no explanation for his return (Castrovalva, Planet of Fire, and Survival). It’s almost like Skaro’s new lease on life in light of its destruction in Remembrance of the Daleks and the return in the TV movie and Asylum of the Daleks.
This story credits the creators of the Kahler, Skullions, Hath, Blowfish, Ood, and Sycorax. These aliens were all present when Colony Sarff was searching for the Doctor, and all of them have previously appeared in Doctor Who proper except for the Skullions, who originated in The Sarah Jane Adventures.
UNIT provides a fun travelogue of the Doctor’s adventures, including San Martino, Troy, multiple visits to New York City, and three possible versions of Atlantis.
Finally, this is the first purely historical story since 1982’s Black Orchid.
It’s a welcome return featuring two of the Doctor’s greatest enemies, a lot of wealth from deep mythology, and a ton of fun adventure. It’s also a great start to the new series.
Rating: 4/5 – “Would you care for a jelly baby?”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Under the Lake and Doctor Who: Before the Flood
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.