Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice (2015)

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“Compassion Doctor. It has always been your greatest indulgence…”

This year, I have decided to not read too many Doctor Who spoilers, to not look at set reports, or to not read costuming announcements if I could help it. Usually something really big gets spoiled for me, and I did this in order to experiment with my enjoyment of various things. I have also done this with many of the summer blockbuster films this year, and as a result I feel that I have enjoyed everything more than I usually do.

What this means, is that for the first time since 2005, I have no idea what any episode is going to be like this fall. This is both refreshing and a bit scary. With a title like The Magician’s Apprentice, I was half expecting a riff on the 1940 Disney film Fantasia – full of zany antics in an old castle, perhaps some brooms walking around. I was expecting a classic Doctor Who “romp” – something like 2014’s Robot of Sherwood. Boy, was I wrong.Doctor-Who-magicians-apprentice-davros

Very seldom is there a Doctor Who episode that starts with an opening scene that hits you in the gut like a jackhammer, only to increase the tension until you are left utterly blindsided at the end. This episode plays out like the first part of a two-part finale, rather than the whimsical series opener that we’re all used to.

In many ways, this episode is a send-up of a much older episode, Genesis of the Daleks, going so far as to use a clip from the episode as a punctuation mark in the episode itself. I would even say that the entire premise is based on something said by The Doctor to Sarah Jane in Genesis of the Daleks: “If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives… could you then kill that child?”

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Genesis of the Daleks was a Tom Baker episode wherein The Doctor was given a choice to commit mass-genocide on the entire Dalek Race before they rose to power. This act would have saved countless lives, ended the time war before it started, and saved himself and various companions many times. The Doctor, in his young age, could not bring himself to do this act – he could not lower himself to their level.

The Twelfth Doctor is less romantic about this idea of pacifism, and does the opposite. The idea here is that The Doctor meets an old adversary, perhaps his arch-nemesis (much to the chagrin of Missy) when said person is nothing more than a small child. A horrible war is going on, and a boy ends up in the middle of a field full of creatures (or weapons? They were called “handmines”) that mean certain doom. The boy cries out for help, to be met with a re-assuring voice and the choice of taking a 1/1000 chance at survival. Then it happens:

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The Doctor: “Tell me the name of the boy who isn’t going to die today.”

Boy: “Davros. My name is Davros.”

It appears, as of this moment (stupid two-parters!), that The Doctor chooses to abandon the boy in his moment of need once he realizes who it is. This boy grows up to become a scientist called Davros, the man that creates the Daleks to end thousands of years of perpetual war on planet Skaro. This episode highlights the problems with his ongoing inner struggle: Is he a good man or a bad man? It seems that being good causes all sorts of troubles.

In many ways, this problem is a variation of The Grandfather Paradox, a popular trope in science fiction, where an event pre-supposes a previous event to the point where a discernible beginning cannot be established. If the Doctor, in a moment of weakness, attempts to kill or allows the death of the creator of the universe’s chief antagonist, and that man survives to be embittered by the event (perhaps driven to hatred), surely The Doctor is to blame for this happening. It’s not as tidy as a classic Grandfather Paradox, but I can see some sort of “timey-wimey” shenanigans popping up to “fix” the events of the episode. If anything the episodes cliff-hanger only serve to make the causal-loop worse.

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I have stated many times that I LOVE Steven Moffat‘s use of the aforementioned “timey-wimey…stuff” since the show has never really capitalized on the time travel aspect of the premise aside from changing scenery. Dealing with paradoxes is hard, and Doctor Who usually gets it right, so I’m hoping that part-two of this season opener has a nice resolution and no Red Dwarf-styled shoulder shrugs and hand-waving.

I may have made it appear that this episode was nothing but a bleak ball of stress on our TV screens, but that isn’t exactly true. While the laughs are few and far between, they are still there. One of the best moments for me was The Doctor, assuming he was about to die, throwing himself a three week party in Medieval England. For some reason he is set to duel a large warrior in an arena for the entertainment of the assemble masses. and proceeds to ride into this duel on top of a tank playing an electric guitar. Since the Doctor usually refuses to allow anachronisms for leak into the past this is far beyond his character and shows he doesn’t care anymore.

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Missy is another fun element to the episode, if one can consider her scenes fun. I finally figured out why I enjoy her as Missy so much, she reminds me of a female version the popular DC comics adversary – The Joker. She’s funny, but the humor is so dark and somewhat in the poorest taste that you laugh, but feel bad doing so. I think this was where Russell T. Davies was trying to go with John Simm’s portrayal of the character, but he fell flat for me. My favorite incarnation of “The Master” was Roger Delgado, but Michelle Gomez is giving him a run for his money.

Another nod goes to Julian Bleach who is once again portraying the megalomaniacal Davros. He has been great almost every single time he appears on any of these shows. He first appeared as the Ghostmaker in the Torchwood story From Out of the Rain. His second appearance was as Davros in the Doctor Who stories The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End. His third appearance was as the Nightmare Man in the The Sarah Jane Adventures story The Nightmare Man. So far he is one of the ONLY people to appear in all of the Doctor Who related shows since 2005. He does particularly well, for me, simply because he takes a character so over-the-top as Davros and grounds it in some way, thus making him far more terrifying. The moment Davros is twirling his proverbial mustache it looses something for me.

This was a solid opener for Doctor Who, and perhaps the “ballsiest” way to start a season that they could have done. I will discuss everything more next week when we see a completed story, but so far I have one word – WOW!

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One awesome thing that BBC America did was make this entire episode available for FREE on Youtube (which I have linked to below). Feel free to watch the episode if you already haven’t and bookmark their page just in case they decide to make more available.

 

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Doctor Who: Frontier in Space

I recently had the pleasure of picking up a ton of Pertwee era Doctor Who episodes via a sale Columbia House was running. Well I guess it wasn’t really my choice, as I nearly let my subscription lapse, but I was going to go for these anyway. Last week I did a write-up for Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and this week I’ll be taking a look at the two parts of the “Dalek War” boxed set. First up we have Frontier in Space, starring he Doctor as played by Jon Pertwee, Jo Grant played by Katy Manning, and The Master portrayed by Roger Delgado.

The Master has been a Doctor Who character that I both love and hate at different times. Sometimes he can be pretty lousy, relying on unrealistic plans reminiscent of your typical Saturday morning cartoon villain. Just like any incompetent James Bond villain, he tells the Doctor his plan, leaves him in a deadly situation, then leaves just enough time to be foiled ten minutes later. Occasionally, we do get the other side of the master, the one that’s actually good.

Frontier in Space doesn’t have the bombastic silliness of the 1980’s Master, but a character that seems to be actually evil, even realistically evil. In the real world, there are very few crazed dictators bent on world domination, but there are a lot of bad people out there. Take war profiteers for instance; any listen to world news lately shows that there is a growing industry for people to go down to Africa and help cause civil unrest. The worse the situation, the more these people can make in bribes, weapon sales, and any other illicit activity. These are the true evil folks in the world – and this is the exact archetype the Master fills in this Doctor Who story.

Rather than being the “main villain” in Frontier in space The Master exists as an agent egging on the two warring sides – The Humans and the Draconians. He uses a hypnosis device to cause confusion as to whether both sides are disregarding a peace pact and starting acts of war. Reports have come in that various ships are being ransacked in a de-militarized zone. In fact, neither the Draconians nor Humans are doing any of this, as it is really a third race, the Orgons doing all the bad deeds. As one can immediately tell, this plot has more to do with a political thriller than your typical epic war episode of today. The plot relies very much on diplomatic dialog between the leaders of all groups, and how they mistrust each other.

Remember that scene where the Doctor got captured? Which one?

Sadly, this isn’t a great episode for the Doctor and Jo, as they spend basically the whole time being locked up in some way. First they materialize on an Earth based spaceship, and are immediately thought to be Draconian spies. They break out and are put back into holding countless times from then on, thus making this episode slightly boring for the most part. While I enjoy having The Master have some intelligent maneuvering in the foreground, I would have liked the Doctor in a less vulnerable position for these six episodes. That’s another problem – six episodes is a bit too much, and seems to have padded out the episode. Had it been a “four-parter”, I think I would have been more engaged in all the arrests and imprisonments.

Any quibbles I might have with the actual serial are definitely outweighed by the great special features held within. This DVD contains the third Doctor iteration of a recurring DVD feature called “Stripped for Action” where they look at the Doctor Who related comic books of the time. Also included is a solid “making of” feature, and one almost unwatchable piece called “Perfect Scenario: Lost Frontier”. This “mockumentary” is designed to resemble a futuristic TV magazine program talking about the episode. Why people, hundreds of years in the future, would be concerned with an ancient TV program to better understand their time is beyond me and really pushes this to absurd levels. This unnecessary bookending makes this feature VERY campy, and ruins any credibility it could have had without all the fluff. I hated when it started talking about 70’s fashion pretending to be from the future, the irony being that this very documentary was doing the same thing that was being ridiculed. I’m not sure if this has been on any other DVDs, or is planned for future ones, but I’ll be skipping it for now on if I run across it!

I can't wait until we dress like this in the future!

Finally, This DVD has some material on Roger Delgado that makes the package. In my opinion, there has been no match whatsoever for Roger Delgado as The Master in the entire run of Doctor Who ever since his untimely death in 1973. Ainley was decent in the role, but relied too much on over the top “mustache twirling”, John Simm had a similar problem with his portrayal, and Eric Roberts….let’s just forget about Eric Roberts, as he definitely doesn’t hold a candle to Delgado! This DVD stands as a sort of memorial to him, as this was sadly his final episode as he died in a car crash whilst filming a feature film in Turkey. Before I even started the DVD, I made sure I switched on “The Master”, one of the special features included on the disk.

The documentary includes a sit-down interview with his wife and other people close to Roger and really paints him as the exact opposite of his on-screen persona. I know this is a cliché whilst doing documentaries for deceased actors that played villains, but it’s nice to see how Delgado acted out in public, and adds to the sadness that he passed on the top of his game.

While the story was a bit padded for my tastes, this is still a solid DVD to own, and I’m really excited to see the second part of the set, Planet of the Daleks.