The Doctor is in the building and he brought horrible puns and an electric guitar. Were you expecting someone else?
Season 9 Premiere
Saturdays at 9 p.m.
It’s quite a hard thing to review “Doctor Who” because no matter what you think of it, someone, somewhere will disagree with everything you have ever stood for. Some folks stopped watching after William Hartnell’s First Doctor (like, you know, your grandparents), while others have only ever seen Matt Smith’s Eleven.
The current era has been met with controversy (to say the least), namely directed at show-runner Steven Moffat (“Sherlock”) and his inability to bring more diversity to the Who Universe. I personally agree with this sentiment, yet I still respect the ineluctable contribution Moffat has made to taking The Doctor out of your parent’s basement and into the hearts of the entire world. I also have to say that I love Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. Believe it or not, Moffat is way more attuned to the original vision of the Doctor than most fans wish to admit. In his first adventures, the Doctor was shrewd, rude and a little impatient with his human companions. He was, in short, a grumpy old man who had just about had it up to here with the universe, and he didn’t care who he forced to listen. Clearly, this is the iteration of the Doctor Moffat feels the most connected to, and it’s one I prefer to Matt Smith’s quirky, bouncy ball of fun. Moffat, someone who gets a bad rep for making “Doctor Who” a tad too serious, still knows how to fill his odd-ball time-lord with lovable idiosyncrasies, this time an electric guitar and sunglasses in 1198 A.D. England.
Like many of Moffat’s adventures into the Who Universe, the season nine premiere, “The Magician’s Apprentice,” treats the canon and mythology of the Doctor like a giant sandbox filled with previously unanswered (and sometimes unanswerable) questions. “The Magician’s Apprentice” continues in the vein of “Into the Dalek” (a personal favorite of mine) by exploring the creation, psychology and circumstances behind a species of absolute evil, the Daleks. Moffat’s ideas are often so insane, yet obvious, you feel yourself always asking why no one has ever thought of doing it before.
In this case, we explore the exact relationship the Doctor has with Davros, the inventor of the Daleks. There’s more than a little “Harry Potter” vibe to this episode, as Davros’s serpentine servants abduct the Doctor, Clara (Jenna Louise Coleman, “Captain America: The First Avenger”) and the Master (Michelle Gomez, “The Brink”). The trio are brought to Davros’s homeworld of Skaro so that the Doctor may speak with the inventor before he dies … or so it seems.
The episode ends on a “To Be Continued” card which will undoubtedly anger those who have dismissed the more serialized format “Doctor Who” has taken on at the helm of Moffat. The format feels more like serialized prose or stories, like that of Dickens and other authors of Victorian serials.
The one thing I’m uncertain about the new season is the direction of the Master as a possible anti-hero. Moffat makes it clear with the Master’s murder of the agents that this is still the Master and should not be trusted, but I still don’t believe that the entire millennia of conflict between the Master and the Doctor was just “flirting.” That being said, the show does do a great deal in contextualizing the Doctor’s hatred of the Master with his hatred of Davros. The Master is still a Time Lord / Lady, and there’s definitely a familiarity there, even if the show presents it as more intimate than some fans might be comfortable with. With Davros, the biggest thing the Doctor can relate to is the fact that they have both done horrible things which they self-justify.