The Doctor is back and if it starts with a hell of a hook: The Doctor given with the greatest mortal he could ever face and set out the highest stakes to start a Doctor Who season since “The Impossible Astronaut.”
On a war torn planet a young boy is cause in the middle of the battlefield and trapped when hands with eyes in the prams surround him. The Doctor arrives just in time to attempts to save the boy, until he reveals his name, Davros, the eventual creator of the Daleks. Centuries later Davros is dying and he sends his herald to find The Doctor across time and space.
On Earth Missy causes mischief by stopping all plane in midair, sending it as a message to meet Clara. Together the pair go through set to find The Doctor who has been partying for three weeks in Medieval England.
As mentioned “The Magician’s Apprentice” bares similarities to the start of Season 6, setting up a major event that is going to key for the rest of the series. Both openers also use the idea of intersecting personal time-lines, characters meeting each other in a different order to each other: Davros’ first meeting of The Doctor is not the first time The Doctor meets Davros. One of the greatest strength of the episode was it references to the continuity of the series, old and new, particularly a scene from the “Genesis of the Dalek”, linking into “The Magician’s Apprentice”, being a great nod for fans of the old series while also allowing fans who only know the new series to understand the reference and its importance.
The main theme of the episode is its moral dilemma which is pretty much question if you can go back in time and kill Hitler as a child would you do it? The story is also like the 1989 Tim Burton of Batman where in that film The Joker created Batman before Batman created The Joker. The Doctor abandons Davros to die and by leaving the boy did The Doctor inadvertently create his own enemy?
One of the other main strengths in the episode is Michelle Gomez returning as Missy. Gomez is a fantastic comedic actress in the UK and she is clearly enjoying herself respiring her role: she was revels in Missy’s sadistic as she enjoys killing UNIT guards and perfectly condescending towards others. The Doctor’s reintroduction was ridiculously over the top, riding a tank while playing an electric guitar in a Medieval gladiatorial arena. Yes it is silly but it does at least lightens the tone for the more heavier subject manner and allows Peter Capaldi to loosen up as he acts more like an aging rocker.
In Britain “The Magician’s Apprentice” was nearly universally praised by critics, getting many perfect scores from different outlets. But this was an episode that so dense in the continuity and mythology of Doctor Who that is near impenetrable for any newcomers or casual viewers. The idea of the new Doctor Who was that it was meant to allow newcomers to come into the show without any prior knowledge. There are many episodes in the new run that work as standalone adventures that allow people to jump into show and the season opener for Doctor Who is a opportunity for new viewers to be eased . But this opener needed encyclopedic knowledge of the series. It may have been better as a season finale then an opening.
Doctor Who has had stronger opener episodes but “The Magician’s Apprentice” is solid start for season 8 and it does end on a incredible cliffhanger that will entice viewers to see how it the two-parter concludes. Audiences in England and Wales are going to be torn between The Doctor and the rugby.