(New) Doctor Who, Series 9 Episode 1: “The Magician’s Apprentice”

I stopped watching Doctor Who last year because I found it incredibly frustrating. In truth, the only reason that I even considered watching the new series was the presence of Maisie Williams. Then Mo Ryan and Ryan McGee gave it a good review on their podcast, and I decided I’d have to check it out. I wasn’t disappointed. I went from being a diehard Whovian to casual fan to hate-watcher in the space of Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner, and Mo and Ryan have articulated some of my problems with the show very well. Since they gave it a positive review, I decided to watch the series premiere, and I wasn’t disappointed. Sure, my expectations have been lowered, but at the end of the episode I decided that I had to watch it next week. It helps to start with a two-parter for the premiere. It wasn’t until I was washing the dishes after the episode that I realised I hadn’t seen Maisie Williams – if she was there, I missed her because I was playing Ocarina of Time.

When we learned that the little boy at the beginning of the episode was Davros, I was immediately intrigued. The last time we saw Davros was in “Journey’s End”, which was fun until Russel T Davies decided that the story he wanted to tell was the true love between Rose and Ten, which is not my thing. At the beginning of “The Magician’s Apprentice”, we see a young boy, surrounded by hands with eyeballs in the middle, and when the Doctor shows up, he makes the mistake to give him the sonic screwdriver and save him. Thus we have our Davros origin story – a boy so wrecked by war that he put the remaining members of his species into metal shells. And it’s all because the Doctor showed compassion. I like that kind of paradox, which is what I’m guessing will happen next week. This is time travel at its purest.

If the Doctor kills young Davros to save Clara and Missy, he creates an alternate timeline where the Daleks were never created, and presumably Gallifrey still exists. But what sort of vacuum do the Daleks leave, and will the Doctor ever meet his companions if not for the specific path his journey has taken him on? It’s just like Ocarina of Time: if you don’t plant the seeds as Young Link, you won’t be able to fly around on leaves as Adult Link. In “Turn Left”, we learn that the Doctor needed Donna in order to save the world. Or is the Doctor saving Davros a fixed moment in time, much like when Ten tried to save the Mars crew in “The Waters of Mars”? Is Davros right when he tells the Doctor that compassion is weakness, and how did the Doctor get back to Davros if the Daleks killed the TARDIS? Did he absorb the time vortex and not need the TARDIS any more? I hope not, because that basically makes him a superhero.

These sorts of questions are why I engage with popular culture rather than just consume it. There are questions of ethics, and time travel is definitely my favourite science fiction trope (although I still haven’t finished season five of Lost). However, there were still some things that I wasn’t particularly fond of. Missy and Clara arguing about who was the Doctor’s closest friend was pretty much the only scene we needed to prove that this show fails the Bechdel Test, which isn’t a perfect test for measuring women in pop culture, but it’s a telling one. Many things fail the Bechdel Test because women are only interacting with men, but when women are interacting with other women and all they do is bicker over who is closer to a particular guy? No thanks. That being said, I really enjoyed “The Magician’s Apprentice”, and I’m going to watch Doctor Who next week, I don’t know what will happen after that.

Other thoughts:

  • My prediction for the season long arc is that the Doctor creates another timeline where Clara and Missy don’t die, but then has to fix it all at the end because other stuff keeps going wrong. This makes sense with Jenna Coleman’s exit from the show.
  • Some other thoughts on Missy, who I learned was The Master when I read reviews of the show even after I kept watching it: I don’t need the Doctor to be a woman, but Steven Moffat seems to be over-compensating for the criticism of his poor writing of female characters. The Doctor isn’t a woman, so I’ll make the Master a woman, everyone will be happy about that! Except then of course the Time Lady is the bad guy (and also every single female villain Moffat has ever written. There’s a link in my previous post to a great article on io9). Then she mentions that she’s known the Doctor since he was a little girl and suddenly he’s trying way too hard again. I know, I’m a cynic, but this show has burned me hard.
  • When is Maisie Williams going to be in it?

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