Horatio

Horatio
[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

Monday, September 21, 2015

"Let's Make Jam"--Notes on Doctor Who: The Magician's Apprentice

I'm going to steal a leaf from Missy's book (on returning from her seeming vaporization in "Death in Heaven, she simply says, visibly bored with the topic, “Not dead. Back. Big surprise. Never mind.)”, and spare the recap. Here's the atmospheric prologue to The Magician's Apprentice:



And here, in an act of rather startling generosity by the BBC (I bought the season, but good on the Beeb, anyway), is the full episode itself:



So, all up to speed then? Because, one last time:



Right, how you feel about this episode is going to be dependent on several factors. First, the episode is rich, and fast. Ideas that could make up a whole episode are used in minutes. A knowledge of old Who isn't strictly necessary, but enriches the his episode. But finally, the mood swings could snap a spine. This story ranges a emotional gamut from bleak despair--it opens with the Doctor himself seemingly committing an act of appalling ruthlessness--to Capaldi entering a medieval hall on a tank, playing the electric guitar (and yes, it's Capaldi playing). Capaldi sells this scene--under the manic glee, there's a bitter despair that leaks out when Bors tells him that he's been there for three weeks--has "it must be nearly bedtime" ever sounded so dark?

But the mood doesn't hold; in a lovely bit of amends to the two women who have come to seek him out, he greets Clara and Missy (mostly Clara, I suspect, but Missy gives a jaunty little grin, too) with "Pretty Woman" and Missy with "Mickey"; each enters in her own fashion--Clara brimming with concern, Missy matching the Doctor's theatricality with her own.



(Alas, it stops before Clara's and Missy's entrances, but see the full episode above.)

But--and here's the interesting thing--Missy is just as worried about the Doctor as is Clara. She emphatically warns him not to accompany Colony Sarrf, with a great line: "Doctor, listen to me. I know traps. Traps are my flirting. This is a trap." After her outrage at Clara sarcastically asking her if she's turned good--Gomez's accent thickens with fury, and she executes a couple of UNIT Redshirts she terms "spares"--



-- Missy plays this one pretty straight, and in fact, as soon as Clara (speaking for both of them) insists that they go with the Doctor, Missy goes with her to have her hands bound and accompany them to the very trap she warned about. Her rapport with Clara is remarkable--Coleman and Gonzales really sell their scenes together, with Gomez essentially playing the Doctor role, albeit with a mad flourish. Her deduction that they have arrived not at a space station but are on a planet is delivered with aplomb, but when she recognizes the planet as Skaro, her terror unnerves Clara.

We're back in Pertwee-Delgado territory here, with the "frenemy" dynamic that marked that era turned up loud. And here Missy and Clara work together not unlike the Doctor and the Master (and , with some banter, with the Brigadier) in Claws of Axos or with the Brigadier, Ian and Barbara in David McIntee's The Face of the Enemy.

The Doctor, meanwhile is otherwise occupied.

Here's where the episode gets really cooking.

Davros, "creator of the Daleks, dark lord of Skaro" was once the boy whom the Doctor abandoned to the extra-ghastly minefield at the very beginning of the episode. The old philosophical debate from Genesis of the Daleks, among other past encounters, is reprised:





And, on his deathbed, Davros means to defeat the Doctor, not on the field of battle, but on the philosophical plane: The Daleks exterminate Missy (who, in true Delgado style, tries to persuade them that they need her) and Clara; they destroy the TARDIS. Davros demands that the Doctor admit that compassion is evil, and w next see him returning to the battlefield--seemingky to exterminate the young Davros.

As an old friend of mine would say at the end of the episode, when we watched the show together, "Twang out."

***

It's a grand setup. What comes next will determine whether this episode is brilliant or just potentially brilliant. Will Moffat address the philosophical issues, or elide them?

A few random thoughts:

1. Capaldi's performance is a tour de force--forced gaiety, horror, despair, abject pleading for Clara's life--he sells them all. Capaldi really is "my Doctor."

2. Gomez is the best Master since Delgado, and if she keeps it up will surpass the Master. I loved the brief appearance of Derek Jacobi in Utopia (and his interesting take on the character in Scream of the Shalka; I have a higher regard for Anthony Ainley than many do--his performances in Keeper of Traken and Survival showed what he could do with a good script and direction), and John Simm had inspired moments. But make mine Missy.

3. Davros has never seemed more human, more relatable than when he is dying. Julian Bleach is outstanding here, weary, but determined to win the argument, and have the Doctor admit it, "just once."

4. I've seen some questions online about why Colony Sarrf needs to follow Clara and Missy if Bors is already a Dalek plant. That's a misreading, I think. The snake escapes Sarrf, infects Bors (when the Doctor thinks he's choking on a marble again). Until that point, poor old Bors wasn't a plant, but a friend.

5. How did Missy survive? C'mon. You can explain that in-universe easily enough. How often has the Master been betrayed by alien allies? Oh, right, every frickin' time. And Cybermen she built to give to the Doctor? Fairly sure she built in a failsafe "don't kill Mummy" device there, just in case.

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