The Magician's Apprentice

I watched

Watching Doctor Who - post-2005, when the series was relaunched - is an exercise in managing expectations. You hope it won't be the dog's dinner it always turns out to be, but it almost always is. Partly that's down to Steven Moffat's disastrous stewardship (this petition to remove him lists many of the ways in which he's poisoned Doctor Who, and there's a good dissection of his tenure here), and partly it's down to the fact that Great Britain just can't make decent TV anymore. America does that instead.

So I greeted the launch of the show's ninth season both warily and wearily, my pessimism tinged with hope: maybe this time it'll be better. But why, I hear you ask, even bother watching a show that you dislike? I did stop for a while, during the Matt Smith years. I disliked him, and I disliked Amy Pond even more. And so I watched very few of the Matt Smith episodes. The casting of Peter Capaldi was a game changer. After what I call the "Disney's Junior Dr. Who" years, here was an actor with gravity and presence. But he, too, has been dragged down by Moffat.

There's so much wrong with The Magician's Apprentice it's hard to know where to start. The excruciating (and dull) electric guitar and tank sequence might be a good place, but this shameless bit of padding is too obvious a target. (Wait, did I say padding? That suggests there's some semblance of plot to be found elsewhere.) Missy is back, of course, having apparently died last time around. But she's a Timelord, we can forgive that. Missy is a Marmite character, and if she was the first bad guy whose character consists entirely of smart arse one liners, it might be cute. But every character in Moffat's universe talks like this: Missy is simply River Song dressed up as Mary Poppins. (Sidebar: Smart arse one liners are why modern Doctor Who is so loved by [mostly white] middle-class people. They do like to think they're better than everyone else.)

Davros is also back. I can't remember if he's supposed to be dead or not. Moffat (like his predecessor) kills everyone for the shock value, then brings them back anyway. It must be said actor Julian Bleach's Davros is truly excellent, but he's wasted here, and any goodwill is almost immediately thrown out of the window by the horribly ill-judged scene of the Doctor begging and grovelling before Davros for Clara's life. Presumably, it's supposed to reinforce the seriousness of Clara's predicament, but we know that whatever happens to her will be magically undone. Unfortunately, we can't un-see this diminished Doctor.

Shock, horror, both Clara and Missy are exterminated in the big Dalek playroom. What are we to make of this, except, "Oh. Well, they're not really dead, are they?" Speaking of which, Skaro, home planet of the Daleks, which was destroyed in an earlier episode, is back from the dead too. Moffat doesn't seem to understand - or care - that voiding the consequences of actions (very serious actions) drains away any real sense of menace. Everything has a great big reset button.

About that Dalek playroom. It's a great big control room of some sort with lots of Daleks milling around in it. All kinds of designs of Daleks, from the 1963 original, to 1988's Special Weapons Dalek, through to the post-2005 variants. The only ones missing are 2010's universally loathed Paradigm Daleks, which seem to have been quietly buried. The point of this Dalek porn isn't clear. It's fun, but pointless. Anyone could get a bunch of different Daleks together; in fact, people often do. Those people are called fans, and the events where they assemble their classic Daleks are called conventions.

This is what happens when the lunatics take over the asylum.





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