Friday, 2 October 2015

Doctor Who:
The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar

It's that time of year again, folks! The UK's best TV programme is back on our screens! But enough about The Great British Bake Off - we're here to talk about Doctor Who.

Series 9 promises to be an interesting and unusual experience, as two-parters not only return for the first time in three years, but actually make up every single episode. It's more in keeping with the original series' classic multi-part stories, but will it work for our more modern sensibilities?

To find out, we've gathered a small herd of Hurds - David, Amy, and me, Matthew - to go over the episodes each week and share our thoughts. Join us below, as we take a look at the first two-parter of the series.

Matthew:
I was planning to start by asking what we thought of the last series and of Capaldi so far, but I feel that will almost certainly come up anyway. But where to start instead? There's just so much going on in these episodes - tanks and planes and invisible planets - that it's hard to pick one.

So let's just start at the beginning, with what I thought was easily the best scene in either episode: a strange warzone with spaceships fighting bows and arrows, super-creepy mines, and one hell of a reveal at the end. I loved this opening - what about you two?

Amy:
I really loved the opening too! There were so many interesting ideas with the hand mines and the spaceships and the wooden bows. I thought it was great! I was disappointed when that isn't what the episode was about though. The interesting warzone was forgotten about and not really explored, sadly.

David:
I thought the opening was great as well - really creepy, really atmospheric and grabbed you straight away. All things that Moffat excels at. And then the Doctor turned up in the nick of time, just like he always does, offering wise words, rambling speeches and a tiny glimmer of hope, just like he always does. It was classic Who.

And then came the reveal. Davros hasn't been seen since 2008, yet the mere mention of his name is enough to send shivers down your spine. That right there is the sign of a great villain. And here he is as a child. A genius twist and a brilliant pay-off for the standout scene in the episode. It's just a shame it peaked so early.

It was a truly amazing setup - to the point that I assumed it was setting up the whole arc of the season, rather than just these first two episodes. I was actually a little disappointed that we reached adult Davros so soon - although I did appreciate seeing the contrast between the two versions. I also think I like this old and tired rendition of the character much more than the crazy, ranting, over-the-top "Daleks' pet" that we saw in 2008 (although that guy does make a brief comeback in the second part). I just sort of wish he had more to do, or more impact on the story. Like Amy said, the first episode sort of forgets what it's supposed to be about.

It doesn't just forget about the warzone though. There were loads of really good, interesting ideas that weren't explored and weren't really explained and didn't really hold that much relevance to the plot; the planes stopping, the planet being invisible, the medieval guitar. It just seemed to have too many ideas all shoved together. As for the plot, I'm not really sure I could tell you what it was. It's almost as if it's trying too hard to be epic and galactic that it forgets the storyline.

Another thing, and I don't quite know if it's the fault of Doctor Who or the BBC or someone else, is that the sound was really strange. The music was really loud and often a lot louder than the dialogue. There were quite a few times when I found myself desperately straining to hear. At the risk of sounding like a moaner watching Jamaica Inn, Davros mumbled a lot and I couldn't really hear a word he was saying!

The first episode was good, don't get me wrong, but it just never seemed to gel. It suffered from what I think is Moffat's biggest weakest - throwing a load of great ideas at the wall and not bothering to see what sticks.

Man made of snakes? Great. Missy back? Great. Planes freezing? Great. Invisible Skaaro? Great. The Doctor throwing an epic party? Great.

All great ideas, but not a single one given the care and attention it needed. Of all the great ideas, the much discussed opening was the one that was give time to breathe, and as a result, was the only part of the episode that truly worked.

Like I said, still a good episode, with lots of good parts, and plenty of great ideas, but it just didn't seem to work as an episode.

I completely agree. The first episode really summed up my feelings about Capaldi's entire run so far. I enjoyed it at the time but looking back, with the exception of a couple of stellar episodes (namely Listen and Orient Express), what I remember enjoying are individual moments or ideas rather than entire episodes or arcs. The whole run has felt kind of disjointed and unfocused, and The Magician's Apprentice really drove that feeling home and made me fear the worst for the series to come.

The second episode, on the other hand, seemed much more assured and comfortable with what it was doing. There was much more of the things that worked the first time, like regretful old Davros and Missy being delightfully sadistic, and those ideas were actually given enough time to breathe.

I agree that the second episode worked a lot better than the first. There were still a few things left unexplained though I think, like how is Davros alive? Didn't he die in that fire at the Medusa Cascade? And Missy not being dead was very briefly glossed over, which I know is kind of an in-joke, but I still feel like it should have been explained a bit more. I also don't really think the snake man was quite used to his full potential.

Although Clara is growing on me, I still think there are inconsistencies in her character. Sometimes she's really clever and works things out really quickly, things that even experts at UNIT can't work out or how Missy and her transported, and yet she couldn't think of a way to let the Doctor know it was her in the Dalek? She just kept saying "I am Clara Oswald" even though it had been clearly established that it didn't work. We know Clara Oswald is in the Dalek's vocabulary (as is "weird" which I found odd) so why not try "Clara Oswald is alive" or "I travel with you" or "Danny Pink".

I half expected her to say "soufflé" actually - it definitely needed an Asylum callback. And while I agree the drama felt very manufactured, I still loved that moment. After two episodes siding with Missy (even though she vapourised those UNIT guys) it was good to have that final betrayal. I am kinda loving Missy in these episodes.

Incidentally, I think this is the first time that we've seen the Master leave present-day Earth since the programme came back. That's something I've been hoping for and I look forward to more of it in the future. Loved that her first ever meeting with Davros amounted to a (literal) poke in the eye for anyone expecting it to be a big moment.

I really liked this second part - it took what worked the first time, and ditched all the unnecessary stuff. I was worried at first, but Moffat managed to turn it around and deliver what might be his first really solid Dalek episode.

I must admit, though, that the final scene of child Davros didn't hit anywhere near as hard as it needed to, in order to pay off that amazing opening. I wanted to see the Doctor properly change something - something timey-wimey to spin this series off from - but what we got felt like a damp squib.

I have to confess to quite liking the ending. You're right in that it didn't hit as hard as the gut-punch of an opener, but it won me over by simply being another instance of Doctor Who using time travel correctly, and I'm always a sucker for that.

I thought the second episode was a totally different story to the disappointing first, and showed off Moffat's biggest strength - waiting to see which great idea sticks, and then basing an entire episode around it. In this case, a quiet and heart-felt conversation between Davros and the Doctor. Might not sound all that exciting for a two-part series opening (especially not when compared to episodes like The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon), but it worked. It really worked.

Overall, I did enjoy the first episode, but it just feels like it's trying too hard. I definitely think the second episode was much better. The Doctor showing his compassion only for it to be his weakness, as always, and then him outsmarting Davros because he'd worked out the plan all along, was great! I would have liked to have seen more of the battle ground and that war, but overall I hope the the series is on the same level as the second episode and not the first.