Like many of Peter Capaldi’s previous episodes, the premise of The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar sound fantastic on paper, but the results are very so-so. The notion of the Master teaming up with the Doctor and Clara to defeat the Daleks has a very classic Doctor Who vibe, and acts as a nice homage to the 70’s. However, at times the story writing feels a bit sloppy and gimmicky, and we have to deal with a 10 minute scene of the Doctor entering an arena on a tank playing electric guitar (why? ‘Cos it’s funny) delivering the line “You said you wanted an Axe fight”. Yes of course the barminess is what makes Doctor Who work, and there’s even a massive wink at the audience later when the Doctor produces a cup of tea from nowhere, commenting “I’m the Doctor, just accept it”.
One of the more intriguing ideas that came from showrunner Steven Moffat’s brain is seeing Davros as a child. It’s hard to decide what’s more shocking: the revelation that the child the Doctor is going to save is called Davros, or the fact that by some miracle it wasn’t spoiled on the internet. Fleshing out the sometimes two dimensional wrinkly old prune that is Davros was long overdue and we get an insight into how the child caught in the middle of the war decides to transform his people into the supreme pepper pots. Davros isn’t the only returning iconic villain, as we are treated to another serving of Michelle Gomez’s wild eyed, uber-Scottish (and at times quite annoying) Missy. And here lies the problem with returning Doctor Who villains: with every series of the show it now becomes a given that there will be a ‘Dalek episode’, and with the return of Missy, who appeared only recently in the previous series finale resurrecting the Cybermen from the dead, the formula has just become predictable. We hadn’t seen Davros for seven years which was why the reveal worked so well, the show needs to retire some villains for a while in order to not overuse them – yes Daleks, I’m talking to you.
Another thing that felt gimmicky was the rubbish henchman made of snakes, Colony Sarff, who only exists to bring the Doctor, Missy and Clara to Skaro, and then just scowls menacingly in the background. I don’t think even Peter Capaldi knows what’s happening with his wardrobe, with chequered trousers, smart jacket and then the inclusion of a hoodie. Why? Is it to prove he’s in touch with ‘the kids’? Moffat still insists on showing us the life of Clara almost making the Doctor her companion and whilst this obviously fleshes her out it is tedious at times. Who would we rather watch: a teacher struggling to control her class or an alien over 1000 years old who can travel in time and space? The cliff-hanger at the end of the first episode was ludicrous too with the Doctor brandishing a gun pointed at young Davros yelling Exterminate. Of course we know the Doctor isn’t going to kill a child, how dark would that be?
Having said all of that, the scene where Clara is trapped inside the Dalek yelling her name to the Doctor only to be rewarded with “I am a Dalek” was both terrifying and heart-breaking. This scene allowed us to see the Doctor’s devotion to Clara as he comes ever so close to killing the Dalek which he believes has killed her, and we witness Missy’s coldblooded nature as she manipulates the Doctor into almost killing his friend. If Moffat only put as much effort into his Doctor Who scripts as he does to Sherlock then we’d have plenty more of these scenes. And just because I’m feeling nice I won’t even mention the worst offender of this two parter. (It’s the ‘Sonic Glasses’ if there was any doubt in your mind).