Arts tv review

Doctor Who returns with ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’

Premiere hints at an exciting and emotional season

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Peter Capaldi stars as The Doctor in Doctor Who.

Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice

Written by Steven Moffat

On BBC America

Premiered Saturday, September 19

Fans awaiting the arrival of the ninth season of Doctor Who were subjected to quite the emotional roller coaster despite the fact that the season only just premiered this past Saturday. Before we even get to the episode we have the rumors and speculation. There has been speculation about impending regenerations (when The Doctor dies and regenerates into a “new” Doctor, and is consequently played by a new actor) and rumors about companion departures. Changing between Doctors and/or Companions is always a traumatic experience for fans.

As such, many fans were apprehensive about Peter Capaldi’s season 8 debut as The Doctor, but he has managed to win over many fans with his sarcastic and mysterious take on The Doctor, and many viewers are incredibly excited to see him return for a second season. Sadly, it has been confirmed (only days before the premiere!) that Jenna Coleman, who plays The Doctor’s Companion, Clara Oswald, will be leaving the show after this season. Capaldi and Coleman have incredible chemistry on-screen, and while I will be sad to see them part at the end of the season, I am excited to see what else Steven Moffat has in store for us until then. I don’t know about other fans, but I’ve got my fingers crossed hoping that the Twelfth Doctor will stick around for at least another season so that I don’t have to experience a doubly heartbreaking season.

Though I had marked the date in my calendar the minute the release date was announced, it took me several pause-play cycles during the first several seconds of the episode to work up the courage to let the episode run. I felt like, given the recent news of Coleman’s departure, I was only being set up and strung along for inevitable emotional devastation. I had to give myself the “it’s only the first episode — how bad can things get” pep talk several times throughout the episode.

The Magician’s Apprentice ended with a “To Be Continued,” so the episode’s many unanswered questions can be forgiven as long as next week’s installment delivers. The episode attempted to welcome fans back into the saga by adding a few playful moments, and however amusing it was to see The Doctor-gone-rockstar in an “ax fight,” the scene felt out of place and a little forced. Now Doctor Who, and science fiction in general, relies heavily on suspension of disbelief, but at times I felt that either I was extremely confused about what was going on or that the show creators rushed a few too many elements in this episode. Missy (Michelle Gomez), the reincarnation of The Doctor’s nemesis, The Master, is back. (“Cutting to the chase. Not dead. Back. Big surprise. Never mind.”) However, this time Missy is a good guy. The Doctor sends Missy (not Clara or any of his previous Companions) his Confession (apparently some uber-personal Gallifreyan thing) with barely convincing rationale. What makes these elements so uncomfortable to watch and digest is that they are presented in a way that makes them not quite believable, and leaves the audience (or maybe it’s just me) questioning their own sanity. Though I certainly wouldn’t put it past writer Steven Moffat to have intentionally created such an episode. It’s as frustrating as it is thrilling.

I won’t give away the big event at the end of the episode, but I found it to be both shocking and expected. The true gem of the episode occurred during its last few seconds when we see just how far The Doctor is willing to go to help his friends, breaking his own rules and perhaps even the laws of time and space. If the first episode is any trustworthy indication, show writers will continue to explore themes of The Doctor’s self discovery and self doubt — themes that have slowly been integrated into the past several seasons and heavily emphasised in season 8. I enjoyed that the episode added to the mystery of The Doctor, setting the stage for a (possible) reckoning of some serious, series-wide story arcs.

After watching The Magician’s Apprentice, as a fangirl I would say, “I am 100% not okay” (a sentiment widely echoed on Tumblr, a homebase for many fan communities), and as a critic, I do expect a graceful coming together of answers and explanations in the next few episodes, or else I will be retroactively unimpressed with the premiere. Ultimately, anyone who likes Doctor Who will have a hard time, as always, coming away from the episode with anything other than net positive feelings.