Since joining LET US NERD, I’ve been responsible for reviewing episodes of DOCTOR WHO as they’re released. For the most part, I’ve been on top of it. Halfway through SERIES 8, I gave up. The show was going in circles. Moffat’s writing was too repetitive. All the characters sounded the same. The mystery had no effect on the overall story.
In a word, I was disappointed.
During the nearly year long gap between SERIES 8 and SERIES 9, I spent very little time concerning myself with the show. I’d worried that maybe I lost all interest. My time with The Doctor could have been done.
Tonight, there was a tremor in my second heart. The one pumping my love for the show through my veins. A pulse. It happened during the opening shot of THE MAGICIAN’S APPRENTICE. Flying high over the foggy wasteland of an alien planet in the middle of a war. A soldier aims his bow at flying craft. I love the mix of future and ancient technology.
A child is swallowed up by the mist. This soldier attempts to save him. Hands with eyes raise from the battleground. Another pulse beat from my second heart. This is the kind of imagery Doctor Who does so well. Still, I was hesitant. Any minute now it’ll go south. Some character will arrive to deliver spitfire dialogue that sounds like a weak imitation of a Joss Whedon script. Surely I will be disappointed.
The Doctor arrives. He looks old, alien, he wears a hoodie. He’s saving the child! That’s what he does. The dialogue is inspiring, almost tender. He isn’t being mean. He is giving this terrified boy hope. Ah, hope in Doctor Who, where have you been?
And then…The Doctor asks the boy his name. The Boy answers.
And the TARDIS engines of my second heart rev up. The console lights spring to life. The cloister bell announces there is still life in the old girl yet!
What followed was a mix of astounding space opera imagery, glimpses at worlds we’ve seen, and others we haven’t. Atmosphere builds, a mystery. Where is The Doctor, and who the hell is looking for him? Not a particularly original mystery (especially for Moffat), but one which is being handled more confidently than before. Almost immediately we know this is not something to be dragged out over an entire season. This is the opening act to an opera.
I will spoil no more.
The performances are better than they’ve been in years. Capaldi owns his role. Gone is the crotchety, confused, and “difficult man” of Series 9. This is The Docotor. The Madman with a box! The galaxy is his playground, and he is rocking out because he knows it. Jenna Coleman, for the first time, gives us a Clara who is strong, confident, and vulnerable. Gone is her constant smirk. She’s been through hell and come out better for it.
Michelle Gomez plays Missy with such jovial insanity, I can’t help but love her. Her glee is infectious. She is unpredictable and sinister. In her performance anyhow. Unfortunately she is written as little more than River Song with a bunch of screws loose. She’s flirty and cocky. All her dialogue could have easily been given to Amy Pond, or any of the other “feisty” women Moffat has such a fondness for. Luckily Michelle Gomez knows how to elevate the character to a demented jester, which is fascinating to watch.
Not much of the episode is new. Again The Doctor is running from his imminent “death”. Again we’re given a threat in the middle of the episode which has little to do with anything else going on. By all accounts, I should be pissed. But there’s something different here. The episode has real atmosphere. The banter is a bit more authentic. The story is huge without being ridiculous (by Doctor Who standards). Almost as though Moffat realizes he is treading on old ground, only this time he’s going to get it right.
Where The Doctor ends up by the conclusion of the story is somewhere we’ve never seen him before. He is pushed to the edge. He must do something he had the chance to do centuries ago (in his 4th incarnation), and decided not to because of compassion. What happens when you take away that choice?
That is where the episode ends, and so must we.
Until next time, Mr. Moffat, you have my attention. I am back in the TARDIS, and ready for the ride.