Who·ology #013 – S09E01 The Magician’s Apprentice and Over Indulgence

Who·ology #013 – S09E01 The Magician’s Apprentice and Over Indulgence

Welcome Whovians, to the new incarnation of Who·ology here on Reel World Theology. Unlike the return of Missy to this season of Doctor Who, we have reasons for the regeneration of this weekly feature from podcast to written review, but suffice to say, we still love Who and still plan to bring you our take on it each week to hopefully stir some discussion. So let’s get to it!

dwma003Boy In Need: “I don’t understand.”
The Doctor: “Neither do I. I try never to understand. It’s called an open mind.”

The Doctor is back for season 9 of the modern series, and it’s good to see Capaldi’s 12 back in action. The first episode, entitled “The Magician’s Apprentice” for literally no reason at all, immediately ushers us in to what seems to be the main conflict of the season. I say that because it’s about the Doctor’s past with Davros, a long time arch nemesis, which could be big enough to encompass an entire season. But who knows? With almost no basis in this episode to work out where this set up will lead us, we can only guess at what’s next.

That brings me to an aside. I would now like to nominate a new word entry into the English language- “moffatt.” To “moffatt” something is to chock it so full of good individual things that you turn them collectively into a meaningless mess. It’s like being at a salad bar- you may like tomatoes, ham, eggs, cucumbers, pepperoni, cheese, mushrooms, and lots of other things on the bar individually. But when you throw heaping helpings of all of them onto a small bowl of lettuce, they lose their individual flavor and drown out everything altogether. Not to mention you then add your favorite dressing to it and what are you really eating anyway?

Steven Moffatt, head writer and showrunner of Doctor Who since Matt Smith’s inaugural season, is the owner of that salad bar. He has a smorgasbord of great ideas. But he has absolutely no one to hold him back, so he frequently packs everything he can into hour-long episodes without giving a single second of worry as to the consequences. End of aside (and leafy metaphor.)

dwma002Thus we have “The Magician’s Apprentice.” There are a lot of randomly pointless things going on in this episode that amount to nothing. Missy doesn’t have any reason to be there except for the fact that Michelle Gomez is brilliant in the role (and Moffatt wanted to find a way to bring her back). Because we can’t have just enough of something, we have to over indulge on it. I agree that Gomez is pretty incredible. Everything she does is deliciously perfect down to the details. But Missy being back completely nullifies her existence last season. Oh, she had a story arch? Eh, whatever, let’s just moffatt it.

But the Doctor is here, and he’s why we came, right? Yes, but there’s one problem- he’s not really doing anything. Sure he’s coming in on a tank (a giant set piece created for a single, passing joke) and playing guitar, which is admittedly pretty cool and totally something I believe the Doctor would do. But why?

Well, he’s running from a long past mistake recently made (timey wimey!) I like the gravity of this. We all make mistakes; it’s in our nature. And we all run from them at times in various ways. The Doctor’s version of this is to hide away in the dark ages and act like a rebellious teenager. It works, as the Doctor is constantly balancing his child-like nature with being a 1200 year old savior of the universe.

But this episode ignores the latter part of that balance. Nothing happens in this episode. The Doctor just reacts, which is losing an essential part of who he is. The reason why the Doctor is so interesting to us is that he deals with the same problems we all face (though his sometimes look like monstrous aliens) and yet he still does what is hard for all of us to do- he sacrifices himself to help others. This episode has been moffatted so hard with pointless frozen skies, over indulgent villain-turned-sidekicks, and rock star gaudiness that it gives no time for any examination of that side of the Doctor.

dwma004Now I know this is part 1 of 2, but I personally don’t accept that as an excuse to have a pointless, fluffy episode. Especially when the template for these things is Doctor Who itself, having added so much depth to part-1 episodes in previous seasons that we have a high bar of expectation. From the looks of the trailer of part-2, we see that the Doctor has been given another one of those difficult, eternal choices by Davros, but since we know that no one really dies in the Moffatt-run years, we know that Clara and Missy will be saved. This means the Doctor is still just being written as selfish and childish. One can only hope the other side of him appears to give us some meaning to all this moffatted mess.

That brings me finally to the quote from this episode at the head of this review. I think this is Steven Moffatt’s motto- “I try never to understand.” Because when you are given the keys to an endless universe of time and space, it can sure seem like there are too many good ideas that must be explored and thrown into the story. Yet sci-fi is at its best when it focuses on the inward, rather than the outward. Doctor Who is at its best when it simply tries to understand who we are. Currently this is being ignored for the sake of spectacle. The approach is not to understand, just gawk. Because of this, the show is in danger of going the way of Gallifrey (that is to say, extinct).

Next time on Who·ology: I promise this won’t be a weekly Moffatt bashing review. I just couldn’t help it for this episode. Next week we will focus more on what this 2-part episode reveals to us about the Doctor and what is on the horizon for him.

[youtube url=”https://youtu.be/wvOxIAi-2Og”]

6 comments

I disagree with you in some sense. I thought this was more of a return to form after last season. I thought most of the individual episodes last season were good, but the story-arc suffered from a lack of actual time being devoted to it. This first episode was actually fun, rather than gloomy and overly-full of itself.
As for Missy, Moffatt is just following the DW tradition of killing the Master then bringing him back with little logical explanation. It’s been done a bunch of times in Classic series. And Missy has enough tricks up her sleeve to let the fans explain it without taking up valuable story-time (though I understand why it makes it could tick you off).
As for the story itself, I liked it. I think the ‘Magician’s Apprentice’ Title could refer to several things. Is Clara the apprentice, since she’s the Doctor’s ‘apprentice’? Or is Davros the apprentice, since he learned a lack of empathy from the Doctor all those years ago? Or, perhaps, is the Doctor Davros Apprentice (assuming Davros can be called a magician), because he has learned Davros’ lack of empathy?
The fact that Clara and Missy are gone so soon just to come back is annoying. Though, it would be quite a twist if this was Clara’s actual death. That would be almost more tragic than anything else Moffatt could do (though he prefers over-sentimentality).
I’m kind of sick of the ‘will he have empathy or not?’ story-line, though this could take it in a different way. It’s just that we’ve had this in The Doctor’s Daughter, in Waters of Mars, in The Day of the Doctor, need I go on? It’s a common theme with basically the same resolution every time. Though, Capaldi’s doctor and this era may be the time to explore what would happen if the other side took place. Maybe Capaldi does save Clara, then by the season’s end must let her go because of the destruction that causes due to the lack of Daleks in the universe (that’d be unusual).
I’m not saying this episode is great, just that I thought it was better than you (and others at RWT) seemed to think it was. Regardless, I’m looking forward to next week.

How to address this with my emotions…

1. I think this episode was very similar to lots of things we saw last season– which is why I disliked it.
2. I feel like older episodes brought back the Master but at least tried to explain it and weren’t patronizing to the audience by saying “I’m back. Don’t think about, just accept it.” What it also does is destroy any stakes that the season finale had last year. But, no stakes, no suspense, no consequences is pretty much “classic Moffat.”
3. The Magician’s Apprentice title being able to refer to many thing– none of which we can place our finger on– is also typical Moffat. Likely he doesn’t even know and he thought it just sounded clever. Again, as Mark pointed out, because Moffat just wants to shove as much cool stuff on his salad bar while ruining the whole.
4. The Master and Clara are not dead (sadly) because… Moffat.
5. Speaking of storylines… how many times is Moffat going to go to the “the Doctor is going to die tomorrow” story? Much like the Weeping Angels, he has now used that storyline to an exhaustion that has milked it of all it’s potency. Remember when he was going to go looking for Gallifrey? Yeah, I almost forgot too…
6. I am looking forward to continue to hate-watch Moffat ruin one of my favorite characters of all time :

I agree with most of your points, I guess I’m just not as annoyed with them as you. Hopefully this season gets better. Or you at least have fun hating on it. Either way, I’m looking forward to next week’s post.

Let me do all that hating while also pointing out that I really appreciate your opinion. Sadly I get heated about this 🙂

Hey, Mark! I enjoyed your review. While I am a Moffat fan — I saw “The Eleventh Hour” and immediately fell in love with the show — I agree that, in this outing, there’s much too much. And I was beginning to doubt my assessment (http://thescifichristian.com/2015/09/tardis-talk-the-magicians-apprentice-series-9-1-spoilers/) that this episode was so much filler — executed with extraordinary bravado and panache, and tons of fun, but insubstantial. (I hold out hope that, for whatever reason, all the substance will come next week.) So I’m glad I’m not the only one out in fandom of that opinion! (And the Doctor’s line you quote at the beginning is indeed ridiculous — an open mind is a virtue, but deliberately trying to not understand is not!)

I disagre with you about the show’s future: “Doctor Who” is in no danger of going extinct. By definition it is a show that reinvents itself as needed, and it has done so many times over the last 50 years. Moffat’s tenure will end, for better or for worse, and another creative team can have a go. (Just keep Murray Gold writing the music!)

Looking forward to reading your take on the rest of the season!

Thanks for all the interaction guys! Let’s keep this up through the season!
To respond:
Jesse, let me start by saying that I think your ideas are far better than Moffatt’s! The Doctor having a lack of empathy, consequences of his destruction of the Daleks? Great stuff! I would love to watch your version of Doctor Who! Sadly, I highly doubt Moffatt will be this clever or allow the story to be that finite and consequential.
I also did think a lot of the individual episodes were great last year. “Listen,” though not perfect, is one of my new favorites.
I don’t have a problem with the Master coming back throughout the Who story. It is indeed a tradition. I have the same problem Mikey does, in that just saying “We brought her back because we can, so deal with it” is patronizing. This is example number 1,376 that there are no stakes with Moffatt’s Who. Think of the Master’s death at the end of season 3. He chose not to regenerate out of spite, leaving the Doctor as truly the last Time Lord. That’s consequence. Missy the Master was vaporized last season. By a Cyberman. But you know, whatever, she’s back!
I concede that it is possible the Apprentice in the title is Davros. But I am with Mikey in thinking Moffatt likely had no clue what it would mean. And I thought that very thing at the end of the Christmas episode when the text appeared “The Doctor and Clara will return in The Magician’s Apprentice.” I doubt it meant anything other than a clever title at that point. But I digress.
At best it is a reach that hopefully will have more weight in Part 2. So I am reserving full judgement.
If Clara and Missy ended up actually dead it would be close to a triumph for Moffatt. But you can bet that is absolutely not the case. We can only hope for true consequence, stakes and weight from it throughout the season.

Mike P- thanks for chiming in! I am with you in that I don’t truly think Doctor Who as a series is in danger of extinction any time soon. I do hope it gets reinvented. But I also think that if Moffatt continues moffatting things for much longer, the potential Doctor Who show that it could be (and arguably once was) will be long gone. In its place will be the look, sound, and idea of Doctor Who, but it won’t be Doctor Who. We are getting dangerously close to losing what this show is really about- the footprint left on the universe by a flawed man/ being who is trying to save it. We are currently getting a watered down version of that full of fluff and spectacle, playing in the world of the show, but ignoring the show idea itself. Which is a shame that, to me, is compounded by the fact that we have a Doctor that would be SO perfect for a weightier show.
Imagine if 12 had as tragic a story as 10 did. Peter Capaldi is built for that kind of drama. While he handles the “aging rockstar” doctor idea pretty well, to see him get the reigns of a Doctor with real stakes would be one of the greatest TV experiences we could hope for.

Here’s to better episodes ahead, friends.

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