WARNING: Spoilers abound, as is the norm of any episode walkthrough/review. But hey, at least now you can’t say you haven’t been warned!
Short Attention Span Version: The Doctor has an ancient debt to Davros (who he left for dead as a boy) come due and it’s up to Clara and Missy (*gasp* she’s not dead after all) to stop him from doing something stupid. But things go pear shaped as they tend to do with this show and both Clara and Missy experience MAXIMUM EXTERMINATION!!!! which propels the Doctor to go back to possibly finish off young Dav and rewrite history to save his friend.
Epic Length Version: (please read only if you rank as the Captain Jack Harkness of endurance)
We waited and waited much like Amy Pond did and after what felt like an eternity (but was actually more like 9 months), Doctor Who is finally back. As painful as hiatuses typically are, it was well worth the wait.
Doctor Who Season 9 starts off bigger and darker in scope; and that’s quite a statement for a show whose previous season was fraught with major tension between the Doctor and Clara and which ended with a few shocking deaths and sort of deaths.
Short recap of the end of season 8: When last we last saw our favorite mad man with a box, Missy was revealed to be the Master, who in the time between his sacrifice in The End of Time (or maybe as a direct result of it), has regenerated into a Time Lady. Her presence was felt all season long, usually in the tag of various episodes. The interludes were always ominous and with good reason given her objective was to give the Doctor his own army of Cybermen to conquer the universe. Her real objective was to make the Doctor admit that he was no better than she was. The Doctor proved her wrong by turning that power over to Danny Pink, who had died an episode earlier and had become a Cyberman. Danny then made the ultimate sacrifice to save Clara and the world by extension from the looming Cyberman threat, thus keeping his word to keep her safe. Missy was then killed, sort of, by the Cyberman version of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart who had earlier rescued his daughter Kate as she plummeted to the earth from the plane Missy had her sucked out of. And that’s after Missy murdered Osgood just for kicks and giggles.
So yeah. A pretty dark ending to the season, even considering the lighthearted Christmas special with Santa and elves and brain sucking alien parasites.
Anyone who thought Season 9 would be a relief from that angst were quickly dispossessed of that notion when the premiere episode began on a desolate planet, complete with hand mines that yank poor unfortunate souls to their deaths in the ground below, and a young boy named Davros. Yes, that Davros.
When last we saw him in Journey’s End, Davros was cursing the Doctor and naming him the Destroyer of Worlds; which if you ask me is a smidgen hypocritical given he is the creator of the Dalek race and whose plot to destroy reality itself had literally just been thwarted. So, ya know, there’s a little pot/kettle action goin’ on there.
But here at the start of this episode, Davros isn’t the desiccated, chair bound psychopath we’re used to seeing. He was, as written above, a healthy looking young kid who found himself in quite the pickle as he stood helpless a dusty expanse of a forlorn battlefield filled with hands (with eyes in their palms) reaching out from the ground. So, not creepy at all then.
All seems lost until the Doctor appeared out of nowhere, tossed him his sonic screwdriver and urged the boy forward. That is, until he heard his name. We don’t see what happens next here, but then we don’t have to.
After the opening credits we meet a new friend, and by friend I mean creepy snake creature called Colony Sarff (Jami Reid-Quarrell), who is on a mission to find the Doctor. And if his tone was anything to go by, he was not a happy guy. Snake. Whatever.
His travels take him to the Shadow Proclamation itself where the Shadow Architect (Kelly Hunter), who we haven’t seen since The Stolen Earth, made no bones about both not knowing where the Doctor was and that the Doctor’s whereabouts were none of Colony Sarff’s business, nor that of his employer, Davros.
Colony Sarff’s next stop in his quest to find the Doctor was Karn (which was once a colony of the old Gallifreyan Empire before the time of Rassilon), and there he meets with the Sisterhood of Karn (who are entirely unimpressed with his whole creepy snake man schtick) and tells them that Davros is dying. His message for the Doctor: “Davros knows. Davros remembers” and that “he must face Davros one last time.”
As Colony Sarff leaves, we learn that the Doctor was there listening the whole time. “What have you done?” the Sisterhood of Karn asks him. “Watch the first 5 minutes of this episode and you’ll find out,” the Doctor should have replied to save time but doesn’t.
Colony Sarff reports the Doctor cannot be found to the dying Dark Lord of Skaro, who menacingly clutches onto the sonic screwdriver the Doctor left with him when he abandoned him as a boy. And Davros clues him in on the Doctor’s not so hidden secret weakness…the way to get to the Time Lord is to get to his friend.
We next check in on said friend, Clara Oswald, who at back to teaching and seemingly doing better after losing Danny last season. But during a class discussing Jane Austen, Clara is distracted when she looks out the classroom window and notices something very odd indeed: a plane that’s frozen in place. Well, that can’t be good. Clara excuses herself and travels via her motorcycle to get to UNIT (air travel seeming like a bad idea for some strange reason).
After a rapid-fire “Planes have stopped” news report montage, we arrive with Clara at UNIT where a visibly relieved Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and her team informs Clara that 4,165 aircraft are currently airborne, and thus stuck in the sky. That’s a lot of passengers, and “a lot of fuel,” Clara points out, which starts everyone discussing the possible motivation for freezing planes in the sky and spinning various doomsday scenarios.
Kate declares they have to find the Doctor but Clara warns her off of the idea, at least not until they have more information. “He’ll go Scottish!” (which, btw, is totally a thing). Clara works out the situation until she hits the nail on the head: it’s not an attack, it’s a means to get their attention. But who would do such a thing and why?
Just then, they get a text message on the Doctor channel which Kate is certain the Doctor has forgotten about and Clara insists he’d never use. And sure enough, just as the rejiggered lyrics to “Hey Mickey” start scrolling on the screen, lyrics that Missy sang when she was bound in the cargo hold of Boat One in Death in Heaven, Clara pales in realization. Missy is alive.
Moments later, Missy (Michelle Gomez) reaches out to them (almost literally) and cuts to the chase she needs 8 snipers so they can feel safe when they meet with her.
With the snipers in place, Clara arrives with a small entourage of security personnel at the village square Missy is situated in. The banter is short, sweet and cruel as Missy takes pleasure in reminding her Danny Pink is still dead but Clara doesn’t take the bait. Missy then moves on to the topic at hand: the Doctor is missing and it’s not like it usually is when he disappears, she advises, as she slides over a round disk for Clara to take a look at. And not just any round disk: it’s a Confession Dial, otherwise known as the Doctor’s will.
Per ancient Time Lord tradition, the Confession Dial is to be delivered to his closest friend on the eve of his final day. Clara wrongly assumes it was meant for her and gets her fingers zapped when she tries to touch it; and Missy then smugly informs her that she’s his closest friend and Clara is for all intents and purposes, his puppy. When Clara suggests being the Doctor’s friend means Missy is now good, the Time Lady vaporizes a few of her guards. No, she’s not good (but then I could have told you that when she murdered Osgood or when as the Master, he killed Chantho in Utopia.)
Clara begs her to stop the killing and reminds her that she’s there asking for Clara’s help. “Because the Doctor’s in danger!” Missy replies rather urgently. Clara forces her hand and reminds her that she has several snipers aiming their weapons at her and are ready to fire unless she proves that she’s serious about saving the Doctor and releases the planes from their frozen in time states. Missy concedes and they finally focus on the topic at hand: how to find the Doctor and how to save the Doctor.
Using a super complicated, wibbily wobbly, timey wimey algorithm from UNIT, they nail down the one and only place in all of time and space the Doctor would be for his very last night in existence. (Just go with it.)
One hop with a vortex manipulator later, and Missy and Clara are in the time and place we saw from The Doctor’s Meditation (season 9 prequel). But rather than finishing up the visitor’s center or digging more wells, the Doctor is…well, there’s no gentle way to put this…he’s having a midlife crisis, which is quite a feat at over 2,000 years of age. His entrance on the scene is like no other, as he’s riding a the front of a modern era tank playing an electric guitar for a crazed crowd of onlookers. (Well, they were looking for anachronisms. I suppose a rock concert in the medieval past qualifies.)
Bors (Daniel Hoffmann-Gill) who is the apprentice to the Doctor (Bors refers to him as the Magician) is waiting for him, frustrated, with battle axe in hand. The Doctor jokes about his own axe, which of course no one in the crowd understands. And since all of his jokes are related to things in the modern era, they don’t understand any of them either.
Clara is surprised by his behavior but Missy is not. Of course she’s known him a lot longer and is very familiar with his idiosyncrasies. The Doctor overhears the back and forth and launches into Pretty Woman. (PS, who knew the Doctor could play the guitar so well? If the whole Time Lord thing doesn’t work out, he could totally land a gig in a band somewhen.) He tells the crowd he’s leaving them but wants to introduce a couple of friends first. Clara is surprised by how charming he’s behaving and then when he hugs her, there’s no denying something is seriously wrong.
After Missy arrives and after some friendly ribbing (which is stunning enough in itself), Bors starts to choke; but it’s not the marble the Doctor fears he’s tried to swallow, but a snake that then slithers its way over to Colony Sarff. Yes, just as Davros advised, finding the Doctor was just a matter of following his friends.
Colony Sarff wants the Doctor to come with him but when he’s defiant, the snake creature disassembles himself into a terrifying array of slithering reptiles and a big friggin’ snake in the middle, which freaks out the onlookers who, rather appropriately, scream and run away in a complete panic. The Doctor demands no one there be hurt or killed and asks why should he go with Colony Sarff to see his archenemy? (a designation that ruffles Missy’s proverbial feathers) and he repeats what he told the Sisterhood of Karn: “Davros knows. Davros remembers.” He then tosses the sonic screwdriver he lost when he abandoned young Davros.
Missy and Clara are surprised by his expression, his shame; and Clara reiterates what the Sisterhood asked him, “What have you done?” Except this time we see for ourselves what we only assumed to be true earlier in the episode, as we watch the TARDIS departing the battlefield having left Davros to rescue himself through his own devices.
The Doctor agrees to leave with Colony Sarff, knowing it’s goodbye for good and is agitated when both Missy and Clara decide to be taken to what they all have agreed is a trap. There hands are all bound by snakes and their transported away. (By the way, it seems like a good time for me to point out to any possible future snake like alien abductors, please use rope to tie my hands. Thank you.)
Bors, who had been waiting in the wings while all the craziness took place, comes back to the field and starts looking around for something, which he finds in short order: the TARDIS. But there’s a tragic twist: Bors is a Dalek, or so I took to believe when a Dalek eyestalk appeared on his forehead. The Daleks now have the TARDIS.
As they’re traveling through space, the Doctor provides some backstory on Davros. He was a child of a an endless war where no one remembered or knew why they were fighting and created the Daleks because they’d never ask that question.
After waiting an indeterminate amount of time in a prison cell on what they assume is a space station hospital, Colony Sarff retrieves the Doctor. But before he leaves, Clara confronts him about having sent Missy the Confession Dial, which meant he either knew or believed Missy was alive and thus has been lying to her. But she doesn’t want his apology. She wants him to make it up to her which is a reason for him to come back to her. The Doctor doesn’t respond to her but instead offers a one word cryptic clue to Missy, “Gravity.”
After he leaves, Clara asks her about it and Missy points out the gravity is wrong for a space station, that artificial gravity has a certain essence that was lacking there. It’s more like a planet. Missy removes her snake like binding and positions herself in front of the “airlock” which she decides to open.
Next, Davros finally meets with the Doctor and needles him with recordings of conversations previous Doctors (Fourth, Seventh, Tenth) have had with him. One scene in particular plays from the episode, Genesis of the Daleks, where the Fourth Doctor asks, “If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives… could you then kill that child?”
An agitated Doctor turns off the recording, but Davros presses on to get him to admit why he’s really there, even knowing it’s a trap. “A sense of duty, of guilt perhaps, and certainly, of shame,” he accuses. He still believes that he was right to create the Dalek race for the good of the universe to which the Doctor vehemently disagrees. It’s an argument that survived the Time War, rather than ending with it. “But it will end tonight.” Well that’s not ominous at all.
An alarm goes off and Davros and the Doctor notice that Missy and Clara have left their cell. They’re out of the airlock and walking, not on a floor, but the ground of an invisible planet. But moments later as they’re out in the atmosphere of the planet, they start to synchronize with the spectrum and are able to see what’s really there. And when she does, she’s horrified.
It’s Skaro, the planet of the Daleks, rebuilt from the ruins we last saw in Asylum of the Daleks to a robust and flourishing society.
Missy and Clara are caught and brought back inside to where the TARDIS is being kept. The Daleks surrounding them inform them of their intent…not to enter the TARDIS, but to destroy her. Missy intentionally draw attention to herself and the Doctor is horrified as he watches from the view screen in Davros’s room as she boasts about how great the TARDIS is but that they need her in order to take advantage of it.
“MAXIMUM EXTERMINATION!” the red Dalek declares and Missy is seemingly vaporized into nothingness. The Doctor begs Davros to spare Clara but Davros states he only gave the Daleks life. He doesn’t control them.
Clara stands there in shock as all the Daleks in the room turn to face her. After a few moments of inaction, Clara bolts and the Doctor looks on in horror as the room fills with the light from the beams shot out of all the Daleks and Clara is…gone. Also seemingly vaporized.
Broken, the Doctor turns to Davros and asks why he ever let him live. “Compassion,” Davros replies. Of course, to him, that’s a weakness. Davros has his victory and the Daleks all turn to the TARDIS to destroy her. One beam of energy later, and it’s gone. Maybe. (Of course it hasn’t been destroyed.)
But the Doctor is now in a very dark place as the scene changes back to Davros as a boy waiting to be rescued in a hand mine laced battlefield. But as Davros turns, he sees his might-have-been savior holding a gun and promising to save his friend the only way he can.
1. How long has it been since the events of Last Christmas?
2. How did Missy survive? (And I’m sorry, but “Dying is for other people” is NOT a good enough answer).
3. How long has Bors been a Dalek? It’s unlikely he’s been one all along since Colony Sarff and Davros had no idea where the Doctor was until Missy and Clara led them to him.
4. What’s the difference between extermination and maximum extermination?
5. How did Davros survive his ship blowing up in Journey’s End?
6. When did the Doctor travel back in time to meet Davros as a boy and how did he end up there? There’s no way it was just happenstance. This show thrives on coincidental little things turning out to be a master design (Bad Wolf, the Doctor Donna, Clara and the Doctor meeting in The Bells of Saint John, etc.)
7. If the TARDIS is destroyed, how did the Doctor end up back on that battlefield with young Davros?
Bonus question: Oh yes. WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED TO MISSY AND CLARA?!? I guess we’ll find out…next week!
My score: I found the season 9 premiere to be an exciting, yet confusing ride; but that’s par for the course for many great Doctor Who episodes. It looks to be the set up for a thrilling season and I feel that Peter Capaldi is finding his stride and making the Doctor his own now. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
I give The Magician’s Apprentice: 4 -1/2 sonic screwdrivers
As you can see, I have lots of questions (even more that I can’t remember right now) and I’ll bet you do too.
What impressions were you left with? Any questions you’re trying to sort out?
Let me know! You can find me on Twitter @theuberfan. I look forward to discussing all things Who with you!
Photos from http://kissthemgoodbye.net/doctorwho/thumbnails.php?album=113 and