This is an experimental Chalk And Cheese Review of the Doctor Who 2-parter “The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar” by me and my mate Simon Watkins. If it goes down well, maybe we’ll do more!
SIMON: Well, where can I start with this? (Tell them about the premier! – Ga) Firstly, let me say that I went to the premier of this series, of season 8 (Deep Breath) as well as that the season finale preview (Death in Heaven) and I would always warn you to take with a pinch of salt all the over-the-top gushing from a theatre full of charged up fans. It’s very easy to get carried away. If Moffat has shown 90 whole minutes of two dogs crapping in a field, there would have been a similar display of praise.
GARETH: I have to agree. I’ve never been to one of these screenings – work always gets in the way – but I’ve never heard anyone (other than Simon and a handful of dissenters) say a bad word about anything! It’s usually universal praise from across the board. The perils of privilege, you see! Many think that because they get to see something first they must be positive about it for fear of being seen ungrateful.
I’d seen the trailers, heard the rumours, and was hopeful that the season opener would be a good one. Good points; UNIT, Daleks. Bad points; Missy returns. But hey, you can’t have everything can you? Maybe Missy won’t be portrayed quite so irritatingly, I thought, right? Wrong! If anything she was worse. Every smart-arsed quip, every wave of the hand cop-out, had me cringing. 35 minutes in, I was begging for episode 1 to end so that the show’s very memory wouldn’t be pissed over any further.
Now I don’t mind Missy. She’s at danger of becoming overused, but as a character, she’s fine. Yes, she’s irritating – I’m hoping she’ll tone it down a bit in future – but then, so was John Simm. I don’t think she’s needed here though. As far as I can tell, her inclusion is ONLY as a means of getting our companion to the 1100s and so the Daleks can appear to have killed Clara in episode two – a beat that NOBODY fell for, surely? Though, for what it’s worth, the trailers were wonderful.
UNIT weren’t even used. Other than to use up 10 minutes of air time, it’s difficult to see what the point was in featuring them, or the planes frozen subplot at all. Apparently something to do with Missy simply wanting to get their attention?! Some utterly ridiculous and pointless scenes follow with UNIT marksmen and laser-sights, while Clara chats to Missy, who, without point (or, indeed consequence) randomly dispatches a couple of these marksmen ruthlessly. Despite this, Clara happily agrees to join forces with Missy, to search for The Doctor who’s missing.
Oh, Simon! I love you but you’re so wrong! I concede that there were better, cheaper and more effective ways to get Clara’s attention (like simply turning up and having that chat) but that conversation over the cafe table was wonderful! The stuff about “friendship” being an entirely different and infinitely more complex beast than “love” or “sex” is poetry! And I loved the gag about getting a bit of shade by flying a hostage jumbo jet overhead, even though it was entirely unnecessary. Best then, gags are good. And the killing of the UNIT personnel was shorthand for “I’m not a good guy, I’m here because I want to be!” It’s just a shame that, after giving this display, Moffat didn’t trust our intelligence enough to get its meaning and had Missy TELL us that very thing. Does he think we’re stupid?
Yes, he does. Now, some nonsensical, typically Moffat-esque random pop-up plot device follows. The Doctor has left (in Missy’s keep for some reason) some sort of last testament because (for some unresolved or explained reason) he believes this is last day alive. He’s left some sort of recording for them, but for some reason they can’t or don’t bother to listen to it. Maybe it can’t be heard until after the Doctor dies or something, I don’t know, but it’s your usual contrived unconvincing rubbish. Whatever “after The Doctor dies” even means in a show based on time travel anyway. We already know there’s versions of The Doctor alive in all these timeframes right up to the end of the universe.
Missy says it only opens when the Time Lord dies. So either that rule will be broken by the end of the series or it’ll never open. I agree with you, it’s a bit silly because we know he’s not going to actually die. But then, my nephews thought Clara was dead for a week! They were heartbroken! In my opinion, the fact that this is the Doctor’s last day is THE arc of the series. Expect to see the Doctor getting more and more exhausted and erratic, leading to the revelation that he’s not slept all series, dragging out his last day to breaking point. Also, “there’s versions of The Doctor alive in all these timeframes” is a great point! Something Andrew Ellard picked up on: Colony Sarff asked “Where’s the Doctor?” Which one? He’s everywhere he’s ever been or will ever go, surely? He should be easy to find!
But I digress. They can’t or don’t listen to it, for some bollocks or other so, instead the episode is now all “we must find the Doctor” to help him or save him or something, and Missy has had one of those now all too familiar character reboots, and we learn she doesn’t want the Doctor dead after all. They’ve really been bestest friends all this time. So there. Never mind that last time we saw her she’d murdered his associates, and was trying to kill The Doctor by chucking him out of a plane. That’s what friends do, apparently.
Okay, okay. She’s inconsistent. I’ll give you that. She’s mental, though, isn’t she? (Does she still have the drums in her head or did they disappear when he zapped Rassilon back into the Time War?) I love it when there’s a good guy/bad guy team-up. In anything. I think it’s fun. Is it believable? Maybe in this instance, in this incarnation of the Master, no is isn’t. Delgado and Pertwee were mortal enemies, but you can imagine those two old duffers pausing mid-battle to share a sip from a hip flask one of them brought with them. It goes back to the throwaway line “a friendship older than your civilisation and infinitely more complex” – that’s writers’ shorthand for “we’re cheating a bit here”.
Anyway, that’s the end of Act 1; goodbye UNIT and frozen planes build-up. By another unexplained wave of the hand, they find the doctor in some Medieval duel arena thing with some huge brawny guy. The Doctor’s been there for three weeks acting like a dick because he thinks he’s going to die. Obviously playing the fool in a medieval arena is what Gallifreyans are prone to, when they believe their time is nearly up. The doctor is playing a guitar, from, quite randomly, the top of a military tank, for seemingly no other reason than a couple of bad jokes about axes and fish. Look, there’s no point in being showrunner if you can’t pointlessly blow the budget on such random whims.
I loved the tank guitar thing. I can totally understand why many wouldn’t and KNEW you wouldn’t the moment I heard it happened. But it worked for me at the time. And those bad jokes about axes and fish were MEANT to be bad. We’re meant to groan and cringe, not laugh out loud. That’s the joke. All that effort, Doctor, and that’s the best gag you’ve got?! That’s funny. What’s not funny is thinking, All that expense, Moffat, and that’s the best gag you’ve got? Money that, I totally agree, could be spent better elsewhere. See also, Colony Sarff’s transformation. WHY?
There then follows some of the most cringingly bad banter scenes I ever witnessed on the show. If you thought McCoy and Kate O’Mara with spoon playing quips was bad, I dare you to sit through this. I honestly wanted to cry. What on earth was I watching and what was the point of all this random unconnected shit?
Agreed. Felt like they were having more fun playing the scene out on location than we were having watching it at home. Feels indulgent and alienating, then. I’m all for a ballsy entrance and it’s a good thing to see the actors enjoying themselves, but get a move on! Where’s the plot?! When does the actual story start?! We’re twenty-odd minutes in, or more, and we’re nowhere!
Next up, cue the servant of Davros, who has also been hunting the Doctor. He’s (and here’s a another random reveal folks!) wait for it… made of snakes. Why? Do we need a reason in Moffat Who these days? Moore’s law says our CGI capabilities *can* do it, so hey, let’s not waste time with rhyme or reason on whether they *should*. Anyway, off they all pop to with snake man to see Davros, and that’s the end of this entire short pointless Act. Oh, as a parting shot, brawny guy sprouts a Dalek eye-stalk – he’s a Dalek hybrid. Amongst all the other unconnected unresolved bollocks, Moffat must have figured he needed to explain how snake-man found them – though hilariously not what the Dalek hybrid was doing there, disguised as brawny man in a medieval arena exchanging banter with The Doctor(!)
Touching on my point above, I think the WHY?! of it can only be that they needed a fix for an issue Ellard also brought to my attention. Namely, if the burly fella was a Dalek spy and he’d been with the Doctor for weeks (as we know from the Prequel released online) WHY did Davros need to send Sarff looking for him and why did he Sarff have so much trouble finding him?! Surely they’d know exactly where the Doctor was as they had a spy on him all this time? Or are we meant to think that Sarff’s snake “turned” the burly bloke into a Dalek spy when it attacked him. In which case, WHAT. THE. FUCK! Snakes can do that now?!
So, they’re on a Dalek space station thing which turns out to be not a space station at all but Skaro. Skaro exists! Missy and The Doctor managed to suss this because the space station had normal gravity you see. The fact that Skaro exists is supposed to be a big revelation, despite them already having set a story there two series back, but don’t worry about such minutiae.
I think Skaro, like everything, will always be there at some point. When the Eleventh Doctor was drawn to Skaro in Asylum of the Daleks it was a burned husk because it was dead! Much more war-ruined than the Skaro we’re seeing now. And Asylum of the Daleks was set ON Skaro, except for just that one scene (which nobody questioned). The rest was set on the Dalek Parliament ship and their Prison Planet. And it’s stated in The Witch’s Familiar that Skaro was “remade” by the Daleks. I took that to mean they renovated the husk of rock left after the Time War (last seen in Asylum). It’s explained – so I’m fine with that.
Davros is close to death, though be honest, I thought he’s looked a bit iffy for a long time. (This made me genuinely LOL! – Ga) He’s connected telepathically to all his Daleks. The Dalek city is very retro. The Daleks in the main control room are an eclectic bunch of classic and new series RTD type models, the CGI ones hovering about outside are all gold RTD era models. The Dalek supreme is back. So is the Special Weapons Dalek. The only models conspicuous by their absence are the new paradigm Fatleks. No explanation whatsoever is given for any if this nostalgic/modern mix, and we aren’t told whether these Daleks are a special personal Davros faction or what.
It’s Moffat’s approach of “if you’ve got it in the cupboard, fuck continuity and reason” when it comes to alien crowd scenes. I hated that too. I’ve preferred a core command of Fatleks (Google Docs wanted to change ‘Fatlek’ to ‘Fartlek’, whatever that is!) and a bunch of RTD bronze (or black) Daleks as soldiers. And why oh why did they feel the need to bring out that bloody awful Supreme Dalek again?! I think I’ve answered my own question above.
You know, I can’t even be bothered with going into much more detail. Basically the daleks shoot Missy. Then they shoot Clara. OMG! Clara is dead! (though oddly, nobody at all in the cinema, though it was enough to convince the usually savvy Doctor). Moffat says that Missy’s execution in Death in Heaven was the most unconvincing, but this even beats that by a mile. Surprise surprise folks. Missy has a thing that teleports them when they get shot. This explains how she escaped in Death in Heaven. Quite how she got it to work for Clara too, and also mimic firstly the Cyberman death ray effect, and later the Dalek X-ray effect isn’t explained either.
Oh god, I’ve just realised I’m not being as positive as I have felt about it! I agree. It’s unconvincing, that “death”. The effect is mostly the same as in Death In Heaven. And maybe Moffat is trying to play on the whole “Clara is leaving sometime this series” thing here, though only the woefully under-informed would believe that this is her exit.
Anyway, they walk back to the city to find the Doctor again. This time they enter through some caves, where the walls are seeping old-age daleks. Daleks never die apparently, they just rot away. Also, the Daleks have the same word for sewer as they do for graveyard (or is it cemetary? Can’t remember/don’t care). Remember this point, as it’s setting up another really silly plot seed, to be called upon in the resolution. Now, Missy destroys a Dalek who comes to investigate, and she persuades Clara to get in the Dalek to use Terry Nation standard plot device B, by pretending Missy is the Dalek’s prisoner. We learn that Daleks can’t say certain words. Clara thinks “I am a human” and it comes out “I am a Dalek”. Basically more unashamed re-writing of folklore.
I thought this “Dalek Translation Issue” was a bit iffy, too. It felt unneeded. Why bother with the Missy subplot anyway? Why bother exterminating Clara, then bringing her back, then “exterminating” her again? The ‘Davros tricks the Doctor to Skaro, plays on his compassion, steals his regeneration energy to revitalise his Dalek force’ story is great! I don’t think there is a need to wander from that! Especially by including a Second Big Bad that appeared as recently as last series finale? I don’t mind the rewriting or amending of folklore, personally. Doctor Who is a series that thrives on its existence in a state of flux. But for a reason, you know? This was contrived.
In an uncharacteristic display of gullibility, The Doctor thinks Clara is dead for most of the rest of the episode. He fights Davros and, for laughs, rides about on his chair. They chat (Davros has a private room. It’s away from the main control room in the city. Not sure what he spends his days doing. Not sure what all the Daleks are supposed to be doing in this episode either. They just roll around screeching a lot). In the end, it all gets a bit like The Dalek with Rose, where we are all supposed to feel sorry for Davros, who’s dying. Pretty unconvincing though.
Okay. Davros’ private room is his infirmary – that’s established in the second part. And the Daleks have ALWAYS just rolled around screeching, not doing a lot. But I suppose this is the perils of a two-parter. The Doctor ISN’T being gullible. He’s pretending to be. Unconvincingly, I grant you. Though I took it as read that Davros IS on his last legs, his Daleks are suffering because of it. So this trick of his is both a means of recharging his troops without weakening himself further and a way of extending his existence and thus that of his creation (on this planet, at least).
Now another reveal…. Davros, inexplicably now has eyes – he just can’t be arsed to open them. I know, I know, it’s already been determined that he just has blank eye sockets. (Genuine question: Where is this established? – Ga) Oh, I know the reason he has eyes… It’s so he can say “let me look upon the Skaro sunset for one last time, with my own eyes”. That’s it basically. A rubbish attempt to make us feel sorry for him and pull our heart strings which just happens to pointlessly destroys 30 odd years of series continuity and folklore.
It’s a great scene. That whole thing about Davros respecting the Doctor, but not his ways. Davros believing he’s absolutely in the right in making and maintaining the Daleks. Davros’ humanity – for he had some once – leaking into his final hours. Drama – even Doctor Who – evolves. Things that were taken as read in the old series, such as “Davros is entirely evil”, can be played with in the new series where emotion, nuance, subversion and the flouting of taken-for-granted expectation instils a wider, weirder, more modern feel to what is, at heart, a family drama that needs to appeal to a wide audience (and don’t get me started on THAT one). I particularly loved the scene where Davros tells the Doctor that he’s a bad doctor and they both have a bit of a chuckle at the gallows humour of two men facing their last day (that Last Day of the Doctor will – WILL – come back to us, just you watch! That scene will mean so much more in a few weeks time) after lives of power and arrogant privilege. I loved that little exchange so, so much!
So, we’re all sat there and supposed to be thinking “Aw. Davros is dying the poor geezer. He’s not so bad really you know. Who hasn’t committed the odd genocide, or tried to destroy every universe in existence at least once? If it had been similar circumstances, anyone could turn out to be an evil, megalomaniac, scientist genius”. So, The Doctor, being all heart(s) decides he’s going to give him some of his regeneration power. Not a full life you see. Just enough to recharge ol’ Davros up, to get back to his happy jolly old self we know and love. He can apparently do this for Davros, despite in the 51 odd years of the series, he’s left countless people to die and not raised a finger to help them. No doubt Lorna Bucket is spinning in her grave.
Sorry Simon, that’s not the message I got from it. What I got from it was this: IF you have the power to save someone from death – regardless of their previous actions, their previous crimes – you have a DUTY to do so, or else you’re no better than they are. It’s what I believe. The Doctor’s weakness IS his compassion, his decency, his fairness. Davros is RIGHT! I wish – well, I’ll talk more about what I wish right at the end. Though you’re absolutely right about the whole “saving some, letting others go” thing. I personally take the view that, for all his talk, the Doctor IS an arrogant prick who, for better or worse, DOES see the universe in terms of big people and little people. He’s inconsistent. But that’s me being overly optimistic and explaining away inconsistencies in a character that should, by now, have been pinned down entirely. Go on…
But wait! In another revelation that surprises no-one at all, it’s all a trap. Just like Dalek, when Rose touched the Metaltron, it was all a big con. Davros’s plan all along was to fool the Doctor. He realised all along that it would be an absolute piece of piss to fool the doctor. I guess he must have thought that following the Clara “death”, The Doctor was in a particularly gullible mood today. Davros has used the regeneration to recover (though he doesn’t actually look any different), but get this, the Daleks, being mentally linked up to him, are also recovering (even though they weren’t ill in the first place).The Doctor is screaming “No….NO!”, and Davros is gloating about his power.
Yawn. I’m so bored of the “it’s a trap!” reveal. I agree with you, Simon. Nobody falls for this shit anymore. Not even the kids. My nephew said – after the first episode – “Davros isn’t REALLY good, is he? He’s tricking everyone, isn’t he?” He’s five. Aren’t there other plot get-outs we can use? Aren’t there more interesting, more exciting, more unexpected ways of writing this show? It’s trap after trap right now, usually involving “The Doctor’s Death!!!” which will obviously never come.
But…..The Doctor has known this all along. (Yaaaaaaawn!!!! – Ga) He’s double-crossed Davros (The “No….NO!” screams must have been purely for the viewers’ benefit to maintain the deception for dramatic effect! He knows we’re watching!). Remember those dying Daleks seeping down the cave walls? Well they’re regenerating too despite not being telepathically connected. The Doctor knew this would happen – he’s not gullible after all (well apart from the Clara “death”). Funny that we’d only heard all about this dying Daleks seeping down the cave walls 20 mins earlier from Missy, and now here they are coincidentally, and completely separately, part of the Doctor’s main plan all along.
Oh man, where to start! I don’t mind the idea that Daleks just rot into sludge. I don’t even mind that they are apparently – and suddenly – undying! I DO have issues with this concept being introduced as late as Act One, Episode Two. If these sewers were talked about in The Magician’s Apprentice then you could say it was being set up. As it stands it just feels like Moffat stormed into writing The Witch’s Familiar with NO idea how to end the story and just made something up. Yes, there’s a little set-up – this isn’t a deus ex machina, as many on the net are wrongly claiming – but it IS a shoddy bit of story structuring, something someone as experienced as Moffat should be able to avoid.
Because those seeping Daleks are regenerating, it is a disaster for the Dalek city, because even though they’re nowhere near them, the city is built on top of those caves you see. And even though, they’re daleks, those dying ones regenerating, want to destroy the other daleks. None of this is explained, or explainable. There is not even a realistic way they could any harm anyway (they have no casings or anything. Not even any legs to walk to the city with), but somehow the walls are all caving in and Daleks in the city are dying, and all in a massive panic and squawking and screeching, with bits of masonry falling on them. Perhaps the builders of the Dalek City should be featured on Rogue Traders?
Hard to argue with a single word there, mate. It was a lazy, unconvincing end to what should’ve been a really great two-part Dalek tale. Dalek sludge. Fine if it’s dripping down the walls of the sewers but ridiculous when oozing its way through an air vent. A poor end to what I thought was shaping up to be a genuinely enjoyable story.
That’s it basically. Oh, also Missy makes a “joke” about Daleks and balls – a bit like the golf ball “joke” in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. It’s not remotely funny, but it’s a tiny bit rude, you see, so the six year olds, and those with a similar mental age, will find it hilarious no doubt. Also, Missy tries to maintain the illusion that Clara is dead, and tries to get The Doctor to blow up The Dalek she’s sat inside. Yes, Missy is now apparently trying to kill Clara, even though she’s just had an entire two episodes of opportunity, but ended up just helping her. Clara tries to say she’s human, but it comes out “I am a Dalek”. She’s in a right panic (you’d think that actually being a Dalek in Asylum of The Daleks, would give her the edge a bit). But then Clara says “Mercy!” so The Doctor realises it’s her, because Daleks can’t say “Mercy”, even though in The Big Bang (writer: S. Moffat) one seemed to manage it just fine when threatened by River Song.
Yeah, that Mercy thing. Are we meant to assume that, now that THIS Doctor has planted the seed of mercy in young Davros’ head, ALL DALEKS EVER now hold the concept? Again, poor and lazy writing from someone who should know better. And the Dalek balls joke fell totally flat in our house too – too subtle for kids, too on the nose for adults. Just juvenile. Not funny. As for Missy now trying to kill Clara – MISSY SHOULDN’T BE THERE! SHE SHOULD NOT BE IN THIS STORY! THERE ARE MORE INVENTIVE WAYS OF GETTING CLARA ABOUT! I didn’t even fall for the Clara/Missy Team-Up Trash-Talk Masterclass, I thought it generally out of character for both of them. So much so we had to keep getting reminded that Missy IS bad and that Clara IS loyal to the Doctor. I’m telling you, this should have been 86 minutes of the Doctor and Davros in a room playing on their history of distrust! I’d have liked that!
The Doctor and Clara escape and The Daleks capture Missy. The End. I don’t think I can possibly overstate how bad this story is. Who do I think it will it appeal to? I have no doubt that young children or fans of the Avengers Movies, or anyone who sits vegetating with action scene after action scene, will be impressed by the by visuals. This is supposed to be Doctor Who. It’s supposed to be better than that rubbish! Just like those movies where superheroes spend half an hour throwing each other through skyscraper windows, there was zero jeopardy at all. I know it’s Doctor Who, and secretly we know that The Doctor will save the day, and that Clara wasn’t going to die in the first story, etc.
I enjoyed The Magician’s Apprentice. I enjoyed The Witch’s Familiar. I think watching them as a 90 minute story would’ve been draining, but then the atmosphere would keep me buoyant, no doubt. But it needn’t have been a two-parter. 45 minutes of Davros tricking the Doctor into giving him a rejuvenating whack of energy, using the Doctor’s compassion as a weakness, while they chatted over their past, present and future parallels would’ve pleased me no end! Especially with such talents as Capaldi and Bleach holding the wheel. But that’s just me. I found the Missy/Clara scenes pointless – if they weren’t there, nothing would change, plot wise. Sarff would still find the Doctor, Davros would still trick him, the Doctor would still have a plan. I found the visuals stunning, however. Really sumptuous and indulgent. Beautiful. And, oh man! Bring Julian Bleach back again soon! These two episodes have given me my favourite ever appearance of Davros (a ridiculous and repetitive figure, usually).
But you can maintain a deception, or illusion of jeopardy regardless. Here there was no tension at all. It just seemed like a load of random, senseless scenes, hardly connected, with annoying smart-arse quips thrown in. Makes no sense at all if you think about it for a few seconds at all. Whole thing is truly awful. I’m honestly not interested in this type of garbage, so I’m hoping against hope this isn’t the new style or I’m definitely through with it.
Another friend of ours, Rob, called the episodes “a series of Tumblr images stitched together” and that’s very much what it felt like. But I do believe the Doctor/Davros story *at the centre* of that jumble of populist meme-hooks worked wonderfully. I enjoyed it all, but not without caveats. I’m bored of Moffat’s writing, to be honest. I think it’s time he gave someone else a go. I hear his voice in every character he writes (except, in this case, Davros). Doctor Who is my favourite show and, unlike Simon, I’m blind to many of its faults. No, not blind to. Wilfully ignorant of. I’m far too easy on the show. I love it. Like I’d love a smelly, scabby, one-eyed dog that shits itself all the time. My love for the show is (almost) unconditional.
Just for the record, I love Doctor Who, I think it’s a wonderful programme – I am a fully-fledged bonafide fan. Looking at some of the social networking activity over the last week, (Always, really, among some circles. Wouldn’t you say? – Ga) you’d think that being a fan was only about being positive about a show; that fans must only say nice things or, according to some, they’re not ‘proper fans’. To those less than enlightened individuals I say firstly “sod off!”. And follow this up with; “You don’t get to define what makes a fan.”
But that’s another topic for another day. I’ve asked Simon to put his thoughts down about fandom and these ‘positive-comments-only’ people we have both come across so many, many times. So stay tuned for that later in the week.
Simon: ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ Gareth: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆