As I’m running a bit behind on my Doctor Who reviews, here’s a condensed review of the first four episodes from series 9 (The Magician’s Apprentice, The Witch’s Familiar, Under the Lake and Before the Flood) – I may review the whole series this way or revert back to one at a time – haven’t decided yet!
Warning: Minor Spoilers!
The Magician’s Apprentice:
A blockbuster opener, this had a lot going for it: Missy’s return, The Daleks were back and we got our first glimpse of Davros and Skaro in a long time. It also had the Doctor on a tank with a guitar in a Medieval castle for reasons I’m still not clear on…
This episode sums up Moffat’s writing style; clever, bonkers, fan-serving and completely unpredictable – not all of it works and you’re totally lost at moments, but for most of it you’re just enjoying the ride. Fans of classic who will love this (and it’s concluding part) for the references, especially to the Classic ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ which introduced Davros back in 1975. A question Tom Baker posed in that episode comes to the fore here – could you kill a child who you knew would grow up to be a monster (i.e. like a child version of Hitler?) or in this case – should the Doctor help or abandon a child in mortal danger, who he knows will grow up to create the Daleks? It’s a great moral dilemma.
Missy’s return is everything you’d expect – she’s still as hilarious and psychotic as ever but this episode delves a bit deeper into the nature of her and the Doctor’s twisted friendship. The final ten minutes are great – and the cliffhanger is Game of Thrones worthy as the Daleks apparently destroy the Tardis, gun down Missy and then kill Clara in the space of a few moments – before we see a shot of the Doctor apparently about to ‘exterminate’ the child Davros. Pity this wasn’t later in the season – while they could kill Clara before the finale (I doubt they would, but they could) episode 1 is too early in the season to be genuinely worried about her survival – so I can’t help but feel the good cliffhanger was slightly wasted. Imagine if it had been the penultimate episodes ending!
Overall: A lot of fun and Missy was as brilliant as ever, but too damn silly in places and the first 30 minutes were somewhat slow while building the episode up…
Rating: 4 out 5
The Witch’s Familiar:
This is arguably the best use of Davros since his creation and first appearance in Genesis of the Daleks. Large chunks of the episode are taken up by conversations between the two mortal foes, while the (unsurprisingly) still alive Clara and Missy attempt to infiltrate the Dalek city. This episode was so convoluted I could write an essay analysing it, but i’ll spare you and just go with the moments which were the undoubted highlights.
The Doctor/Davros parallels were done well, with Davros’ apparent self-doubt reflecting the Doctor’s similar feelings last series, and the sequence where Davros opened his real eyes genuinely surprised me. The Doctor gloating about how he saved Gallifrey seems like something he really shouldn’t have told the creator of their oldest enemies, but still, great scene. The whole way Davros tricks the Doctor and uses his compassion against him was brilliant (Julian Bleach showing what he can do with good material) while the Doctor revealing he has tricked Davros in turn gave a sense of triumph.
The Missy-Clara scenes were hilarious, coupled with the surprising (yet clever) revelation that what a Dalek’s saying may not be what the creature inside is actually thinking. This is used to shock effect in the (very dark) sequence where Missy attempts to trick the Doctor into killing Clara (who is inside a Dalek casing) and very nearly succeeds until the Doctor gets suspicious when the Dalek begs for mercy. I must admit, I was worried for a moment there!
Overall: With a groundbreaking new look at Davros and a slightly mental episode, Moffat proves once again that he can still do characters well. One for the fans, but not for the casual viewers.
Rating: 4 out 5
Under the Lake:
Ghosts. An isolated (underwater) base. A small, unarmed crew that’s lost their captain. The Alien vibe was strong in this one. The sequence where the group attempted to capture a ghost by luring it though the base and sealing it in certain sections invoked memories of Alien 3’s ‘bait and chase’ sequence. Pity there wasn’t more sections like it, while the episode is beautifully directed and the Doctor given room to slowly disentangle the mystery, the threat level never matches the tension.
On the upside I liked the (somewhat underused) supporting cast and the design of the eyeless ghosts was creepily effective. Clara having cue-cards for the Doctor to remind him how to act in certain scenarios was hilarious, and the episode provides a few good moments between the pair (with the Doctor becoming worried that Clara’s getting too much like him).
Overall: This a good example of ‘classic who’ with the old favourite, a base-under-siege story. Unfortunately the episode itself isn’t a classic in it’s own right, but the awesome cliffhanger sets up part 2, Before the Flood, nicely.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Before the Flood:
Now this is what I’ve been waiting for. It’s rare for the second part to massively improve on the first half of two parters (normally the opposite is true!) but Toby Whithouse succeeds here admirably. The villain of the piece – the Fisher King – looks epic and is a truly menacing alien (mainly thanks to being voiced by the superb Peter Serafinowicz – aka the voice of Darth Maul) and the scene where the Doctor confronts him is superb.
Loved how they incorporated the Doctor’s guitar into the opening titles music. His explanation of the paradox that occurs in this episode using Beethoven’s 5th as an example bizarrely works (I think I just about followed the logic). The episode doesn’t concentrate as much on building tension as the last one, though giving us a very chilling sequence where the deaf Cass is stalked by the axe-wielding ghost of Moran, it’s a different kind of episode – but one that gives a satisfying payoff.
Overall: the best episode of series 9 so far with a memorable monster and some chilling sequences.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
In the next few episodes… Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) causes a few problems between Vikings and Aliens, then turns up again a few hundred years later – just who is she? If that wasn’t enough – the Zygons are back – along with the apparently dead Osgood… let’s hope they can keep up the quality of the episodes so far!