Jerry: Let’s start out our very first ever Second Opinion column. Help me out here; which season of Doctor Who is this?
Brent: This is the ninth season of the new series.
J: OK, ninth season, episode one, “The Magician’s Apprentice.”
B: That is correct.
J: And of the of the modern series, we’re now on our fourth Doctor?
B: That is technically correct. We did get one mini-episode with Eight, who only had two appearances on television. So if you count him, it would be the fifth Doctor of the new series.
J: The numbers are already making my head hurt. All right, so this Doctor is played by Peter Capaldi. I was really surprised that we went nearly half the episode without him being in it. Is that unusual for a Doctor Who episode?
B: It is slightly unusual. It’s happened at least once. Usually when there’s a regeneration, it seems like they hold him back, and then bring him out at that the poignant part of the story, the climactic point of the story. The only time I remember him being absent for that long was in Tennant’s first episode, “The Christmas Invasion.” He was knocked out from the regeneration and he literally made his true appearance as the Doctor (not just lying in bed recovering) but made his true appearance about 15 minutes before the episode was over.
I watched a very educational interview with head writer and series producer Steven Moffat last night where he was extolling the virtues of the occasionally holding back the Doctor because, in his opinion, when the Doctor isn’t present, it heightens the danger. That then allows for much more memorable entrance of the Doctor when he does show up. I have to admit, in this instance, I heartily agree. I think this particular episode was really good at amping up the danger and the peril until the point when you finally get the Doctor, and that intro was one hell of an entrance.
J: Yes it was a very rock and roll entrance. I’ve got to commend my own self here because I really don’t know a whole lot, but I do know that in a prior life (which is funny to say when we’re talking about a Doctor) Peter Capaldi actually played in a rock and roll band with Craig Ferguson, among others.
B: Yes! So he does have rock and roll roots.
J: So I wasn’t paying close enough attention to figure out if he was actually playing guitar there, or if it was dubbed in after the scene.
B: He was actually playing. There was a behind the scenes video that was uploaded shortly after the episode aired, where Capaldi spoke very highly of the moment. He got to take a break from filming, to go to this little guitar shop in London, and pick out the Doctor’s guitar. He is a fairly accomplished guitar player, and that was him actually playing. Also, just in case you didn’t notice (being the non-fan that you are) when he makes his big rock and roll entrance riding the tank, he is actually playing a variation of the Doctor Who theme. A very meta moment.
B: The rumors are pointing that way. To this point, there have been two instances where she said she’s leaving the show, but has been swayed to stay. I believe the thing that enticed her to stay was the fact that someone had pointed out that with one more series, she would hold the record for the longest serving companion. So, in addition to her relationship with Capaldi, I believe that that probably convinced her to stay a little bit longer.
One thing I found really funny, the Doctor Who team does seem to really enjoy the act of promotion. They staged a photo-op where the Doctor, Clara, and two Daleks are crossing Abbey Road, in a nod to the iconic Beatles album cover. There’s a Volkswagon in the background, where the license plate has been slightly altered to reflect Jenna’s age rather than Paul McCartney’s age. In a slight nod to the “Paul is Dead” rumor that was fueled by the original Abbey Road cover, Jenna is positioned in the McCartney role — barefoot as was Paul and it sort of plays upon the fact that Paul was supposedly a dead man in that picture, and it also slightly tips the hat towards the fate of Clara by the end of the season.
J: OK, the older lady that was with the Doctor and the Companion, is that someone you’ve seen before?
B: Yes! In the previous season, she was part of an ongoing arc. We weren’t sure who she was, but she was collecting people that had died in the Doctor’s wake as they woke to an afterlife. You find out in the last two-parter of the previous season that she is secretly the Master – the Doctor’s colleague and friend from early Time Lord days who also left Gallifrey, but took an evil path away from his homewolrd.
This is, in fact, the first on-screen instance of a Time Lord switching gender when they regenerated. The idea was first made canon in Neil Gaiman’s Eleventh Doctor episode, where the Eleventh Doctor mentions his old pal, the Corsair, who was a Time Lord who had also left Gallifrey to explore the Universe at large. The Doctor mentioned that The Corsair maintained the same tattoo on his body through all of his regenerations, even when he was a girl. So we have Neil Gaiman to actually thank for making gender-swapping Time Lords part of the canon.
Now, I really honestly think that it’s part of Steven Moffat’s master plan. He’s always said that it doesn’t matter if the Doctor was a man or a woman, that it could happen. The ultimate decision on when that would happen would be when a female auditioned for the role that was so compelling and so magical as the Doctor that they couldn’t help but cast her. Which is exactly what happened with the Master, or Missy (short for The Mistress) as she’s known now. There are a few hardcore die-hard, basement-dwelling fans who do have an issue with it, but on the whole, it seems like fandom has embraced and fallen in love with this portrayal of the Master.
J: All right, so we end up on the planet that’s home to the Daleks….
B: That is correct; Skaro.
J: …And the Daleks have been around for the full 50 years or so of Doctor Who?
B: Yes. The Daleks were in the very first season of the very first broadcast of Doctor Who fighting William Hartnell, the First Doctor in his second story broadcast.
B: No, apparently the Daleks have mean bathroom issues.
J: OK, that takes exterminate to a whole new level. All right, has the Doctor been to the planet before?
B: Yes, he has been there on multiple occasions. The most poignant moment was during the Fourth Doctor’s reign where he goes back and discovers (and it’s the first time the audience discovers as well) who the creator of the Daleks was, which is Davros. He’s the one who basically transformed all of the human-like natives of Skaro into mutated beings that travel around in these Dalek tanks. So inside the Daleks, there’s actually a little squishy mutant that is is probably pissed off that they’re riding around in a tank, and don’t have arms and legs. That’s probably a lot of why they are so evil and villainous.
Now, in that episode during the Fourth Doctor’s era when he first meets Davros, there is a very popular, very memorable speech that the Fourth Doctor delivers. He has been manipulated and sent to Skaro by the Time Lords at the the Genesis of the Daleks (which is the name of the episode). His mission from the Time Lords is to destroy the Daleks before they were created. Tom Baker’s Doctor has this very well-regarded speech to his companion, Sarah Jane, where he’s holding two wires and all he has to do is touch them together, to end the threat of the Daleks forever. He stops to pontificate for a moment, “Do I have the right to do this as a living being? Do I have the right to annihilate another species? Doesn’t that make me as evil as Davros and the Daleks by committing genocide?”
He even has a line that says, “You see if someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that the child with grow up totally evil to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?” Which cracks me up because that’s almost the entire crux of this new episode. Even Moffat admitted that in his spare time when he does have time off from writing and producing Doctor Who and Sherlock and all the other things he has to deal with, he does kick back and watch a few old Doctor Who episodes. And that seemed like a plot line that was just left for all of these years, never picked up on. Then in a show about time travel, it amuses me that the current Doctor, who is played by a man who has been probably one of the biggest fans of the show (Capaldi has has been a Whovian throughout the entire run — he has watched the First Doctor through to now; he’s basically been preparing for the role for 50 years) and he actually gets the honor in a time travel show to be chronologically the first Doctor who meets Davros, back when Davros was a child.
B: Yes, although he proclaims not to be a supporter of violence. He usually will dress down anyone that uses a gun, or a soldier or anyone in the military (with a few exceptions – his best friend was a Brigadier in a secret organization called U.N.I.T., which we also saw in this episode). On the whole, he normally decries violence and and supports a peaceful resolution to the conflict. But there have been times when he has picked up a gun when there’s no other option, and attempted to solve the problem that way.
J: Have we actually ever seen the Doctor kill someone in that type of situation?
B: Not that I remember. I may be mistaken, but I don’t remember a time when he’s actually killed someone with a gun. He has brandished a gun, and he has used weapons against non-living beings – robots, androids, those types. But I don’t recall a time where he actually picked up a gun and killed someone with it by hand.
J: Let’s try to bring this to a close if at all possible. So this is the first episode of Season Nine of the current run, and it features the Twelfth Doctor. How does this first episode compare to the previous eight? Does this go towards the top? Fall in the middle? Or was a below average?
B: I actually found it to be one of the best — I watched it twice in a row. It was very full of continuity references which, as a long-time Doctor Who fan, those are the moments that are the most fun. They really put those in to serve the long-term fans and this episode was chock full of it.
The neatest part to me was during the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) era where he was exiled to Earth by the Time Lords for running off into the cosmos, and not staying on Gallifrey to observe, much like the Watcher in Marvel Comics. That’s what their society is built on – they observe; they gather data; and they only step in when it’s absolutely necessary. Once they brought him back, the Doctor was put on trial, and then exiled to Earth. During that exile, the Doctor worked with U.N.I.T. (United Nations Intelligent Task force) and he had a companion named Sarah Jane Smith. I guess you could say that Clara would be an analog of Sarah Jane, so to speak. They both have their own lives; they didn’t travel with the Doctor full-time; they came back to Earth; they did their job; they traveled with him when there was an opportunity. Both are strong-willed, headstrong ladies. The Master was a big part of that era, because rather than the Doctor going out to seek danger, the danger or the threat had to come to him on Earth.
So this episode really encapsulated the feel, the flavor, the fun of that original Pertwee era. Capaldi has said in the past that he loves the Pertwee era. This episode had U.N.I.T., you had the Master (rather the Mistress). You had kind of a Sarah Jane-character, and you had the Doctor. They were put in a situation very much like this many times back in the seventies, where the Doctor and the Master are at odds. Then a bigger threat shows up and, unfortunately, they have to team up to face the bigger evil. Usually the Master will try to sell-out the Doctor at the last minute to gain the upper hand, and we had a lot of that in this episode. There were a lot of little moments for long-term fan. Capaldi’s costume has been subtly tweaked. He’s now wearing trousers that looks very similar to the First Doctor’s trousers, and his character is softened a bit, since he was very much a curmudgeonly grump last season. Probably due to the regeneration process and him not ultimately finding out who he is until the end of last season. He’s just a guy with a screwdriver that travels around and solves problems where he can. He seemed more at peace with himself. Even though he’s in the midst of a psychological crisis, he seemed more like the Doctor in the series or in this episode.
Now I have to ask you as an occasional fan, what are your thoughts?
J: Truthfully, I got a little bored at times. I think that’s part of the reason why I noticed that the Doctor wasn’t involved for the first half of the episode. When he made his dramatic entrance on the tank in the cloud of smoke and all that, I paused my recording to see where exactly we were on the time stamp, and it was right around the 30-minute mark, so that I found a little surprising. I really didn’t know much about the Mistress, so the first half of the episode, I was really kind of befuddled just because I didn’t know fully what was going on. However, from what little I have watched of Doctor Who, I know that once the Doctor arrives to just go along for the ride, and you’ll be entertained at some point along the way.
B: I believe you watched the Tenth Doctor. Did you watch the Eleventh Doctor…
J: Well, it’s easier for me to remember the actors and not their numbers. My mind is easily confused. So, I watched all of Eccleston and Tennent. I watched about four episodes of Smith and got really, really bored and never went back.
B: So what did you what did you think of Capaldi’s rendition of the Doctor, compared to what you’ve seen in the past?
J: I’m having a hard time with his age. He looks too old to be hanging out with someone like the companion that travels with him. It looks more like a grandfather-granddaughter type situation but maybe that’s just my perception. He seems more energetic than what I’ve seen in clips before and maybe that’s part of it, getting to spend several days sitting in that studio and playing the guitar.
I almost wish the appearance of the Daleks had happened a little more closer to the end of the episode. It just feel like when it when it was revealed, it felt like it wasn’t kind of reached a peak about the 45-minute mark and then it just kind of plateaued for the final 15 minutes or so.
B: Let’s go ahead and bring this discussion to a close. I’ve learned that when it comes to new Doctor Who, to remain spoiler-free, so I have no clear idea what we will see in the next episode.
J: Please come back next week, as Jerry and Brent go over their Second Opinions for Episode 2,
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