This review contains SPOILERS
Starring: Peter Capaldi as the Doctor, Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald, Michelle Gomez as Missy, Julian Bleach as Davros, Nicholas Briggs as the Daleks (voice)
Written by: Steven Moffat (the Daleks and Davros created by Terry Nation) / Episodes directed by: Hettie MacDonald / aired in the UK and U.S. : 19/09/2015 & 26/09/2015
What are these episodes about?
As Missy returns, the Doctor is summoned by the Daleks’ dying creator, Davros…
Doctor Who has burst back onto television screens with an epic two-parter that delivers on the promise of head writer Steven Moffat that it would be as big and ambitious as a season finale. Despite some great ideas (and a superb two-part finale), season eight had ultimately felt a little uneven – any fears that this new season would get off to a middling start are quickly allayed as “The Magician’s Apprentice” / “The Witch’s Familiar” proves a thrilling showcase of exceptional creative talent and strong storytelling.
At this point Peter Capaldi has fully settled into the role of the Doctor and continues to prove beyond worthy and more than capable. Capaldi’s nuanced and captivating performance, combined with well-written dialogue, delivers a complex character who can be as funny as he is brooding and cantankerous with dashes of the maverick heroism that has formed part of each of the Time Lord’s previous incarnations.
Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor aside, Michelle Gomez was arguably season eight’s biggest revelation and once again delights as the Master’s regenerated female form, Missy. Gomez is the perfect sparring partner for Capaldi and successfully melds elements of wacky humour and unhinged villainy (whether it be suspending aircraft in the sky or cold bloodedly vaporizing UNIT security men, she’s certainly a credible threat), peppered with subtle hints of the calculating charm and pure madcap evil of classic era Masters Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley.
Jenna Coleman has some great moments as (the soon to be departing) Clara, particularly with Missy – from their tense meeting in “The Magician’s Apprentice” to venturing through the Dalek sewer/graveyard in “The Witch’s Familiar”. Although separated from the Doctor for much of the story, there’s still a rapport evident between Coleman and Capaldi and their respective characters which we’ll no doubt get to see more of in upcoming episodes (Steven Moffat has after all cited this season as being the ‘glory days’ of the Doctor and Clara). Coleman’s biggest moment though comes in “The Witch’s Familiar” as she gets to ‘be’ a Dalek, it’s not only fun and gives us an insight into how a Dalek ‘works’ but provides Clara with some decent dramatic beats.
Of course it’s always exciting to see the Daleks return (once again brought to terrifying life by the voice of Nicholas Briggs) and although they’ve made regular appearances throughout ‘new’ Who there’s always something new to add to the tapestry of Terry Nation’s iconic creations (those aforementioned scenes of Clara operating a Dalek casing for example). From a pure fan pleasing perspective, the design of the Dalek city on Skaro pays homage to the Doctor’s first encounter with the robotic Nazis in the original 1963 William Hartnell Dalek serial and we’re also treated to a mixture of classic and new Who Dalek designs.
The main crux of the story is what provides this season premiere with its riveting drama with the pleas of a dying Davros (and his younger self) placing the Doctor in a morally complex position that harkens back to “Genesis of the Daleks” (the all-time classic 1975 serial starring Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor). Capaldi shares a series of standout scenes with Julian Bleach (returning as Davros, having previously appeared in 2008’s “The Stolen Earth” / “Journey’s End”) with some beautifully written dialogue and surprising twists coupled with great performances that deliver moments that are both moving and shocking. Moffat’s final solution to the Doctor’s dilemma is simple, yet nothing short of genius. But will the Doctor’s rescue of the young Davros and provoking within him sentiments of compassion change the evolution of the Daleks? We all know that their creation is inevitable and it will be interesting to see how the Doctor’s next encounter with his eternal nemeses will play out.
The bottom line: Doctor Who returns with a well-written, strongly performed and epically realised two-part premiere that sets the bar high for the rest of season nine.
Doctor Who airs in the UK Saturday evenings on BBC One. US viewers can catch it on BBC America.
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