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Magician’s Apprentice: Title doesn’t mean anything just yet. In your own time, Mr Moffat.

September 21, 2015


Spoilers.  Oh yes.  Inevitably, spoilers.

New Doctor Who adventures are now Sunday Morning events for me.  The reason is simple.  I want to watch them with the boy, and the boy doesn’t want to watch Doctor Who just before he goes to bed.

They schedule the show later in the evening these days, in deference to its supposedly darker, more adult tone – but the trouble is – there’s no time to lighten things up afterwards before it’s time to tuck the wee one up in bed.  You can’t switch off fifty minutes of Silence, Weeping Angels – whatever those flesh-eating things in the library were – and say “nighty night – sweet dreams”.

Probably Doctor Who was just as scary when I was the boy’s age.  But it was all done and dusted by 6pm – and Bruce Forsyth would then appear and dispel potential Dalek nightmares with showbizzy banter.

The Magician’s Apprentice is part one of a two part narrative.   The title does not yet make sense as it’s not clear who is the magician, why they are a magician, and who is the apprentice?  Given that magicians are tricksters, it’s safe to assume that none of the people we’ve seem blown away have in fact been blown away.

There is much that is entertaining in this story.  Michelle Gomez is, as always,  a complete joy to watch.  She is The Master now.  She owns the role and yet she’s clearly the same person who played with all those other Doctors.  The key to playing the Master is that the Master has more in common with the Doctor than anyone else in the universe, having just made a few key decision differently.  Accordingly, Gomez  flirts shamelessly with the Doctor.  Almost as much as Roger Delgado used to.

My only problem with her is the use of that stupid name “Missie”.  The name “Master” was conceived of as an academic title – and they don’t give out “Missie” degrees.  I’m just going to call her The Master and there’s an end on’t.

So, the Doctor is summoned by an apparently dying Davros who wants a few last words with him.  But we’ve been given an alarming vision of how the Doctor encountered Davros as a boy during the interminable Kaled-Thal wars and attempted to save him from a minefield full of “hand mines”.  Attempted, that is, until the boy gave his name – at which point the Doctor decided to leave him to his fate rather than save the eventual creator of the Daleks.

(A bit thoughtless of the Doctor though – for all I know, “Davros” is a very common name on Skaro  – the Kaled equivalent of “Chris” or “Steve” – he could have checked a bit.)  And so we’re taken back to the central dilemma of Genesis of the Daleks, the right of The Doctor (or anyone else) to make such massive genocidal decisions.

What Steven Moffat has done in this series opener is get us stuck right back into the central dilemma of time-traveling morality.  I mean – foreknowledge sounds great.  Wouldn’t it be great to slip back a few days and put a hefty sum of money on Japan beating South Africa in the rugby?

But the truth is, foreknowledge would be a hideous moral burden.  Going back in time is ethically onerous.  How would you spend September 10th 2001?

Would you respect the supposed sanctity of the historical timeline or would you not make a few phone calls?

Killing a child of course is a very extreme staging of the time-travelers dilemma.  It can be evaded of course, with a better time machine and access to birth control.  Rather than killing (or abandoning) boy Davros, perhaps the Doctor should just show up at Mr and Mrs Davros’ house with a lifetime supply of condoms.  Or, better yet, prevent Mr and Mrs Davros from meeting in the first place.

Stephen Fry wrote a speculative sci fi novel about time travel which involved putting some sterilizing agent in the water supply of a certain small area of the Austro-German border in the 1880s.  Unfortunately, in Fry’s book, this unmaking of Hitler proved to be the making another more efficient totalitarian racist German leader who succeeded in winning a different version of World War 2.  If Moffat were to follow this logic, then we might be meeting some “Thaleks” next week – crazed cyborgs invented by some Thal scientist that prove even more destructive than Davros’ children.

Yeah – that would be one story.  Thals winning a Davrosless war, inventing the Thaleks who go on to be worse than Daleks.

Pity the poor time-travelling interventionist.  His work is never done.  Or rather, it’s done, then undone, then done again.


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  1. Yes, the Steve conundrum occurred to me too.

    Information is the big problem here. Is a deserted Davros more or less likely to create the Daleks? Who knows? What if Davros was named after his big brother who died in a hand-mine field 4 months before the Dalek creator was born?

    All this is moot if the Master is the Magician (Clara seemed to be developing a rapport with her). I would expect the Master to go to even stranger places.

  2. David Cole permalink

    It’s not 100% clear in the episode itself, but the Doctor is referred to as a magician in the prelude, “The Doctor’s Meditation”. The implication is that Davros is his “apprentice”, in that the Doctor “made” Davros.

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