Doctor Who has blasted back onto our screens with a retro, rock’n’roll, action-packed and absolutely mental first episode. Classic time travelling paradoxes, impending doom, and classic monsters are the order of the day, with The Doctor facing off against arguably his greatest enemy.
Warning: Minor spoilers ahead
We open with a moody, sepia-toned steampunk battle on an unnamed planet. In one of the creepiest bits of Doctor Who tech yet, we encounter “hand mines” — super scary disembodied hands, complete with grotesque eyes, that drag hapless victims into the bowels of the black and hostile earth. Only it’s not Earth — it’s Skaro, and what we’re seeing here is a breathtakingly casual sequel to the classic Doctor Who story, “Genesis of the Daleks”.
But enough with the spoilers. If you want a breakdown that definitely reveals everything there is to know about cross-links and references to the Whoniverse, you can check out the Guardian’s recap. For those of you who have yet to watch it, and don’t want to ruin the surprises, suffice it to say that this is a Doctor very much returning to its roots, but dragging in the best new elements of the show along the way.
“The Magician’s Apprentice” is tight, compact Doctor Who at its best. The pace is absolutely rollicking, and the story is packed with references to classic Doctor Who plotlines from both the reboot and its venerable original series. And while we can sense many eyes rolling at yet another return of the Daleks, rest assured — this is fresh, scary, and absolutely gripping stuff.
What it feels like Moffat is shooting for here is a return to a sort of “classical” Doctor, riding on the back of the much-reported sense of history within Peter Capaldi’s characterization. It seems that the casting of Capaldi was a part of a definite swing back towards older Doctors, as hinted in a conversation between Moffatt and Digital Spy. We see a Doctor who is moody, troubled, and weighed down by the knowledge of all of time. Like past Doctors, he attempts to hide this pain through mad whimsy, this time involving an electric guitar and a battle tank in 12th century Essex, but this kind of levity cannot obscure the very real moral weight that burdens this incarnation of The Doctor. Sure, there’s some classic rock, a wonderfully loopy turn from Missy, and hilarious one-liners aplenty, but underneath it all is a dark exploration of compassion, destiny, and murder.
Which leaves us at the end of the episode in a truly apocalyptic situation. Suffice it to say that this week cannot possibly go fast enough as we wait to discover whether The Doctor can save his women and his TARDIS, and whether he will achieve this by killing a child. Doctor Who fans could not have asked for a better season return, in this writer’s humble opinion.
What did you think of Doctor Who’s return?
[Image via BBC TV]