Death Is For Other People: Doctor Who S09E01 “The Magician’s Apprentice” — A Wizard’s Eye Review

There is a school of thought that God enacts his covenants with his people by remembering them, in a sort of stable time loop. I don’t remember where I first heard about it, but it makes so much sense that I have decided to open with that thought.

Gnostic status: Three diphenhydramine 50 mg for allergies, solar invocation, sleep deprivation…cat in front of big screen monitor on which I am typing…

*plops cat off desk* Bai Finch!

Anyway, one of my consistent thoughts about Doctor Who is that it is very much what alien contact would be like, if the aliens were humanoid in shape and possessed of plausible technology for a time-traveling ancient race. It isn’t about an armada setting up a forward base for their empire…it’s one idiot in a pickup going kind of Easy Rider on our planet, and the havoc that wreaks on our timeline.

Now introduce his friend, a woman of similar formidable power, desperate to remind us she hasn’t turned GUID! Blasting away. Raging against the dying of the light, to assert her identity, as we often do when motivated by grief. Her friend is dying, a thousand years away in Essex. Their friendship is older than our civilization, and more complex. This is what they’d be like. Making a mockery of our history.

In point of fact, our history is at issue during this episode and the upcoming season plotline. Vesuvius had an eight-day eruption in 1139 (“The Fires of Pompeii”, “Deep Breath”), and one of England’s many civil wars began that year. My prediction is that these will be important plot elements going forward.

But none of that matters to Missy. She kills quite discriminately in fact, to impress upon Clara the gravity of her situation. But would that not have been as simple as pointing out that the Doctor’s Will was addressed to her, not to Clara? When he is in his last hours, he only has one person he wants beside him.
And here he is, riffing along on an electric guitar, telling Dad Jokes to the people of Merry Olde England. Riding a tank into an arena he has turned into a place of drunken laughter. “Face me, magician!” says Bors. But a magician can never face anyone. There is only one he ever faces. To avoid that, he, like Missy, commits crimes against the Way of Things. But not, we sense, against his essential nature, his True Will. Were the Doctor to have his way, history itself would be a party, an anachronistic, bananas, running battle with Missy over an argument they have forgotten, but one that motivates every pint, every punch, every hug they have ever shared. Is it Why? or Who? What is their conflict? It is not as simple as preserving history versus changing it, or even the puerile Good and Evil. Perhaps she is the hammer to his anvil, and between them are forged the Stars.

He does not face Clara. In this episode, she is diminished severely, a small violin part for a third chair in the grander symphony. She is, to put it one way, the puppy. Another, the football. She gets her grand entrance, telling UNIT how it’s done (they’re always useless. It’s just the rules) and flouncing out of a school full of primary grade kids on the way. She has cast her lot, I’m afraid. No one flaunts the conventions of both Doctor Who companionship and genre secret identity that much without ending badly. (Jenna Coleman, in the Wheaton interview…”I think she’s got nothing to l…lose.”  Live for? Perhaps. But here she fights on by his side. And she really is the puppy. He has not told her what Skaro is.
And yet he doesn’t need to. He is not really facing Davros either. Davros is, in a sick way, the Old Testament God to his children. Remembering a covenant he has made with them, and why. This is why he has called the Doctor here. To show him that, as he puts it, “Compassion is wrong.” But that can’t be, can it? Compassion is why he has created the Daleks. Life at its purest. The ecstasy in crisis of predator and prey…this is who they are. The insinuation that murder as a WingDings interrobang to emphasize one’s craziness, or wild tank-shredding in a fucking castle, are not pure affirmations of life and its worth, let alone the worth of those living it…is made more interesting by far coming from Space Hitler on his deathbed. Ah, but he was once the scared orphan of war. And unlike the Doctor in Listen…he has ended it. He has come to terms with his pain, forged the manacles into a sword, if not a plowshare, with the power of his mind. He has no need to hide from death. Death is Tuesday.

But the Doctor is also remembering a promise he made to himself. With the boy Davros, he was both cruel and cowardly. “Fear makes companions of us all,” he said once. He was told that when he was a boy, by Clara, who learned it from him. And yet the one time it should have been true, the one time being neither cruel nor cowardly was the most important thing in his life…the very first time his new mission in life to be “Not a hero! not a good man! Just an idiot in a box. Passing through! helping out! learning!” has been tested…he has failed. Oh, he’ll learn. My God, will he learn. And it is perhaps for this reason that he mocks the tank, mocks not knowing what he ordered at a safe distance, by the mediation of a computer. Mocks the idea that our nightmares will be funny in a few centuries. Mocks buying a tank to protect his fish, the way Davros sought only to protect the Kaleds from being shot like fish in a barrel. Mocks the man who promised never to be cruel or cowardly. There were no speeches about having the right or no. He simply ran.

A hug is just a way to hide your face.

No wonder he’s willing to go. No wonder he’s fighting so hard, making such noise to so little effect. When one’s interference in history has become a horrible joke, the only thing one can do is allow it to fall flat — torpedo it into terrain. All the rules are out the window. He is not a good man. He had merely to ask the question to dispel the illusion.

But compassion, claims Davros, has been one of the Doctor’s indulgences. One proverb says it is the vice of kings. Who then is it that gives the royal audience, at the hospital on Skaro? Who, then, is the initiator? Davros knows. Davros remembers. He does not rule the Daleks. He has come down and walked among them on occasion…but are we seeing a world where the Time War and the interference of the Doctor made Davros refuse to interfere with his people after he gave them the tools to end the war? Is compassion wrong, if by compassion we mean interference?

There is a lot to think about. And with Clara and Missy obliterated because the Doctor cannot interfere, it is beginning to look like the idea of breaking the beaker to release the pestilence is a different question from creating the pestilence in the first place. If you could kill a child who would grow up to become a madman, a tyrant, and kill millions…

“I knew him when he was a little girl.”

Return next week, as Moffat adds new dimensions to the question he is always asking us…asking the myth…asking its God.

“Doctor WHO?!” As in the myth of Parsifal, this is the one question that can never be asked. And he does not carry a screwdriver anymore…

But I’m spoiling too much. I just have to remember that motif exists. I do love thinking out loud.



2 thoughts on “Death Is For Other People: Doctor Who S09E01 “The Magician’s Apprentice” — A Wizard’s Eye Review

  1. This raised so many questions. It is an excellent opener. We may actually find, this year, an answer for one of the questions Capaldi asked last year as the Doctor, “Who frowned me this face?”
    I love the chemistry between the Doctor and Missy when they meet for the first time since her death.

    Liked by 1 person

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