This review contains spoilers
The Doctor and Clara returned this week with the first instalment of the ninth series of Doctor Who, along with Missy and the UNIT team. The story began with a flashback to an event in the Doctor’s not so distant past that had since come to haunt him. Clara, typically, was not with the Doctor whilst he faced the “hand mines” (which fans of Guillermo Del Toro will notice were not too dissimilar from Pan’s Labyrinth‘s Pale Man); she was back at Coal Hill School working the day job.
The lack of a consistent companion in both Amy Pond and Clara has been lamented many times, primarily because their ‘real lives’ often bear little significance to the storyline. In the end, Clara just wanders out of the school with little explanation; she must have an understanding boss.
What was particularly pleasing in this episode were the subtle references to previous episodes; not only by the return of the Dark Lord, Davros, but also the little nuggets of dialogue from the pairs’ previous encounters, most pleasingly “unlimited rice pudding”. A similar feat was achieved when UNIT were consulting their records on the Doctor “three versions of Atlantis”, which subtly hinted to continuity errors in the show’s fifty-two year history. It was nice to see that for once these references weren’t entirely missed out as would have been the case in the early “New Who” era or weren’t doggedly affixed, as has been the case in more recent episodes.
Yet, despite all this, there was something missing. It is perhaps a cliché, but the general tone of the episode didn’t quite feel right. As a long-standing fan of the show, it may well be down to my own expectations, however it seemed like there was an element missing from the programme. It may be that after many similar episodes where characters appear to “die” only to then miraculously survive (as I presume will happen to resolve this episode’s cliffhanger) the format seems to have become dated and predictable. Another source of this emptiness was the lack of emotion in the Doctor concerning Clara and Missy’s “passing”; unless the Doctor knows what we all know, then his personality has changed considerably in recent times.
The Last Will of the Doctor was also an unsatisfying plot device that suggested the fall of the Doctor, which, given the show’s continual popularity, is unlikely to occur. The false threat of death is an oft-repeated theme in modern Doctor Who that is beginning to wear rather thin. The Doctor can no longer travel without fearing his imminent demise; it’s at this point that this reviewer longs for the days when the Doctor was flung into a distant world or adventure, where he was trapped by some alien but ultimately survived. Times were simpler in 2006.
It was nice to start the series with a two-part story; it felt less rushed and was more of a “hook” than a standalone episode would have been. This will be key if the series is to maintain its viewer levels for the rest of the series.
The plot seems to have left some points to be resolved in next week’s episode, namely the exact nature of the Doctor’s first encounter with Davros and how this will affect the Timelord’s future. There are the ingredients of a good episode to be found in The Magicians Apprentice, it’s whether these can be successfully united; the pessimist in me says that it won’t be particularly satisfying, but I am ready to be proven wrong.