Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Magician's Apprentice / The Witch's Familiar

Chapter The Thirteenth, is very nearly current, and contains Daleks and spoilers.

The Doctor has disappeared and is hiding out, avoiding adventures in a way he hasn't ever, ever done before (except for when he did it in The Snowmen, and just before The End of Time, and between The God Complex and Closing Time, and - I don't know - about a dozen times in the last few years). This is because an event has come along to make him question his morality in that rare way he did all last year, and in the 2011 series, and at the end of The Waters of Mars. Anyway, this utterly unique situation leads to Clara and Missy teaming up to save him from a trap devised by Davros and the Daleks - they want to create a new hybrid super-race of Time Daleks. It's hinted that this race was prophesied long ago on Gallifrey. They seem to have had quite a few prophecies about things on Gallifrey, which is a bid odd as they were the one people that could visit the future any time they wanted. You'd have thought they'd have popped forward to check some of this stuff out. Anyway, the Doctor turns the tables on Davros and wins. He has sonic sunglasses now too.

The whole family sat down to watch each episode time-shifted late on the following Sunday morning after broadcast. This means that, had we been part of the sample group, we would not have contributed to the overnight ratings, which have been disappointing for these first two episodes. Seeing as this is a family of five fans one of whom writes a Doctor Who blog, it's probably worth taking all those ratings scare stories with a pinch of salt. 

First-time round: 
Usually, the Better Half and I review episodes for suitability before showing the kids, but this time we didn't have an opportunity, and so took a punt - with hand hovered over the pause button as we watched, just in case anyone got distressed. This didn't happen, but middle child did need a hug when the Doctor was in peril having his regeneration energy sucked out at the end. All the kids (boys of age 9 and 6, girl aged 3) got bored and restless during the talky Doctor / Davros bits.


In the nature of brevity, I'll get straight to the point (unlike this two-parter): this is one 45-minute episode of the Doctor having a conversation with the dying Davros, and it's brilliantly played by Peter Capaldi and Julian Bleach. Everything else, good or bad, does not move the plot forward and is just spectacle to make this quiet concept seem like a big, bold season opener. The whole planes stopping in mid-air plot, and the conversation between Missy and Clara with snipers in a foreign locale: all that could be achieved by a 2 minute scene of Missy kidnapping Clara to help her. It's more than within Missy's power to do so, and all the other tedious bollocks is only necessary because she does the idiot move of putting the world on alert first. Given that the help Missy gets from Clara seems slight anyway, perhaps you don't need any of it.

Colony Sarff's transformation is a very cool visual, but the endless scenes of him floating around threatening people are completely unnecessary. He's a telegram. Once upon a time, this stuff would be done with a message appearing on the psychic paper, so we could get into the story quickly. And, as fun as the Doctor's guitar playing in the dark ages is, it again could be snipped right out and impact not a jot. Presumably, when his opponent in the axe fight turns into a Dalek slave with eye-stalk poking out of his head, he's only been recently converted since being attacked by Colony Sarff's snake. Otherwise, the Daleks and Davros have known where the Doctor is all along, and the search would be unnecessary. Adding a scene that looks like a twist but isn't patently confuses the issue.

There's loads more too: the flashback of the Doctor using his enemies energy weapons to escape, the whole "Doctor borrows Davros's chair" sequence and the subsequent gag about the only other chair on Skaro, the whole slow reveal of the planet (where else would they be - really?). All the talk about the rebuilding of Skaro is not just unnecessary but damaging as it confuses the key reveal about the nature of the sewers. Does anyone care when watching a time travel show that in an episode three years ago they showed Skaro in ruins (particularly as the more hardcore will know that twenty-seven years ago they destroyed it altogether)?

As a member of that hardcore following, I'm reminded of Terrance Dicks talking about his and Malcolm Hulke's challenge to fill 10 episodes of The War Games at the end of Patrick Troughton's tenure. They used a lot of what he called loop scenes - bits of business that take up time but loop round and leave the protagonists exactly where they were when they started. Moffat's story is mostly loop scenes. It was more enjoyable to watch than maybe it seems from what I've said above (I enjoy The War Games too), but I think it would be improved by being sorted neatly into two linked but episodic stories: a Missy Invasion episode, at the end of which the Doctor disappears off mysteriously, or even better is nabbed by the Daleks; then, the Davros/Doctor episode with Missy and Clara having to team up and infiltrate Skaro. 

Another Steven Moffat two-parter with scenes set during a war.

Deeper Thoughts: 
Work and Part-work. As I mentioned above, scare stories are circulating in the rubbish sections of the press that Doctor Who's ratings are in decline and it may be cancelled. Probably both of these points is untrue. Long-term fans have been here before, and they don't have to be that long term - I seem to remember similar stories this century even as early as 2005 and 2006; it wasn't cancelled then, and it ain't been cancelled yet. The difference though is in me. 

I just recently got a new day job, which is taking up a bit more of my time; I also have a wife and three kids who I'll never have enough time for; Doctor Who is something we share, luckily, but beyond that how much time can I really spend being obsessive about a TV show? Reading a magazine every month, writing a blog post every so often... that's probably the extent of it. But then came the part-work. Recently launched nationally to collect every month, is Doctor Who: The Complete History. Bound like a book with a spine illustration such that when you've collected them all you have a picture of all the Doctors, containing articles that go into detail about the making of every episode. It is precision-tooled to push my nerd buttons. And every day on my way to work at that new job, I've passed a newsagent which had a very prominent display of issue 1.

Every day through most of September, it looked through the glass at me. Every day, I had to be strong and remind myself I don't have the time to read anything more about Doctor Who every month if I'm ever going to get round to finishing Dombey and Son, keeping up with the news, finding out about wines, learning a foreign language, and all the other things on my list. This isn't about putting aside childish things; I don't hold with that - it's all trivia, or all important, depending on your fancy.  But I do think one needs to strike a balance. I stayed strong, and eventually the window display was gone, and The Complete History moved on to issue 2, and now I'm two-thirds of the way through Dombey and Son, thank you very much.

If Doctor Who was cancelled, I might have time for some French lessons; or at the very least I could start on Our Mutual Friend. It may not sound like a big deal to have realised this, but: I'd survive.

In Summary: 
Even parts superlative and superfluous.

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