Series 9 of Doctor Who begins with a barnstorming opening hour, perhaps the best since Series 5's "The Eleventh Hour". While the show's revival has waxed and waned in subjective quality (often dictated by how much you enjoy the current Doctor/companion, or tolerate its haphazard plotting), there's simply no other TV show this infectiously crackers and light-footed at its best. While impenetrable to newcomers, "The Magician's Apprentice" was an irresistible mix of villainy and nonsense, grounded by the serious matter of The Doctor's (Peter Capaldi) impending death and an unexpected collusion of his arch-nemeses...
However, it was great that something deeper and more serious underpinned this premiere, which the grown ups to enjoy—particularly those who remember the Tom Baker era's classic "Genesis of the Daleks", where the Fourth Doctor had the chance to erase the Daleks from existence by simply touching two wires together. "The Magician's Apprentice" returned the same ethical dilemma, but with The Doctor accidentally embroiled in a situation where he's poised to save the life of a young boy on a war-torn planet, before realising the stricken lad is a young Davros...
Should The Doctor perform an act of heartlessness for the greater good of the galaxy? Or should a timeline of pain and destruction be maintained through an act of compassion for an innocent child unaware of his own bleak future?
Like so many of Moffat's two-parters, this hour ended with a blitzkrieg of shocking moments that felt like he'd intentionally written himself into the tightest corner possible—with the apparent deaths of Missy and Clara, plus the destruction of his beloved TARDIS by the Daleks. This being a time-travel show, it has an obvious get-out clause woven into the storytelling, but I'm interested to see exactly how things conclude. Will The Doctor's status as the ultimate creator of the Dalek be upheld? Maybe not saving him is what turns Davros evil...?
- Complain all you like about Steven Moffat's manic writing style, haters, but time and again he comes up with brilliantly visual and exciting imagery. I particularly loved Colony Sarff (Jami Reid-Quarrell) being a cloaked figure whose 'sliced face' was actually a row of curled snakes; one of hundreds that comprise his hidden body. Genius. Or how about the simple weirdness of those hands with eyeballs embedded in their palms, protruding from the ground looking for ankles to grab. Spooky.
- Moffat also loves to lace his dialogue with throwaway comments he knows fans will latch onto, and excitedly discuss. Here, there was Clara's mention to her class that Jane Austen's a great kisser (um, did she..?) and Missy suggesting that The Doctor was once a little girl, but qualifying that may be a lie.
- This was the first time we've seen The Shadow Proclamation and Davros since 2008's "The Stolen Earth" when David Tennant was incumbent. I was pleased they got Julian Bleach back to reprise Davros, too.
- Daleks can destroy the TARDIS by simply shooting it from multiple angles, simultaneously? They could have done that many, many times before now.
- The Missy and Clara scenes at the outdoor café was filmed in Tenerife, Spain, while the country's Parque Nacional de las Cañadas del Teide stood in for Skaro.
- This two-part premiere is being directed by Hettie MacDonald, who's somehow only just been asked back since directing 2007's masterful "Blink". Yep, arguably one of the best Who episodes ever made and they never thought to call her for eight years? Crazy.
- Nice touch to involve a vintage blue Dalek on the planet Skaro. Did you also realise that The Maldovarium market was the black market where River Song stole a vortex manipulator in "The Pandorica Opens"?
- This week, Jenna Coleman officially confirmed she's leaving the show after Series 9, before the Christmas special. She will become the longest-serving nu-Who companion, and personally my favourite. Knowledge of her exit gave a me a frisson of excitement when she was evaporated by a Dalek ray gun, until I remembered the trailer shows Clara involved in other adventures to come. How ballsy would it have been if they'd kill a companion in such a casual, callous, unexpected way in episode 1?
- The overnight ratings for this premiere was 4.6 million (which will undoubtedly increase once you factor in the week's repeat airings and BBC iPlayer viewings), but it's still a bit low considering the marketing behind this return. Maybe it's just more evidence that people are happier to catchup with TV when it suits them nowadays, and aren't so desperate to watch things live... even with the threat of being spoiled.