Good men don’t need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.
As good as Matt Smith was as The Doctor – and he could be very, very good – his time on Doctor Who gave Eleven few moments where he could be well and truly dangerous. (The above quote, from “A Good Man Goes To War,” is one of those few.)
That hasn’t been an issue with Twelve. From “Deep Breath” on, Peter Capaldi has taken the character to those dark places only hinted at before. He’s borne the weight of the horrible things The Doctor has seen, the horrible choices he’s had to make.
And he’s nowhere near done.
As the first episode of Series 9, “The Magician’s Apprentice” is a strange episode even for Steven Moffat. The beginning might be too slow for some viewers, and too familiar. But if you stick with it, you’ll be well rewarded.
The opening scene brings Twelve right back to that realm of dark choices, as he stumbles upon a terrible war (as one does) and commits to save a child before discovering the child’s identity. I’ll not spoil that revelation here, but it’s someone who will bring great misery to the universe, and the story that follows calls back to the great moral debates of classic Who.
Being The Doctor, Twelve runs from his fate. And (as too frequently happened with Eleven) everyone is looking for him, from that mysterious enemy to Clara to UNIT to even Missy (whose explanation for her return from the apparent dead amounts to “Deal with it.” Which is to say it’s perfect.)
Of course, they all find him at pretty much the same moment. And what a moment – Twelve’s second entrance is already one of the new series’ classic scenes. It’s so much like The Doctor, and so much like Capaldi, that whatever line once divided the two has been well and truly obliterated.
The reunion doesn’t last very long, as that ancient nemesis soon calls Twelve to his side for one last confrontation (with Clara and Missy as collateral… and potential collateral damage). And it’s an intense final act, as He Who Shall Not Be Named Here challenges and threatens everything The Doctor holds dear, leading to one of the toughest cliffhangers I’ve seen on the show. It’s untenable, it’s painful, and it forces Twelve to contemplate breaking every code he has (and he has well more than that other dark knight). There is absolutely no way they can get out of this one.
They will, of course. But still…
I’ve made it all sound depressing, I know. But “The Magician’s Apprentice” is still a lot of fun. Jami Reid-Quarrell, as that enemy’s emissary, is truly creepy. The unnamed actor playing said enemy throws all his venom and relish into the performance. There’s wonderful tension and chemistry between Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez as they argue over the relationship between The Doctor and The Master.
(It really frustrates me that Clara doesn’t get how the two can be enemies and best friends at once, but I suspect that’s the point. And oh, does Missy enjoy it.)
And of course, there’s Peter Capaldi.
Peter freakin’ Capaldi.
Every actor has that toolbox. That range of skills and abilities she or he draws from as a role requires. Different characters are going to require different tools, so you never see an actor use them all at once.
But we’re seeing something different in Capaldi’s performance as The Doctor. We’re seeing an actor at the peak of his abilities, using the full range of his abilities. We’re seeing an actor giving a character everything he has. And we’re seeing an actor having the time of his life, playing the role of his life. It’s really kind of glorious.
And again, he’s just getting started.
“The Magician’s Apprentice” holds so much promise for the season to come. I can’t wait to see where we’re headed. And even better, I have no idea.
But I hope you’ll follow along with me.
Thanks as always for reading. Until next time… and space.