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      Doctor Who — Doctor Who Reviews

      Review: The Girl Who Died

      This was the week Doctor Who went bonkers. Again.

      This is what our barmy show does with increasing regularity. The whole premise of the series is slightly unhinged. Sometimes, it works; other times it doesn't; and quite often, you're not quite sure what to make of it. That's the case here.

      Much of this episode was great, and then it got weird. A couple of weeks ago, I said it would be wrong to judge Under the Lake by how well Before the Flood went, but a lot rests on The Woman Who Lived to put the last ten minutes of The Girl Who Died into context.

      But that's the last few scenes, not the entire story. Because there was a lot to enjoy here.

      After the success of his efforts in Series 8, Jamie Mathieson had heavy expectations to contend with: indeed, he won awards from Doctor Who Magazine for Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline. With The Girl Who Died, however, he gives us something entirely different.

      Sure, it's his first historical, but the tone of the piece is largely in contrast with his previous stories. You can see why so many previews called this a 'romp' but stayed away from that ominous 'filler' label that carelessly disregards stories just because they're not a series opener, finale, or show great character development for the Doctor and his companions.

      'Romp' implies something light, funny, and generally somewhat frivolous. We definitely get this. The humour here works better than last year's 'romp' Robot of Sherwood through no fault of that particular tale. Series 8 set out to prove Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor to be darker. After the intense Deep Breath and Into the Dalek, Robot of Sherwood jarred a little, despite being deftly written with strong characters, solid direction, and great performances.

      Fortunately, the production team seems to have realised this year that he may be less user-friendly, but he's still the Doctor. It means that we've had severe stories for the past month, but the Doctor has been undoubtedly the hero we all want him to be. He's more jovial, and that's perfect.

      The Time Lord is funny – generally and certainly in The Girl Who Died – without losing his gravitas. That's the beauty of this character.

      In fact, he's quite joyous, amid bouts of moodiness and contemplative brooding. His happiness at seeing Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) returned to the village is a stand-out moment. "I'm not a hugger," he announces while giving her a thumbs-up. And then he rushes up and hugs her. That's the enthusiasm the audience likes to see. He's embracing life, not questioning whether he's a good man or not or getting bogged down by his dislike of Danny Pink.

      Series 9 is almost giving us a new Doctor and that's exactly the right direction to take this 52-year-old (nearly) show.

      The Doctor isn't without the weight that he carries around with him, no matter the incarnation. The Doctor speaking baby was initially a nice bit of comedy in A Good Man Goes To War (2011), added to in the same year's Closing Time. In that episode, though, Matt Smith showed a great sadness and optimism when speaking to Stormageddon/Alfie, mulling over the years that separate the pair. In The Girl Who Died, Capaldi portrays the same aching depth of emotion when translating the crying baby of this Viking village.

      These could quite easily be funny scenes, a bit of light relief, but it's played very differently. It's underlined by the Doctor asking if babies die with honour.

      Of course, the Doctor then throws this in the opposite direction: a little distraction comes in the form of a party, just as the Mire arrive to attack the town. Naturally, this is just sleight of hand, and there's something very satisfying that the thing that defeats the deadliest mercenaries in the galaxy is a good story.

      Well, it's what we're all here for, isn't it?

      The strength of a story is a common theme in many serials under Steven Moffat's tenure as showrunner: in The Big Bang (2010), Amy brought the TARDIS back in time for her wedding because the Eleventh Doctor told her an old-new-borrowed-blue story; he also planned to defeat the Old God in The Rings of Akhaten (2013) with tales of his losses; and in Into the Dalek (2014), the Twelfth Doctor hoped to redeem the Dalek with a story of the universe's cyclical nature.

      It makes Ashildr (Maisie Williams) worth saving. She's brave and strange because she imagines – ultimately, that's what scares the Mire into retreating. That and the Benny Hill theme tune.

      Her casting caused a publicity storm, and while Williams gives a great performance, it would likely be an anticlimax if this were it for her. I'm sure The Woman Who Lived will give us plenty more to think about regarding her character and role in the Whoniverse.

      The device that brings Ashildr back to life causes a few narrative problems. Notably, it's not actually mentioned before the Doctor uses it: it's almost as if we don't really need to know the specifics of how he can do this – we just have to accept that the Doctor can save anyone if 'The Rules' are ignored. The second Mire medical unit – how might that be utilised next week? – introduces the questions that we'll likely explore in The Woman Who Lived, essentially the meaning of immortality, and by contrast, mortality.

      If the Mire had this automatic repair kit, why were they scared by the make-believe dragon? It might tie into the Doctor saying Ashildr will live forever "barring accidents", or maybe recalls the Doctor's own fear of dying (largely focused on in The End of Time) despite his ability to regenerate.

      Further plot holes centre on the electric eels, which many have noted wouldn't generate that amount of electricity. And why were they even there? The Vikings may have explored and fished, but not in seas with electric eels in.

      In other adventures, you can pass the former off by pointing to the sonic screwdriver, but the Doctor was without both that and the TARDIS.

      Nonetheless, the siege on the village is immense fun, at turns touching, hilarious, and exciting.

      Sadly, it's those final ten minutes that give the story a slightly uneven feel. A great deal of fuss was given to Peter Capaldi playing the Doctor after previously appearing in The Fires of Pompeii (2008), and Torchwood: Children of Earth (2009), and we were promised an explanation.

      Of course, plenty of familiar faces crop up numerous times: companions (Karen Gillan and Freema Agyeman), guest stars (Philip Madoc, Martin Jarvis, Geoffrey Palmer -  I could go on), and yes, even another Doctor (Sixth Doctor, Colin Baker was in 1983's Arc of Infinity). But we've just accepted it. This time, however, there was an in-story reason. Supposedly.

      Except it sort of falls flat. Russell T Davies apparently told Moffat he had a reason for the same faces popping up now and again, and you can't help but feel this wasn't it. It feels like a cop-out. It might've worked last year, when the Doctor was trying to come to terms with who he is, but this year, he knows. He's the Doctor and that's all he's ever really needed to know.

      What's more, that's all the audience needs to know too.

      It might be expanded upon in the future, but here, it makes the tale disjointed. Yes, we need to judge these final scenes on how The Woman Who Lived plays out.

      And this fan is looking forward to it...!

      Review: Before the Flood

      Hey! You! Yeah, you! I'm talking to you! And so is the Doctor...

      The Time Lord doesn't often break the fourth wall: in fact, the only other notable time he did was in The Feast of Steven (1965), at the end of which William Hartnell's First Doctor wished everyone at home a very merry Christmas! To do so is to risk breaking the world's illusion, ie. that the Doctor acknowledges he's a fictional character.

      Writer, Toby Whithouse is brave to not only have the Doctor speaking directly to the audience, but to have this as the pre-titles sequence. It'll no doubt split fandom, but very few would argue that the subsequent rock-and-roll version of the theme tune is anything other than fantastic. (After the decidedly dodgy track that's accompanied the titles since Peter Capaldi took over the role, anything would be welcome. We get an instrumental that suits the Twelfth Doctor down to the ground.)

      Yep, it's divisive, but it's also exceptional.

      It's exciting and captivating, and for anybody who's left with a nasty taste in the mouth, there's an argument to be had that he's not really explaining the bootstrap paradox to us but to Clara Oswald.

      This is the perfect introduction to Before the Flood because it gave us a hint about what's to come: timey-wimey elements, explanatory discussions, a slight cheekiness, thought-provoking scenes, and the Doctor on mighty fine form.

      Indeed, it's a very exciting and captivating episode as a whole. Sure, it lacks some of the intrigue from last episode and anyone well versed in Doctor Who will already have guessed who is in the stasis chamber and that holograms would be used again. That doesn't entirely matter: there's enough to draw you in and keep you on the edge of your seat.

      That's quite an achievement considering the story is packed with exposition-heavy scenes. Someone once said, "show, don't tell", so no doubt Whithouse will get criticism for this. Yet it worked. And what made it work so nicely was the ingenious narrative and engaging character development. (I'm not fond of the "show, don't tell" cliché anyway, but that's beside the point.)

      Before the Flood is full of smart ideas, throwing the fairly-standard 'ghost' story in a different direction. That's how you keep a two-parter interesting. Give us something new to look at, some new notions to toy with. This isn't a story about hauntings - it's time travel. It might be set in Scotland, but that doesn't mean we can't have the village, pre-flood, covered in Russian propaganda. And because only a set number of ghosts were in Under the Lake, no one who went back in time could die in Before the Flood, right?

      Sadly, we should've known that time is in flux, so of course someone would die in the past, and we're very sad it had to be O'Donnell (Morven Christie), an immediately charismatic, likeable, and intelligent character ideal for travelling in the TARDIS. She had something of Osgood about her, sure, but there was also a hint of Rita, a would-be companion from Whithouse's previous adventure, The God Complex (2011), doomed because the Doctor offered her a place in his space-time ship.

      Fortunately, there were proper consequences to her death: added gravitas, sadness, and a further peeling back of the Doctor's motivations.

      Arsher Ali showed considerable control as he portrayed Bennett's unspeakable grief and his realisation that the Doctor knew this was going to happen. That was foreshadowed by the electric scene in the TARDIS where the Time Lord asks her to stay there – but knows she won't. He did that to her last episode. He forced all of them to make a choice, to stay and satisfy their own curiosities.

      Last series, this alien manner seemed very forced – intended to shock and set Capaldi's Doctor apart from his past regenerations. Yet here it works perfectly. The Doctor has always been like this; the extent to which it shows simply varies depending on incarnation.

      It brings to mind further scenes from The God Complex, notably the Eleventh Doctor's seeming manipulation, perhaps unintended, of Amy Pond (Karen Gillan). The two adventures share quite a few qualities, despite appearing largely polarised on the surface. Both are important in the evolution of the Doctor-companion relationships (Clara's angry talk with him on the phone is stunningly acted and scripted); both feature large deceptions where the supposed-enemies seem more like victims; both star Tivolians; and both have memorable scenes of the Doctor hiding from a giant, lumbering beast, which ends in death.

      Unlike the Minotaur from The God Complex, however, we don't see enough of the Fisher King, played by the tallest man in Europe, Neil Fingleton, and voiced by comedian-actor, Peter Serafinowicz and Slipknot's Corey Taylor. He's certainly a scary creation, beautifully thought-out and realised. His towering over Capaldi makes him seem a genuine threat, while his malicious streak manifests itself in his using of human souls.

      There's something of the deep about him, so here's hoping the dam merely put back his plans, that he will return someday...

      The Cold War training outpost is a neat idea as well, but one that's also underused. As a backdrop, it does the job and serves the narrative ably. Director, Daniel O'Hara makes it look interesting and gives us fresh new environs for the story to expand, but it did lack something. Nonetheless, it'll remind long-term fans of 1989's The Curse of Fenric, and that's definitely a positive.

      The Faraday Cage concept, too, is used deftly in this episode: a place of safety, certainly until the Doctor realises that Clara's phone won't work in there so she'll have to leave it outside the room and fight through the ghosts if it does ring.

      Similarly, Cass (Sophie Stone) is excellent, especially in her determination in making sure Lunn (Zaqi Ismail) is safe. Her picking up the vibrations in the floor when the ghost of Moran (Colin McFarlane) is coming for her is very clever, and again acting, direction, and writing all combine to create a tense, absorbing scene.

      The really great thing about Before the Flood is that you thoroughly care about each of these characters. You don't want any of them to die. You feel the weight in Bennett's heart as he stares at O'Donnell's ghost then convinces Lunn to admit his feelings for Cass – because he left it too late for himself.

      Toby Whithouse has proven again and again that he's a writer you can rely upon. Not one to go through the motions: he delivers vastly enjoyable scripts that play with expectations and make you truly care about the people involved.

      There are definitely things to nit-pick about, but the 40-odd minute duration flies by and this two-parter is simply too enjoyable to rip apart. It remains my favourite Twelfth Doctor serial so far.

      Images: BBC.

      Review: Under the Lake

      Full disclosure: to me, Toby Whithouse is one of Doctor Who's strongest regular writers. I've enjoyed all his Who work, but The God Complex (2011) is a particular favourite. As such, this two-parter has been my most anticipated story of Series 9.

      Fortunately, this sole episode lived up to my hopes and continued the run's solid start. Whether it's generally deemed a good episode or not could hinge on how Before the Flood unfolds, but that's wrong. It should be judged on its own merits.

      And after doing so, you can only conclude that Under the Lake is a triumph.

      You know what we're getting straight away from an engrossing pre-titles sequence. The writing's on the wall. Ghosts and a base under siege. This sounds like standard fare for Doctor Who, but we've not had these tropes since 2013: Cold War was the previous base-under-siege tale – discounting Mummy on the Orient Express (2014) because it doesn't fit easily into that category – and Hide featured the last use of 'ghosts.'

      I love both of these concepts though: the base-under-siege idea works particularly well as it hypes up the drama and the horror so core to Doctor Who. But they only work if you do something new with them.

      Fortunately, Whithouse does just this. The function of the underwater base means you get a clever design and smart notions of electromagnetic locks and a night-and-day feature that you know immediately will be exploited. The Faraday Cage, too, is a neat way of keeping the crew alive for the three days that pass between Moran's death and the TARDIS' (unhappy) arrival, and containing the threat later on.

      The ghosts, too, are presented in a new fashion - as actual ghosts. The Doctor has never believed in them, so previous explanations typically revolve around time travel or impressions on houses (based on the premise of Nigel Kneale's The Stone Tape). But no, the Doctor has come round to a new way of thinking. These are actual apparitions of the dead.

      It becomes even grimmer when the Time Lord realises that they're not natural phenomena at all; instead, someone is hijacking souls...

      Things should get even more interesting when we learn how the ghosts came into being and how the Doctor's actions in the past affect Clara and co. in next week's Before the Flood.

      But we're getting ahead of ourselves. That's how this episode works: excitement and suspense in equal measure surge the tale on, adding layers of intrigue so you're as interested in these characters and the functions of these ghosts as the Doctor is.

      It helps, of course, that you care about these characters. They're all well-realised and fleshed out, despite their back-stories not being explored. You understand their reasoning, their companionship. They're not a slightly-fractured crew like in The Rebel Flesh. The Almost People (2011); they care about each other, right down to Cass (Sophie Stone) telling the Doctor that she won't be held responsible for getting her colleagues killed. More than anything, her closeness to Lunn (Zaqi Ismail) is both endearing and completely understandable. Her concern when he is cornered by a ghost is especially effective, as is Lunn's acceptance that if Cass stays on the base, so must he.

      O'Donnell (Morven Christie) is the latest in a long line of fans: she knows and respects the Doctor's work for UNIT, just as Osgood and Malcolm have before. She'll no doubt divide some viewers, but Christie makes sure she's not just a giggling annoyance. She's clever and capable, with a cool persona. Frankly, she's exactly the type of person UNIT would employ!

      Bennett (Arsher Ali) is likewise a great character, not as enthusiastic as O'Donnell but nonetheless efficient, dry-witted, and, most prominently, curious. I very much look forward to seeing how he and O'Donnell interact with the Doctor, the past, and the Fisher King next week.

      It's a shame we don't get more time with Colin McFarlane's Moran (McFarlane having previously voiced the Heavenly Host in Voyage of the Damned and also starring in shows like Death in Paradise, Dennis the Menace, and The Fast Show), but at least his ghost is wonderfully creepy.

      Pritchard, played by Steven Robertson (Luther; Ripper Street) is the most stereotypical, with his underhanded business manner making him an easy candidate to be killed early on. Indeed, his death is especially gruesome, something reminiscent of the classic Robots of Death (1977) cliffhanger in Part One where the Doctor is buried in sand. Similarly, viewing his demise via CCTV (or the 22nd Century equivalent) reminds this viewer of Rita's death in The God Complex.

      In fact, there's quite a lot here that stems from the past. The whole 'catching-ghosts' sequence is similar to the gorgeous scenes in The God Complex where the Doctor tricks the Minotaur into explaining why he's trapped in that spaceship-turned-hotel. Then there's the mole-like Prentis (Paul Kaye) from Tivoli, the same planet as Gibbis.

      There are further allusions to The Impossible Planet/ The Satan Pit (2006) and 42 (2007), as well as Sarah Jane, who the Doctor left in Aberdeen instead of Croydon. (Those cue cards for the Doctor are genius, perfect for the Tumblr generation who love to spot easter eggs. The humour in Under the Lake is another marvel: the Doctor especially is hilarious, which is just what we need right now. "Anything else I should know? Someone got a peanut allergy or something?" is a particular favourite line.)

      And could Clara's mentioning "that place where the people with the long necks have been celebrating New Year for two centuries" be a hint at the Krillitane, who before taking bat-form apparently looked like us but with really long necks? Furthermore, the mention of synapses in the brain reminds me of The Claws of Axos (1971), although this is likely unintentional.

      The weight of these previous adventures doesn't crush Under the Lake. Referencing highly-regarded tales could bury a story under expectations and parallels, but this is an exceptionally clever episode. The blurring between the supernatural and the mechanical (electronics clearly has a lot to do with what's going on) is sublime, as is the tone in general.

      And even though the cliffhanger isn't entirely unexpected, it remains an unsettling and enthralling image. More praise must be lavished upon Whithouse and director, Daniel O'Hara for deftly separating the Doctor and Clara, and making an already-cramped space even tighter.

      Please excuse such untempered enthusiasm for Under the Lake, but it's already become my favourite Twelfth Doctor story so far. Considering it's got competition from Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline (2014), that's a great feat.

      This is a story that proves you don't have to rewrite history or add a new nuance to the Doctor; you don't have to reintroduce classic monsters, or do something hugely controversial. You don't need these things to make a fantastic Doctor Who story.

      You simply need to be fantastic, that's all.

      Images: BBC.

      Review: The Witch's Familiar

      The solution to last week's cliffhanger bookends The Witch's Familiar: it was a two-part cliffhanger, and writer, Steven Moffat knows which one you'll know is a red herring – the deaths of Clara and Missy – and which will keep you hooked, namely the Doctor seemingly threatening to exterminate a young Davros.

      That opening is bold and clever, mixing gorgeous visuals with an explanation that should satisfy fans. The scenes on Skaro contrast beautifully with the dark direction of Missy's tale of the Doctor escaping invisible androids. Shot in black and white, featuring brief glimpses of past Doctors, and borrowing something from episodes like Planet of the Daleks and The Androids of Tara, it's a great reminder of Doctor Who's past.

      But then, that's what The Witch's Familiar does so well, and this first scene sets the tone well.

      Moffat of course should take credit for his allusions to the past – indeed, Peter Capaldi called this serial a tribute to the First Doctor era – but similar praise should be heaped onto Production Designer, Michael Pickwoad, and director, Hettie MacDonald.

      The interior of the Dalek city is an obvious nod to the show's second story, 1963/4's The Daleks (sometimes known as The Mutants), with sleek lines and sterile environs, while the sewers of Skaro remind viewers of the grim locales of Genesis of the Daleks (1975). Davros' talk of his final victory is reminiscent of 2008's The Stolen Earth/ Journey's End, and the hybrid idea has been explored (briefly) in 2007's Daleks in Manhattan/ Evolution of the Daleks. Furthermore, the Dalek civil war – given a nod in the rotting Kaled mutants seeping through and attacking the Daleks – has been shown in stories like Evil of the Daleks (1967) and Remembrance of the Daleks (1988).

      The HADS (renamed here as the Hostile Action Dispersal System) is another knowing wink to the past, the defence tool first cropping up in The Krotons (1968) and coming back for Cold War (2013).

      The shock viewers got at seeing Skaro again (destroyed in Remembrance) in 2011's Asylum of the Daleks is even revisited, last week by Missy's understated surprise to be back on the planet, and this time by the Doctor actually questioning Davros about its return.

      Yep, it's rather appropriate that The Magician's Apprentice/ The Witch's Familiar is so steeped in history, and while you can't help but wonder what the casual viewer would make of it all, I very much doubt it genuinely excludes even the newest of viewers (the majority of whom would already know about Davros and the Daleks regardless).

      Not knowing, for instance, that the Doctor was previously sent back to the Daleks' origins to destroy the race before they got off the ground doesn't hamper what's a thoroughly enjoyable and intriguing story about the Doctor, stuck in the middle of an army of angry tanks, facing up to his arch-enemy.

      It's impossible to isolate a single exemplary scene because seeing Capaldi opposite Julian Bleach's creator of the Daleks is a joy, as is Missy's manipulation of Clara, a companion who is normally more than a match for most of the aliens she comes up against.

      In fact, while Jenna is never anything less than brilliant, Clara does seem uncharacteristically useless, and this does sit uneasily with anyone who has seen her strength in tales like The Rings of Akhaten (2013), The Time of the Doctor (2013), and 2014's Flatline. I liked the scared Clara shown in Cold War, but that was a long time ago now, and she's grown into an extraordinarily strong, capable person. Seeing her dumbfounded when questioned by a Dalek is odd. Perhaps Missy really does have her on the back-foot, or maybe she's just terrified of the Daleks. It's interesting territory that's not really explored enough.

      Seeing Clara imprisoned in a Dalek is another step into exciting territory, and the parallels with Asylum of the Daleks, in which it's revealed that one of her splinters in time (Oswin Oswald) has been converted, are sublime. Given it's Jenna's final year in the role, it's fitting that her first appearance in the series is at least alluded to.

      We even get blasts of the Asylum soundtrack, courtesy of the always-great Murray Gold!

      The music, however, is at times overwhelming, never more so than when Missy is destroying the Dalek in the sewers, a satisfying scene that, in retrospect, doesn't entirely make sense. We get an explosion, pre-empting the Doctor's destruction of the Daleks en masse, but when Clara is shoved inside the Dalek, the armour is fine again.

      These are the only real missteps in an otherwise excellent story that enlightens and intrigues in equal measure.

      There are plenty of unanswered questions – for one, the Confession Dial, which we'll surely get to in the Series 9 finale; and secondly the fates of Davros and Missy. Michelle Gomez is fantastically insane throughout, and Julian Bleach gives a shockingly emotional performance. Most fans presumed that Davros' eyes were burnt out or something similarly grotesque, but Moffat shows us otherwise. We also get to see him out of his chair, replaced by an angry (and thus dangerous) Doctor, wheeling about and threatening the Supreme Dalek.

      We also get an insight into the psychology of the Daleks, adding more definition to their understanding of emotion. In the past, they've come worryingly close to becoming emotionless robots, akin to the Cybermen (who, no, aren't robots either). The lines had been blurred. Fortunately, here it's revealed that emotion is how Daleks 'reload.' "You are different from me" translates into "exterminate." That's horribly scary and utterly true of the Daleks.

      More Dalek tropes are given greater significance, notably one of the my favourite things about them: the thrumming heartbeat. It was used superbly in Victory of the Daleks (2010), ushering in the new (but sadly forgotten) paradigm, and is of importance in this serial because, quite simply, it's keeping Davros alive.

      (Given the stunning acting, you can believe that Davros is at the end of his life, but I'm so, so pleased that he's been regenerated!)

      And most importantly - to the Dalek mythos, and as the resolution to the cliffhanger – we learn how the Daleks have a concept of mercy. Fans of the Eleventh Doctor era will recall 2010's The Big Bang in which a stone Dalek begs River Song for mercy, and this episode pays that off perfectly.

      The Witch's Familiar is a product of the past and hints at an exciting future, and without doubt my favourite link to Doctor Who's history is seeing the Daleks, in the process of regenerating, seemingly deactivated amongst the long corridors of the city. It reminds me of the First Doctor's victory over them in The Daleks, where we learnt that those early Dalek designs were powered by static generated from the metallic floors.

      Indeed, when contrasted with the jumping narrative of The Magician's Apprentice, The Witch's Familiar is quite a static tale, but it's certainly better for it: more coherent, more satisfying, and ultimately more captivating... Exactly what an opening serial needs to be!

      Next: Under the Lake.

      Images: BBC.

      Review: The Magician's Apprentice

      In The Magician's Apprentice, the Doctor has a lot to contend with: Davros, yes; the Daleks, of course; Missy perhaps; the complexities of time travel; his own shame; and a large helping of dramatic irony – in varying degrees.

      There's quite a lot the audience knows that the Doctor and co. aren't entirely aware of, and depending on your point-of-view, this either adds to the drama, or utterly diffuses it. Case in point: Clara dies. Despite news that Jenna Coleman is leaving the show, she's already been seen filming for the rest of Series 9 (possibly with the exception of the final two-parter, Heaven Sent/ Hell Bent). When Michelle Gomez's Missy is exterminated, it's surprising yet a bit damp; she died in Death in Heaven, but here she is again. A little thing like death isn't going to stop her.

      When Clara dies, you know this can't last.

      And then the TARDIS is blown apart, and that's the final confirmation that these things will be undone.

      That's the same problem with The Sound of Drums/ Last of the Time Lords (2007): the Master had decimated the Earth, so the only thing the audience expects is a big reset button. Indeed, the Paradox Machine was destroyed and everything wound back one year. But that's how smart Steven Moffat's writing is. Straight after blowing away Missy, Clara, and the TARDIS, he presents to us the means to reset things – only it's by doing something equally dramatic. It's something the Doctor will never do, because it's something he can't do.

      He has to kill Davros.

      Of course, we know the Doctor won't kill a child and substantially alter time. If he had done so before, the whole Time War could've never happened and Gallifrey would still be in the skies. There are too many subsequent paradoxes – prominently, if he kills Davros, there's no reason he would travel back to kill Davros, that timeline in which Clara is exterminated having been diverted.

      (This, too, poses interesting questions: what would the Doctor be like without the Daleks (given his confession in last year's Into the Dalek that he found out who he was when he first landed on Skaro?)

      Furthermore, we know the Doctor. We know who he is, and he wouldn't shoot a then-innocent boy. The Doctor, then, wouldn't, and he couldn't.

      And yet – and yet...

      Dramatic irony heightens/diffuses the suspense in other ways too: if you listened to rumours, you'd know Davros would be back, and that we'd be retreading old ground – both that we'd literally be back on Skaro, and that the Doctor's dilemma would be the same as in Genesis of the Daleks (1975).

      Many have called the central concept a great idea, and indeed it is – although it's far from original. The same territory was explored in not just Genesis but also recent episodes like The Beast Below (2010), and to a lesser extent, Let's Kill Hitler (2011).

      Additionally, Eleventh Doctor era stories have mulled over the Doctor's last days and what he would do – which is why the three-week party in 1158 doesn't quite ring true. Peter Capaldi's Time Lord is a different incarnation but he's still the same man, so why spend his final hours rocking out instead of spending time with his friends (The Impossible Astronaut), saving as many as he can (The Time of the Doctor), or both (Closing Time).

      Capaldi, however, is really nailing the Doctor, and thankfully, much of the burden lumped on his shoulders by Series 8's "am I a good man?" arc has been lifted... or at least seemingly. That question hangs in the air still as he confront his shame at having left a young Davros to die amongst the hand-mines, and no doubt when he returns at the episode's cliffhanger.

      Michelle Gomez, too, is great. Although I'm still not comfortable with the idea of a female Master, Missy herself is full of wit and dark charm. Her relationship with Clara is just as interesting as with the Doctor. There's an odd respect between them all, and a kind of trusting. Clara's reaction, while cautionary, isn't quite how you'd predict, especially considering Missy held at least some responsibility for Danny's death last series. Considering this is a companion hooked on danger and fashioning herself like the Doctor, Clara's taking Missy in her stride shouldn't come as too great a shock.

      Kate Stewart's reaction, though, is a surprise. It simply doesn't ring true. I know Lethbridge-Stewarts are a strong breed, but she didn't convey much anger at the woman who flung her out of a plane, and killed one of her trusted advisors, Osgood.

      That's not Jemma Redgrave's fault – she's always been a fantastic addition to the semi-regular cast – she was simply lacking in that sort of material. It's a shame, really, especially as UNIT was essentially deemed a necessary but inept plot device. I can only hope that it foreshadows events later on in this run of stories, notably The Zygon Invasion/ The Zygon Inversion, and, alongside the Doctor's confession, the finale.

      There were so many elements to The Magician's Apprentice that some were bound to be left unexplored. Fortunately, Davros isn't one. He's a joy – always has been.

      And thankfully, we have Julian Bleach back as the evil genius. It's been seven years since he last played Davros (in 2008's Journey's End), but he slips back into the role effortlessly. His dialogue with the Doctor is naturally electric, and the two bounce off one another perfectly. He immediately cuts down the Doctor's assertion that the Daleks should never have been created with a simple line, accusing him of being a broken record: "This is the argument we've had since we met."

      We're sure to get further chilling exchanges in next week's The Witch's Familiar, and while this opening episode was a mixed bag, it should slot into place much better after we know how this impossible cliffhanger, and the storyline as a whole, is resolved.

      I know I speak for fandom as a whole when I say, I can't wait.

      Images: BBC.