Doctor Who 09:01

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That collective gasp you heard was all of the old school fans of Doctor Who reacting in shock over Saturday’s series nine premiere. I was shocked, but I was also confused, angry, and slightly tickled. With these recaps, especially with this one, I have to dive head first into spoiler land, so you’ve been warned.

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More so than most season openers, this season of Doctor Who is teeming with self-references. In order to appreciate what’s going on, and what’s at stake we need to go back to two important stories in the Doctor Who canon, both of which were written by the iconic writer Terry Nation. The first is the First Doctor story “The Daleks”; the very first serial that everyone’s Nazi-inspired inverted rubbish bins with plungers ever appeared in (and, as we learned in An Adventure in Space and Time, was the story that saved the series in its early days. The second, and more pertinent story to this particular episode, is “Genesis of the Daleks,” Nation’s definitive origin story of the Daleks and their creator Davros, and one of the all time best stories the show ever produced, and a triumph of Fourth Doctor era (to the point where, when the episode featured the clips of the Doctor and Davros’ past discussions, the largest clip was from this episode – and here’s the full scene below).

In fact, once I realized what showrunner and episode writer Steven Moffat was going there, and that he was trying to answer the question asked in this clip with the young Davros caught in the middle of the civil war on Skaro, I was intrigued and slightly annoyed. Because it’s yet another example of “The Doctor is going to die! Again!” story that Moffat has turned to at least once a season since the start of his reign as showrunner. And while I do appreciate the ethical questions the Doctor and Davros’ chat has raised (is the Doctor actually going to kill a child, even if it is his greatest enemy?), it felt like we haven’t seen anything new. What was new was that Davros really and truly had the Doctor on the ropes, and it is to the credit of Peter Capaldi and Julian Bleach that their confrontation had all the weight of history that Moffat was trying to achieve and then the sheer terror that he was going for.

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One new thing that Moffat should be given credit for, and that is his examination of the twisted relationship of the Doctor and Missy. As conceived by Moffat, and brought to life by Capaldi and Michelle Gomez respectively, the Doctor and Missy respect each other as the crucial link to their missing culture that is the Time Lords (you will recall that Gallifrey is still missing). As she explained to Clara (in that deliciously bitchy scene in the cafe) the Doctor has tried to kill her just as much as she’s tried to kill him (“It’s our form of texting.”). If anything it’s a throwback to the status of their relationship when the Master debuted during the time of the Third Doctor (and echoes the gentlemanly camaraderie that Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado had). It also makes sense that she would get his confession disk, because somehow the Doctor must have known that she would find a way to get Clara’s attention to help. And it must be said, stopping all the planes mid-flight was a hell of a way to get Clara’s (and U.N.I.T.’s attention).

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As much as I might have rolled my eyes at some of the mechanics of the plot, the fun of Missy and Clara bickering at one another saved a lot of the episode for me. If anything, it helped add some much needed dimension and fangs to Jenna Coleman’s performance as Clara, which has gone a long way from the cipher that the character was when she debuted in Series 7. Not only was it fun to watch Gomez and Coleman spar all the way throughout the episode, but to watch them escape, and then figure out how deep in shit they were with the dawning horror of exactly where they were taken to was magical. While the story might have seen reductive, the acting by Capaldi, Gomez, and Coleman sold the story.

So what happens now? Missy and Clara are both dead, the Doctor is backed into a corner, and Davros is enjoying himself. Tune in next week for the dramatic conclusion.

Random Thoughts

– This episode was loaded to the teeth with callbacks in Who history: from Capaldi’s plaid pants (a shout out to the First Doctor’s iconic plaid pants) to Colony Sarff’s tour from the Mavadoriam (no sign of Dormium’s head alas) to the Shadow Proclamation, to the planet of Karn. The biggest callback was that virtually every version of the Daleks (including the iconic silver and light blue ones) was on screen. Even the Doctor’s line “I spent all day yesterday in a bow tie. The day before in a long scarf. It’s my party, and all of me is invited.” was a nod and wink to the Fourth Doctor’s iconic long scarf.

– If you saw the prologue and the mini-story “The Doctor’s Meditation”, the best way to watch all three to make the most sense would be in this order: Start the episode up until Ohila’s line “Doctor! What have you done?”, then watch the two prologues, then resume the episode proper.

– While it was fun to see Kate Stewart and U.N.I.T. again, it was a wasted cameo. I’m more excited for later in the season when they show up and deal with the Zygons and the return of Osgood (but isn’t she dead?).

– “OK, cutting to the chase. Not dead, back, big surprise, never mind.” On the one hand, it’s nice to see the Maste… I mean, Missy, bring back the tradition of returning without really a necessary explanation. On the other hand, how dare Moffatt imply that Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart would miss a shot! On the third hand, you just know that Michelle Gomez is having a hell of a fun time making hay with all of Missy’s quips.

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– It was odd, but hilarious to see the Doctor playing the show’s theme on an electric guitar, which is also a nod and wink to Capaldi’s punk rock past. Speaking of which, given as much of a fan he is, I would love to see Capaldi reunite with his old friend and former bandmate Craig Ferguson for an episode, if only so Ferguson can reprise this little ditty:

– “Kate, we can’t just phone the Doctor and bleat, he’ll go Scottish.” As grim as the episode was, there was a lot of laugh out loud lines throughout. And speaking of the first half of the episode, while it did drag, it was kind of awesome watching all of the women (Clara, Missy, Kate, and the U.N.I.T. analyst) working together to find the Doctor.

– Did I see that right, and did Missy make a testicle joke with the Daleks?

– While this was the first part of a two-part episode (which seems to be the theme this season), it will be interesting to see if and how the two-part model works for this season.

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– Also, it’s the official last season of Jenna Coleman as the Doctor’s companion. The question is, when will she exit. Even though she and Missy died this episode (?!?) she’s listed in several of the future episodes.

– If you haven’t seen the episode yet, here you go (courtesy of BBC America):

– Seriously though: You need to watch “Genesis of the Daleks”; one of the high points of the original series and a triumph for Terry Nation, one of the best stories with the Fourth Doctor (with Tom Baker in particular on fire in this story), Sarah Jane, and Harry. And here’s a link for that.

NEXT TIME: The TARDIS is destroyed, Missy is dead (?!?), Clara is dead (!?!), and the Doctor is stuck on Skaro surrounded by all the Daleks and Davros is about to see how far the Doctor will go…

Photo & Video Credits: BBC

Originally Published on 21 September 2015 as part of “The Idiot Box,” my television column for l’étoile.

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