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Monday, September 21, 2015

Doctor Who: Let's Really Kill Hitler This Time

Spoilers exist in multiple points in time and space simultaneously.  

In 2015, Stephen Moffat did something I didn't think possible. He told an interesting Davros story.

At this point I've taken in almost every Davros-related story I can think of, from the I, Davros audio dramas to the classic series through a few of the novels. I've seen how he becomes the Davros we know, how he created the Daleks, and how he almost obliterated the entirety of existence (including us, as we never had seen the Weeping Angels either at that point). But The Magician's Apprentice managed to show us an aspect of Davros that we'd never seen until now.

The war on Skaro has always fascinated me: a war that starts out with high technology, but is waged for so unfathomably long the attrition has reduced it to almost literally sticks and stones. The depiction as silly, sixties-era sci-fi in the Hartnell era (far after the war, shortly before the Daleks began their expansionist era) stood in stark contrast to the gritty war-torn collapsing civilization in Genesis of the Daleks (the beginning of the worst attrition). And it's beautifully realized here as well: appropriately close Genesis's vision of it, as it's mere decades before. The hand-mines are utterly creepy and appropriate, given the Kaled's experimentation with biological weapons and genetic manipulation, and the biplanes with mounted lasers are morbidly anachronistic as well as a nice callback to the WWII squadron that attacked the Daleks under Churchill's command. And this Davros is subtly different. He's no longer the rage-filled bitter husk of a man, but tired. Tired and wanting closure. Muttering under his breath instead of shouting. Too tired to hold his own head up. 
Oxford English Dictionary entry: Fear-boner
Missy's back, of course. Nobody really expected her to be dead, not after the myriad ways that she'd died when she was several different he's of varying degrees of sinister. And she's a complete force of nature, still. Dramatic and histrionic, but never a wasted gesture or word. (A shame she hasn't managed to cobble her own TARDIS together yet.) Clara's gotten an upgrade as well, as there's considerably more showing than telling about how clever she is, especially the bit about circling the plane; but she should really know that you can't make a hashtag that's not about social justice trend that fast. And that was some of the worst fake-typing I've ever seen.
Have I mentioned how much I adore Peter Capaldi lately? He's channeling his own youth here, and possibly a little bit of Doctor House, entering into an old Celtic arena on the bow (do tanks have bows?) of a tank playing a medley of classic rock including a touch of Van Halen's Eruption and Pretty Woman and cracking terrible jokes. I think twenty-something punk rocker Capaldi who did drugs with Craig Ferguson would be proud of his older self here. If you squint, you can see some of Nine's desperate happiness cracking through the lines of his face; appropriate, as he mentions all of his selves are present in some form or fashion. 
I almost believe old Attack Eyebrows will do it, too. 
As a practice in going from setpice to setpiece, this episode is great, with a few really memorable moments and great lines... but the story is very, very disjointed. It doesn't flow well. A terribly great number of things happen in this episode, which is quite different from a normal “part one.” Most part ones spend a great deal of time setting up for the action in part two, but this one's setup for part two could probably be condensed into five, maybe ten minutes without losing much story. I can't wait for this coming Saturday, so my full opinion can condense completely, but I really would have liked to have seen this episode edited down a little and combined with part two for something like an extended special episode like Tennant's off-season or Day of the Doctor.

Still, the episode's got the huevos to kill off two major characters and destroy the TARDIS -- you can't say that about a lot of episodes. I mean, it'll be undone completely, probably in the first five minutes of episode two. Dalek guns don't vaporize.

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