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maryann johanson | #BlackLivesMatter

Doctor Who blogging: “The Magician’s Apprentice”/“The Witch’s Familiar”


[previous: “Last Christmas”]

warning: spoilers!

So it looks like this is going to be yet another season of me being disappointed in Doctor Who. It breaks my heart, but Steven Moffat’s idea of what the show should be simply does not speak to me anymore. He, as a writer, has all of time and space, the entire universe and all of history to explore and play with… and he keeps coming back to the same monsters, the same villains, the same ideas over and over again. (Oh, look: Clara is a Dalek again!) He keeps circling around the same stories until they disappear into themselves. Doctor Who is eating its own tail under Moffat’s direction.

Is no one their own person in the Doctor’s universe? Is there nothing and no one that he has not had an influence in creating? This time, it’s Davros. “Who made Davros?” Of course it’s the Doctor. Except it isn’t. If “Davros knows, Davros remembers,” then Davros remembers that the Doctor saved him from the “handmine” field and showed him mercy. Moffat wants us to think it’s the opposite, that the Doctor abandoned the child Davros and that this was the beginning of Davros’s hatred, but that cannot be. This is time travel! From Davros’s perspective, the Doctor did nothing but save him, barely even hesitated to save him. But that’s the same problem with the “one last night” that Clara and Missy have in which to find the Doctor. This is time travel! They have literally forever to find him when time travel is on the table.

It’s pointless to nitpick Moffat’s stories, because he doesn’t care about telling a cohesive story. He has his cool ideas — “handmines”! (*groan*) “the planes have stopped”! “invisible planet”! “the Doctor plays rock guitar”! — and it doesn’t matter if they have nothing to do with anything, are not woven into the fabric of the tale. There is no tale, not in the traditional sense. There is only pantomime. Moffat’s Doctor Who is a pantomime of Doctor Who. Almost literally: the Doctor in sunglasses playing an electric guitar in medieval England while announcing Missy’s entrance with “It’s the wicked stepmother, everyone — *hiss*!” is exactly the sort of thing you’d see in a Christmas pantomime in England.


Why is the Doctor in hiding? (Why does he believe he is about to die?) Why is he in hiding in a place and time where he is engaging in outrageous anachronisms so that, it would seem, he can be found? It doesn’t matter. All that matters is the joke that the Doctor has taught ye olde people how to say “dude.”

How are the Daleks supposed to be scary when they’re merely panto villains for Missy to mock? Only possible answer: the Daleks are no longer meant to be scary. They are meant to be seen as cultural icons divorced from whatever narrative purpose they once served. They are no longer characters or even props in a story. They are signifiers of Doctor Who as a pop-culture phenomenon. They might as well be selling candy bars.

Doctor Who has become a meta representation of itself. The show has become its own T-shirt.

We know that Moffat’s intentions are precisely that we not question anything. He tells us as much. The Doctor drinks tea in Davros’s chair. “Where did I get the cup of tea? I’m the Doctor, just accept it.” The putative coolness of the immediate moment is all that matters, and nothing else.

But I can’t just accept it. This is not the sort of storytelling that made Doctor Who so satisfying in the past. Where is the adventure? Where is the excitement of seeing new places and meeting new people? Where is the unsmirking belief in the Doctor?

I don’t believe a word of anything that happens here. The sentimental conversation between the Doctor and Davros about compassion and sunrises and such is an embarrassing example of the worst excesses of fan fiction.


But of course, this is all a joke, too. The Doctor and Davros are only fooling each other, haha! But the truly interesting version of this same story wouldn’t have tried to fool us as well, with the sappy closeup (was Davros crying?) and the sappier musical score. We would have actually seen both of them scheming, pretending, acting with each other.

And still, all of the themes dealt with here are retreads from one of the greatest stories from the classic show, “Genesis of the Daleks,” which is what this clip is from:


The only thing these two episodes made me feel — apart from the sadness that Doctor Who is no longer my show — is that I want to watch “Genesis” again.

Will I write about upcoming episodes? I honestly don’t know. I will at least post open threads for you all to talk about them, if you so desire. Stay tuned.

Random thoughts on “The Magician’s Apprentice”/“The Witch’s Familiar”:

• Missy’s got nothing but a pointed stick:


But she’s also got some rope. You know, the nice strong rope she tied Clara up with. Maybe she could get some more useful stuff from wherever she got that rope from– Oh, never mind.

• Great quote:

“See that couple over there? You’re the puppy.” –Missy, to Clara, about her relationship with the Doctor. Except… why isn’t the square locked down and shut off to civilians? Why the hell is UNIT letting random people walk their dog through a square where a psychopathic alien supervillain is having a chat that the fate of the world might depend upon? Oh, never mind…

[next: “Under the Lake”]

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