Men run across a smoky battlefield, strafed by laser bullets from a biplane. An archer calls after a child, telling him to stay still on the rippling ground and beware the Hand Mines. It’s already too late for the soldier, who’s sucked underground. A whole flock of hands with eyes on the palms reaches out of the mud and turns to the boy. The sonic screwdriver flies through the air. “Pick it up!” the Doctor yells, bewildering the child with concepts of choice and survival and encouraging that he has one chance in a thousand, but that’s all he needs.
“Tell me the name of the boy that isn’t going to die today!”
Bum bum BUMMMMM
A hooded figure glides into an intergalactic Star Wars bar, introduces itself as Colony Sarff, and asks for the Doctor. Then it skates through The Shadow Proclamation and ends with the Sisterhood of Karn, red priestesses with torches. “Where he always is—right behind you and one step ahead of you.” Davros is dying and has a message: “Davros knows. Davros remembers. He must face Davros one last time.” It glides away hissing. The priestess asks the hiding Doctor what he’s done.
Davros moans for the Doctor in his life support chamber, holding the sonic screwdriver, and tells Colony Sarff the Doctor’s weakness—to seek the Doctor, first seek his friend.
Clara teaches her class when she spots an airplane suspended in the clouds and instructs them all to tweet #planeshavestopped. The principal interrupts with a message from UNIT, so she zips away on her motorbike as the world news reports on the planes. UNIT can’t reach The Doctor (“he doesn’t like gossip”), so they theorize that the planes might be used as fuel bombs. Clara realizes it’s more likely someone getting their attention, and they start receiving a text message on “the Doctor channel.” “You so fine/You so fine you blow my mind/ Hey Missy!” Missy beams through and requests enough snipers for Clara to feel safe talking to her.
Missy waits in a square as sniper lasers gather, Clara arrives to James Bond-like music, and the snark begins.
“How’s your boyfriend. Still tremendously dead, I expect?”
“How come you’re still alive?”
“Death is for other people dear.”
Missy holds the Doctor’s “confession dial”—his last will and testament, delivered to his closest friend on the eve of his last day. Clara reaches for it, but a force field throws her back as Missy laughs uproariously. SHE is the Doctor’s best friend… Clara is just… their dog. Since when has Missy been his friend? She scoffs.
Since the cloister wars.
Since the night he stole the moon and the president’s wife.
Since he was a little girl.
One of those is a lie, can you guess which one?
BUT she is most definitely not turning good, as she demonstrates by killing a few guards. Clara demands she let the planes go as a show of faith, so they join forces to figure out where and when the Doctor would go on his last day. Using an algorithm to search through anachronisms, UNIT narrows the points down in time to a party. Naturally, it’s in the UK. Missy pounds the vortex manipulator on Clara’s arm and they zap into medieval times, a playful joust between a good-natured man with an axe and a “magician.”
The Doctor enters the ring on a tank while playing an electric guitar. His opponent Bors rolls his eyes massively, clearly accustomed to the Doctor’s particular brand of tomfoolery. “You said you wanted an axe fight!” the Doctor quips, then reels through a few terrible puns. Clara wonders aloud what’s wrong with him, and he hears immediately, playing “Pretty Woman.” He rousts the crowd with his accomplishments over the last three weeks, including teaching them “dude” a few centuries too early. Be excellent to one another! Party on, dudes!
Clara rushes down, surprised he spotted them in the crowd. “When do I not see you?” he asks, then hugs her. He’s about to die, so suddenly he’s all charming again? He then introduces Missy as the wicked stepmother to the crowd’s cheerful hisses; Missy eats it up. Enter Colony Sarff, which unravels into a pile of snakes; the giant center snake demands he appear before Davros. Missy gets her Scottish hackles up over Davros being his archenemy. But when Colony Sarff tosses down his sonic screwdriver, the one he no longer carries, the Doctor hunches in shame.
Little Davros calls to the Doctor for help across the smoking plain, but the TARDIS phases away.
[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#4A7097″ class=”” size=””]“Let me hear you say it just once. Compassion is wrong.” – Davros[/pullquote]
After the usual enemy smack talk about who’s more dangerous, the Doctor agrees to go with Colony Sarff, but Clara and Missy protest: “Traps are my flirting.” He bids them goodbye as a snake handcuffs him. Missy and Clara offer to go, too, and they all beam out. Back at Medieval Times, though, his jousting friend reappears and uncovers the TARDIS, sprouting a Dalek stem to report. “Procure the TARDIS.”
En route, the Doctor tells the two women about Davros’ creation of the Daleks; he created living tanks to save his people. Arriving at an apparent hospital space station, Colony Sarff summons the Doctor to see Davros. Before he can leave, Clara calls him out for sending Missy the confession dial. He’s apologetic, but she points out that he’s been lying to her and now has to make it up to her by coming back. On his way out, he growls to Missy, “Gravity!” “I know!”
Missy dances around, saying artificial gravity should feel coppery and fake, “a tiny bit sexy.” Instead it feels like a planet. And the airlock… it’s “pants.” (aka BS). She hits the lock, teasing that she might kill them both if she’s wrong. She isn’t.
Davros approves of the Doctor’s new face and plays a few of their past conversations over the centuries, including the fourth Doctor pondering killing a child who would grow up to kill millions. Davros still believes he was right to create the Daleks, and the Doctor still doesn’t—their timeless argument, literally.
Missy opens the door and steps into what looks like space. But it’s warm. And solid. Clara follows her onto an invisible planet. Invisibility—how awful! “What if you kissed an ugly?!” Missy gasps. The planet begins to sync into view as both she and the Doctor cry, “No, no, no…”.
Skaro, the planet of the Daleks.
A Dalek deposit Missy and Clara in a holding room with the TARDIS. Clara laughs at their intent, saying the TARDIS is indestructible. “Is that what he told you? Because you should never believe a man about a vehicle,” Missy says, then distracts them with the idea of using her to fly the TARDIS in their extermination quest. They blast her instead. The Doctor begs Davros to spare Clara, but Davros glories in the base humanity of the Dalek’s need to hunt and chase her, their need for her to run. She finally does and they shoot.
“Why have I ever let you live?” the Doctor says, disgusted.
“Compassion… Let me hear you say it just once. Compassion is wrong.”
The Daleks surround the TARDIS, blasting, and it dissipates into light.
The child calls for him in the smoke. A noise behind him calls his attention. The Doctor, back from the future, pulls a blaster and aims.
Welcome back to Doctor Who! This season premiere, which is really only half of the two-part premiere, was pretty enjoyable, although noticeably half of a story with a few clunky moments. The timeless war with Hand Mines was quite terrifying in its mixed-century warfare, and the dilemma of saving Davros was a huge OMG even if you aren’t a fan of the classics. Stumbling into Skaro was as alarming as it could be when you’re relatively confident nobody will die, and brought gravity, pun intended, to the situation. If the Doctor did die, the Dalek home planet would certainly have some poetic justice to it.
On the other hand, the “party” the Doctor threw for himself felt a little flat. Would he really go back to a bunch of medieval strangers and show off party tricks for three weeks to feel clever? And, while Colony Sarff was a novel and semi-interesting new villain, the gliding was quite hokey—what should have been snake-like slithering was clearly roller skating.
Those are relatively minor quibbles, though, since obviously the Doctor is NOT actually going to die. Davros’ story was really quite heartbreaking; when it was just him and the Doctor, it was easy to sympathize on both sides. Missy is always enjoyable, and her jealousy of the Doctor’s frienemyship was perfection. This episode went a long way to establish his kinship and origins with both the Master/Missy and Davros, speaking quite literally to the fear of every companion that they are just another human pet, now that he is not unique in the universe.
The question remains, however: Who is the magician’s apprentice? Is it Clara, empowered and acting independently? Is it Missy, learning to follow the Doctor’s less chaotic travel? Is it Davros, who grew up feeling abandoned through the only “compassion” the Doctor could muster and was driven to great destruction to save his own people? Or is it all of them?
I read an interview with Peter Capaldi saying that he felt the writers were working to his strengths this season, so I’m hoping for a darker, more cohesive arc than last year’s collection of various stories. What did you think of the season premiere? What are you looking forward to this season?