Monday, 14 September 2015

Series 9 Episodes 1 & 2 spoiler-free preview: The Magician's Apprentice & The Witch's Familiar

On Thursday 10 September, something rather magical happened at Cineworld in Cardiff. A full house of lucky fans were treated to not just one episode from the new series of Doctor Who, but two – the opening two-parter, The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar. The aim of this article is to provide a preview of the story, but that’s easier said than done because we can’t give anything away – and we mean anything. Not least because writer and executive producer Steven Moffat personally swore the whole room to secrecy! But we’ll do our best to give you a spoiler-free glimpse at what you’ve got to look forward to on 19 and 26 September…

What’s striking about these episodes is that they feel truly cinematic, and the story takes place on a scale rarely seen from any other series openers to date. (Perhaps the closest comparison, in terms of sheer audacity, is 2011’s The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon.) Whereas last year’s Deep Breath – the first full story to feature Peter Capaldi’s incarnation of the Doctor – was a slower and more mysterious affair, a tale of creeping menace and a man quite literally trying to discover who he was, this year’s series kicks off with more of a bang, perhaps the sort of thing you’d expect from a series’ climax rather than at its very beginning. That said, the cinema viewers saw both episodes edited together into a continuous presentation; perhaps when this story plays out with a week-long gap in the middle, the first instalment might feel like the countdown rather than the detonation, but the episode still packs in more than its fair share of jaw-dropping moments.

Capaldi’s version of the Doctor has moved on from where we last saw him. Having finally found his identity in a pivotal scene during last year’s finale Death in Heaven, this time around the Doctor is able to shed some of the darkness and the angst which characterised him throughout much of the last series. Even when the stakes are astronomically high, the Twelfth Doctor now has more of a sense of joy, an air of utter defiance – but as you’ll see, everyone has their breaking point.

The real revelation, though, comes from Missy (Michelle Gomez), the female incarnation of the Time Lord Lady formally known as the Master. Admittedly, this reviewer was slightly unsure about the character in her last appearance. Following the sensational reveal of Missy’s identity at the end of Dark Water, we were left with only one episode with the character fully ‘outed’ – and with such a frenetic melting pot of events taking place in that episode, it was difficult to get a proper handle on the character.

Not anymore. Missy is defined perfectly in her second outing, and there’s also the small matter of the fact that she’s absolutely bonkers – and woe betide anyone who doubts it for a moment. What’s more, though, is that Missy feels decidedly more Master-ish in this story; there are character traits here that can be traced all the way back to Roger Delgado’s original interpretation of the character, and Missy also seems to possess the Anthony Ainley incarnation’s knack for cheating death – anyone wondering how exactly Missy seems to have survived, despite being atomised last year, will get a concrete answer here.

To sum up these episodes without really saying anything about them whatsoever (and as you’ll see a little later this month, there’s so much that we simply can’t even hint at right now), Series Nine of Doctor Who starts on an awe-inspiring note. Quite sincerely, the internet stands a very good chance of breaking before the titles of the first episode have even rolled. Then again at its cliffhanger, but twice as much. Possibly once or twice somewhere in the middle, too. Goodness knows what’ll happen the following week. Yeah, the internet’s going to be really broken after all this. But beneath the twists and surprises lies a story which we think is going to prove very popular indeed – and it should endure in its popularity for a long time to come. If Series Eight depicted a lead character who had lost his own sense of identity, then Series Nine seems to be about running head-first into adventure. The Doctor and Clara are back, and it looks like this is going to be one hell of a ride.

Site Note
A full review of these episodes will be posted on Unearthly in due course, although there may be a slight delay - but they should both be online during the week following episode two's transmission, at the latest. Thanks for your patience.

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