Saturday, September 26, 2015

Song for Your Enemy: An Overanalysis of "The Magician's Apprentice"

I was done, guys!  I was done writing this stupid blog.  I'm not entirely sure that anybody is reading, that anybody cares, or that there's any point to writing this stupid thing.  But then Steven Moffat wrote this little present for me, gift-wrapped it, and just dropped it in my lap and dared me to understand it.  What he seems to have given to me, and to all of us, is the long awaited spiritual sequel to the 1975 Tom Baker serial, "Genesis of the Daleks," where a gentle retcon of the Dalek backstory introduced us to Davros, the creator of the Daleks.  Frankly, I'm shocked that Moffat thinks that fans who have never seen the classic series have enough understanding of who and what Davros is to be able to follow this story just from what they learned about Davros from "The Stolen Earth"/"Journey's End."  But like the handmines (such a creepy idea!) that rose up from the ground to trap young Davros, Moffat's most epic script to date grabs us and refuses to let go, and I felt compelled to give another overanalysis this time around.  Perhaps the Horror of Fan Blog will live on this season.

We're going to go over the plot of "Genesis of the Daleks," which is actually a good, if overly long, classic series serial, so if you want to see it and never have, you'll want to stop reading.  But I'm going into it, because it's an important part of what we're talking about here, and I know that some people who read this blog have not watched all of the classic series and may be a little lost.

In "Genesis," the Time Lords intercept the Doctor and his companions and give him a mission:  To go back in time to the creation of the Daleks to either keep them from ever being created, or to change their development so that they never become such destructive, brutal killers.  The Doctor goes back to the end of the war that created the Daleks, the war between the Kaleds and the Thals on the planet Skaro.  Davros, the head of the Kaleds' science division, has promised his army a great and powerful new weapon:  The Daleks.  What they really are are genetic experiments that Davros has created out of the mutated remains of Kaled DNA left behind after the war turned nuclear.  He considered them to be the ultimate life form, which I always thought was strange considering that they were made partially by accident, and are incapable of surviving outside of a large metal shell.  But he created them to be the ultimate, genetically superior life-form and designed them to believe that it was imperative for them to kill all other lesser life forms, including Davros's fellow Kaleds.  He didn't care about winning the war for the Kaleds, he only cared about creating his Daleks, and beginning his great war against all other life in the Universe.  Unfortunately for Davros, when he designed the Daleks to want to destroy all other life in the Universe due to its inferiority, he forgot to teach them to treat him as the exception to that rule, and his Daleks turned on him and killed him, for the first time.  In fact, almost every Davros episode ends with his death, only for the following episode to show him resurrected with a hastily slapped together explanation.  Anyway, at the end of "Genesis of the Daleks," the Doctor finds himself unable to halt the Daleks' creation, and explains it to his companions with the following speech:

"If someone who knew the future pointed out a child to you and told you that that child would grow up totally evil, to be a ruthless dictator who would destroy millions of lives, could you then kill that child?"

Let's kill Davros!
If Davros and Moffat were both being a little too subtle about the links between this episode and "Genesis," they both played back that clip from that episode, and even went so far as to make sure that it was the one and only clip that was played alone and was focused on.  The plot of "The Magician's Apprentice"was literally laid out in another episode 30 years earlier.

Absolutely no explanation is given for why Davros is still alive, when we last saw him die at the end of "Journey's End." This is probably for the best because, when I'm in the middle of a great episode like "The Magician's Apprentice," the last thing I want to think about is a masturbatory shit show like "Journey's End."  There may still be some cursory explanation given in "The Witch's Familiar," but I got the impression that Moffat is past caring at this point.  Considering how flimsy the explanations always are on this show when a character is brought back from the dead, why not just gloss over it entirely?  Frankly, Moffat has been glossing over a lot of the details about the Daleks.  After giving Gatiss the task of bringing the Daleks back on a more permanent basis than they had been in the Davies era, the Daleks re-established themselves as a power in the Universe quite quickly, and the fact that they had ever been gone from the Universe was pretty much forgotten.  In "Asylum of the Daleks," some of the Daleks in The Asylum were survivors of classic series episodes, which is impossible considering that the new Dalek paradigm is made up of a completely new set of Daleks made from The Progenitor.  The Seventh Doctor tricked the Daleks into destroying their own planet, Skaro, back in "Remembrance of the Daleks" in 1988, but yet it seems surprisingly in tact in the 1996 movie, in "Asylum of the Daleks," and now in "The Magician's Apprentice," and nobody seems to care to explain it.  Viewers can plug in their own explanations, whatever they may decide those to be.  This is postmodern Who.  We have no time left for explanations.

Besides, in a Universe where Rory, Clara, and Jack can all die over and over again, who cares anyway?
Missy's return, however, is a little bit more immediately on our minds, her death only having happened about two episodes, and Moffat made sure to acknowledge her surprise return from the dead, even if that acknowledgement quite deliberately refused an explanation, and an explanation was not immediately forthcoming. I think her explanation isn't going to get glossed over at all, and that there will be a real reason why she's come back.  Moffat has a pretty big long game that he's been thinking about for a while now, and I think that Missy is more than just a passenger on this adventure.  Moffat has a great grasp on the Doctor/Master relationship, and Missy's description of it being infinitely complex was pretty perfect.

Oh, and by the way, Moffat has made a lot of very every day things scary over the years:  stone statues, dust in the shadows, WiFi, etc.  I have to say, though, 80's one-hit-wonders were not something I thought he was ever going to try to make terrifying.  Oh boy has he, though:

To be fair, though, this video was pretty creepy to begin with.

But Missy is playing a game here that we're not in on, and I wouldn't be surprised if she has a lot more to do with this than we originally thought.  The last few moments of this episode felt strangely dreamlike, with a strange sense of impermanence to everything.  Maybe it's just because both Clara and Missy were killed off, and we all know that that Moffat won't let that stand by the end of "The Witch's Familiar," so something about their death felt unreal.  The fact that Missy practically invites her own death, as well, makes me feel like something strange is up, as that's largely out of character for her.  The larger point that Davros is trying to make here isn't that far from the point that Missy was trying to make to the Doctor at the end of "Death in Heaven."  I wonder if perhaps everything we're seeing here is an extension of the lesson that Missy has been trying to teach the Doctor, and that a lot of this is an illusion, or possibly just a situation she set up.  Maybe Missy got her hands on some dream crabs.  In all of these scenarios, though, I remain cautiously optimistic because, like I said at Christmas, I think Moffat knows he can't use the dream crabs and things like that to Dallas too much of the show (yes, "Dallas" is now a verb) without a pretty big fan revolt.

By the way, if anyone is wondering where I came up with the title for this blog post, it's from an album that I've been listening to lately with quite obsessive fervor, American Spring by Anti-Flag.  The particular song, "Song for Your Enemy," keeps playing in my head when I think of this episode, and somehow, they remind me of each other.  You can hear it for yourself:

In the season to come, we have the promise of an explanation for the Doctor's face that Davies thought up and never implemented before leaving the show, we have the return of Jamie Matheson (co-writing an episode with Steven Moffat!), a guest appearance from Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams, and an episode to feature the Doctor alone without another character appearing in the entire episode, as well as the triumphant return of River Song for the Christmas special!  Moffat promised that these episodes will bleed together in such a way that it will be hard to tell when something is or is not a 2-parter, which is exactly the way I want to see this show run.  The "no 2-parters" rule from series 7 has mercifully been thrown out the window.  I never thought that rule was really Moffat's idea, and it feels like he's finally returned to what he knows he excels at.  At the end of Season 7, I wondered if Moffat had lost his touch, but I no longer feel that way and I have a feeling that this season is going to be as epic as its opening.  So Geronimo! 

No comments:

Post a Comment