Spoilers for Series 9 Episode 1 of Doctor Who
I hated The Magician’s Apprentice and I’m not sure why.
When I think of all of the elements of the episode (the return of UNIT, or the Master working with the Doctor for instance), I cannot help but think that they seem like good or brilliant ideas. When I saw that the show was breaking the cardinal “rule” and showing a Classic Who character earlier in their timeline, I was fascinated and intrigued. When the Doctor left his last will and testament I was perplexed, but excited. And when the Doctor rode into the middle ages on a tank playing rock and roll I was astounded, but impressed.
So why didn’t I like the episode? At the core the reason the episode-and indeed-much of series 8 simply did not work for me is presentation. Steven Moffat rarely has bad ideas (in my opinion), but he sometimes decides to present them in a way that is not right for Doctor Who. When I imagine a different incarnation of the Doctor going through the same scenes-I see a great episode. If Tom Baker, or Matt Smith, or Tennant, or Eccleston had gone through the same episode I think it could easily have been one of my favorites.
I don’t think this is because I hate Capbaldi as an actor. Rather, it has to do with what one knows will accompany those other actors. One of the great skills of Doctor Who is that it has rebooting built into itself in the form of the Doctor’s regeneration (so the narrative never rows old). But its not simply a new face that walks out of the TARDIS every three years, at times it may also be new head writer, or differing styles of filmmaking and lighting, as well as general tone and pacing. Between Tennant and Smith is probably the best example of this phenomena. If not for the title card and interdimensional copper cube, one could easily mistake The End of Time and The Eleventh Hour for taking place on different shows (or even different networks).
Despite this, there are several elements of consistency between series 4 and 5. Element which are lacking between 7 and 8, and the changing of the guard that came with Capbaldi’s run. Though series 5 of Doctor Who successfully updated itself for the modern era, with darker visuals, plots, and more realistic writing, it never lost the inherent sense of fun which had accompanied the show thus far. With the exception an episode here and there like Midnight or The Name of the Doctor, Doctor Who always keeps itself from being too serious or “Christopher Nolan-esque”. There’s the always the inherent excitement and adventure, without an over emphasis on suspense or drama.
And when I say always, I do mean always. While I am not as familiar with Classic Who as New Who, I have seen episodes from the 1st, 4th, and 5th Doctors, and none of what I have seen indicates to me that the series has ever lacked charm and wit altogether. Or at least that’s what I would have said until series 8. Again, this comes round to good ideas versus good execution. Doctor Who is a fun show. It’s never a full blow drama. It started as a show for kids, and though it has expanded its audience since then, never has it limited itself so much as with this current incarnation of the show.
In an attempt to make the Doctor appeal more to the Classic Who generation, Moffat has written the 12th Doctor as totally unlikable (without actually making him very much like a classic Doctor). The Doctor of the now is jerk. He is simply not a nice person. He is not honoring his oath to be “never cruel” which he renewed in The Day of the Doctor. For pity’s sake, the Doctor just spent 500 years defending one town. It makes no sense in his character’s arc-for him to revert to the person he was as the 9th Doctor. He should be happier now than ever! He has a new lease on life! His entire freaking planet was brought back from oblivion!
Another problem is the incredibly desaturated and darkened world, which the editors of series 8 and 9 have created. The world of this Doctor is bleak and lifeless. Not a world of adventure, but of death and pointlessness. A world which evokes disgust, typical of an independent student film-not Doctor Who.
At the end of the day, I think I can (after writing it all down) say what I did not like about The Magician’s Apprentice. It’s boring. It’s not fun. It does not include snappy dialogue or witty humor. I don’t need to the Doctor to be younger or older, I just need him to make me excited and interested in the world around him. The Doctor should make the universe more exciting, not abjectly depressing.
Even this image is less depressing than Death in Heaven…
(But again Capbaldi himself is awesome don’t hate me bye.)