Author’s Note: Although I released this incredibly late due to me having ZERO time this week, I wrote it entirely before I saw The Witch’s Familiar. As I type this is still haven’t gotten around to watching the episode. First world problems.
Where is the Doctor? When the skies of Earth are frozen by a mysterious alien force, Clara needs her friend. But where is the Doctor, and what is he hiding from? As past deeds come back to haunt him, old enemies will come face-to-face, and for the Doctor and Clara survival seems impossible.
In the world of Doctor Who, it seems we spend a disproportionate amount of time discussing three particular kinds of episodes: series openers, series finales, Christmas specials. The latter two are somewhat justified, but openers always tend to send the fandom into a flurry of over-analysis about the series to come and impending uphill/downhill (depending on who you ask) direction of the show. Why we can’t give it a few episodes before we come to a proper conclusion is anyone’s guess.
The fact is, this phenomenon has arisen purely in the last ten years; in the twentieth century, not nearly as much emphasis was placed on the first episode of a new series. Way back in the early days, an adjustment in the 1964 broadcasting schedule meant that some of the First Doctor’s least fan-appreciated stories – namely as Planet of Giants, Galaxy 4 and The Smugglers – went out as season openers instead of season finales as originally intended. In the 1970s, as the seasons became shorter and the show forcibly became more conscious of its’ peripheral audience, the openers became a little more organised and set the precedent for being the slot that welcomed new companions and brought back popular enemies. Even so, decisions such as the Fifth Doctor’s mid-series regeneration and Patrick Troughton’s bizarre 1985 appearance showed that the opener still wasn’t always seen as the go-to for marking a major event.
The point is, The Magician’s Apprentice had a feeling of contentment reminiscent of the Classic series. There wasn’t a new companion, the Doctor didn’t die in the first five minutes, and the Daleks didn’t burst through the door before the opening theme. Fans were told a relatively minimal amount about the story, which is a contrast to having half the plot spoiled on just about every possible news source. Sure, it marked the first appearance of Davros since the Russell T Davies era and furthermore looked in on his childhood and the supposed last moments of his life, and brought the team to Skaro in the middle of a group of very angry Daleks, but for a change almost every Whovian was caught by surprise.
And to make up for keeping the lid on all of that, the rock & roll Doctor set out to make a lot of noise. Literally.