The Doctor is back, autumn is in the air, and all is right with the world.
So, who exactly is the Magician’s apprentice? The episode was less Narnian than many expected given the title, except insofar as it serves as the origin story for a significant mythological figure, in this case Davros as opposed to Lewis’ Professor Diggory Kirk of The Magician’s Nephew. The surprise appearance of this frightened, vulnerable, and rather doomed little boy complicates the question of which of our characters is truly the spiritual inheritor of the Doctor’s legacy. The titular magician is of course the Doctor, made especially explicit by his own dialogue:
DOCTOR: What do you think of the new look? I was hoping for minimalism, but I think I came out with magician.
—- Series 8, “Time Heist”
It’s certainly not the first time (nor the last, I’d bet good money) that Davros and/or the Daleks have accused the Doctor of sharing their ideology and methods. All that’s changed here is that we see that’s (potentially) literally true.
DOCTOR: Davros made the Daleks, but who made Davros?
If anything, the point veers towards being made too literally, with the final shot of the Doctor pointing a Dalek whisk at poor young Davros and declaring his intention to “exterminate” him somewhat lacking in subtlety. Hey, it’s the Doctor. If he’s going to embrace the Dalek ethos, he’s going to do it in style.
But really the interesting question is, if Davros is the Doctor’s apprentice, what does that make Clara, and by extension, all of the companions? My guess is that the answer, again, lies hidden in the titles. I love the call-response nature of the titles this year, with each pair of echoing titles, seemingly asking and answering a question. It goes along with the Twelfth Doctor’s penchant for Socratic dialogues (or occasionally monologues). So, if Davros is the Doctor’s apprentice, perhaps that makes Clara the Witch’s Familiar.
I have to confess that, love Capaldi and Coleman as much as I do, I enjoyed nothing in this episode so much as Michelle Gomez. Her take on the brazen and bonkers Missy has been such a revelation, and made me appreciate the potential for the character even more than the zany John Simm. She is equal parts charisma and cruelty, and goes even farther than River Song in demonstrating how a female Doctor could work. In fact, she’s so good as to make one wish she’d been held back for that inevitability.
The language is interesting to note here. It’s a fascinating aspect of our language that gendered words often have moral values (intentionally or not) encoded into them. While wizards and magicians can be used neutrally, the witch in folklore and fantasy has a quality of villainy that is difficult to divorce from the word. Not that it’s impossible, but you have to go out of your way, as L. Frank Baum or J.K. Rowling do: The tide of popular consensus is against you. This works for Missy, who revels in reminding Clara of her enthusiasm for evil: “No, I’ve not turned good!” she exclaims, thickening her Scottish brogue and vaporizing UNIT guards with abandon.
And yet, despite Missy’s open villainy, there are several shared qualities that make her and Clara a good pair: The feminine energy, a certain cunning and duplicity, and above all their mutual concern for their best mate, the Doctor. The fact that Missy is willing to drop everything to come to the Doctor’s aid speaks volumes. Her description of the idealized philia love shared with the Doctor is kind of inspired and genuinely unsettling. You get the impression that Missy’s love would be a rather terrible thing, that she can and will gleefully tear down civilizations for the sake of her beloved. Clara’s position by Missy’s side is never a secure one: Just moments before they’re joyfully skipping around the starfield, Clara looks justifiably concerned that Missy might just jettison her into deep space.
And yet, there’s something fun about the idea of Clara as the witch’s familiar. For one thing, “familiar” does sound far less patronizing than “apprentice”. It’s mirrors the shift from “assistant” to the more egalitarian “companion.” A familiar isn’t a student or a protege, but a helper. Indeed, it’s another word for companion. After seeing Clara become increasingly Doctorish in series 8, perhaps this is a signal of her shifting from trying to be the magician’s apprentice and taking a few lessons from the Doctor’s greatest and oldest friend, the Master, who regularly comes back from death to be with her friend again. Given that Clara is apparently shot and killed at the end of the episode, now would be a good time to emulate that particular skill.
Two-partners are notoriously difficult to discuss, so meet me back here next week to see if any of this still makes any sense.