Time and Relative Dimension in Spoilers is a series of recaps and commentary. Read only after watching The Magician's Apprentice (S09E01) to avoid spoilers, sweetie.
After a seemingly interminable hiatus, we are back with a BANG. The Doctor Who series 9 premiere brings back a lot of greatest hits, raises a lot of heavy questions, and leaves us wanting more. Let’s grab our sonic screwdrivers and take it apart, shall we?
We open on a war scene that could be present-day Earth, could be anywhere, but the laser blasts quickly inform us we are far from home. A soldier risks his life to try to help a lost boy on the battlefield and gets taken down by a creepy-ass “hand-mine” for his trouble.
With the boy abandoned amid a field of hand-mines, we hear a familiar voice as the sonic screwdriver is tossed at his feet. In glimpses through the smoke between him and the boy, we see the Doctor giving a typical inspiring speech about how the boy is going to be the one chance in a thousand who is going to survive this. “Survival is a choice,” the Doctor says. It sounds like just another one of those brilliant things he tends to say until we learn the boy’s name: Davros. Cue the first HOLY SHIT moment of the episode, 5 minutes in.
We then meet the Colony Sarff, a mysterious scaly character who searches the Universe for the Doctor with stops at such familiar locations as The Maldovarium, The Shadow Proclamation, and the Planet Karn, which we saw in the series 9 prologue. The Sisterhood of Karn stands up to Sarff, warning him to be careful when seeking the Doctor, and Sarff is satisfied delivering Davros’ message to the sisterhood, where the Doctor is hiding unseen: “Davros knows. Davros remembers.” As we fade out, the Sisterhood asks the Doctor “What have you done?” Sarff returns to Davros who tells him that to get to the Doctor, you must go through his friends.
Cut to Clara in her classroom being typically perky and commanding. She notices a plane frozen in mid-flight and is quickly summoned to UNIT to help Kate Stewart figure out what’s going on and whether it’s worth bothering the Doctor over, since he temporarily can’t be reached. Very cute insight here into what happens when something crazy happens and the Doctor's not around. Using the critical thinking skills she’s learned at the Doctor’s side, she deduces that someone is trying to get her attention. Enter Missy, with quite a lot of flourish.
Under UNIT protection Clara meets Missy who claims/proves that she is much closer to the Doctor than Clara by revealing she has received a confession disk, the Time Lord version of a will, which is to be delivered to his closest friend on the eve of his death. She doesn’t explain how she was able to return and insists she has not “turned good,” she just wants to find her oldest friend. Using Clara’s knowledge of the Doctor and her computer skills, they figure out where he would go if he thought he was going to die. At which point, Missy hijacks Clara with a vortex manipulator and they both jump to Essex in 1138 AD.
Cue the Doctor, who rides into a medieval battle arena atop a military tank playing the Doctor Who theme tune on an electric guitar. There are some antics and puns, basically the Capaldi version of fish fingers and custard, before the Doctor is confronted by Sarff. He reveals an emotion Missy can’t identify, shame, and we learn in flashback that the Doctor abandoned Davros as a boy on that battlefield. He agrees to go to meet Davros and supposedly his certain doom, whereupon Missy and Clara insist on going along. A Dalek-bot finds the T.A.R.D.I.S., which the Doctor left behind hidden, and the Daleks acquire it.
They are taken to what appears to be a small spacecraft in the middle of nowhere. Clara calls the Doctor out on his previous lies, that he must have always known he would escape scrapes previously since he never sent the confession disk before. She turns it into a guilt trip on the Doctor to ensure he will come back from this confrontation so he can make up for lying to her. Davros and the Doctor dance around each other in another round of their lifelong debate, accompanied by some poignant audio and video of former meetings (Genesis of the Daleks!!!!) between the two. Meanwhile, Missy and Clara go exploring and learn that the spacecraft is in fact just a building on the surface of a planet; Skaro, to be exact, the homeworld of the Daleks.
The Doctor witnesses his friends being recaptured by the Daleks and taken to where they are holding the T.A.R.D.I.S., which they threaten to destroy. Clara does her best Doctor impression, trying to think a way out of it while acting as though the Daleks don’t frighten her. Missy tries to talk the situation around to her advantage and is exterminated as a result. Davros narrates the scene for the Doctor as Clara is frozen and tries to decide what to do. She runs and is also exterminated before the Doctor’s eyes and then the Dalek’s fire on the T.A.R.D.I.S. The Doctor’s reaction, “Why have I ever let you live?” and Davros’s retort “Let me hear you say it. Compassion is wrong.” get to the heart of why they are both here.
We return to the flashback where the Doctor has returned to the battlefield. He claims he has come “from the future,” not to save Davros, but to “save my friend, the only way I can. Exterminate!” He brandishes a Dalek weapon at the boy and we get a To Be Continued screen.
Well, that was certainly worth the wait! The apparent theme of the season, “I’m the Doctor and I save people,” is put to the test right from the jump. We’re also getting a closer examination of the relationship between Clara and the Doctor in the wake of their recent separation and reconciliation. Missy claims to be his closer friend, but Clara is the one who was able to find him when Missy couldn’t. And when he says he’s going to save his “friend,” does he mean Missy, Clara, or the T.A.R.D.I.S.? The Doctor appears to be ready to go to his death, having sent his will and thrown his own wake, but what does that even really mean, given his ability to regenerate? What makes this time any different, that would cause him to go to these “final” lengths? There’s something we’re not being told here, which is not news to fans of the show.
There was a lot of fan service, plenty of quick wit and humor, and I couldn’t come up with a better entrance for the Doctor if I thought about it for a week. But I’m really interested in the deeper issues surrounding the Doctor they appear to be tackling this season. I can only hope we get some answers, but given Moffat’s history, I won’t be holding my breath. What about you?