Doctor Who Review: “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar”

This two-part story brings back Capaldi’s Doctor, and brings together his two arch-enemies for the first time.

Titles: “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar”

Cast and Crew

Director: Hettie Macdonald
Writer: Steven Moffat

Peter Capaldi as the Doctor
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald
Michelle Gomez as Missy
Julian Bleach as Davros
Jami Reid-Quarrell as Colony Sarff
Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart
Clare Higgins as Ohila
Daniel Hoffmann-Gill as Bors
Joey Price as Boy
Benjamin Cawley as Kanzo
Jaye Griffiths as Jac
Nicholas Briggs as Voice of the Daleks
Kelly Hunter as Shadow Architect
Barnaby Edwards, Nicholas Pegg as Daleks


The Doctor, Missy, and Clara confront a dying Davros on Skaro. And the sewage really does hit the fan.

High Points

The concept of the Dalek Sewer is excellent, creepy, and fairly original, concept, and used to create an effective (if derivative) climax.

“You are different from me” translates as “Exterminate!” to the Dalek mind. It’s not subtle, but it cleverly brings to the forefront concepts the Daleks have traditionally represented.

I was okay with the fact that they saved all three characters they killed in the first part. The episode could have played differently, but it didn’t feel like a cheat. And, despite my reservations about the continued use of Davros, having the Doctor’s two archenemies meet, after so long, contains an element of destiny, or at least fannish pleasure.

Davros, like (say) Adolf Hitler, genuinely believes himself the hero of the narrative. Not since his first appearance has this fact been made more apparent.

The scene with Kid Davros and the Hand-mines had a surreal brilliance about it.

(Also, “Kid Davros and the Hand-mines” should be a garage band).

Low Points

Too many things don’t quite cohere. The first episode features an interesting introduction with great visuals and revisitings of past stories, but most of it has nothing to do with the rest of the episode. The reveal that Bors is a Dalek (you know, who have been looking for the Doctor) never makes sense.

In a story that returns the Daleks to their Nazi-analogue roots, it seems a little off that Davros would have a non-Dalek chief of security.

The Doctor’s use of “regeneration energy,” like the twenty-first-century Daleks’ ability to fly, makes hash of decades of storylines where these abilities would have been terribly helpful.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 The episode features a number of tropes we’ve used before. It sometimes uses these to good effect: Clara as Dalek, for instance, which should resonate with most viewers. It doesn’t feel especially original, however. The problem is that the original appearances of Davros saw him used to best effect before dying, and every revisiting feels like a pale (if better-produced) imitation. He gets revived because he’s an interesting character, but that revivals undercuts his original story.

Effects: 5/6 The visual effects, especially in the overlong introduction, are impressive, and they feature fan-friendly revisitings of elements and characters spanning the entire run of the series. The scenes on Skaro suffer from the overuse of obvious TV-CGI.

Story: 4/6 The story features some good elements, but it’s a one-hour episode padded and stretched to two. Moffat’s ability, however, to integrate so much of the show’s long history, should rightly impress fans.

Acting: 5/6 The actors give good performances, particularly in the scenes between the Doctor and Davros. That they were deceiving each other does not undercut everything they (possibly) reveal. Missy is great, invested with an entertaining blend of crazy, brilliant, and deadpan (“Twenty feet”), but what was up with that terrible accent in the “bad neighbourhood” speech?

Emotional Response: 4/6 A tightened story would have improved my response to this episode. MacDonald’s deft direction and the central performances made the best of a script that would’ve benefited from a rewrite.

Production: 5/6 I applaud their use of the show’s budget to revisit its past. The opening scenes were unnecessary, but looked great. The Dalek scenes, once again, revisit the history of the Doctor’s greatest adversaries.

Overall: 5/6

In total, “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar” receive 30/42


Yeah, yeah, “I may never find them.” Bring back Gallifrey already. The Doctor’s been untethered long enough, and, as in the old show, his fellow Time Lords can be used or disregarded as the story requires.

Reportedly, they stretched the budget by using Daleks and props from a Doctor Who exhibit.

11 replies on “Doctor Who Review: “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar””

  1. Perhaps Bors became infected with Dalek nano probes when he was bitten by the snake (when the Doctor thought he had swallowed another marble). That would be a fast conversion, but otherwise it fits perfectly.

  2. Um. “Skara”? I’m sure the residents of the Swedish municipality will be rather upset to learn about the state of their sewer system… :p

    More importantly, any thoughts on the Doctor switching from the much over-used Sonic to no doubt soon to be equally over used “wearables”? Is the Doctor going to become a glasshole, or will his switch to the latest fad be forgotten about by next week’s episode?

  3. I have a friend who is a huge Doctor Who Fan. And I mean Old School, like waaaay before the new series started.

    She is pissed about the sunglasses thing. Absolutely pissed. I saw her a couple of days after that episode aired and she was visibly upset.

  4. I need to watch the second half again yet, but I really enjoyed the bit with the Dalek translation of certain words/phrases. Overall though I’m not sure this warranted a two-part episode. Some things felt a bit stretched in places.

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