Doctor Who 9.01: The Magician’s Apprentice

Let’s get some things out of the way first:

  • Yes, it’s really season 35, the proper season 9 had Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning and Roger “no longer the best Master ever” Delgado.
  • Stephanie plays  no part in these posts, due to her moral objections to time travel, and also her general disinterest in matters Whovian except when Liz begs her to write an essay about Peri.
  • This will be a weekly thing, time and energy and the existence of the universe permitting.
  • There will be spoilers.

“The Magician’s Apprentice”, in which the Doctor meets a winsome child on a battlefield, Missy advances the asexual agenda, and Clara/Jane Austen is canon.

(Steph has proofread this post: There really is a lot about the Asexual History of Doctor Who, just fyi)

Let’s have some headings.  I like a nice heading.

An unpopular opinion

I am not 100 percent sold on Missy.

There.  I said it.

At his best, Delgado!Master had moments of quiet menace amidst the camp.  Ainley!Master, too, when he was allowed to act instead of being handed the scenery and told to start chewing.

Missy has those, but they’re fewer and further between.  Like Simm!Master, she’s written as more All Crazy, All The Time.  It’s clearly an act that she’s putting on, and she definitely has quieter moments now and then, but I think I want more quiet menace, less Toni Basil, and if she wants to maybe kill someone with an inflatable chair once in a while, that’s okay, too.

This aside, I really like Missy, and I think she’s well and truly on a par with Delgado overall, surpassing him in some respects.  I definitely like her a lot more than Simm!Master the literal wife beater, or Ainley in any episode that isn’t “Survival”.

(I have a soft spot for the Roberts!Master, but I am aware that is in no way a majority opinion.)

The asexual agenda

Missy tells Clara that her bond with the Doctor goes well beyond hormones and mating drives.  Well, of course it does, they’re thousands of years old.

There is, of course, now debate in fandom as to whether this means all Time Lords are asexual, whether the Doctor and the Master specifically are asexual, or whether the Doctor is a blushing virgin waiting for Clara to deflower him.

My own attitude is bound up in the long and problematic history of asexuality in Doctor Who fandom.

A brief history of asexuality (as conceived by doctor who fans)

The Doctor was not conceived as an intrinsically unsexual character.  The whole reason his first companion was his granddaughter was to explain why he would be travelling with a young woman.  I have a whole book on why it’s a bad idea to make generalisations about companions, but I’m going to take a risk here and say that the younger female companions of Doctor Who in the early days tended to be surrogate granddaughters, and in any case, there was usually a third male character as chaperone/more appropriate love interest.

Come the early ’80s, when Peter Davison was cast, producer Jon Nathan-Turner got worried that, now there was a young sex symbol type in the role (and what’s Tom Baker?  Chopped liver?) people might start expecting him to kiss girls.  JN-T played that idea down with the immortal phrase, “There’s no hanky-panky in the TARDIS.”

This perfectly suited the (male) fandom at the time, which greatly valued the idea of a hero who wasn’t the bed-hopping Casanova type, looking at you, James Kirk.  There were a lot of gay men in the fandom who wanted space to see themselves in the character.

So far, so good.  Representation is important.  Asexuality as a sexual identity in its own right wasn’t widely recognised at the time, but I’m sure there were a lot of asexuals who also appreciated this characterisation.

(It’s also important, of course, to remember that these were not universal attitudes, however much they dominate the discourse then and now.  There were also women of all sexualities in fandom, and there were shippers, and there was romantic fan fiction, and — I’m guessing, I haven’t seen actual evidence DON’T SHOW ME ACTUAL EVIDENCE — lewd speculation about Gallifreyan genitalia.)

By the ’90s, this was shifting.  On the one hand, there was the Paul McGann TV movie of ’96, where he kissed an actual live woman.

On the other hand, the concept of Time Lord asexuality had evolved into an off-putting state of misogyny, where the Doctor not only wasn’t interested in women (or men) romantically, but was so far from having any intimate contact whatsoever (but especially with icky ladies and their icky parts) that people jumped through hoops to explain why he would have a granddaughter, and how Susan wasn’t really his biological descendant.

It culminated in Lungbarrow, a tie-in novel that posited that, not only are Time Lords created on looms (LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMS!) rather than born, but they are “born” as fully-grown adults and raised by robots, and also the Doctor is Time Lord Jesus and it’s basically just a hot mess that doesn’t deserve a place in pseudo-canon.

In this environment, retconning the Doctor as a romantic figure was absolutely radical.  It was depressingly heterocentric, despite being authored by Russell T Davies (John Richards has a really excellent essay in Queers Dig Time Lords, critiquing RTD for this, and also pointing out that Rose uses “gay” as a slur with no consequences or criticism whatsoever “Aliens of London”.  Am I the only person who’s still mad about that?) but it was a new and refreshing change that swept out several decades of accumulated gynophobia.

And that’s great, except, of course, you no longer have your asexual representation.

My personal take on Time Lord sexuality and the Doctor’s specifically is that such a long-lived, technologically advanced, condescending-to-mere-biologically-reproducing-mortals race that, no, they probably don’t have significant sexual urges.  Or rather, they can go whole lifetimes without having a libido.  (Which lifetimes is up to you.)  Or maybe they can switch it on and off at will.

In conclusion — and I did not expect, when I started this post, that I’d be writing this many words on alien sexuality — I don’t think Missy’s statement necessarily confirms or denies anything, except that she and the Doctor have a complex relationship based on mutual respect, occasional homicidal tendencies, sandwich theft, torture, and, if we absolutely must go there, love.

Time Lord sexuality is a choose-your-own-adventure, although not literally because that would be inappropriate for children’s adventure puzzle books.


I saw a lot of people saying this was weirdly paced, but I bet — okay, hope — that it will work better when we see the second half.

Television two-parters generally pack a lot into the first half, then sag in the conclusion.  Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s “The Best of Both Worlds” is the classic example.  “The Magician’s Apprentice” took its time with the set-up, and that will hopefully pay off next week.

I mean, either that, or Moffat’s on drugs.  We really can’t rule anything out.

“The Magician’s apprentice”

I finished the episode going, “Well, of course that’s Davros, he’s sort of the Doctor’s creation, now.”  But my brother, Julian, makes a really strong argument for Clara being the apprentice, and with his permission, I’m going to quote him in full:

I’ve been thinking a bit about the significance of the title ‘The Magician’s Apprentice.’ I think it refers to Clara. You know, I actually think that is a lovely way of conceptualising their relationship. We’ve seen the Doctor-Companion relationship evolve in a lot of different directions. In the case of Nine and Rose, it was a surrogate father-daughter relationship. With Donna and Ten, it was two best mates knocking about. With Amy? Well, I see it as childhood friends reconnecting as adults, going through a phase where they’re not sure what they mean to one another, and finally becoming family. When Clara was introduced in Season 7, I don’t think she was very well-defined as a character. She was more of a plot device than a character– a mystery for Eleven to solve. She was very dependent upon the Doctor, and I think Twelve recognised that as a problem.

By Season 8, I think that the Doctor and Clara have a Master-Apprentice relationship. Twelve is teaching her to become the Doctor in her own right. Initially he puts the fate of the world in her hands in ‘Kill the Moon.’ But she wasn’t ready yet. He’d thrown her in the deep end. She hadn’t had the preparation she needed for the task. And so, in ‘Mummy on the Orient Express,’ he explicitly models what he’s doing when making choices to save people. In ‘Flatline,’ Clara becomes the Doctor, though with him providing guidance and instruction. By ‘Death in Heaven,’ Clara takes on the persona of the Doctor to great effect, this time independently. Now she’s ready to stand on her own. By the opening of Season 9, Clara actually tells Kate not to bother the Doctor, because she can handle it. In teaching terms, Twelve has removed the scaffolding, and she is ready to undertake the task of being the hero on her own.

Nor do I think that the education goes entirely in one direction. After all, Clara is a teacher too. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Twelve filled the TARDIS with blackboards and bookcases. I doubt he would have assumed the role of mentor were it not for Clara’s example. Clara teaches this Doctor compassion, love. She has a duty of care for the Doctor.

If I were to compare the Doctor and Clara’s relationship to that of another pop culture icon, I’d say it reminds me of Buffy and Giles. The ever-acerbic old rocker intellectual and the action hero battling monsters. In the process, each teaches the other the meaning of heroism. One of the things I loved most about the relationship between Buffy and Giles is that Giles didn’t have to die in order for Buffy to outgrow her dependence upon him. Will the same hold true for the Doctor and Clara? Let’s wait and see…

SPOILERS, my brother is studying to be a teacher.  You know how they say, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail?  Well, to a man with pedagogical inclinations…

But no, I think he makes a good argument.  The title of the second half is “The Witch’s Familiar”, and I was thinking as I watched that Clara and Missy make an effective team themselves, aside from the thing where one is a pathological egomaniac and the other is a Time Lady.

(I kid.)

Missy is certainly the witch, but a familiar is an animal used by a witch to serve its bidding — just as Missy characterises Clara as a sort of pet to the Doctor.

And now I’m wondering if this was all just an elaborate scheme of Missy’s to get the Doctor’s TARDIS for herself.  How did he end up on Skaro, anyway…?

On the other hand, if we’re completely wrong (the family that speculates wildly about science fiction together … really annoys less nerdy relatives at Christmas, actually) and Davros is the magician’s apprentice —

— then I really hope the two-parter concludes with Missy and the Doctor adopting him and raising him to be only half-evil. WACKY SHENANIGANS. I’m all about the shenanigans.

  • It bugged me that Kate Stewart is a military-adjacent consultant in 2015, and she needed a high school English teacher to point out that passenger jets can be weapons.  The 9/11 anniversary was just the other week, guys.
  • I don’t like to see Kate holding the idiot ball so that Clara can look good.  We already know that Clara is smart and competent, and that, like Amy and Martha and Donna before her, she’s a good substitute for the Doctor in a crisis.  It’s lazy writing.
  • Jac, the woman of colour supporting Kate at UNIT is played by Jaye Griffiths.  IMDB says she’ll appear again — I hope we see more of her.
  • Especially if she doesn’t die before the credits.  Or any other characters of colour.  I appreciate that Moffat doesn’t kill women off as gleefully as RTD did, but if anything, DW is even less racially diverse under his command than it was under Davies.  RIP Danny Pink.  (Sophie Okonedo for Romana!)
  • These problems aside, I liked this, but I’m reserving judgement on the story as a whole until I’ve seen “The Witch’s Familiar”.

3 thoughts on “Doctor Who 9.01: The Magician’s Apprentice

    1. I did open my folder of DW gifs, but there were so many with David Tennant’s face, and it reminded me of the time I liked that face, and then I decided to cancel pictures.

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