Doctor Who series 9: geeky spots in The Magician’s Apprentice

Spoilers: here are our viewing notes for Doctor Who series 9 episode 1, The Magician's Apprentice. There's a lot to spot...

When a show has over 50 years of history, it can sometimes be hard to keep up with all the continuity, callbacks and generally geeky references. Which is why, for series 9 (or series 35), we’re trying this extra weekly feature of, effectively, viewing notes. 

Which is fortunate because, as you might expect, The Magician’s Apprentice contained more than its fair share of these. Here are the ones we found; if you noticed something we haven’t, feel free to add it in the comments!

This is a very spoiler-heavy article. Thus, we’ve deployed our spoiler squirrel – Daphne – to stop your eyes accidentally drifting to the text of the article if you want to be spoiler-free. Scroll below Daphne at your peril…

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Back to Skaro

It may surprise you to learn that this is only the sixth time in 52 years that the Doctor has visited Skaro on television; the first time was during the initial Dalek story (only the Doctor’s second adventure overall!) at the end of 1963, while his most recent visit formed part of Jenna Coleman’s first story Asylum Of The Daleks. This is not the original Skaro, however; as well as apparently meeting its end during the Time War, Skaro was seemingly destroyed by the seventh Doctor in 1988’s Remembrance Of The Daleks.

The wastelands of Skaro in which the young Davros finds himself are one of several things in this story to take their inspiration from 1975 tale Genesis Of The Daleks. Whilst more of a marshland than a quarry, the foggy, desolate landscape is evocative of the one on which the fourth Doctor, Sarah and Harry found themselves 40 years ago. During that encounter, they came across the body of a soldier carrying a gas mask and radiation detector; the troops spied in this tale are similarly anachronistic, with bows and arrows joining the gas masks in their possession.

While the landscape has its roots in the 70s, the Dalek city itself is clearly made in the image of the Raymond Cusick design seen in the first Dalek story, only updated to look more, well, Dalek-y. This attention to detail filters down to the internal doors, which have been given the shape and sound of their 60s counterparts – who knew Daleks could be so nostalgic?

During the pre-publicity for series 7, Steven Moffat made grand claims about Asylum Of The Daleks featuring ‘every Dalek ever’. Though this was technically true, many fans were disappointed by what were mostly fleeting glances of their favourite models. Moffat more than makes up for this in The Magician’s Apprentice, with an important role for the original silver and blue Daleks, plus lingering shots of other fully functional models: the bronze, black and Supreme Daleks from the Russell T Davies era, the grey and black models which terrorised the Doctor throughout the 70s and 80s, a black-domed silver Dalek from 1967’s Evil Of The Daleks, and the fan-favourite Special Weapons Dalek from Remembrance Of The Daleks.

Tragically, there’s no sign of the white and gold Imperial Daleks (whose inclusion would have made sense, given the presence of Davros), and the so-called ‘new paradigm’ Daleks, which were introduced with much fanfare in 2010 and then quickly phased out following a mixed response from viewers. They are conspicuous by their absence from this story.

Of course, the main headline of this story is the return of Davros, creator of the Daleks, appearing for the first time since 2008’s Journey’s End. This is his seventh televised confrontation with the Doctor (80s Davros actor Terry Molloy has reprised the role in a number of Big Finish audio dramas, including the miniseries I, Davros which chronicles the character’s early years), and this episode contains excerpts from all of those adventures bar 1979 tale Destiny Of The Daleks.

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The most prominent of these clips is of the fourth Doctor in Genesis Of The Daleks discussing whether it would be acceptable to kill a child who you knew would grow up to be evil – a theme which returns with a vengeance in this story. However, that conversation was not with Davros, as implied here – it was with Sarah Jane Smith.

All My Love To Long Ago

The Doctor and the Master/Missy have always had a complicated relationship; though usually at loggerheads (the pair did form a truce once, in 1981’s Logopolis – though it didn’t take the Master long to turn the situation to his advantage), there exists a mutual respect between them, particularly in the Jon Pertwee/Roger Delgado days. In the Master’s first story, Terror Of The Autons, he expresses regret at the idea of killing the Doctor, branding him his intellectual equal. The Doctor, meanwhile, tells his companion Jo at the end of the story that he’s ‘rather looking forward to’ their next encounter.

It was originally planned for the Master to be revealed as the Doctor’s brother, before redeeming himself in a heroic sacrifice. However, Roger Delgado sadly died before this could be filmed. The idea was teased again in 1984’s Planet Of Fire, with Anthony Ainley’s Master asking the Doctor “Won’t you even show mercy to your own…” before being consumed by flames. However, the idea was seemingly nixed by the tenth Doctor in The Sound Of Drums.

Missy’s casual “not dead. Back. Big surprise. Never mind” and the Doctor’s expectation that she had survived their last encounter are a play on the fact that the Master usually ends up in pretty dire straits before turning up unharmed for his next story, only for the unsurprised Doctor to remark “so you escaped from Castrovalva” or similar. Previous end-of-story scrapes for the Master have included being trapped in a time loop, the aforementioned immolation, and being trapped in the Rani’s TARDIS with a hungry tyrannosaurus rex.

The Doctor’s confrontation with the Master in 1972 story The Time Monster is one of the ‘three possible versions of Atlantis’ mentioned by this story. Another destruction of Atlantis is shown at the climax of 1967’s The Underwater Menace, and a third is alluded to in The Daemons. Jac also mentions San Martino, as visited by the fourth Doctor and Sarah in The Masque Of Mandragora, and New York, as seen in The Chase, Daleks In Manhattan/Evolution Of The Daleks and The Angels Take Manhattan.

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Clara is correct; the TARDIS is completely indestructible. Apart from when it isn’t. It’s certainly hardy, having survived fire, flood and an unfortunate habit of falling off cliffs, but it was first destroyed in Patrick Troughton classic The Mind Robber, going on to be torn apart in 1984’s Frontios and, of course, blown up by the Silence to cause the cracks in time in The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang. It was also established in Journey’s End that, during the Time War, the Daleks became quite experienced TARDIS killers…

The Sisterhood of Karn, from Tom Baker story The Brain of Morbius, make their second reappearance in this story, having previously returned to help Paul McGann regenerate into John Hurt in The Night Of The Doctor. Once again, they are led by Ohila, played by Clare Higgins. Though no direct link has been established, Ohila’s name is a reference to Morbius’s high priestess, Ohica.

This isn’t the first time the Doctor has faced a giant snake; one of the fifth Doctor’s more memorable villains was the Mara, a psychic vampire that took the form of a giant red snake in both of its appearances, first in 1982 adventure Kinda and then in 1983 follow-up Snakedance (starring a very young Martin Clunes).

Appropriately, given his destination, the Doctor wears check trousers not dissimilar to those favoured by his first incarnation. And his comments about a bow tie and a long scarf refer to his eleventh and fourth incarnations respectively… but you probably already knew that. 

Recent History

We return once more to the Maldovarium, Doctor Who’s equivalent of the Star Wars cantina. Familiar aliens glimpsed within its walls include several Ood, first seen in 2006’s The Impossible Planet; the Hath, introduced in 2008 story The Doctor’s Daughter; the Sycorax, from David Tennant’s 2005 debut The Christmas Invasion, and what looks like a native of Tivoli, as seen with David Walliams’ character in 2011 tale The God Complex.

The bar’s owner, Dorium Maldovar, is himself nowhere to be seen, his head having been separated from its body in A Good Man Goes to War and having been stowed safely in a box ever since.

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The Maldovarium is where River Song picked up her vortex manipulator in The Pandorica Opens, and it’s a form of transport that makes its return in this story, having been popularised by Captain Jack Harkness back in series 3. Missy describes it as ‘cheap and nasty time travel’, directly echoing the eleventh Doctor’s words to River in The Big Bang. The tenth Doctor was equally disdainful, comparing it to a space hopper alongside his sports car of a TARDIS. It’s not Clara’s first time using one, as it was a key plot device in 2013 anniversary special The Day Of The Doctor.

We return to the Shadow Proclamation, which was mentioned in the relaunched series’ first episode Rose in 2005 and finally glimpsed in The Stolen Earth. Kelly Hunter returns as the Shadow Architect from that story, and we also see a helmeted Judoon, who the Doctor first encountered in 2007 series opener Smith And Jones. The Architect refers to ‘suicide moons’, which isn’t anything we’ve encountered previously but sounds like it could become important in the future…

UNIT returns in this episode, having first appeared in 1968 Cyberman tale The Invasion and been a recurring fixture of new Who since 2005’s Aliens Of London. The search terms that Jac uses to track the Doctor’s activity, ‘Doctor’ and ‘blue box’, are the same as those used by Rose Tyler in Rose. Typing ‘doctor blue box’ into Google still brings up official tie-in website whoisdoctorwho.co.uk as a first result, which was originally run by Mark Benton’s character Clive, then taken over by Mickey Smith after Clive met his demise at the hand guns of the Autons.

Another Dalek sleeper agent makes an appearance in this story, having first been introduced in Asylum Of The Daleks and played a pivotal role in The Time Of The Doctor.

It seems the twelfth Doctor is now a hugging person. Having dismissed it in last year’s finale Death In Heaven as ‘just a way to hide your face’, he’s now a fan of it for the same reason.

The twelfth Doctor isn’t the first incarnation to wear sunglasses; the tenth wore them on the Planet Of The Dead and whilst trying to elude the Ood in The End of Time, while the eleventh Doctor found them useful for detecting Silurians in The Hungry Earth.

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Elsewhere In The Multiverse

90s television mainstay Jaye Griffiths makes a welcome return to Saturday nights on BBC One in this episode, playing UNIT scientist Jac. As well as a lengthy stint on The Bill in the early 90s, Griffiths will be most familiar to genre fans from her role as Roslyn ‘Ros’ Henderson in 1995 techno action drama Bugs. Ros was confident, capable and knew her way around a computer; could it be too much of a stretch of the imagination to suggest that, 20 years on, she’s changed her name and has started working for UNIT…?

Missy talks to UNIT out of the square window, making a reference to classic children’s series Playschool. The Master is something of a kid’s TV afficionado, having previously been amused by the antics of The Clangers in The Sea Devils and fascinated by the biology of the Teletubbies in The Sound Of Drums.

Finally, the Doctor decides to hold his farewell party in 1138 AD. This is likely a reference to George Lucas’s first film, THX 1138. The number has taken on a life of its own, having first been included in many a Lucasfilm and Lucasarts project before going on to show up in everything from Monsters Inc to The West Wing.

Phew! That’s it for this week. Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments below!

When he’s not analysing Doctor Who in too much detail, Pete presents and produces Geeks Say Things, the Den Of Geek podcast. You can subscribe and download all three episodes so far here.