Over the past few years, much has been made over Steven Moffat’s apparent reluctance over the idea of a female Doctor. While the showrunner has said he’s open to the possibility if the right person came to mind, he’s also said a few things that could be interpreted as an outright “No.” This year will mark the first woman writer since 2008, and Series 9 opens with a pair of episodes directed by Hettie MacDonald (Blink). “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar” combine the director with two fantastic female performances, leaving me to wonder if perhaps Moffat’s been playing a clever game with us. Is an influx of girl power just the shot (of estrogen) in the arm Doctor Who needed? The answer is “Yes, yes,” and a resounding “Yes!”
With “Apprentice,” MacDonald and Moffat kick things off amid a hazy shroud of mystery, opening on a long ago battlefield that leads to a marvelously unexpected reveal with far-reaching, and lasting implications. Incorporating hilarious and truly fun visual shoutouts to Star Wars, Back to the Future, Risky Business, Mad Max, and Pan’s Labyrinth, the director’s return is an exhilarating welcome back for the Doctor Who we’ve long been missing, and for MacDonald, herself. Twisting our way through the first two hours’ delightful mazes felt a clear and easy return to glory; like an old couple catching the spark in each other’s eyes again, we’re reminded of all we’ve ever loved.
If there’s truly a power of (the) three, credit is due to two other excellent women. “Apprentice” pulls Jenna Coleman’s Clara back into the spotlight — not as a lovelorn sidekick running behind her Doctor, rather, the smart, strong, quick-thinking (and acting) Companion we first met in — alternate form — 2012 (there’s also an intriguing callback to “Asylum of the Daleks”). Unafraid to take charge and go head to head with anyone and everyone, Clara holds her own; even under terrible circumstances or influences, she’s as resourceful as Twelve. Left on her own to figure out a mystery that draws her to (and to her) the worst of the Doctor’s frenemies, Clara follows the clues without hesitation. Even the cleverest (and most devious) of her fellow detectives can’t get the job done without Oswald’s help. As for the final female of the the charmed triad, I’ll leave you to guess with but one clue: She’s the most amazing, brilliant, funny, witty, crazy-bananas-in-the-best-possible-ways Who-lady who’s ever been perfectly cast, and it is her pervasive presence, glorious humor and surefooted step that helps take Series 9’s opening episodes to the next level. (And, it’s quite possible she’s being set up for the ultimate takeover…)
By now, you’re probably wondering, “But what of the Doctor?” Never fear, Twelve is nearby…eventually. And if one thing is clear, it’s that something has changed; something has perfectly clicked into place. Because, from the moment we see him wild-eyed and bushy-browed, it is completely and utterly clear the satisfied, soft *thwunk* we’re seeing and feeling is Peter Capaldi sliding full on, heart and soul, into the Doctor’s boots. He is confident and funny, quipping here, panicking there, singing, sliding, gasping and scheming. He is the man in the scarf, eating fish fingers and dashing and gesticulating, speaking of timey-wimey things, leather-jacketed and angry, full-hearted and broken and sad…he is all those we have loved, and all we ever will.
Doctor Who, Series 9 returns to BBC America and BBC One with “The Magician’s Apprentice,” Saturday, September 19th, and “The Witch’s Familiar,” September 26th.