The Magician’s Apprentice: Past Lives and Future Consequences

Here there be spoilers! This post contains revelations from the Doctor Who season 9 opener, “The Magician’s Apprentice,” which can be watched for free on YouTube:

“I’ve lived for over two thousand years, and not all of them were good. I’ve made many mistakes, and it’s about time I did something about that.” –The Doctor, “Deep Breath”

Since the beginning of the new Doctor Who series in 2005, the universe has been seen through the eyes of a man haunted by a cataclysmic choice made: the Doctor ending the Time War through the genocide of Daleks and Time Lords alike. That wasn’t the first time he’s faced such an awful choice, choices in the past that have led to harsh realities in the present.

Genesis of the Daleks

The Time Lords foresaw a time when the Daleks would overrun the universe, including Gallifrey. The Daleks are a genetically engineered race, so the Time Lords sent the Fourth Doctor to the Dalek’s homeworld of Skaro to ensure they were never created.

A thousand year nuclear war between the Kaleds and the Thals had raged on Skaro. The chief Kaled scientist, Davros, concluded everyone on both sides would eventually fall victim to radiation. He experimented on his own people, determining what their final mutated form would be, and then altering them to weed out “weaknesses” such as compassion. They he built armed, mobile life support units – the Dalek casings – to protect what was left of his race.

“How scared must you be to seal every one of your own kind inside a tank?” – The Doctor, “Magician’s Apprentice”

The Doctor almost completed his task, going so far as to line the incubation chambers with explosives. But he has a crisis of conscience:

“Do I have the right? Simply touch one wire against the other, and it’s it? The Daleks cease to exist? Hundreds of millions of people, thousands of generations, can live without fear, in peace, and never even know the word “Dalek.” But if I kill, wipe out a whole intelligent life form, then I’d become like them. I’d be no better than the Daleks.” – The Doctor, “Genesis of the Daleks”

He choose his soul over practicality. He refused to kill them. He refused to kill them at their moment of genesis, therefore allowing everything that came afterward, including the Time War. But finally he couldn’t bear the destruction being rained down upon the universe, and he changed his mind. He chose to let Daleks and Time Lords burn. He sacrificed his soul for the salvation of the universe.

He gained back part of himself in “Day of the Doctor,” when went back in time and hid Gallifrey rather than destroy it. But Gallifrey is still lost, and he can’t be whole until he finds his planet again.

The Disappearing Planet

The Doctor does indeed find a planet in The Magician’s Apprentice, but is isn’t Gallifrey. It’s Skaro, which was destroyed long before the Time War, by the Doctor no less. The Seventh Doctor caused Skaro’s sun to go supernova. And, yet, here the Twelfth Doctor is standing on the surface of Skaro, a planet hidden from view by unexplained means.

And this isn’t the first time Twelfth Doctor has been here. In the not too distant past, he crossed paths with a child caught in a “hand mine” field on Skaro, although he doesn’t realize what planet he’s on. He promises to save the child, until the child says he’s Davros. Whether the Doctor attempted to save or destroy that child is still to be revealed, but it clearly made an impression on Davros.

Is killing ethical? If you could stop a war with one death, is that acceptable? Is genocide reasonable when the entire universe is on the line? And if it is, at what cost?

Just two episode ago, the Doctor was ready to kill Missy first and foremost not because Missy deserved it, but to spare Clara the trauma of taking a life, which she was determined to do, for some very logical if emotionally charged reasons.

“Old friend, is she? If you have ever let this creature live, everything that happened today, is on you. All of it, on you. And you’re not going to let her live again.” – Clara, “Death in Heaven”

As the trailers have told us ad nauseam, the Doctor is about saving people, not destroying them. He takes life only when he has to. There are a few exceptions to that rule; he doesn’t hesitate to destroy both Daleks and Cybermen, understanding that’s the only way of stopping them. He never carries weapons, rarely handles them, and is contemptuous of those who do. His years with UNIT were pretty much a running monologue about the idiocy of armies.

Yet our final glimpse of the Doctor is pointing a weapon at a child in a mine field. The weapon is a Dalek gun, no less, just in case we needed a reminder of the comparison between the Doctor’s hatred of the Daleks and the Daleks’ hatred of everyone.  Killing the child is murder, plain and simple. Not killing him allows the Daleks to be born to terrorize the universe. Which is the heavier weight?


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