From the revival up to the end of the Russell T Davies era, the Time War was meant to serve as a great big eraser to make space for new fans. All the forced continuity of 26 years of television episodes and countless spin-off audios, books and comics culminated in this war that saw the end of everything – Daleks/Time Lords, Skaro/Gallifrey, Davros/Rassilon. All you needed to know, when Eccleston first grabbed the audience’s hand and said “Run” was that he was a time-traveller in a box. Everything else would come later, if it came at all. For the time being, everything you knew about the old Whoniverse was gone.
Unfortunately, this meant the show became a place where everything was dead and also nothing was. The “last” remnants of the Daleks were seemingly wiped out forever twice in the first series alone. Other “last” factions of Daleks would reappear every subsequent series before David Tennant left the TARDIS. Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss re-established the Daleks as a regular fixture in the Whoniverse early into Matt Smith’s run, but had to offset their overexposure in the Davies era by hardly using them. Nevertheless, when they did return it was more a case of “Oh, it’s the Daleks. That’s not good!” than “But…that’s impossible…even more impossible than it was last year!”
So the lack of a tiresome backstory for why the Daleks are still around was a welcome relief, since there’s nothing remotely interesting about them. They’re iconic mostly because they were introduced at a time when the country was still recovering from the cultural hangover of its own war and the idea of being subjugated by a tank screeching about racial purity touched a raw nerve. This is why later appearances involved them being given more identifiable characters like Davros, multiple Emperors and modern-day examples like Sec – intelligent Dalek representatives that command/speak for an army of foot soldiers. I can even forgive the lack of explanation for Davros’ survival after the destruction of the Crucible in ‘Journey’s End’. Having a stash of escape pods within arms reach has been his thing since the classic series. The series 9 opener ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ even gave us a possible reason why Davros is always surviving – because he was told as a child that “survival is a choice” and it’s one he’s been making ever since, not just for himself but for his entire species.
Which puts me in the minority of people who really did want to know how the Master survived, despite inexplicably returning from the dead in the classic series several times. Though I’m not sure I wanted an explanation as much as I wanted to see them try and justify that downright offensive CyberBrig thing. Despite saying that I dislike boring survival backstories, I felt as though this was one boring survival backstory too few because of how the Master reflects the Doctor. Unlike the Daleks and Davros, The Master has always been the Nega-Doctor. The Moriarty to the Doctor’s Holmes. The Voldemort to his Dumbledore. A more personal threat simply because he reminds the Doctor that he’s only a few wrong decisions from becoming like the Master himself. This was touched-on last year, albeit not in as much detail as I would’ve liked, and was a major theme in this episode with the moral dilemma of saving Bubby Davros. So to have Missy axed only to come back from her apparent death twice in the same story (we all know she wasn’t really exterminated) without any good reason means that the Doctor, who’s Missy’s intellectual equal (almost), must also be capable of inexplicable survival. Thus, any sense of risk to the Doctor is lost…except…
…now I have to contradict myself. From a real-world perspective, we pretty much know that major character deaths will be undone quickly. Firstly, because the trailer, unless part of an elaborate hoax by the BBC, shows both Clara, Missy and the TARDIS in later episodes. Secondly, because the modern show has a certain style which means that a companion death, even of an actor we know is leaving the show, isn’t going to happen so casually without fanfare and some protracted farewell. So I was pleasantly surprised when the episode didn’t abruptly end on Clara’s extermination or the TARDIS being blowed up, which we know is going to be reversed. Instead, the cliffhanger was a pitch-perfect example of how to get the viewer’s interest and, for the first time in a while, I’m desperate to see the next part.
And now, as ever, we end on wild speculation as to what’s going to happen next. I think that this is going to be the start of a series-long story arc. Davros, weary, remorseful and having taken everything away from the Doctor, even his screwdriver (and somewhere a Character Options exec is hanging himself), asks the Doctor to go back in time to kill his younger self, averting the creation of the Daleks and the apparent death of Clara. The Doctor knows that, the Daleks having been such a major factor in his life, the resulting paradox will likely destroy him too. But the Doctor refuses out of his sense of morality, saying Davros had his choice to create the Daleks and doesn’t get a redo. Moffat willing, a lengthy philosophical discussion will ensue between him and Davros.
Meanwhile, Missy and Clara – having most likely been teleported away – will have to evade capture and/or extermination in the Dalek city on Skaro to keep the action up. I’m not sure how the entire series will play out, but I suspect the cliffhanger scene won’t be paid off until the finale. The Doctor continues to refuse so Davros sends a Dalek back to do the deed instead, only really needing the Doctor’s knowledge of time travel extracted from a not-destroyed TARDIS to do so. The Doctor escapes and follows the Dalek to where Young Davros remains trapped and uses the gun to destroy the Dalek sneaking up behind him. He aids Davros’ escape from the Hand-Mines (which are fabulous, by the way) and finds himself back on the TARDIS with Clara and everything restored. The moral of the story is that though saving Davros (“I’m going to save my friend…”), showing him compassion (“…the only way I know how”), probably didn’t change how he turned out, saving his life was the right thing to do and gave him the choice to become the monster he did. He can’t blame the Doctor for indirectly being responsible for the Daleks.
P.S. Did anyone else think it was lazy of Moffat to use the ‘Genesis of the Dalek’ clip to bring up the Fourth Doctor’s conundrum? Given that Moffat is capable of truly masterful writing (listen to what Davros says about predator/prey and you’ll see what I mean) it felt like a bit of a waste not to have rephrased the “Would you kill baby Hitler?” dilemma with the words of Moffat and the performance of Capaldi. The original “Do I have the right?” speech is an iconic part of Who history so to have it simply rehashed with an archive clip was disappointing – as I said last year, don’t just reference the past, outdo it!