DOCTOR WHO Series 9: Once Upon A Time…

Tony Fyler throws a wild surmise into the world.

Fan speculation on an upcoming series of Who is of course by its very nature a bit silly. But it does get our imaginative juices flowing about what might be ahead, as we extrapolate from scant details to map out whole story-arcs in the show that’s already playing on the inside of our heads.

So what are we to make of the first two episode titles of Series 9, The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar?

We’ve just learned that Missy’s back in Episode 1, and the rumour is that Shona, the dancing girl from Last Christmas is returning too, possibly only for this episode and possibly not, as the ‘apprentice’ to the ‘Magician’ Doctor. If this is the territory we’re in throughout the whole of Series 9, this Dungeons & Dragons, Game of Thrones, classic fantasy universe, then what else might be in store? I’ve had a handful of ideas.

Episode 3 – The Wizard’s Staff
Finally, at long last, we see the prequel to Seventh Doctor story Battlefield, with the Doctor and friend/s slipping sideways into a dimension where he is Merlin (Seriously, of all the Doctors we’ve had in the last ten years, you know none of them are more Merliny than Capaldi). Recognising what he’s up against, the Doctor builds a Sonic Staff to dampen the power of ‘magic’ in the world and allow Arthur to rise up against the all-powerful sorceress who rules his planet. See Jean Marsh’s Morgaine face off with Capaldi and watch the magic-spitting snarlfest unfold.

Episode 4 – The Warrior’s Sword
With rumours also rife about another Ice Warrior story by Mark Gatiss, we get to see them properly. The Ceremonial Sword of Lord Slazaxyr The World Bringer has been lost for thousands of years, and a troop of Ice Warriors, now peaceful inhabitants of the universe, has come to New Mars find it, hoping it acts as the key to an energy bank that will reinvigorate the power grid of a long-established but now decaying city (including the life-support systems that keep the million or more inhabitants alive and cold). The Ice Warriors have a traitor in their midst though, a killer who picks off their number, and who they mistake to be the Doctor. The Doctor has a bad feeling about the whole trip, and races the Ice Warriors to the sword through a labyrinth of ingenious, deadly traps. He and Ice Lord Makara arrive simultaneously at the sword-chamber. Neither the Doctor nor the Ice Lord can remove Slazaxyr’s sword from a plinth of unmeltable ice though, and it takes the might of Warrior Izlak to pull the weapon from its prison. Izlak is the killer, who hopes to use the sword to make himself the first Ice King. It is this warlike spirit that is recognized by a genetic imprint in the sword, and when he pulls it free, his genetic code is re-written, removing any traces of modern civilization and replacing it with the original Ice Warrior thirst for conquest. He touches Makara, and the genetic rewriting is passed on. The Doctor and crew have to get to the Ice Warrior’s new home, to the doomed city, before the two Born-Again Ice Warriors can infect its millions with the spirit of conquest that was the nature of Slazaxyr. The Doctor is left with an awful choice as the genetic rewriting runs rampant. Destroy the city and all its previously innocent Ice Warrior citizens, or leave and let the Ice Warriors find their own new fate. Not for the first time, he ponders whether he has the right to interfere.

Episode 5 - The Queen’s Mirror
On the world of Perfection, beauty is the law. Perfection is ruled by Queen Saphira by virtue of her own supreme beauty, as judged by the Articles of Perfection, handed down by the ancient Lords and Ladies. Through her ‘magic’ mirror, she scrutinizes the whole of Perfection, and those who break the Articles are not permitted to live. The Doctor, on landing, is immediately arrested, pending obliteration, while Clara is put to trial by the Articles. If found Beautiful, she will be allowed – indeed obliged – to become a Lady of the Court of Perfection (a Stepford Wife, her personality wiped of all its ‘un-beautiful’ sides). If not found Beautiful, she will be executed. The Doctor, in his exquisitely styled boudoir-dungeon, recognizes there are temporal forces at work on Perfection, escapes and confronts the mirror. When he looks into the mirror, a Weeping Angel looks back – the mirror is more than a security system, it is a temporal strongbox, keeping the ‘lifetime’ of the Queen locked away, keeping her young and ‘beautiful’, when really she is one of the original settlers of perfection, thousands of years old. She is the original author of the Articles, and she’s determined not to face the reality of ageing and death. When the Doctor smashes the mirror, it releases her time energy, forcing the queen to age to death while shattering the image of the angel into thousands of pieces. The Doctor and Clara round up as many of Perfection’s mirrors as they can before the mirror-angels can reassemble into a single, endlessly reflecting angel of death. Together, they trap the mirror-shards in a circle of reflections, quantum-locking the angels. While the Doctor goes back to the Tardis to Do Something Clever to destroy the mirror-angels completely, Clara goes back to the courtroom with the sonic screwdriver, gives a speech, and burns the Articles of Perfection to dust. When they leave, beauty on Perfection will be in the eye of every beholder.

Episode 6 – The Seven Sontarans
In the obligatory Paternoster Gang episode (Doctor-lite), six Sontarans, the straggling remnants of Strax’s clone batch, come to Victorian England. They have been on punishment duties ever since the action that caused Strax’s own deployment as a medic, and now they’ve ridden into town with one thought on their mind – to blast away the cause of their disgrace (Strax himself), and redeem themselves in the eyes of Sontaran High Command. Unfortunately, a Rutan has tracked them to London, and begins establishing a shape-changing bridgehead to conquer the world for the glory of the Rutan Empire. When Strax discovers this, he runs into battle on his own, pursued by Vastra and Jenny who want to fight alongside him, and the Six Sontarans, who want to kill him. He single-handedly destroys the Rutan, redeeming himself in the eyes of his clone-batch. They offer him the choice to ride away with them, but he is still bound by honour to the Doctor, who arrives just in time to offer Grumpy his freedom. The soul of a Sontaran is tested in a Dan Starkey powerhouse performance. Will Strax go back to Sontar, or will he stand with his Paternoster allies, exercising free will as a Sontaran grown beyond the confines of his clone-batch? Will six Sontarans ride out towards the horizon of the solar system – or will it be seven?

Episode 7 – The Flight of the Penguin
Frobisher, the one-time shape-changer and more recently penguin-shaped companion of the Sixth Doctor in comic strips, has long forgotten his time on the Tardis, and has ended up on the planet ‘X’ - a world which shape-changers have made their own and where nothing is what it seems. A bad world to be on if you can’t change shape any more. Frobisher and other shape-changers who can no longer change are treated as untouchables, and regularly bullied as ‘one-shapes’. While the Doctor and the Tardis are both welcomed on X, Clara is immediately cast into this role as an untouchable. She’s relegated to kitchen duties without the Doctor’s knowledge.

Frobisher meanwhile has been fomenting a quiet rebellion of the one-shapes, and when he and Clara meet, she mentions the Doctor to him, unlocking his memories of their adventures, and how he used to make a difference even when trapped in penguin form. Clara goads him into trying to change – and after a few false starts, he manages it. He and Clara set off, spreading the word to other one-shapes – The penguin has changed. They organize a highly secret shape-changing session, and Frobisher tells the one-shapes of the Doctor and how he took a one-shape with him and changed the universe. The one-shape revolutionaries crash a ball being held in the Doctor’s honour by the ruling powers of X, and Frobisher and the Doctor reunite – though Frobisher has to reassume his penguin shape before the Doctor recognizes him. The Doctor joins the revolution against the people who mistreat his friends, and they overthrow the rulers – the Doctor sonic-locking the rulers’ structures in place to give them a taste of life as a one-shape, so they’ll learn some tolerance. The Doctor offers his old penguin friend a second chance to ride in time and space, and as X begins a new era of equality, the penguin flies again.

Over to you, fellow Who-geeks – what other fantasy or fairytale tropes would you turn into Who stories for the back end of Series 9?

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at
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