There’s a problem with writing about the first half of a two-parter. It’s not a complete story; what happens in the second part will inevitably impact how I view what happened in the first part. But it’s also an episode and can be judged on that basis.
This is, I suspect, part of the problem in writing a two-parter, as well: you have to balance the needs of the story as a whole with the needs to make the episode satisfying on its own.
While it remains to be seen how Moffat will have done at the former, after multiple viewings of “The Magician’s Apprentice,” I think he had a few problems with the former.
There’s a lot in the episode to like, a lot of really cool stuff: baby!Davros, Colony Sarff, the confrontation between Clara and Missy, all leading up to the epic “Axe Battle.” And while I was watching for the first time, I got really caught up in all of the cool.
Rewatching, though, it all felt like an extended pre-credits sequence.
I suspect that this is one of those awkward stories that doesn’t fit neatly into either a one-parter or a two-parter format. Too much story for a single episode, not quiiiiite enough for two. It felt padded.
The whole “the planes are frozen” arc could have been eliminated without (as far as I can tell from only seeing the first part) having any effect on the story whatsoever. Colony Sarff’s visits to the Maldovarium, the Shadow Proclimation, and Karn could have been condensed.
The presence of Colony Sarff raises some questions: why is Davros using henchbeings? He seems to have Colony Sarff locked into some kind of exclusive contract, because the people recognize them as working for him. Daleks hate everybody who’s not a Dalek; does Davros no longer trust his own people? Did Colony Sarff deliver the nanogenes that converted Bors, or had a different faction already located the Doctor?
Clara seems to have come into her own; she’s confident and competent, and holds her own against Missy. She’s also smart enough to realize that the Doctor has betrayed her, and while she lets him know she knows, she uses that knowledge, not to punish him, but to tell him to come back.
I’m glad to see Missy here, but I feel like she’s been underutilized in the story as a whole. She feels like she’s here to provide motivation and transport to Clara (bamfing her around with the vortex manipulator) and to figure out about the gravity, which Clara could have theoretically figured out on her own.
She’s delightful (though I could have done without her fondling the Dalek’s balls) but I’m hoping she’s more integral in the second part of the story, rather than being sidelined by being dead for most of the episode.