What is the meaning behind the titles "The Magician's Apprentice" and "The Witch's Familiar" in the first two episodes of the ninth season of Doctor Who?

I'm well aware that the Doctor identifies himself as a magician, so I guess that his "Apprentice" would be a companion - perhaps Clara or Missy. However, as far as I am aware, neither of them seem to play a role that would make sense for such a title selection.

And then there's the Witch's Familiar, which I don't even know where to start.

3 Answers 3


Based on the plot content for the two episodes in question, I think it's obvious that The Witch is Missy and the Familiar/Apprentice is Clara. As @randal'thor points out in the comments, there are two likely interpretations for who The Magician is: The Doctor, or Missy (again)

The Doctor is The Magician

This is the obvious interpretation, and the one I assumed just by reading the title. The Doctor has been referred to as a magician/wizard before (e.g. "The Pandorica Opens"), and Clara would definitely qualify as his Apprentice. In addition,

Clara spends a large part of the first episode trying to think like The Doctor so he can find him, and The Doctor's actions show he has a strong relationship with Clara.

The only flaw I find with that line of reasoning is that

The Doctor doesn't treat Clara as an apprentice in that episode; they barely interact at all. If anything, he's far more concerned about her in "The Witch's Familiar".

Missy is The Magician

On the other hand, you could consider Missy playing both roles. For example, in "The Magician's Apprentice":

Missy actually guides Clara into finding the Doctor, and brings her along when they accompany The Doctor to his "death". Occasionally she tells Clara mildly-useful things but mostly Clara is just pulled along for the ride.

She acts more like a mentor to Clara in that episode than The Doctor does, and also doe something vaguely "magical" even for a Time Lord:

She returns from the dead without regenerating, and without explanation.

The main flaw here is that it doesn't seem to make sense to identify Missy as a Magician in one place and a Witch in another -- the symmetry between the two words seems intentional. On the other hand, Missy

acts very differently in the two episodes, both towards Clara and in general

so perhaps the change in terminology was intended to reflect that.

Witch and Familiar

I think it's pretty clear that Missy is The Witch and Clara is The Familiar.

Missy forces Clara into a Dalek shell and has Clara follow her around Skaro pretending to be a Dalek, then abandons her when Missy doesn't need her anymore.

Both of these things match up with the way a magic-user is traditionally seen treating their familiars (like tools.)

  • 1
    I interpreted it as Magician = Doctor, Witch = Missy, Apprentice = Clara = Familiar.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Sep 27, 2015 at 20:40
  • 1
    That would make more sense, except Clara spends almost 0 time in either episode directly interacting with The Doctor, but I could see either way.
    – KutuluMike
    Sep 27, 2015 at 20:41
  • and ugh, so much spoiler.
    – KutuluMike
    Sep 27, 2015 at 20:51

In my opinion the title 'The Magician's Apprentice' doesn't have ANYTHING to do with Clara it references Davros. I agree with the Magician being the Doctor (seeing as in the episode itself he is called THE MAGICIAN) but here is the thing. In the episode you have two merciless acts. One from the Doctor, leaving Davros in the handmine field and one from Davros, killing his friends, destroying the TARDIS and trapping the doctor on Skaro. The Magician's Apprentice is Davros, he makes a similar act to the Doctor, leaving him stranded and alone. In a way inspired from his master.


The Magician might be The Doctor... but the Magician's Apprentice was


In Goethe's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the Apprentice takes the Sorcerer's magic to power his creation. But the magic works a little too well, nearly killing the Apprentice.

Walt Disney's Fantasia has probably one of the best known interpretations of the poem. But linking Mickey and


might have some unfortunate implications.

  • 1
    According to whom?
    – Valorum
    Oct 12, 2015 at 19:28
  • 1
    What make you think that?
    – Saturn
    Oct 12, 2015 at 20:59

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