Sunday, 27 September 2015

Review: Doctor Who - The Witch's Familiar

Missy! Davros! Daleks! Something's definitely familiar here... but did this episode carve out something new?

'I’m not sure any of that matters – friends, enemies – so long as there’s mercy. Always mercy.'

A perfect counterpoint to last week's large-scale opener, 'The Witch's Familiar' definitely delivered on the promise of 'The Magician's Apprentice.' Born out of a famous (for Who fans) line from Tom Baker classic 'Genesis of the Daleks' - the line in question was shown last week - it gave us what felt like the culmination of that long-running feud between the Doctor and Davros in a very dramatically-satisfying 45 minutes.

On the surface, this could have been an anti-climax after last week's fast-pace and multiple locations but the episode made its intimate nature work for it. Yes, we're on the planet of the Daleks (and didn't the collection of Daleks look glorious? Although it's a shame Moffat's given in to the naysayers and exterminated the Paradigm Daleks) but this was really just a two-hander, twiceover, with the Doctor and Davros realising they are not so different, while Missy and Clara explored the Dalek city. It felt fresh for the modern series but was really something of a throwback to classic Who, where the Doctor and the companion would often be split up (usually to ensure enough story for the several-part stories).

As I discussed the brilliant Michelle Gomez last time, let's give Davros his time in the limelight here. First and foremost, Peter Capaldi and Julian Bleach were electric together, becoming the best Doctor-Davros pairing since Tom Baker and Michael Wisher in 'Genesis.' Rather than a cackling megalomaniac (not that there's anything wrong with that - I love a good megalomaniac) as in 'Journey's End', Bleach here plays him as a crushed figure, just wanting to talk to an old 'friend.' Davros apparently repenting on his death-bed should have been completely unbelievable but somehow was actually very moving (the tear running out of the runied eye socket and then - yes - Davros has eyes!). Even if it most of it was a ruse, at least some of what was shared between these old enemies was real.

Another triumph of this story is how it reinvents the Capaldi era for the better. While it continues the themes of the Doctor facing a moral dilemma from Series 8, it does so without making the Doctor dour and prickly - quite the opposite, in fact. Likewise, the latest story arc has been set up. We have a new question to ask about the Doctor's character but this time it's less 'Doctor Who?' and more 'Doctor, Why?' - just why did the Doctor leave Gallifrey all those years ago and begin his journey though time and space? And will the Daleks' new regenerative powers come up again? Plus, the Doctor can't really be ditching his sonic screwdriver, can he?

Overall, while I'm not sure the plotting was quite watertight - the pre-titles sequence could have been stronger and the prophecy of the Hybrid comes out of nowhere - there was so much to like here that such niggles can be forgiven. Featuring a new take on decades-old foes, 'The Witch's Familiar' was a tight, dramatic mediation on friends and enemies and most probably the the best Twelfth Doctor story so far ('The Day of the Doctor' doesn't count). The rest of Series 9 - follow this if you dare.

'But if you don't have legs, then how could mine fit in your chair?' - The Doctor and Davros have an important chat. 

Next week: An underwater base being besieged by ghosts? The Doctor and Clara have their work cut out when they travel 'Under The Lake', next Saturday, 8.25pm, BBC One.


  1. I thought this episode was fantastic. The first part was great for shocks and surprises, and this one was quieter but very, very well done, twisty and thought-provoking, and I LOVE when a story has echoes of a previous chapter, as this one was a companion to Genesis of the Daleks. Beautiful.

    Also, also, did you notice Missy (although I still call her The Master) say something odd when she had Clara handcuffed? Lots of people I've spoken to missed it, or only caught it because I told them to pay attention. It was a throwaway line, cut off mid-sentence, but we learn something new about The Master, and I don't think it WAS just a throwaway line; I think it will be very significant later on, hidden in among all her chatter. DID YOU CATCH IT? DID YOU?

    1. Yeah, I think this was probably the superior episode. Absolutely! And Missy and Clara's journey through the Dalek city and Clara hiding in a Dalek were very reminiscent of the first ever Dalek story.

      I CAUGHT IT! And I really want to know what she was going to follow it up with. I hadn't thought of that, it could be significant - seeing as this series will revisit the mystery of why the Doctor left Gallifrey. It could well have something to do with the Master too!

    2. I'm calling it: this is where Maisie Williams (Arya from Game of Thrones) comes in. All we know so far is that she's a very significant character in this series, but not someone we've met before. And Game of Thrones probably means she won't be the new companion (but wouldn't it be cool if she were, especially if I'm right about who she'll be playing.)

      And yes, if this is correct - GALLIFREY!

    3. Crikey, that's an enticing theory. Such a character becoming a companion would be fab. Their relationship could be about her learning from the Doctor instead of Missy, which would compliment the Doctor's 'Am I a good man?' character arc. Hmm, I'm liking this theory...


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