Sunday, 27 September 2015

DOCTOR WHO, 9.2 – 'The Witch's Familiar'

Sunday, 27 September 2015


While not as strong and epic as the first part, "The Witch's Familiar" was a mostly satisfying conclusion that held together better than it occasionally threatened to. It was certainly a lot looser than "The Magician's Apprentice", though, with perhaps too many scenes where The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Davros (Julian Bleach) had circular arguments about their opposing ideologies. You could have easily cut ten minutes out of this episode with very little impact, but otherwise it was an enjoyable hour.

I was pleased the survival of Clara (Jenna Coleman) and Missy (Michelle Gomez), after being zapped by Dalek ray guns last week, was explained in a way that made enough sense—with Missy using the energy blasts to recharge her vortex manipulator nanoseconds before they struck (a trick she learned from a time-wasting flashback to The Doctor's identical escape trick long ago).

It doesn’t really explain why Clara managed to teleport away after being shot, but it's best to never approach a show like Doctor Who with an adult's expectations of things making perfect sense. This is a family-friendly show where things happen almost on a whim and with childlike enthusiasm, so characters usually get out of life-and-death situations because they've somehow managed to predict them and have actually been two-steps ahead the whole time.

The best evidence of that this week: we learned the TARDIS has a hitherto unmentioned ability to safely disintegrate itself into the atmosphere if attacked en masse, so The Doctor can reassemble it using his sonic screwdriver later. Or sonic sunglasses now, I suppose. The show clearly wants his shades to become Twelve's fez or bow-tie in the minds of the audience, but I don't know if that's going to happen because sunglasses are already an objectively cool item. The whole point of Eleven's bow-ties and, particularly, the ridiculous fez, was how they were infamously uncool things.

Anyway, back to the episode at hand. There was a surprising amount of messing around just to ensure this story filled its hour, which was a shame. The sequence where The Doctor effectively stole a paraplegic's wheelchair and left him rolling about on the floor, helpless, was in particularly poor taste—and ultimately of little relevance, because The Doctor was recaptured by Colony Sarff (Jami Reid-Quarrell) and the previous scenes continued regardless of that brief diversion. It almost felt like it only really happened because Moffat wanted to use The Doctor's admittedly funny "anyone for dogems?" line.

A little better was the side adventure with Missy and Clara infiltrating Skaro's capital through the city's 'living sewers' (the decomposing, slimy remains of ancient Daleks). Missy's becoming even more of a Bizarro Doctor character these days; so while Capaldi mostly talked with Davros for a whole hour, it was Missy who got to have a companion and go on a more physical adventure. And seeing her evil Time Lady push Clara down a hole, then seal her inside the body of a dead Dalek, was amusing and gave Gomez a lot of good lines. But I was pleased writer Steven Moffat avoided sanitising Missy too much, because by the end of the episode she'd almost convinced The Doctor to kill his own companion by informing him the 'Clara-Dalek' was actually the drone responsible for killing his friend. That was surprisingly dark.

Capaldi's approach to The Doctor continues to shift slightly, too. I detected a lot more Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker in his scenes this week, and noticed how he's choosing to walk around on almost permanently bended knees. His conversations with a dying, regretful Davros felt more grounded and interesting simply because he's an older actor. I particularly liked the moment when Davros began to cry with happiness that The Doctor had managed to restore Gallifrey to the skies, before opening his two human eyes to look at his nemesis one final time.

Similarly to Missy this week, the character was within touching distance of being de-fanged in this story, so I was glad Davros's true colours were revealed towards the end—as his masterplan was to convince The Doctor to willing use some of his regeneration energy to restore his eyesight, to enable him a chance to see a final Skaro sunrise, then seize the Time Lord and siphon this energy into all his Daleks to improve them. It was just a shame there was no visible way to tell the Daleks are now regenerated or upgraded in any significant way, and I was expecting Davros to perhaps grow slightly younger. Or even regain the use of his legs. Instead, it seems The Doctor may have unwittingly infected them with the ability to be merciful, so we'll see if that's returned to in future episodes.


  • Anyone else think Missy's being used as a way of conditioning the audience to the idea of having a female Doctor? After seeing Michelle Gomez do her unpredictable madwoman routine in Mary Poppins' clobber, I imagine more people are growing accustomed to the idea of a Time Lady in charge of the famous TARDIS.
  • This talk of a Dalek/Time Lord 'Hybrid' was either a bit of random back-story, or it's foreshadowing something to come now Davros knows Gallifrey's back and The Doctor's perhaps started to fulfil a prophecy of a 'Hybrid' with his regeneration trick.
  • By the way, if Gallifrey's back, then where are all the Time Lords now? The Doctor may not know the location of his homeworld, but surely he'd have stumbled across another Time Lord by now if they're presumably back and travelling across Space and Time, too. No?
  • Anyone else reminded of 1993's Super Marios Bros. with the Dalek sewers lined with sentient gunk? It was sort of like Dinohattan's fungus actually being The King, right? Oh, just me?
  • Steven Moffat's entire starting point for this two-parter was to get The Doctor and Davros into a long two-hander, because the dialogue's always so rich and fascinating between these great enemies. I agree, but still felt there was too much of it.
  • What do you think is on The Doctor's confession dial? It's still evidently there, unopened, pocketed for later in the series perhaps.
  • What's with Clara going inside Daleks? She was introduced as a version of her character in "Asylum of the Daleks", where it was revealed she was a Dalek. Last year, she ventured inside a Dalek after being miniaturised. And now this! Maybe it's Freudian.
  • Moffat loves throwaway lines that get the fans gossiping, doesn't he. This week: Missy may have a daughter? Is she telling the truth, or just delighting in being so random? As always, it's impossible to really know for sure, but the seed of possibility's been planted. Who is the father?
written by Steven Moffat | directed by Hettie Macdonald | 26 September 2015 | BBC1

Next time...