Doctor Who: 9.02 The Witch's Familiar
Doctor Who came back bigger and bolder than ever with last week's series nine opener delivering plenty of twists and turns, not least the surprise reveal of Davros and the deaths of Missy, Clara and the TARDIS. Now the biggest question was could The Witch's Familiar top the heights of
Thankfully the answer is yes. Not only does it run with last week's momentum without falling at the last hurdle but it is a stronger episode. All the crazy shenanigans of last week - planes in the sky, the Doctor riding a tank in 1138AD - are replaced in favour of a confident, well paced storyline that focuses on the relationship between two pairs of characters; the Doctor and Davros and Missy and Clara.
Yes, both women are alive, though did we ever really think otherwise? In a wonderful pre-title sequence, Clara wakes up outside the Dalek city, strung upside down while Missy sharpens her knife. Why does she have a knife? Because she may have to go hunting and Clara is tied up in case Missy gets hungry and there's nothing to hunt. Michelle Gomez continues to relish in this deliciously evil villain and her story about the doctor in an old black and white story, chased by killer androids is a fantastic way to explain how Missy (and Clara) managed to survive the Daleks - and how Missy escaped the Cyberman energy blast last series. Faking their deaths by matching the energy blast, only to fall into a nest of vampire monkeys. It is a great comic moment that ensures the episode doesn't go too dark and grim given the main tale in play.
What it really shows is that Missy knows the Doctor far better than Clara thinks she does. And she admires him even if she continues to fight him. The Doctor always survives because he believes he is going to win. This time, he doesn't and that is what brings Missy and Clara to his rescue. Having them separated from the main Time Lord creates a unique and fun pairing, Clara the titular witch's familiar. The show has teased the Master having a companion (Chang Lee and Lucy Saxon for example), but this episodes really gets to explore what happens when the Doctor's companion is forced to work with the enemy.
Clara really does go through the wringer this episodes as Missy continues to manipulate and put her in a place. Throwing her down a hole just to test the depth, referring to Clara as the canary to her miner, using her as bait to lure in a Dalek and then worst of all, forcing her to get inside the shell of the dead Dalek.
It was a chilling callback to Asylum Of The Daleks as Clara fought to be retain her individuality. Missy was clearly having a ball, using her broach, made of a dark star alloy, to pierce the Dalek's armour and luring the vengeful decaying Dalek slime in the sewers beneath the city to destroy it. It was great to see Missy using some of the investigative tactics and knowledge that we would normally see the Doctor complete; engaging with Clara, teaching her about the true fate of the Daleks forced to decay in the sewers. Moffat continued to develop this enemy's mythology in new and interesting ways without taking anything away from their usual zeal and menace.
The Daleks might be a cold, aggressive bunch but they aren't quite without their emotions like fellow big bads the Cybermen. Moffat again built something clever with them through Clara's incarceration within the Dalek, using emotions to fuel their weapons, their power.
Jenna Coleman really showed a vulnerable side inside that Dalek, scream "I love you! I am an individual." even when all this was translated into the hateful tones of the Dalek voice on the outside. Michelle Gomez meanwhile continued to steal every scene she was in, dancing gleefully to Clara-Dalek's energy blasts and telling the Supreme Dalek he was always her favourite and continue to deliver great lines like “Yes, but everyone who is not a Dalek is an enemy of the Daleks, so that was an easy guess!” And of course she gives up Clara to the Daleks for opportunity to meet Davros.
But any concerns that Gomez would win the battle for best performance were quickly quelled by Peter Capaldi, delivering a staggering range of emotions in what was surely his best performance yet. And he continued to be playful too even in the direst of situations - a bit of that Tom Baker glint in his eye perhaps. Hands down, my favourite scene was the Doctor rolling into the Supreme Dalek's chamber in Davros's chair. “Admit it. You’ve all had this exact nightmare!” As for the Doctor's “I’m the doctor. Just accept it!” as sipped on a cup of tea in the chair, I think that might be my favourite Twelfth Doctor moment yet.
There was some dark and dramatic stuff too. Davros it seems had the upper hand, trapping the Doctor with a tragic tale of his impending demise. The flashes to that battle continued to tease what really happened in the past; does the Doctor try and save child Davros or kill him? And that age-old question of whether the Doctor could commit genocide against the Daleks continued to run through the story with Capaldi and Julian Bleach delivering phenomenal appearances as they debated morality, death and the long, long history between them.
And compassion. The Doctor views it as his greatest strength, the Davros as a cancer that kill him in the end. The creator of the Daleks questions what it was that brought the Doctor to Skaro, shame or his conscience. The Doctor says he came because Davros asked and with that the trap is set, that cancer luring him into a situation that could destroy him.
Mistake one is telling Davros that Gallifrey survived the Time War. Davros views it as joyous news, congratulating the Doctor, with Bleach giving something to Davros that audiences have never seen before; sympathy. As he tells the Doctor how he wants to see the sunrise with his real eyes, we see genuine tears in the dark crevices where his eyes once were and suddenly you want the Doctor to help him. Those eyes open and a very human-looking Davros emerges and it is wonderful, with both actors at the top of their game.
“I Need to know before the end, am I a good man?”
That sentence, from Davros's lips is staggering. Physically, mentally, these two men are even more similar than we realise and as they laugh and weep together, you genuinely feel for two old men reunited at the end of their days. Moffat's script continues to shine, those quiet, emotive moments as engaging as the big Missy witty one liners. So much so that when Davros weeps that he cannot open his eyes to watch the sunset you are desperate for the Doctor to help him.
And that is Davros's - and Moffat's - masterstroke. The Doctor willingly gives some of his regeneration energy to heal Davros just as we, the audience, want him to. And when the Doctor screams as the trap is set and Davros and the Daleks feed off him, it is a shocking moment, even if we should have seen it coming. After forty years of villainy, we forget with one half hour of joyous dialogue that Davros was the villain.
The image of the Daleks brimming with golden regeneration energy is thrilling twist. Davros recounts the Gallifreyan legend of a hybrid creature so terrible; is this what the Doctor has been running from all his life? Is this what he has inadvertently created? It creates an intriguing mystery that might become the running thread of series nine. It certainly adds more mystery to the Doctor which is not easy after 52 years - without changing him in any radical manner that might upset long-term fans.
Missy saving the day is a great moment and her encounter with Davros - forty years in the making is surely a huge crowd-pleasing moment. I'm not sure I was as convinced that the Doctor really was playing along; without Missy I'm not show how he would have survived Davros's trap, but it wasn't a big enough grumble to ruin this brilliant episode.
And then we had the Doctor's encounter with Clara in the Dalek, Missy goading him by recounting how the Dalek before him killed poor Clara. I almost wondered if this would be the end, trapped in a Dalek just like her first encounter with the Doctor on screen. Fortunately her plea of mercy worked - a very un-Dalek feeling worked into their DNA. Mercy saved Clara's life and it saved Davros, as we finally saw the Doctor return to that battlefield to save the boy, even knowing what he would become.
It was a powerful ending to a gripping episode with Moffat's script, Hettie Macdonald's direction and Capaldi, Gomez, Coleman and Bleach all delivering staggeringly good performances. Giving this story a two-parter it deserved really allowed series nine open with a bang without feeling rushed, confused or ultimately superfluous. And it left us with many questions too. What will happen to the re-energised Daleks and Davros now that they know Gallifrey lives? What was the Doctor running from all those years ago? What is the legend of the hybrid? What is Missy's clever idea? I suspect the ramifications of The Magician's Apprentice and The Witch's Familiar will continue in the show for some time to come.
Last updated: 30/05/2018 18:57:55