Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar (EPISODE REVIEW)

The Witch’s Familiar closes out our first two-part story of the season in excellent form, and Series 9 is off to a great start. With the surprise return of Davros last week, many were wondering where this story was headed. Would this be the story to kill off the Daleks? Is this truly the end of Davros? Will the events of Genesis of the Daleks be undone? And now we have our answers. This first story has taken the show far from it’s fairytale-centric mentality of seasons past, and given us a more cerebral, inverted look at who the Doctor really is. Spoilers do follow. (And I apologize for the late review. I generally like to watch an episode of Who twice before giving it a score).

The episode begins in a very meta fashion, with Missy telling a harrowing tale of how the Doctor escapes surefire death at the last second. She is telling this to a tied up Clara, while sharpening a stake. Why? Why not. But the question is asked, why does the Doctor always escape. Because he’s clever? Or is something greater happening? Some unseen web of fate guiding him, via hope? Interesting food for thought, whilst also giving us a brief explanation as to how Missy and Clara survive, in so many words. Strangely written, but exceptionally executed.

The most organic element of this episode entire story, is the time that the Doctor and Davros spend together. Many fans, myself included, wanted an episode purely about Davros and the Doctor in a room, talking. Much of this episode was just that. And it really was beautifully done. Despite Davros’ inevitable and downright low betrayal, we got such an incredible moment between the Doctor and one of the show’s most iconic villains. We were privileged to get such unreserved emotion out of such a manic and evil character. Davros weeped tears of joy for the Doctor! He laughed with the Doctor! And don’t one of you dare tell me those emotions were just a show to get the Doctor to do what he wanted him to. I truly feel as though he, despite his master plan, was indeed wrought with emotion – perhaps truly at the end of his life.

How the concept of Dalek sewers ever got passed the drawing board, I’ll never know. This is simply one of the most unnecessarily odd additions to their canon yet. Why couldn’t it just be a Dalek graveyard? Are we to assume all their excrement simply goes to the same place they put their “dead”? And now that the Doctor’s given them some life-force energy, do we have a giant fecal Dalek on the loose?

Davros’ plan to steal the Doctor’s regeneration magic for his own personal and his creations’ use was actually quite genius. I can’t think of a Doctor Who villain attempting to steal life-force energy in the past, so this is a great idea, as master plans go. Much better than, say, his last appearance when he stole a bunch of planets and planned to end the universe. This, along with the fact that his appearance this time around was so unique, make this one of my favorite Davros stories, right up there with his first appearance.

One has to wonder what Missy’s ultimate plan was throughout this story. Not that the Master ever truly needs one, but I’m kind of curious where she was headed. Was she trying to have the Doctor kill his companion? Was she attempting to get the Doctor to realize that the Daleks are suddenly more merciful beings now? Clara was definitely nothing but a tool for her to use, so was she trying to teach the Doctor something about himself? Or is she just crazy? Well, yes. She is crazy, and Michelle Gomez proves herself time and again a bonkers version of the Master, one I’m finally starting to truly appreciate. (Yes, yes, very hard to wrap head around the fact that the Master is a she now, blasphemy, pollution, agendas, death to the showrunner). If you don’t mind my comparison, you could compare the Doctor and the Master to Norse mythology. She’s very much the Loki to the Doctor’s Thor, wreaking mischief wherever she gets the opportunity.

Compassion proves the Doctor’s greatest weakness as he lets himself fall prey to Davros master plan, but as he mentions, he’d die of nothing else. And that’s the Doctor in a nutshell. Instead of going back in time to kill a young Davros before he could create the Daleks, he goes back to show a bit of compassion.

Hopefully those sunglasses don’t become the equivalent of the Sonic Screwdriver down the line. I’m really glad they got rid of the sonic device, and am not pleased that they simply replaced it with another. Here’s hoping it’ll only be used to recall the Hostile Action Displacement System (HADS).

12 thoughts on “Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar (EPISODE REVIEW)

  1. I like your comparison of Missy/The Master to Loki – more chaotic than pure driven evil. I know others disagree, but I have grown to really like the Missy/The Master – I enjoy villains with some whimsical flare.
    As to the sewer/graveyard – meh, there is always at least one element in any Doctor Who plot that you just have to chose not to question in order to enjoy it.

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  2. The sewer subplot seemed silly and completely unnecessary. Missy was also kind of not necessary BUT at least she was entertaining. I half hoped this would turn out to be the story of how that first Clara became a Dalek! But alas, no… meanwhile, I was torn as to whether to believe Davros almost fell for his own emotional trick or not. Also, someone in a different review pointed out that we have had Daleks say “Mercy” before… if nothing else, back in Matt Smith’s first series when River Song is about to kill that last one in the museum… so while you could say that’s all because of what happens in this episode, it shouldn’t be the first time someone heard the Daleks talk that way.

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  3. Not a good story. Moff is great at emotional beats and big set-pieces, but he is not good a stitching them all together into an organic story with a beginning, middle, and end. Huge sections of this season-opening two-parter defied credulity. The Daleks, as usual, did nothing for the whole story, and once again we are teased with the idea of the Daleks fundamentally reinventing themselves. The Dalek sludge is a moronic idea, and their attacks on the city conveniently paused when a big dialogue scene needed to be staged. Clara, The Most Important Person In The Universe in Moff’s previous seasons, here could not get out of the Dalek shell because she did not know how to think the word “open”. Missy had some arresting scenes, but her character makes no sense — she is playing half Alex Kingston and half Anthony Ainley. The sunglasses are another sad example of BBC Enterprises and merchandising driving the narrative — the way that the final season of “Breaking Bad” was scripted to push hashtags on Twitter, and that the New Paradigm Daleks were conceived simply to sell toys.

    So, some great moments, and Julian Bleach nailed it. But, mostly a set of disconnected moments calculated to make you stand-up-and-cheer (like the Doctor in Davros’ chair) which were completely forgotten about five minutes later.

    Fun to talk about now, but will be considered near-unwatchable in five years’ time.

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    1. Agree with almost all of this (Davros excluded as the actor is a feeble pale shadow of the malevolence of Wisher or even Molloy) , the Daleks have been shorn of all threat/potency and are now just there as props to be bashed up by whoever features in that story. Terry Nation must be turning in his grave


  4. ahh, Missy is played just SOOO well. (Obviously just one man’s tastes, though my teens agree.)
    Naturally we were meant to think this is how Clara became Soufflé Girl, and I kept expecting that.
    I came to this show late in the current run… Just before Season 7 started. So I think I get to watch it with a grain of salt rather than worry about what has become of something precious from my childhood. An unfair advantage perhaps, but I can sit back and enjoy the ride without being frustrated by the changes along the way.

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  5. Sorry but I hated it more than a Kaled hates a Thal. For me Who has departed so far from the original tv show I so loved when growing up that I fear this season will be the last for me if I can stomach it that far. Sad to say but I couldn’t find one redeeming feature, even a actor of Capaldi’s stature cant save it for me now. Infact all I found myself thinking was of the physical harm I would inflict on Michelle Gomes if I ever has the misfortune to meet her…


    1. That’s understandable. I don’t feel the same way. The only constants in the show’s history have been change and the TARDIS. If you’re finding more to choke on than you’re actually getting out of it, then yeah – it’s time to drop the program. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

      I was watching City of Death the other day and I couldn’t help but think this felt just like a Capaldi episode – of course, my thinking was backwards. It would be Capaldi channeling Baker. But that’s just a testament to how vastly different we are coming at the program.

      I am a critic at heart. I’m not afraid to point out flaws in something. But I’m also not afraid to make excuses, especially if something is new, if something is actively trying to be different from itself, and succeeds. Success, too, is dependent on the beholder. What works for me may not work with someone who’s been with the program much earlier.

      The rebooted show is run by fans of the classic series. And many episodes do feel like fan fiction accordingly. But that’s to be expected of a show this old, with such an incredible following. I think, in the efforts of making the show work for the ever changing modern viewership, relying on the efforts of the show’s past is a risk, as 9/10 times the past has been extremely campy, and the goal going forward is to make it legitimate scifi.

      Liked by 1 person

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