Doctor Who: 902 “The Witch’s Familiar” Review
Reviewed by John Hussey.
The problem with having high-stake cliff-hangers is that your expectation of how they are resolved heightens. ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ left us with many questions, namely concerning the fate of Clara, the Master and the TARDIS after all had seemingly been exterminated by the Daleks. Come the start of ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ we already have one resolution to the cliff-hanger, but sadly to no great affect. It is revealed, once again, that Steven Moffat resorted to using his favourite get-out-of-jail-free-card: the Vortex Manipulator.
With Clara and the Master safely rescued in such an underwhelming way it made me disappointed as to how many quality ideas had been thrown away. Last week’s conclusion gave the impression that the Doctor would be going to hell and back to rescue Clara, to the extent of threatening a Young Davros with death. Alas, this didn’t happen.
The conflict between the Doctor and Davros was truly the highlight of this week’s narrative. They both have such a strong chemistry together and Moffat did deliver a new side to that conflict. For the first time, ever, we saw the Doctor actually disable Davros through stealing his life-support system. Though the scene can be seen as humorous, it remains sinister and desperate. It also served as a nice piece of misdirection to us the audience. The slow build-up to the reveal made me believe that we’d be getting a scene similar to that of ‘Destiny of the Daleks’ where the Doctor started wheeling Davros around the corridors of Skaro’s city. So it was a true shocker moment to see the Doctor in the chair and Davros helpless on the floor of the infirmary.
It was interesting to see Missy’s examination of how the Doctor operates within any dangerous situation. As Clara helped to point out, the Doctor always believes there is a way out and that’s how he wins. He isn’t just being clever, he’s being optimistic. So, come him sitting in Davros’ chair before the Dalek Council we can see that he is desperate, out of ideas and simply running on instinct. A man without a plan and without hope. This is the Doctor at his most confident and dangerous.
The majority of the episode served as a slow conversational battle between the Doctor and Davros as they slowly tried to understand one another. The Doctor learnt that Davros was surviving from the heartbeat of every single Dalek on Skaro, granting the sinister possibility that the Doctor could easily use this connection to exterminate them all at once. One massive genocide to rid the universe from his greatest enemy.
Davros then started to unwind. He showed compassion for the first time. After all their battles, Davros decided to, on the eve of his death, to reveal something new. The Doctor became bewildered by this new side to the evil genius, seeing for the first time a sign of humanity at the heart of the Dalek race. The moment that the Doctor mentioned the saving of Gallifrey, Davros gave a massive congratulation. He was actually happy to hear the Doctor’s home return. He expressed his feelings of everyone needing a home, a place to return where they can interact with their own race.
It was a brilliant twist when Moffat used the Twelfth Doctor’s own question from ‘Into the Dalek’ on Davros. The evil creator asked if he was “a good man”. This question bothered the Twelfth Doctor throughout Series Eight as he tried to understand his new self. Now Davros asked the same question to justify whether or not he made the right choices in creating the Daleks, wondering whether their birth was in the best interest of the Kaleds. It was almost like Davros wanted to use this last encounter so that the pair of them could atone for their sins. This confrontation really allowed them both to gain a greater understanding of one another. We also learnt that perhaps there was a greater reason for the Doctor leaving Gallifrey, that maybe he did something he was ashamed of, making his quest to save Gallifrey all the more meaningful.
Davros for the first time felt harmless, and you sympathised with him. In his dying hour you could see the Young Davros resurface and cry out a sense of helplessness. In wanting to see the sun with his own eyes, and even crying in both happiness and sadness, made this a wonderful moment in the history of the show.
Unfortunately this moment didn’t last and the entire conversation was simply a ploy to unfold Davros’ actual plans. It made me feel cheated that this great piece of character development was wasted. I actually wanted Davros to redeem himself, to realise his mistakes and confess his emotions to the Doctor. At the same time it was a fantastic twist within the narrative, pulling the rug from underneath your feet as it were. I didn’t see it coming and made the devious Davros all the more cunning. What made this scheme all the more clever was that Davros literally used the Doctor’s greatest weakness, compassion, against him. This scene had the same greatness as the Cyber-Leader threatening Tegan Jovanka in ‘Earthshock’ in order to make a point to the Fifth Doctor.
I can honestly say though that this was where, for me, the narrative really fell apart. The whole plan of using the Doctor’s regeneration energy to revive Davros and renew the Daleks was quite cheap and lazy of an idea. Plus it didn’t really go anyway. By this point you realise that between two episodes we haven’t actually gone anywhere. There had been no real threat throughout. The only threat was Clara, the Master and the TARDIS being destroyed, but even most of that was revealed to be false within mere seconds after it happened. I suppose Missy was more of a threat than the Daleks, having killed multiple UNIT officers and tormenting Clara throughout. This entire opener felt like a waste of time in many ways because so many great ideas were either abandoned, or simply wasted, leaving me feeling less impressed. It simply didn’t go anywhere after so much build-up.
After a couple of minutes where the Daleks thought they had won, similar to ‘Journey’s End’, their entire plan unfolded. However, unlike with ‘Journey’s End’, the resolution felt more impressive and less annoying. It reminded me of the manipulation the Seventh Doctor bestowed upon Davros in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’. Davros even repeated his line of “this cannot be correct” as he slowly realised he’d been played by the Doctor and used to destroy the Daleks once more. With the regeneration energy reaching out to every single Dalek on Skaro it hadn’t occurred that it would also renew the decaying Daleks within the sewers. With that they revolted, an army of insane Daleks rising up to attack the sane. With that “the final end” came, a sickening display of dying Daleks throughout their revived city.
We also got to a point where Missy and Clara’s appearance within the second part was also pointless. They didn’t do much for the entire episode except for being used as a tool to indicate an important plot-point for the episode’s resolution, i.e. the decaying Daleks in the sewer. I was also still left with unanswered questions as to why Classic Daleks had returned. Yes they looked nice, but why were they there? They didn’t exactly do much. Come to think of it, none of the Daleks did much. And why was UNIT brought back for part one if they weren’t going to be significant for the rest of the plot?
It has come to my attention that I feel Moffat is losing his touch. His episodes aren’t what they used to be of late, aside from ‘Last Christmas’. ‘Dark Water/Death in Heaven’ was unimpressive and this year’s opener was very similar, if slightly better because of more interesting scenes. But you can’t say an episode is impressive just because a few scenes throughout happened to be extraordinary. You have to look at the episode as a whole and, honestly, it didn’t stand-up well because it was all over the place. ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ spent too long building things up, and over- exaggerating the threat, whilst ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ continued to be slow, showing no signs of a real threat until the very end where it is brushed over within moments.
The part where Missy tried to have the Doctor kill Clara, who was stuck inside a Dalek, served as another impressive scene (perhaps disguising how bad the plot had got by that point). At least it felt like Missy and Clara’s scenes together had come to some sort of meaning. It really demonstrated how sinister and psychotic Missy’s incarnation is, echoing the Master as a whole, by trying to manipulate his oldest friend to kill his companion unknowingly. Why? Because it’s what the Master does. He enjoys killing and toying with the Doctor’s self-righteousness.
However, this scene would have been better had the Doctor been tricked because then it would have given more meaning towards the Doctor’s return to young Davros. I really feel the entire plot missed out on some quality storytelling. Why bother having such dilemmas if you’re not going to do anything interesting with them? All the Doctor did was go back and introduce a concept of mercy to Davros just so Clara could tap into the emotion whilst she’s a Dalek. Pointless. Absolutely pointless and a waste.
Looking at this two-parter as a whole, it really is disappointing. I enjoyed it, but not to its absolute fullest. This story reminded me of ‘The Power of Three’. I enjoyed the whole concept of the Doctor’s relationship with Amy and Rory, and the dilemmas involved, but felt it fell flat with the rest of the narrative and resulted in a rushed, unsatisfying conclusion. Sums up this opener in a nutshell. Enjoyed the conflict between the Doctor and Davros, but the rest of the narrative was really disappointing, and the ending felt rushed and unfinished.
I feel as though my love of Doctor Who is fading. I just don’t enjoy it as much as I used to. I’m currently watching Arrow and The Flash and I love those shows, more than Doctor Who. It’s no longer my favourite and from ‘Flatline’ onwards most of the episodes have left me feeling underwhelmed. I now just think the show is okay. Sad really since I’ve loved the show since a child. Here’s hoping the next two-parter can be a little more productive.