Doctor Who 9.02: The Witch’s Familiar

Is it spoilery to announce my eternal love for Missy?

Ah, well. Spoilers are underneath the cut tag.

I could watch the Missy and Clara show all day. Seriously. Their interactions were fantastic. Clara knows that Missy is evil and utterly bonkers, but she also knows that the only way they’ll be able to rescue the Doctor is by working together. It makes for a fascinating dynamic, where they’re forced to work together despite not trusting or liking each other, and Clara can never predict what Missy will do next because she’s so unstable.

(Although I did feel that Clara should have known Missy would push her into the hole. It’s what I would have done in that circumstance. Of course Missy would use Clara as her ‘stone’.)

The image of Clara and Missy marching off to fight their way through a Dalek city armed with a sharp stick was perfect.

It also brought us another horrific and creepy image, which seems to be what Doctor Who is going for this season. The rotting remains of Daleks in the sewers, too damaged to operate a machine but still alive and aware, may actually be even more horrific than last week’s hand mines. If their cells are immortal, then of course the mutated thing inside the machines can’t die, unless they’re disintegrated. It fascinates me that the Daleks wouldn’t incinerate those remains. Is it because they don’t want to destroy their perfection, even worn out and rotted, or is it because they didn’t think about what happened to the remains after they stopped being useful?

After last week’s big spectaculars, I had been assuming that a lot of this episode would be a quieter character study and I was mostly right, for the Doctor’s story. I did rather love the scenes where he stole Davros’s chair and trundled off to threaten some Daleks, but otherwise, most of his scenes were two-handers with Davros that worked surprisingly well.

(As a side note, I’m both surprised and relieved that Davros had installed a working shield in his chair. Obviously, he can’t trust his creations, because they’ve always had a habit of turning on him and keeping him captive. I spent most of the episode assuming that’s what was happening here. But I did wonder whether his shield would actually work, because his Daleks have had a bad habit of outsmarting Davros over the years. What a relief that this wasn’t one of those times!)

Who knew that Davros could induce some empathy? The actor inside all that makeup did a fantastic job of making him seem genuinely sympathetic. For a few minutes, he had me completely fooled. I was actually feeling for Davros, dying on a recreation of his home world, all his people dead and the only remnants being the mutated creatures he’d created. When he told the Doctor to find his people and hold onto them, because being alone at the end is something he wouldn’t wish on anyone, I actually believed him. It was masterful, and a testament to the acting talents of Julian Bleach and Peter Capaldi.

Obviously, it all had to go wrong. This is Davros, after all. As soon as the Doctor’s started the hand glowing, I knew that this had to be some kind of Davros-ish plot to get his paws on regeneration energy. He’d been living like a parasite off his own creations – why wouldn’t he lure the Doctor in to get some real power back?

I wasn’t quite ready for Davros to feed the regeneration energy to the Daleks. Has there ever been a mention of that prophecy from Gallifrey before?

I’m pretty sure that’s not going to be the last we see of the Daleks and Davros. It never is. The intriguing thing will be whether the hybrid idea is an avenue Moffat comes back to, or whether it’s one that is allowed to quietly die the way the Dalek paradigm did. I’m in two minds about that. On the one hand, it could open up some interesting new plot directions, particularly if the Time Lords and Gallifrey are eventually brought back.

On the other hand, it could go terribly wrong.

We’ll have to see what Moffat does. One thought that I did have is that if the Time Lords return and the Daleks are still around, they’ll tear the universe apart again. That would be a plot Moffat (or whoever is in charge when it happens) would have to work through in some clever way.

I’m still not entirely convinced that the Doctor actually set up everything to work out the way it did. He’s intelligent, always thinking ahead, but he’s also very good at claiming to have planned something when he’s really flying by the seat of his pants. He’s a bit like a cat: something goes wrong, he lands with no dignity, but recovers in a moment and pretends he absolutely meant to do that.

One of the most interesting moments was the confrontation between the Doctor and Clara-in-the-Dalek. I kept flashing back to Asylum of the Daleks. I’m not sure whether that was deliberate, but it was impossible not to.

The idea that the computer that interprets the Daleks’ thoughts into words and actions turns them into negatives is fascinating. Converting love and fear into hate, and individuality in Daleks, makes me wonder what the creatures inside the tanks are really thinking each time they say “Exterminate”. It’s horrifying, in a sense. All strong emotion is turned into anger and shooting, even emotions that should be positive. Using “Exterminate” as a reload command makes an awful sort of sense.

Thank you, Missy, for that thought.

Seeing Clara’s desperation was painful. Watching the Doctor try to work out what was wrong with that Dalek was equally painful. Daleks are his worst nightmare, and we knew that his friend was trapped inside, too overwhelmed by her claustrophobia and fear to remember how to open it.

I’m still not completely sold on the idea that the Daleks inherited a tiny hint of mercy from their creator. That seems to stretch some ideas, but it did provide a moving climax to the Clara storyline, so I’m letting them get away with it.

The Doctor’s new wearable sonic may take some time to grow on me. It is less obvious that the screwdriver, which is always taken off him now when he’s captured, but I’m an old-fashioned fan who rather loved the idea of the Doctor’s main tool being an instrument of creation. I’m sure that I’ll get used to the sunglasses eventually, but it’s going to take some creative work to get me there. Please don’t overuse the gimmick, okay?

The final resolution to the boy!Davros story worked for me, even if I’m still dubious about the mercy part of the story. Of course the Doctor went back for him. Of course the Doctor’s shame was that he’d abandoned Davros. Of course he rescued Davros after all, and when he was pointing a gun, it was to destroy the hand mines and not the boy.

Of course.

(Except not quite “of course”, because this Doctor isn’t as obviously on the light side as some. He’s not predictable. There’s a lot of the Seventh Doctor in him, which is something I love. So, in retrospect, of course he went back to save Davros. But in the moment at the end of the last episode, I wasn’t sure.)

I’m having a few timeline induced headaches, trying to work out which version of events Davros remembered. Time-travel is so confusing. I love that Moffat uses time travel as a plot instead of a tool to get the Doctor to different settings, but sometimes that makes his stories confusing. Maybe it’s best to handwave that and pretend that it all worked out.

In conclusion: This is a much stronger return than last year’s season opener and I’m excited to see where these ideas are going. The prophecy Davros mentioned has to come back at some point. Is the hybrid really a Dalek-Time Lord hybrid, or is it something else? There is always a longer arc working underneath the episodes and I’m excited to see where this year’s arc is going.

I’m also looking forward to seeing Missy again, hopefully a few times. She’s such a fantastic character and her interactions with the Doctor and Clara light up every scene she’s in.

The episode wasn’t perfect, it never is, but it was closer to perfect than a lot of last year’s episodes. If this is the quality of what season nine is bringing, then I’m delighted. Now, we just need to bring back all the fans who abandoned ship last year and get those ratings back up!

Next week appears to be a ghost story. I’m starting to get a feeling that this year’s theme is “how scary and/or creepy can we make each episode?”, and I’m totally here for that. Bring on the scary!

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3 thoughts on “Doctor Who 9.02: The Witch’s Familiar

  1. I just hope we don’t end up with “the Daleks and Time Lords ARE DESTROYING THE UNIVERSE AGAAAAIN” because, well… again. Every season. The poor universe. But other than the usual little things, the season’s quite renewed my interest! Plus Oswin was my favorite version of Clara, so that nod was really interesting and I’d love to see them make more of it.

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    • Yup, a replay of the Time Wars (AGAIN) is the last thing I want. That’s why I’m wary about the Time Lords returning while the Daleks are still causing mayhem. If they do bring them back, the plotting is going to be very clever to explain why they’re not resuming the Time Wars, but I’d rather have that than universal destruction as a season climax…for the fiftieth time!

      I loved Oswin. She competes for my affections with 19th century Clara, but her souffles and her might just edge her out for me!

      And now you’ve got me wondering whether they’ll do anything with that nod, too.

      I’m hoping the new season is going to renew everyone’s interest. It felt like a lot of people got jaded towards the end of last year, but this feels so much fresher, and hopefully it’ll bring people back.

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