The more I think back to “The Magician’s Apprentice”, the more I think I may have been too hasty in my praise. Perhaps I was as swept up in the return of Doctor Who as the script to that episode itself. Sure, it was all thunderingly good fun, and set things up for an adventurous second-half, but does “The Witch’s Familiar” spoil the whole she-bang? Is this whole story a tender exercise in debating whether or not the Doctor has the right to kill, coupled with some exquisite acting? Or was it an uninspired rehash of familiar moral ground disguised as an anti-climactic Dalek adventure?
I guess it was a bit of both. The Doctor remains trapped in the heart of the Dalek’s home, with the episode seeing himself and Davros constantly weaving in and out of each other’s trickery. The interaction between Davros and the Doctor was possibly the best thing about this episode. It lent a narrative drive and drew forth some riveting characterisation from both parties, giving the episode the kick up the arse it could have done more with.
That kick could also have been put to good use towards the episode’s greatest crime – how it underused the Daleks as a source of action. Between both instalments of this story, we’re treated to a visual blitzkrieg of the old and the new. Daleks from the Patrick Troughton and Sylvester McCoy era prowl throughout Skaro, as if they’re waiting for Moffat to deliver a spellbinding plot twist that will send the Doctor’s greatest enemy into full blown entertainment mode and give the Doctor his latest adventure.
What we end up getting however through the inevitable plot twist feels almost like a middle finger to the fans. The Daleks are granted a surge of extra power, but before we can see this power fully exploited, the Daleks once more fall victim to the Doctor’s never-ending winning streak. Davros’ plan never truly come to any fruition, robbing us of a fantastic battle between two iconic characters in cult television.
But that wasn’t really the purpose of this episode, was it?
It almost feels like both “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar” are subverting the classic Tom Baker serial “Genesis of the Daleks”, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. That serial is often held up as one of the best adventures from classic Who, but do you have to know “Genesis of the Daleks” inside-out to enjoy this adventure? Not one bit. Steven Moffat somehow has perfected his preference for plunging his hands into past Doctor Who, twisting and turning its insides out to horrific proportions, and somehow managing to produce something that’s watchable, fun and at times a little daring.
“The Witch’s Familiar” embodies this rather splendidly, but it’s still hampered somewhat. Davros’ tricking the Doctor into feeding him his own regeneration energy, but the Doctor being wary of this trick and using his regeneration energy to help him win the day felt immensely cheap, and arguably spoiled the delicate moments Davros shares with the Doctor. Those scenes were superbly executed and yet another testament to how solid Peter Capaldi is as the Doctor.
“The Witch’s Familiar” presented us with an interesting and actually quite enjoyable successor to “Genesis of the Daleks” (seriously, if you haven’t already done so, go watch it now!), but ultimately the episode gets bogged down by some tacky plot twists and at times an uneven direction. In “Genesis of the Daleks”, the Doctor asks a question that is now held up as a classic bit of dialogue. He has the power to kill the Daleks before they pose a genuine threat to the universe, but ponders on his own rights as a murderer. He asks, in that warm, low-humming voice if you spotted a child who you knew would grow up to be responsible for the slaughter of millions, would you kill that child? “The Witch’s Familiar” answers that question, but not without raising a few more in true Moffat fashion.
Overall grade – C
Overall story grade – B
+ The Doctor confronting Clara encased inside a Dalek
+ We finally know how Missy escaped her fate at the end of the last series!
+ Julian Bleach as Davros is utterly sublime.
– Davros be like “Lolz, I tricked your ass”. but then the Doctor be like “FU, I be trickin’ YOUR ass!”
– Missy’s plan to infiltrate the Dalek HQ felt overly bonkers, even b her standards. Did she stick Clara in the Dalek solely in the hopes that the Doctor would kill her?
Davros and the Doctor need their own buddy cop show, like a sci-fi Rush Hour.
The key to Clara not being exterminated by the Doctor is Clara getting her outer Dalek to scream “mercy”. The Doctor notes how this shouldn’t be in a Dalek’s vocabulary whatsoever. Doesn’t that go against the confrontation between the 9th Doctor and the captured Dalek in 2005’s “Dalek”? When the Doctor tortures the Dalek, it screams “have pity!”, whilst the Doctor doesn’t bad an eyelid to this.
Did you think “The Witch’s Familiar” was up to scratch? Let us know in the commemts section or send us a Tweet!