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Saturday, 23 April 2016

Doctor Who 9-02: The Witch's Familiar

Episode:815|Serial:254|Writer:Steven Moffat|Air Date:26-Sep-2015

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm writing all kinds of words about The Witch's Familiar, the second half of The Magician's Apprentice.

The weird thing about this year of Doctor Who is that it's almost entirely made up of two parters. Classic Doctor Who was all about the serialisation and when it came back to TV last decade in a new format it still managed to fit a few two parters in each series, but from 2012 to 2014 it shunned serials and stuck with standalone episodes almost exclusively, so the return of the cliffhanger is a bit of a surprise.

Personally I think this can go either way, because some of the best episodes of the show have been two parters (like The Empty Child, The Impossible Planet and Silence in the Library), but Doctor Who's kind of all over the place in quality and I don't much like the idea of being trapped in a bad story for two parts.

Anyway my writings will be filled with all kinds of SPOILERS for this two parter, but nothing that comes after it. I'll discuss the future when I get there.

Previously on Doctor Who: The Doctor, his sidekick Clara and the new female incarnation of The Master (Missy) were taken to visit a dying Davros, the sinister mad scientist who created the Daleks. But they didn't realise he was spending his last few days on the Dalek homeworld of Skaro, pretty much the best place in the universe to visit if you want to get yelled at and then shot.

The Doctor ended up locked inside Davros's office, forced to watch as the TARDIS was dissipated by a big Dalek laser gun and his companions were disintegrated by smaller Dalek guns. But then he somehow appeared in the past to shoot young Davros and change the timeline.

So that's why it's a bit weird that the episode starts with Missy sharpening a stick out in the wasteland while Clara's busy hanging from a rock. To help Clara understand why she's not dead, Missy tells a story from the Doctor's past.

She's not specific about which Doctor though, so we see lookalikes for the Fourth and First Doctors before the flashback settles on Twelve. Personally I was hoping that if we ever got a Doctor flashback it'd be Paul McGann's Eight again; the guy needs more screen time.

Anyway the unspecified Doctor was, at this time, being chased by a team of invisible android assassins armed with energy weapons; basically what you get when you cross a Predator with a Terminator. He had a teleporter thing on his wrist but it was out of juice and inoperative, and now Missy wants Clara to work out how he got himself out of this dilemma, if she wants to get out of her own dilemma.

You see, Missy's sharpening a stick so that she can hunt for lunch and Clara's tied up in case there's nothing to hunt for. It's not cannibalism if a Time Lady eats a human!

Turns out that the Doctor was shot at by a bunch of androids simultaneously, and in a split second figured out a way to use the incoming energy blasts to power his teleporter! Because he's clever. Missy then used the same principal with her vortex manipulator, and that's how she keeps surviving being disintegrated by energy weapons. So we finally get an explanation for how she's not dead.

Thing is, the teleportation effect looked entirely different last time she faked her death in Death in Heaven. It didn't look like she was shot by a Dalek for one thing.

I guess her wrist mounted time travel device has a setting for 'briefly show the skeleton during transport', just to trick Daleks.

So now they've got to walk back into the heart of the Dalek city to rescue the Doctor and find a way off Skaro, armed with just a single pointy wooden stick. Plus the knife she sharpened it with, but they don't mention that. They're really building up the enormity of their task here and the enormity of the music helps. Though it does make it a little tricky to make out what's being said.

The trouble with Doctor Who is that they like to get through a lot of dialogue very quickly, so I completely missed a line here about the vortex manipulators getting shorted out with the energy blast. I was very confused why they weren't simply teleporting back in until I went back and rewatched the scene.

Meanwhile the Doctor has gotten the upper hand on Davros by finding himself a Dalek gun! It was just over on the table the whole time apparently.

Davros is dying and leaving his life support set up here will kill him even faster, but the Doctor orders him out. The guy just watched his best friend, his arch frenemy, and his home get disintegrated and he's not in a cheerful mood. The last episode ended with the Doctor pointing a very similar looking gun at Young Davros in the past, so I guess this is leading up to him getting out and travelling back in time.

Outside, Clara and Missy have a good view of the Dalek city and know that something's up. The Daleks have learned that Davros's chair is moving and that throws the whole city of them into a panic. I had no idea the hateful little tanks cared!

They're mostly just buzzing around in the sky being useless though, aside for the acrophobic Daleks scooting around on the Dalek highway down there on the bottom right.

But Davros never left his room, the Doctor just stole his chair! He also stole a cup of tea from somewhere along the way, which should irritate the hell out of me, but doesn't. I guess I'm just happy to give things a free pass if it pisses off Daleks, so the Doctor bursting into their control centre and asking them if they want to play bumper cars made me smile.

For once they actually just shoot the Doctor instead of giving him the time to pull something, but it doesn't work out for them as Davros is paranoid enough to put a forcefield in his chair! It's one way only though, and the Doctor's brought his gun, so the Supreme Dalek shows some real Dalek balls when he explains that they aren't pulling a cunning trick on him and they really did just shoot his friend dead.

Then suddenly, snakes! Turns out Davros's snakey friend Colony Saarf  had stowed part of himself in the chair, and they soon overpower him. So Davros has been sitting on a pile of snakes this whole time, just in case. That's the kind of outside the box thinking you need to be a top tier Doctor Who villain; the Cybermen would've never tried to pull this off.

The Magician's Apprentice wasn't great on its own, but I love that it's brought us to the point where a man being attacked by a chair full of snakes isn't just plausible, but something a lot of people probably saw coming.

Elsewhere on Skaro, Missy and Clara have found their way down into the city's sewer system, after dropping something down to make sure the fall was safe. Trouble is Missy chose to drop Clara, and she's kind of pissed off about it.

She's even less happy when she ends up cuffed to a security monitor waiting for the Daleks to come shoot her (again).

So the Doctor carries a sonic screwdriver and psychic paper, while Missy carries a knife and handcuffs; makes sense. Missy may be as smart, weird and charming as the Doctor, but she's also a mass murdering megalomaniac, and Clara's learning that being her assistant isn't exactly fun times. Or being her pet I should say, considering how Missy looks down at humanity.

I was pretty sure that Clara was the 'Magician's Apprentice' last week and now I'm absolutely certain she's the 'Witch's Familiar' as well. Unfortunately Missy's not quite as kind to her human as Blofeld is to his cat.

A Dalek eventually makes its way down there to investigate the intruder cuffed to the security camera, only to suffer Missy's devastating pin attack! She pierces his metal shell several times with a Gallifreyan brooch pin, leading to absolutely zero issues for the mean alien in the tank.

Well except for an attack by evil sewage, which catches its smell through the holes, and seeps into the casing to kill the Dalek inside.

Turns out that the sewage down here is made up from decaying Daleks, too stubborn to die. How angry sapient goop can move isn't really explained, but you definitely don't want it inside your electronics as the afflicted Dalek soon explodes.

Also not explained: why Missy describes what's happening in a weird American accent.

Meanwhile the Doctor wakes up from his snake nap to discover he's back in Davros's infirmary lair. The evil mastermind has his chair back, and reveals to the Doctor that he has achieved the near impossible: he's found him the only other seat on Skaro to sit on.

Davros explains that those cables in the middle of the room are linked to every Dalek on the planet, and he's been drawing their energy like a vampire to hang on to life. Turns out that the Daleks have a genetic defect that he was unable to eliminate: they show mercy for their creator. In this episode at least, I'm sure they've hated him in others.

He's sure keen on getting the Doctor to stick his hand in the cables, possibly because some of them are secretly Colony Saarf in disguise! I'm surprised the episode straight up gives away that this is a trap so early.

Davros tries to get the Doctor to consider the potential of what he's got here. He could totally use these cables to wipe the Daleks out, commit planetary genocide and kill them once and for all! Well, the ones living on Skaro anyway.

It must have seemed like a foolproof plan to the old lunatic, piss the Doctor off enough, then lock him in with a device he can cleverly rework to get revenge. The Doctor loves outwitting villains and he's known to get a bit genocidey when he's emotional. But even when Davros basically spells out what he could do with it, the Doctor's compassion still overrides his temptation. Either that or knows something's up.

Down in the sewers, Missy is working on phase two of her scheme...

... putting Clara inside the Dalek shell! Makes sense to me, seeing as she was a Dalek the first time we met her (kind of). So that plate bolted to the front splits down the middle then? Hang on, I've got a better question: where's all the goop gone? And didn't this thing explode a minute ago?

The Dalek casing is controlled telepathically, so Missy asks Clara to try saying some things to see how the machine interprets it.
"I am Clara Oswald." = "I am a Dalek."
"I don't understand." = "I do not understand."
"I love you." = "Exterminate."
"You are different from me." = "Exterminate."
"Exterminate." = "Exterminate."
Clara's a bit agitated by this and that gets the gun firing, which Missy dodges way too many times to for me to take seriously. I love Michelle Gomez at the Master, but she really needs to do less dancing.

Now I want to go back and watch episodes like Dalek and Asylum of the Daleks because I'm sure the Daleks have expressed more than this scene implies they're capable of. Oh, Victory of the Daleks as well I suppose... actually I've suddenly gone off the idea entirely.

It also seems really strange that Clara can even fit inside a Dalek shell, considering the size of the creatures that usually drive them, but Ian Chesterton did the same thing way back in the first serial the creatures were introduced in, so I can't argue with that.

Back in Davros's laboratory, the mad old scientist has changed the topic to the Doctor's confession dial, theorising that his sealed confession has something to do with why he ran from Gallifrey in the first place 35 seasons ago. The Doctor flips out when Davros puts his hands near the box saying that some things matter a lot to him and reaches in to recover... his sunglasses.

So I guess the dial wasn't just a plot device to get Missy and Clara into the story then. The writer might not have any use for it now but he's definitely drawing attention to it.

The Doctor gets sick of his questioning and decides to reveal that the Time War between the Daleks and Time Lords didn't actually end with the destruction of Gallifrey, as he found a way to save his people! Well that has to be the #1 dumbest possible thing to ever say to the creator of the Daleks. I mean seriously, why would you ever do that? Way to set up Time War II, hero.

Davros is actually happy for him though. Then he pulls a Darth Vader and claims he wants to look at him with his own eyes.

Huh, he has actual eyes? I always thought he was blind except for his forehead eye. Then again I don't really know much of anything about Davros, as he's only made the one appearance in modern Doctor Who and that was 7 years ago.

Davros wants to know if he's a good man, the same thing the Doctor was asking himself all last year, which makes the Doctor realise that he really must be dying. He didn't really believe it until now. Davros's response is perfect:
"Then we have established one thing only. You are not a good Doctor."
This gets the two of them to crack up laughing, which is pretty impressive seeing as the Twelfth Doctor might be the most miserable and grumpy of all of them. Then again he's lightened up a lot over the last few episodes. He's almost a different person compared to how he was in his first few episodes, and not just because he's been growing his hair our.

Davros wants to see the sunrise one more time with the eyes of his true self, so the Doctor does the compassionate thing and runs over to plug cables directly into his chair to keep him going a few more minutes. But all the Daleks on Skaro aren't enough to give him the strength to keep his eyes open, so the Doctor decides to sacrifice a tiny piece of his own life for him.

And so the dumbass gets caught in Davros's trap. The fake snake cables grab him and hold him in place as the device drains him dry of regeneration energy and pumps it into every Dalek on Skaro. As mistakes go, this has to rank quite high.

Davros is feeling a lot more awake now he's stolen some of the Doctor's years and decides to switch topic. He mentions that there is a prophecy on Gallifrey of a Time Lord/Dalek hybrid, and that's why he's been running all these years! So is sapping his energy going to create a hybrid then, or is this supposed to be something the Doctor did before leaving? Either way it seems a bit unlikely seeing as the Doctor hadn't even heard of the Daleks until after leaving his world.

Meanwhile Missy had been escorted by Dalek Clara all the way back up to the command centre, and was busy dancing again when the Daleks were hit with regeneration energy and fell silent. Seriously Missy, less dancing would be better.

Also her plan here was absolutely terrible. She was going to trade them the location of Clara Oswald for access to Davros's room... despite the fact that they shot Clara dead the last time they got their hands on her. That should be a pretty big clue that Clara is of absolutely zero worth to them, and neither is she.

Anyway, with all the Daleks temporarily frozen, Missy takes the opportunity to ditch Dalek Clara and go run to the infirmary. She apparently grabs the gun from a Dalek (somehow) then uses it to blast Davros's cable contraption, killing the CGI snakes and saving the Doctor!

But they're still stuck on Skaro and now they're surrounded by renewed Daleks... which are basically just regular Daleks actually, so I'm not sure how anything's changed here.

The Doctor's response to all this is to count down from three, with room shaking at the end of his countdown. Seems that all the Daleks got the benefit of the regeneration energy, including the goop in the sewers, and now it's rising up against them! And Missy doesn't have to poke any holes into them this time. Though she does take a moment to poke Davros in his cyborg eye and run off. And that's the historic first encounter between the Doctor's two greatest antagonists.

So hang on, the Doctor just defeated Davros by... going along with his plan, knowing it would inevitably backfire on him? Really? Though I suppose it makes sense that the Doctor didn't want to destroy the Daleks and he was hoping Davros was genuine. By letting Davros be the one to choose whether or not to spring the trap, the Doctor gets to give him the benefit of the doubt and wreck the city guilt free.

The Doctor's still convinced that Clara's still alive, but Missy gives him the bad news: she was killed outside the city, and this Dalek was the one who did it. The one who's doing absolutely nothing to harm them right now. Inside the shell Clara's trying to explain herself but all the words she's choosing are banned by the hardware.

I like the idea behind this scene, but man it doesn't do the Daleks any favours if she can't even get the thing to say "Missy is lying, help me get out of this Dalek casing". C'mon Clara, try some of your catchphrases on him! Tell him to "run you clever boy" or talk about soufflé.

She eventually manages to make it say "Mercy", which surprises the Doctor as Daleks shouldn't really have that word in their vocabulary. It's nothing new though, as I remember a Dalek begging for mercy back in The Pandorica Opens. Either way he's not about to kill a creature after it surrenders. Well except for that once back in series 1's Dalek, but he was emotional at the time.

So he gets the case open and there's Clara inside, very happy to not be shot.

Missy explains that she was trying to teach him something about the friend inside the enemy and the enemy inside the friend, and how everyone's a bit of both... like a hybrid, but he's very keen for her to get out of his sight and he's the one with the gun so she leaves. They could have had so many adventures together if she'd just resisted the urge to trick him into murdering his friends.

With the building coming down around them and goop attacking the Daleks, the Doctor and Clara are able to get back to the room where the TARDIS was blasted, where he reveals what he's going to use to get them away from Skaro...

...his sonic sunglasses!

Turns out that his glasses really are the most important thing in the world to him right now, as he's replaced his sonic screwdriver with wearable technology, which he uses to summon the TARDIS back. I figured he'd get over his issues and make a new screwdriver, but this is actually better.

And so the TARDIS un-explodes out of fragments around them.

The TARDIS had apparently 'redistributed itself' to get the Daleks to quit shooting at it, which is a new trick that I really don't like. Mostly because it's total bullshit. How does a ship that's likely bigger on the inside than this entire city reform from a few pieces? How does anything reform from pieces and still work?

So the resolution of the cliffhanger from last week is 'everyone faked their deaths, including the TARDIS'. That's not all that satisfying really.

Anyway, they've both gotten away safely, yet again. Missy on the other hand is trapped inside a collapsing city surrounded by angry Daleks, with no possible way to escape... though she's got a very clever idea!

The Doctor's still a bit confused about why the Daleks were programmed with the concept of mercy though. But then it suddenly clicks with him and he runs off to his TARDIS alone, apparently leaving Clara trapped alone on the planet of the Daleks (I'm sure he'll come back for her).

This finally brings the episode back to the cliffhanger at the end of Magician's Apprentice, with the Doctor returning to Young Davros in the minefield, pointing a Dalek gun at him and saying "Exterminate!"

But it turns out he's actually back to blast the minefield with his ray gun. He shoots the Dalek weapon rapid fire and gets a hit with every shot! The Doctor's a lot like Batman in that he doesn't like guns much, but if he absolutely has to use one he's not going to miss.

So the shameful act that Davros recently remembered wasn't the Doctor abandoning him, it was the Doctor showing compassion and saving him from the minefield, imprinting on him the importance of mercy. Though he also imprints on him the word 'exterminate' and the importance of overwhelming firepower, so good job Doctor.


Wow, that's two episodes in a row now where we don't get to see the Doctor or his companion inside the TARDIS control room. I can't remember the last time that's happened.

The Witch's Familiar is definitely a stronger episode than the first part I reckon, mostly because it's about something. The Magician's Apprentice had the characters screwing around on the way to the story, while this gets down to business. It's also more focused as it splits the characters into two pairs and then sticks with them instead getting distracted by Colony Saarf's adventures across the Whoniverse or UNIT being rubbish. That said, it's a bit of a shame that so much introduced in the first part was left behind there. I thought we might at least return to UNIT for the epilogue.

I've not seen much of classic Doctor Who, so I've no idea what kind of conversations the Doctor and Davros have had in the past, but it turns out having them locked in a room together is at least as interesting as watching people run down corridors for 40 minutes. I knew the mad scientist was playing the Doctor the whole time, they showed the snakes amongst the cables, but the actor puts on such a fantastic performance as he switches tactics to take advantage of his adversary's compassion that I almost expected there to be a twist. The other pairing was also good, though it made me wish that Missy was a little less irredeemably murdery so she could join the TARDIS crew and continue tormenting Clara across the cosmos. But I respect they kept her true to her character. She doesn't suddenly "turn good".

Also I'm glad this episode didn't retcon out most of Doctor Who history by changing Davros's past, but I can't help be disappointed that the cliffhanger ending last episode was basically a complete fake out. Missy and the TARDIS both faked their deaths in different ways and the time travel trip didn't happen until after the events of the episode. I hope the Doctor's learned something from all this though: it's better to go back into the time machine and find the proper tool than to convince a child to walk across a minefield. Also if the Daleks think they've blown up your homeworld, don't tell them otherwise. Also don't willingly give up a ridiculous amount of your own life to save your arch-nemesis.

So with its high production values, great acting and a decent script I'd have to say this is my favourite episode so far this series, out of the two that I've seen. Plenty of room for the next episode to improve on it though.

Doctor Who will eventually return with Under the Lake. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm going to be watching James Cameron's Aliens!

Please leave a comment if you feel like it. Let me know what you think about The Witch's Familiar, my writing or the site in general.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not a fan of Davros at all. He was a bit overused in the 80's and became a bit of a joke, and I wasn't too pleased to see him return in Tennant's episodes. That said, they did a great job with him in this episode; as you say, it's obvious he's up to something but he almost convinces you that he's not.

    The rest of the episode is a bit choppy, but that Doctor/Davros confrontation is gold.