Published on September 28th, 2015 | by Brad0
Doctor Who – The Witch’s Familiar
After last week’s quite explosive start, Doctor Who slowed things down a little week with The Witch’s Familiar closing out the opening two-parter in some style. The entire episode is built around a conversation between two old enemies, one at the end of his life. The greatest joy of any Davros episode is just watching he and The Doctor having a conversation, and Peter Capaldi and Julian Bleach deliver on the highest level imaginable.
Picking up after the cliffhanger of The Magician’s Apprentice, the episode opens with Clara and The Master, very much alive, on the surface of Skaro. The Master imparts a tale of how The Doctor once survived insurmountable odds by using the enemy’s laser weapon to charge his teleporter and escape. Before falling into a nest of vampire monkeys, but that’s another story. She explains that that’s how she escaped both being blown up by the Cyber-Brigadier at the end of series 8 and how she and Clara escaped extermination last week. Michelle Gomez and Jenna Coleman have great chemistry together, and their quest to re-enter the Dalek citadel to save the Doctor is a thoroughly enjoyable sidebar.
Inside the citadel itself, The Doctor forces Davros out of his chair and takes it for a little joyride. Though he initially takes control of the situation, he’s recaptured by Colony Sarff, leading to the best gag of the episode. As he wakes up back in the infirmary, Davros greets him saying “I hope you are grateful. It wasn’t easy to procure, and very nearly unique of course. You should feel privileged. The only other chair on Skaro.” I have been chuckling at that line for days. The rest of The Witch’s Familiar plays out primarily as a two-hander between The Doctor and Davros in the infirmary, punctuated by Clara and The Master journeying across Skaro.
Obviously, we need to address the elephant in the room regarding Jenna Coleman’s imminent departure from the series. Personally, I’m always quite disappointed when I know these things in advance. I would have loved Clara’s departure to be a surprise. As is, we know about it, so the question now is how and when she goes out. It’s an odd thing for a two-parter so strongly focussed on the relationship between The Doctor and Davros to be named for The Doctor’s companion, but who else could The Magician’s Assistant and The Witch’s Familiar be? Obviously The Doctor and The Master are the magician and the witch.
As the episode progresses, The Master puts Clara inside the shell of a Dalek she’s just killed. This runs in parallel to her first appearance on Doctor Who, way back in 2012’s Asylum of the Daleks. As they’re setting her up, The Master demonstrates that the Dalek shell reinterprets Clara’s thoughts and words into Dalek-speak, twisting her fear and individuality to become hatred and conformity. And she revels in it. Michelle Gomez has been fabulous as The Master ever since her first appearance last year, but this two-parter might be her strongest work in the role yet. Satisfied in her work, The Master and Dalek-Clara head off to defeat the Daleks and save The Doctor.
The Witch’s Familiar is a fine way to cap off the two-part series opener, and another fascinating insight into the relationship between The Doctor and Davros. It’s an episode dripping with ominous foreboding, before delivering an explosive finale. The performances are uniformly superb, with special mention going to Julian Bleach as Davros and Michelle Gomez as The Master, each providing spectacular takes on The Doctor’s arch-nemeses. That it’s taken 40 years for these two sensational villains to meet on-screen is a genuine surprise, and their meeting doesn’t disappoint. Doctor Who series nine is off to a very strong start. Long may it continue!