Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Somewhere Between Brilliance And Idiocy Is "The Witch's Familiar!"

The Good: Moments of character for The Doctor and Davros, Performances
The Bad: Clara is portrayed as an utter moron, Very predictable reversals
The Basics: "The Witch's Familiar" pits The Doctor against Davros while Clara falls prey to Missy on Skaro.

With Doctor Who's new season getting off to a good start, it has been quite a week of anticipation around my house. My wife has gotten into the new Doctor Who and taken me along with her enough that I actually care about what is going on. The new season has a fairly inventive concept; it is made up of small arcs with virtually every pair of episodes being a two-parter that is directly connected. As a result, the season premiere "The Magician's Apprentice" (reviewed here!) leads directly into "The Witch's Familiar." The second episode of the new season picks up immediately where the prior episode left off and it is impossible to discuss the episode without some minor spoilers about plot events from "The Magician's Apprentice."

In the week between "The Magician's Apprentice" and "The Witch's Familiar," I began to feel like the follow-up episode would have a sense of familiarity to it. After all, the plot progression of "The Magician's Apprentice" concluded in such a way that it seemed like "The Witch's Familiar" would have some strong similarities to last year's episode of The Flash, "Rogue Time" (reviewed here!). "The Magician's Apprentice" climaxed with The Doctor having the opportunity to right the wrong he perpetrated at the outset of the episode. "The Witch's Familiar" takes an annoyingly unlinear detour from the last scene of the previous episode in order to tell its story and lead, somewhat inorganically, to where the viewer knows it has to go.

Clara awakens upside down while Missy is sharpening a stick. Using an example from The Doctor's life, Missy finally explains how she survived the assassination from the Cyberman who was The Doctor's undead ally. Clara realizes that Missy teleported the two of them using the Dalek's energy beams. While The Doctor hijacks Davros's chair, Missy shoves Clara into a Dalek sewer, which is coated with the Dalek sludge that is the rotting, but alive Dalek essence. The Doctor holds the Dalek's hostage to try to get them to bring him Clara, believing she is not dead.

When The Doctor is captured by Colony Sarff, he is reunited with Davros. As Davros dies, he plays his endgame to attempt to trap The Doctor using The Doctor's own compassion. In the Dalek sewer, Missy entraps a Dalek and then plugs Clara into its armor. The Doctor must thwart both the machinations of Davros and Missy to save himself and Clara.

While Missy dominates much of "The Witch's Familiar," her part hinges on Clara being recharacterized as a complete moron. Clara is dropped, thrown into a pit, handcuffed and then plugged into a Dalek's armor all by Missy. Clara lets Missy turn her back on her and allows herself to be plugged into the Dalek all the while accepting the premise that she and Missy have to work together to save The Doctor. There is something unsatisfying about the episode lacking as "You first" response from Clara when Missy opens the Dalek's armor and tells the Companion to "get in."

When the somewhat ridiculous, manic subplot with Missy is not on screen, "The Witch's Familiar" is an engaging series of scenes that are basically The Doctor and Davros talking. Davros attempts to tempt The Doctor utilizing a tether between Davros and his Daleks. Davros slowly builds his manipulation of The Doctor through simple conversation and the scenes are surprisingly engaging. The closest science fiction analogy is the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Duet" (reviewed here!) and while "The Witch's Familiar" does not quite rise to that level of depth, it is similarly intriguing to watch two people needle at one another for about half an hour (the Clara/Missy subplot is a real time eater).

The performances in "The Witch's Familiar" are homogeneously good. Poor Jenna Coleman is given the role of a rube to play, but she leaps into it without any apparent objection to how radically simple her character has become. There is not even a hint in Coleman's performance that Clara has any idea she is unquestioningly following the orders of the woman who killed the man she loved. Michelle Gomez perfectly hits the same one note of Missy's insanity each and every time.

Peter Capaldi and Julian Bleach play off one another amazingly as The Doctor and Davros. As Davros moves toward death, Capaldi's wordless performance in reaction to his co-star is impressive. In the moments leading up to the laugh that Davros and The Doctor share, Capaldi is intense and amazing. Bleach holds his own opposite Capaldi and he plays the part as if he was born for it!

"The Witch's Familiar" does a decent job of laying and springing the traps from The Doctor's enemies, but it continues a number of annoying trends in Doctor Who. First and foremost of these is that "Day Of The Doctor" rewrote the end of the Time War. Davros provides the viewers with a unique opportunity to explore the Dalek perspective to the end of that war. How did these Daleks get revitalized or saved? The closest we get is Davros's explanation that these Daleks built Skaro out of their own love of home. Having not been a Doctor Who fan for long, I'm unsure if Davros's last minute Time Lord Prophecy was a previously-established thing, but the idea of a Time Lord and Dalek hybrid should make The Doctor hesitant to leave Missy among his enemies.

Ultimately, "The Witch's Familiar" is much like many second parts of a two-parter. It resolves what is set up in the first episode, but the promise of "The Magician's Apprentice" was for something greater than this episode delivered.

For other works with Peter Capaldi, please check out my reviews of:
Doctor Who - Season 8
World War Z
In The Loop
Smilla's Sense Of Snow

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Ninth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor here!


See how this episode stacks up against other episode of Doctor Who by visiting my Doctor Who Review Index Page where the episodes and seasons are organized from best to worst!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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