‘The Witch’s Familiar’
After last week’s rather uneventful premiere, that seemed to have more set-up than actual story, this week’s follow up needed to impress. I was genuinely surprised by ‘The Witch’s Familiar’, a much quieter Doctor Who story than its precursor and potentially the best Dalek story in years.
Thankfully, ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ wastes no time catching viewers up and doesn’t drag out the reveal that surprise, surprise Clara and the Mistress weren’t actually killed. The first scene establishes how they survived, in the form of a fun black and white 007 style sequence with The Doctor escaping an army of androids. Within two minutes of Missy being back I was again reminded of how great Michelle Gomez is in the role, Missy having tremendous fun whether she’s roaming through a Dalek sewer/graveyard or toying with her old nemesis/best friend.
Unfortunately, The Doctor has no idea Clara and Missy survived being vaporised, leaving him without hope. The Doctor’s anger recalls past times when that peaceful exterior has dropped away, such as the Matt Smith story ‘A Good Man Goes to War’, and Peter Capaldi’s Doctor already seems to be pretty angry on a regular basis. Capaldi does a great job capturing the loss the Timelord feels when a Dalek reveals to him that they didn’t fake his companion’s deaths, the sadness essentially taking the fight out of him.This is a less action packed episode than last week’s cliffhanger suggested, and this is by no means a bad thing. Rather than fight their way through a Dalek army, Clara and Missy sneak in through the Dalek’s sewers, which is actually their graveyard. In an incredibly creepy concept it’s established that Daleks never die, though they do grow old and decompose, and the slimy walls of the sewers are actually rotting Dalek flesh. Missy hollows out a Dalek so that Clara can impersonate one, in a nice variation of the old Wookie prisoner gag; actually this episode is full of Star Wars illusions. This presents one of the more fun, but also tragic moments of the episode, as it is revealed that the Dalek translator has no words for ‘love’ or ‘friend’, replacing them all with ‘exterminate’, which of course thrills Missy to no end.
While his companions explore the sewers, The Doctor gets to spend some time with Davros chatting about old times. This allows for some surprisingly touching scenes with the evil mastermind trying to explain his past actions, to presumably seek forgiveness from The Doctor. Last episode Missy establishes the idea that there is little different between whether The Doctor is her best friend or mortal enemy and the idea seems to be represented here with Davros. The Doctor even makes it clear that he didn’t need to be dragged to Skaro and he didn’t come because he feared an evil plot, he just came because Davros was sick and he asked him to.
While Davros does have an ulterior motive (hell its Davros!), the episode doesn’t spend too much time focused on it. ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ is a surprising Doctor Who story, subverting expectations to tell a quiet story about how The Doctor was able to change Davros, neatly tying back in to the scenes of young Davros at the very end. If Steven Moffat can keep providing stories of this calibre then this season of Doctor Who could potentially be the best yet.