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Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar

I’ve been putting off reviewing the latest Doctor Who episode, “The Witch’s Familiar,” because I thought it was so stupid I was tempted to not bother. After a pretty good first part, this second part of the season opener was full of bluster but empty of substance. The Moffatisms were strong in this one, especially his characteristic use of flash over logic. But let’s get to it.


There was a moment when I thought this episode had nailed it. Just freaking nailed it. It’s more than a moment, really. It’s an exchange between the Doctor and Davros that I thought was exceptional. Just the two of them, in a room, talking, in a scene that is allowed to go on for several minutes without jokes or explosions or the Doctor randomly announcing “I am the Doctor!” (Well, actually he does do that last one, sort of.) And I thought, they’re really going to do this, they’re really going to let the show have some maturity for a change, they might even actually have Davros die. But then…

DAVROS: Ha ha, it was all a trap and you fell for it!
DOCTOR: Ha ha, I knew it was a trap all along and I let it play out this far in order to lay a trap within your trap, even though as far as I know it cost Clara her life and, oh yeah, the lives of two UNIT soldiers who had nothing to do with anything!
ME: *sighs heavily, checks time to see how much longer this episode will be*

There were logic issues. So many logic issues. Why would a Dalek casing actively translate the words of its inhabitant rather than simply broadcast them? What’s the point? A Dalek wouldn’t say anything like “I love you” or “My name is…” anyway (except, I guess, Dalek Caan, who has a name, but who’s counting?), so why the failsafe translation mechanism? It doesn’t make any sense, unless the implication is that some Daleks are actually trying to be friendly but can’t because the casing won’t let them, which would be a pretty radical reimagining of the Daleks. So why is it there? For the plot, it seems, and no other reason. It exists so there could be a scene where Clara, hidden inside a Dalek casing, has trouble communicating with the Doctor.

Speaking of, I’m surprised the Doctor didn’t make mention of Clara being inside a Dalek the first time he met her. But then, I guess most of season 7 didn’t happen anymore, since the events of Trenzalore played out differently, or something? But if that’s the case then Clara shouldn’t still be the Doctor’s companion, so who even knows? (As my brother once put it, is any of this even happening since the Doctor didn’t die at that lake in Utah?)

Anyway, the Doctor again does some weird magic mumbo-jumbo by giving some of his “regeneration energy” to Davros (I neither like nor understand this new ability Time Lords have to lend regeneration energy, it implies way too much control over the process and their own biology) but that turns out to be the trap. Oh no!

DALEKS: Ha ha, now we are super hybrid Daleks! We are stronger than ever in ways you cannot see and will not be demonstrated before we are immediately taken out of the story by some nonsense about evil sentient sewer poop!

Yeah, what else? The sonic sunglasses are the stupidest thing since the Eleventh Doctor went on about how fezzes are cool. There’s some mumbo-jumbo about a Time Lord prophecy regarding a hybrid warrior, possibly half Dalek and half Time Lord that either will or will not be mentioned again in the future, because with Moffat who even knows? Missy has a rope suddenly, which she uses to tie up Clara for no real reason. The TARDIS can do yet another brand new thing to avoid being destroyed, this time dispersing into molecules, so it looks like it blew up, and then waiting to reform at the Doctor’s command. (Of course, it could have just turned itself into that little metal thing from last season instead, but that wouldn’t have been flashy enough, I guess.) At the end of the episode, the Doctor realizes he has one last thing to do with kid Davros and runs into the TARDIS, leaving Clara ALONE ON SKARO, THE MOST DANGEROUS PLANET IN THE UNIVERSE, ALONG WITH MISSY, WHO TRIED TO KILL HER, AND THE EVIL SENTIENT SEWER POOP, WHICH IS KILLING EVERYTHING! Way to go, Doctor.

There’s some good stuff, too. The Doctor riding in Davros’s chair was fun (“Admit it, you’ve all had this exact nightmare”), although that scene went nowhere. Davros’s joke that the Doctor is not a good doctor. The flashback story Missy tells. The line “the only other chair on Skaro.” The answers are finally given to how Missy survived the end of last season (teleporter!) and how Skaro is back (the Daleks rebuilt it!). But for me, in this episode, the bad far outweighs the good. All flash, and very little logic.

Running this episode past the Doctor Who bingo card, we can check off “Glib Companion Banter,” again between Clara and Missy, a dynamic I really enjoyed, “Fanbase Trolling Dialogue” for the bit about Missy having a daughter on Gallifrey, “Continuity? What Continuity?” for Davros having eyes that can still open and see (it was never explicitly mentioned that he didn’t, but it was implied given his decrepitude and mechanical viewing device), “It’s Magic! I Ain’t Gotta Explain Shit!” for the use of regeneration energy and the ostensibly souped-up Daleks that don’t do anything new or exciting, “Plot Hole!” for the fact that the Doctor purposely got Missy involved, resulting in the death of two UNIT soldiers, but she doesn’t actually do much in either episode, “Over Use of Fan Wank” for explaining that the Doctor keeps surviving because he always goes into danger “expecting to win” (Moffat loves writing characters who talk about how awesome the Doctor is), “_______s Are Cool!” for the new sonic shades, and “Clara Conveniently Forgets Important Fact That She Previously Knew” for forgetting she used to be a Dalek in one of her splinter lives.

Ah well, maybe the next episode will be better. Hope springs eternal.

Reminder: Reading This Wednesday!

Hey, folks! This is a reminder that I’m taking part in a reading at the KGB Bar this Wednesday, the 30th, at 7 PM! Joining me will be authors Daniel Braum, James Chambers, and Shawn Macomber. The theme of the reading is dark fiction about and inspired by music, to celebrate the release of Grey Matter Press’s Savage Beasts anthology.

P.S. James and I aren’t in the anthology! We’re playing backup to Daniel and Shawn.

I’ll have copies of some of my books available at the reading. Copies of the anthology will available, too.

Here’s the reading’s Facebook event page.

I hope to see you there!

The Scariest Part: Loren Rhoads Talks About KILL BY NUMBERS


This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is Loren Rhoads, whose latest novel is Kill By Numbers. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Former assassin Raena Zacari thinks she’s left the past behind. The Imperial torturer who trained her is dead, the human empire is disbanded, and she is finally free. But Raena is troubled by a series of nightmares that always seem to end with her shooting an ex-lover in the head. She needs to get her mind clear because there’s a flaw in the most commonly used stardrive technology and the band of media-obsessed pirates she’s fallen in with is right at the heart of the controversy.

With humanity scattered across the galaxy, Raena’s going to have to rely on the alien crewmembers of the Veracity to help her put the pieces together. It doesn’t help that the Templars — wiped out by a genetic plague while Raena was imprisoned — have left booby-trapped biotechnology scattered across the galaxy.

Kill By Numbers mixes a Philip K. Dick mindwarp with sweeping space opera that features aliens, androids, drug dealers, journalists, and free-running media hackers. It is the second book in Loren Rhoads’s epic In the Wake of the Templars trilogy.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Loren Rhoads:

At first, my grandmother seemed only a little dotty. If you visited her long enough, she began to tell the same stories more than once per visit. Each time, she would use the same words, the same inflections. When questioned, she gave the same responses. It was like her memories were on a loop. I would try to disrupt the tale, make the needle skip onto the next track, but it couldn’t be done. Talking with her was eerie.

Grandma was never diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. At that time, they could only diagnose it after an autopsy, when they could actually see the lesions on the brain. The doctors called what Grandma suffered from dementia. For the most part, it was benign. She wouldn’t have been unhappy, except that she repeatedly discovered that people she remembered had been dead for years. When that happened, she would grieve their losses all over again.

The worst part of the illness to watch was that occasionally the dementia lifted enough for Grandma to realize the horror of what was happening to her. It looked like she woke up inside a trap that she could only sporadically see the outlines of. She never cleared long enough that she could attempt to escape.

Twenty years after her death, I remember how terrible it was to watch her decline. Every time I forget a name or misplace an object or wonder where I parked my car, I think: is it happening to me? That terror, spawned by watching my grandmother struggle against her own mind, inspired events in my new novel, Kill By Numbers.

Former Imperial assassin Raena Zacari spent decades in solitary confinement, entertaining herself with her own memories. She’s made peace with who she is and what she’s done. Now that she’s finally out of prison, she’s looking forward to leaving the past behind and learning to live in the galaxy. She’s got a new gig, new friends, and a sweet old diplomatic transport to call home. The future looks promising at last.

But Raena’s memories are being hijacked. Again and again, she finds herself sucked back into her past, except that the memories are warped, twisted out of recognition. Often they end with her killing an ex-lover in increasingly brutal ways. Worse than that, the nightmares are coming faster and faster, with less time for her to question their reality in between. She’s finding it harder to tell the truth of who she is from these unfamiliar shadows.

If there’s no record of your past, how do you know what’s true?

If you’re used to relying on no one but yourself, where do you turn for help?

Once you’ve been honed into a weapon, is there any way you can keep your crewmates safe?

We tell stories to make sense of our lives. Sometimes there’s no way to heal the people who suffered in your past. I couldn’t have done anything to make life easier for my grandmother. Writing this book, though, I could finally confront the dissolution she suffered and give her some revenge on it.

Loren Rhoads: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Kill By Numbers: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Powell’s / IndieBound

Loren Rhoads is the author of The Dangerous Type, Kill By Numbers, and No More Heroes — the In the Wake of the Templars trilogy — all coming from Night Shade Books in 2015. She’s the co-author with Brian Thomas of a succubus/angel novel called As Above, So Below and solo author of a collection of travel essays from graveyards around the world called Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. She’s also the editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two and Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues: True Tales of the Unsavory, Unwise, Unorthodox, and Unusual.

Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice

Season 9 of Doctor Who is upon us, and this weekend saw the first episode hit the air, “The Magician’s Apprentice.” It wasn’t a bad episode, I thought, although it relied heavily on the viewer’s knowledge of Who history, both the new and classic series. It’s also the first of a two-parter, so it’s hard to judge the story overall, but generally I enjoyed it.


I imagine anyone who hasn’t seen the classic 1975 Fourth Doctor serial “Genesis of the Daleks,” or hasn’t seen the 2008 Tenth Doctor episode “Journey’s End,” would have a hard time understanding just why it’s so important that the little boy on the battlefield is named Davros. (Let’s leave aside for the moment that for all the Doctor knows, Davros could be quite a common name on Skaro and this boy doesn’t necessarily have to be the Davros.) This is probably why I enjoyed the episode more than Alexa did, because there were lots of Easter eggs for classic-era fans like myself that might have left others feeling left out. There are quite a few callbacks to “Genesis of the Daleks,” including video clips of the Fourth Doctor in action, as well as some audio clips of Davros’s interactions with the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Tenth Doctors. I quite enjoyed seeing a new take on the thousand-year war between the Kaleds and the Thals on Skaro. (Nice to see cameos by the Sisterhood of Karn, the Shadow Proclamation, and the Judoon again, too!) It’s always exciting for longtime fans like me when Davros shows up. We have a lot of history with him. Aside from the Master, Davros is the closest thing Doctor Who has ever had to a supervillain.

Interestingly, the Doctor’s abandonment of Davros on the battlefield goes against the whole point of “Genesis of the Daleks”, in which the Doctor realizes he doesn’t have the right to make these kinds of decisions. When he asks the rhetorical question about killing a child destined to grow up to be a ruthless dictator, the implied answer is no, that wouldn’t be the right thing to do. To have the Doctor make a different choice now and leave Davros to presumably die in the hopes of changing history is a strange change in his character — although it fits in with Steven Moffat’s interest in showing the Doctor as flawed and fallible instead of just straight-up heroic.

Speaking of the Master, Missy shows up again, and I liked her in this episode more than I did in the entire last season. Some of that is because I thought her plot last season was overly complicated nonsense, punctuated by increasingly intrusive scenes tacked onto the end of several episodes, but here she could just be herself, and as a result actress Michelle Gomez really gets to shine. Her scenes with Clara were, for me, the highlight of the episode.

I also enjoyed seeing the old school Daleks on Skaro, including the silver and blue models used in the very first Dalek serial back in 1963. Skaro itself has had kind of a tricky history on the program. It was blown up by the Hand of Omega in the 1988 Seventh Doctor serial “Remembrance of the Daleks,” an act which is commonly thought to have started the Last Great Time War between the Daleks and the Time Lords. Except Skaro existed again, apparently, in the 1996 TV movie, in which the Daleks, weirdly, execute the Master on Skaro and ask for the Doctor, even more weirdly, to come pick up his remains. Skaro made another appearance at the start of the 2012 Eleventh Doctor episode “Asylum of the Daleks,” in which the Doctor is summoned to the planet for a trap. The TV series has never explained how Skaro is back from destruction (although I’m told the novels do, with the explanation being that the Hand of Omega actually destroyed a fake duplicate of Skaro after the Daleks discovered records of Skaro’s destruction during their 22nd century invasion of Earth and took action to prevent it — but convoluted shit like this is why I don’t read the novels). But anyway, Skaro is back, looking more like the Skaro we originally saw in 1963’s “The Daleks,” and being kept invisible and secret for some reason, although I’m prepared for this reason, in true Moffat fashion, to never be explained.

Yes, I’m going to harp on Steven Moffat a little bit here (surprise, surprise) because this episode is filled with what I’ve come to call Moffatisms. Once again, he shows his fascination with origin stories where none are really needed, as well as stories that are about the Doctor rather than simply adventures the Doctor partakes in. We once again meet an important character as a child, something Moffat has now done with Amy, River, Clara, and even the Doctor himself in last season’s “Listen.” Once more he handwaves away important questions like how Missy survived the end of last season, or how Davros survived the events of “Journey’s End.” Once again the most interesting and creepy part of the episode, the “hand mines,” turns out to have not much to do with anything else going on, reminiscent of the scary but ultimately unimportant Smilers in “The Beast Below.” And once more he recycles his own plots by giving us a story where the Doctor is convinced his time is up and decides to postpone the inevitable by acting out and partying before getting on with doing what he has to do, like in “The Wedding of River Song” and “The Time of the Doctor.” Granted, Russell T. Davies did it in “The End of Time,” too, but he did it first and only once. Moffat has now done it three times!

So, running this episode past the Doctor Who bingo card, we can check off “Glib Companion Banter,” except this time it’s between Clara and Missy, a dynamic I very much enjoyed, “Season Long Story Arc Explained in Throw Away Comment,” which I’m going to apply to Missy’s handwaving return, “Previously Killed Off Character Returns” for both Missy and Davros, “Fanbase Trolling Dialogue” for Missy referring to the Doctor in his youth as a little girl instead of little boy, and “Continuity? What Continuity?” for the return of Skaro. The “It’s Magic! I Ain’t Gotta Explain Shit!” square pretty much covers a lot of this, too.

Still, despite my annoyance at all the Moffatisms, I’m looking forward to the next episode to see what happens. (If you think Missy and Clara are really dead, you’ve never seen this show before!)