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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.

6 responses to “Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar”

  1. R. Francis Smith says:

    I’m actually kind of ready to watch the series about Missy and her companion Clara bopping around the universe making horrible things happen and being hilarious about them. And that’s a sentence I thought I’d never write.

    Quick summary for me: the parts where the Doctor and Davros interacted were great, the parts where Missy and Clara said funny things were great, the rest made no real sense to me and the sunglasses are dumb and surely will go away soon and be replaced by the new sonic screwdriver. Hopefully after someone sensible grabs them off of his face and stomps on them. I favor Jenny Flint for that, but I don’t know if they’re showing up again.

    Apparently I like Moffat when he’s tributing the old stuff, but not when he’s trying to extrapolate new stuff, which is generally hogwash. Also, the snakemen were silly, I’m sorry, they just were.

    I’m forced to admit I’ve signed up for the “please, new show runner” crowd. Things feel so strained at this point. I just continually fear it’ll be Mark Gatiss and I see nothing to suggest he’s up to it.

  2. Paul McNamee says:

    Yup. You covered it all.

    I’m glad someone else thought this episode was a pile of …. Skaro sewage. I cannot fathom all the praise I’ve seen flit across the Internet.

    My hope springs eternal, too. We’ll see.

  3. Hildy says:

    Well, my theory that the Doctor saved Davros the first time around went up in Dalek sewage in this episode (although he DID ultimately rescue him in order to introduce the concept of mercy). Yes, the whole story unravels in this episode — if he rescued Davros, why not whisk him off Skaro to be adopted by some nice Time Lord family and not become a rage-filled war orphan who creates the Daleks? I’m okay with his having employed Missy because of course he knew she used a teleporter and didn’t kill herself, and so knew she could use the same trick to save herself and Clara if the Daleks attacked them — except, they weren’t originally supposed to go with him to Skaro at all AND there is no reason he should have assumed Missy would save Clara. Oh, and the whole “final testament” thing? Yeah, where was that before Trenzalore? Or, you know, the umpteen other times the Doctor’s death was in the offing? In summary — lazy writing.

    • Nick says:

      Except he assumes Missy and Clara are dead for most of the episode, so that can’t be why he got Missy involved. Great point about the confession dial, too. He didn’t use it before Trenzalore or the lake in Utah or during “The End of Time” because those plots didn’t require it the way this plot did. Lazy writing, indeed!

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