This week’s episode had a tough act to follow, but the Witch’s Familiar manages to build on last week’s series opener and even top it. A change in pace makes the show feel fresher than it’s done in years, an impressive feat in its ninth revived series. It continues to be a great showcase for all the actors involved; the standout character this week being Julian Bleach as Davros giving us a surprisingly emotional performance.
The first shot of the episode and we get Clara dangling in the desert whilst a still deranged Missy sharpens a stick and explains their last minute escape from extermination. Sure the answers are a predictable teleportation, but as this is Doctor Who and the rest of the following episode is so captivating you can forgive it. I think we’d be very upset if last week was the end to Clara’s run and Missy’s antics. The uneasy alliance between Missy and Clara continues, in which you’re never quite sure if Missy is just using Clara to her own ends. Missy continues to be outrageous. It’s hard to decide whether her attempting to get the Doctor to kill his best friend trapped within a dalek, or using the word “bitch” in a pre-watershed family drama is more shocking, but I think she gives the show a much needed spark of excitement. Clara has a tough job having to spend a lot of the time either upside down or inside a dalek. She showed a real desperation to get back to the Doctor, who in return has become traumatised by the news of her death. Since the announcement of Jenna Coleman’s upcoming exit from the show, there’s a real sense of danger in Clara’s scenes. I’m just waiting for the inevitable gut-punch the show is going to throw our way.
Humanity within daleks seems to be a theme within this episode. We get Clara learning their inner-workings, the Doctor having a ride in Davros’ iconic chair and daleks with the ability to exhibit certain emotions. What we also get is Davros himself showing what looks an awful lot like genuine friendship towards the Doctor. In such an action-packed episode it was a bold move to confine a substantial amount of scenes to essentially the Doctor and Davros trapped in a single room, but for me it really worked. In their ideological face-off you get Davros mirroring the Doctor, asking the same question as the Doctor “Am I a good man?” I never thought I’d see the day, but when he opened his eyes and looked like he was about to cry I felt genuinely touched. Of course it was all just an act in an evil plan, but seemingly like the Doctor I was totally drawn in. The Doctor’s scheming clever nature comes into play as we learn he was one-step ahead the whole time, and thwarts Davros’ plan to create time-lord dalek hybrids. Was anybody else a little disappointed we didn’t get to see the potential of these foes before the Doctor destroyed them all?
Even though the daleks have been brought back almost on an annual basis, the show continues to be creative with them. After last series saw the TARDIS crew miniaturised within a dalek, this week we get to see how they channel emotions into their hatred and even a bit of human to dalek language translation (of course most words translate to exterminate.) The dalek sewers that screamed as well as squelched was also a suitably creepy idea. Being filled with hot dalek soup is a hell of a way to go and the Doctor seemed to show little remorse to sending his enemies to this fate as he made his escape to the (obviously not destroyed) TARDIS with Clara. I enjoyed the sonic sunglasses continuing on the Doctor’s “cool dude” theme from last week but I don’t think they can replace the sonic-screwdriver full-time. It’s just not the same. Both Davros and Missy are left behind as the planet falls in on itself but I’d be very surprised if either of them are dead. It may be a while until we see them but they’ll be back.
And now the show’s dynamic is back to normal. The Doctor and Clara are reunited in the TARDIS for more adventures. The mystery of the Doctor’s confession dial is still lingering which smells suspiciously like a Moffatt series-long arc, so more of that later I assume. I’m glad in the episode’s final moments the Doctor returned to young Davros and showed mercy. In an episode so full of hatred it’s nice that it decides to impart this message, that’s what Doctor Who’s about after all.