Contributed by Matt Donnelly
After last week’s episode of Doctor Who, The Magician’s Apprentice, it looked that it might be the end of the road for Clara as she was finished off by the Daleks alongside the antagonistic Missy. As we knew that Jenna Coleman was leaving the show as The Doctor’s latest companion could last week’s conclusion have seen an untimely end for the perky teacher?
The answer of course was no and it was quickly established that some sort of vortex technology had saved both Missy and Clara. This technology was also used to explain away the fact that Missy had come back to life after seemingly being killed off at the end of the last series. Despite their obvious hatred for each other, Missy and Clara formed a rather odd double act throughout the course of this series’ second episode The Witch’s Familiar.
This episode was separated into a pair of two-handers with Missy and Clara navigating the sewers of Skaro whilst The Doctor tried his best to get one over on Davros. The cliffhanger at the end of the last episode saw The Doctor potentially kill a younger version of his nemesis in order to stop the creation of The Daleks. However there were several other twists to the tale as the two enemies tried to bring each other down by exposing their weaknesses.
As with last week’s episode the balance of the episode’s light and shade was very much skewered towards the latter. Although there was some comedy early on with The Doctor attempting to use Davros’ chair to his advantage, the scenes involving the titular Time Lord were quite dialogue-heavy for the most part. Whilst I can see how the conversations between the pair appealed to long time fans of the show, I have to say that some of the references went over the head of this relative Doctor Who novice.
Whilst my knowledge of Doctor Who’s history is sketchy at best what I did like was Davros’ attempts to use The Doctor’s compassion against him. This culminated in a rather powerful scene in which The Doctor attempted to use his regeneration energy to open Davros’ eyes only for his enemy to turn the tables in a spectacular fashion. Rather predictably though The Doctor was one step ahead and regenerated all of The Daleks on Skaro, including the rotting ones that populated the sewers. The fact that Davros was destroyed by his very creations was a fitting end for the villain whose presence loomed large over this episode.
Though humour was light on the ground as far as The Doctor’s interactions with Davros were concerned, Steven Moffat did try and employ a lighter touch in the scenes involving Clara and Missy. Pairing one of the show’s most notorious villains with the lovely companion was always going to be a tough task but I thought that Moffat managed it admirably. Even though the two were allies for the most part there was always the hint that Missy could turn on Clara at any moment. The fact that she didn’t mind pushing Clara down a hole or handcuffing her in a split second meant that we could never fully trust this rather likeable antagonist.
Obviously Missy convincing Clara to step into a Dalek was never going to end well and she did indeed try to use this to get The Doctor to finish off his companion. However The Daleks’ newly found hint of mercy was enough to save Clara and as a result seemingly abandon Missy on Skaro. The fact that The Doctor’s compassionate act towards the younger Davros ultimately saved Clara gave the episode a nice bit of symmetry as our heroes were transported from Skaro relatively unscathed. Missy meanwhile seemingly will survive her latest fate and there was the briefest hint that she will actually become the new leader of the Daleks.
I’m already chomping at the bit to see Missy again thanks to the fantastic performance put in by Michelle Gomez over the course of the last two episodes. Gomez’s rather physical performance was brilliant and I especially liked her conducting The Daleks as they barked their familiar catchphrase at her. Gomez was also brilliantly adept at reciting Moffat’s dialogue and I particularly felt she attacked the line about every miner needing a canary with perfect aplomb. However I did feel that Gomez’s performance exposed Jenna Coleman’s shortcomings as she gave a rather one-note turn as the constantly in peril Clara.
But it was the other interactions in this episode, between The Doctor and Davros, that offered up the stronger performances. Peter Capaldi was excellent in portraying both The Doctor’s compassion and the cunning that eventually helps him outwit his foe. Capaldi was particularly great in the moment where you thought that Davros had finally got one over on The Doctor as he found himself regenerating The Daleks. This scene was made all the more powerful by Julian Bleach who was utterly convincing as a dying Davros to the extent that I almost believed him when he was trying to deceive The Doctor. Capaldi and Bleach proved to be a powerful acting duo that bounced off each other brilliantly and provided the emotional power that the episode needed.
In addition to providing a great combination of thrills and emotional power, The Witch’s Familiar did hint at what we were going to get throughout the rest of the series. The biggest question is what was in The Doctor’s Confession Dial and will we get to see its contents before the series is out? Similarly, I’m wondering what happened to Missy at the end of the episode and whether she will be back before the series is out. At the moment the best scenario would be for Missy to arrive at the end of the episode accompanied by a multitude of angry Daleks. However, this may be a little too predictable and it remains to be seen what will happen throughout the rest of this run.