The Witch’s Familiar

Posted in Episode by - February 23, 2016
The Witch’s Familiar

Aired 26 September 2015

Straight away, ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ proves just how beneficial the two-part nature to a Doctor Who story can be. It’s rare that the Doctor actually has a chance to sit and discuss motivations and aims with his foes, but the Master and Davros have occasionally been the exceptions, never more so than here. Davros is dying, the Doctor touchingly at his side because he asked him to come, and the poignant conversation between the two that is interspersed throughout the episode is unequivocally an all-time highlight of the series.

The Doctor and Davros have always been written as equals, each standing firmly on one side of morality. And while the Doctor has occasionally had to venture into morally grey territory, it’s only during this conversation that the extent of a possible overlap between the two really becomes apparent. The Doctor has recently been one to search himself in hopes of finding if he is a good man or not and, ultimately, his continued kindness and loyalty to his deadliest foes must surely put him closer to good, even if Davros calls that compassion a cancer and is correct in saying it will kill him.

Yet, while the two had there intimate and almost friendly chat (Davros in particular gets a good one-liner in), bigger issues are also discussed. For one, the Doctor again mentions that Gallifrey still exists to Davros; considering the recurring mentions since the fiftieth anniversary special, this must surely be pointing towards the planet’s return in some capacity, fitting since the once-destroyed Skaro is the setting of this tale. And then there’s the theme of respect and kindness that rears its head again. So much of Davros’s battles in the classic series were to keep control of his creations, but age has seemingly brought clarity to his megalomaniacal mind as he realizes that a Dalek respecting him is an inherent flaw and weakness, the reason that he is so openly embracing death. Julian Bleach is superb in these slower, emotion-laded scenes, and the scene when Davros finally opens up his true eyes speaks volumes.

Of course, nothing is quite as it seems with Davros, and eventually his true self and plan start to assert themselves. And undoubtedly he’s very much back, sure to return at some point to menace the Doctor- his savior- again, though the sacrifice he has to make here is certainly a big and unexpected one from his viewpoint. At the end, though, it’s the talk about the ‘hybrid’ that seems like it will be a lasting issue and whether that refers to the Doctor with another twist on the show’s mythology, to Davros given the current events, or to someone or something entirely different remains an effective mystery.

Although they are a focal point, by no means is the episode only about the Doctor and Davros, and ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ smartly wastes no time with drawing out the preceding cliffhangers. Clara continued her trend of amazing feats and actually became a Dalek of sorts with some help from Missy in order to get into Skaro and help the Doctor; of course, this comes with its own set of unexpected consequences. While it is quite humorous to watch, and even more humorous to watch Missy react, Jenna Coleman does a fantastic job in portraying the necessary anger and heart to sell the whole scenario, and the interactions with e Doctor are devastatingly effective. Even though the immediately threatening nature of Missy has lessened a bit, Michelle Gomez is still captivating in the role and proves that she can still up her game beyond just mischief when it suits her.

‘The Witch’s Familiar,’ then, is a fantastic conclusion to the events set in motion in ‘The Magician’s Apprentice.’ While ultimately the defeat of the Daleks by (dead) Daleks is a little underwhelming, the story was much more a character piece, and all of the major players gave their all. Even the resolution to the beginning as the Doctor finally relents and decides to rescue the young Davros comes full circle as it is that singular act that introduces some small glimmer of mercy into their very being.

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