Sunday, 27 September 2015

Review - 'Doctor Who', S09E02 - 'The Witch's Familiar'





Picking up right where the previous episode left off, The Witch's Familiar finds itself facing the formidable challenge of trying to maintain that same level of dramatic tension achieved by the previous episode. As The Magician's Apprentice closed, we were left with the apparent deaths of Missy and Clara, at the hands of the Daleks - and, we had the Doctor trapped with his long-time enemy, Davros, who (as is fitting for a villain) seemed quite happy to gloat about his victory. Then, of course, there was the episode's final scene, showing us the Doctor returning to that moment, long ago, when the Doctor met a young Davros in danger and, seemingly, chose to abandon the child - though, this time, he is apparently set on killing the child, himself.

Of course, there was obviously never any real question about whether Clara and Missy had really been killed. So, The Witch's Familiar opens by making the wise decision of simply resolving that particular issue right at the start. Not only did we quickly learn that the pair were still very much alive, but we also learnt how they had survived - while also learning how Missy had managed to survive her previous apparent death, at the same time.

Obviously, it would have been a mistake, not to mention a waste of precious screen-time, to try to milk their apparent deaths for any extra drama in this episode - at least, in my opinion. The audience was never going to buy it, after all - and, getting it out of the way right at the start gave us more more time to enjoy Clara and Missy's strained attempts to work together as they tried to infiltrate the Dalek city once more, in order to rescue the Doctor.

And, there was definitely a lot to enjoy about this team-up, too. It was especially amusing in that Clara still did not seem entirely aware of exactly how far in over her head she was in trying to deal with one of the Doctor's greatest foes on her own. As Missy made clear, their relationship, as far as she is concerned, is much closer to that between a miner and a canary than it is one between actual equals (a comment that amusingly complimented one from the previous episode about Clara being like a loyal puppy following at the Doctor's heel) - and, she clearly seemed to take a great deal of delight in proving this point to Clara, repeatedly. Of course, at the same time, the Mistress's amused contempt for Clara also provides an effective contrast to the Doctor's genuine affection and compassion - further establishing exactly how different the two really are.

While Clara and Missy make the attempt to infiltrate the Dalek city, the Doctor still finds himself locked in a tense confrontation with Davros - though, here, things take an interesting turn as Davros reveals that he is more interested in testing the Doctor's resolve than he is in simply killing his old rival. Much like the previous episode, it is this interaction that is the main high-light, here. It is especially interesting, too, to see the variety of surprising directions that this confrontations goes in. Not only do we have Davros set on tempting the Doctor with the power to destroy the Daleks (in what seems clearly intended as an attempt to draw the Doctor to the 'dark side'), but we also have some surprising moments of empathy between the two. They even manage to share a little joke, in a scene that brought to mind the moment between Batman and the Joker at the end of The Killing Joke. Of course, there was a deeper plan behind all of this - but, it was still fascinating to watch, regardless.

Honestly, every moment between the Doctor and Davros, here, was fantastic. Even if the rest of the episode had been a disappointment, the episode still would have been worth watching just for that. The fact that Missy and Clara's side-plot was also genuinely entertaining was really just a pleasant bonus. The only real issue with the episode is that it is all wrapped up in a climax that feels, perhaps, a little too simple and convenient - with Davros's secret plan almost instantly being undermined by the Doctor's own even more secret plan. But, even here, the episode still manages to fit in some pleasant surprises.

Taken together, the first two episodes of the new season of Doctor Who make for a very impressive opening. With interesting hints of what might be coming, particular regarding whatever secrets are buried in the Doctor's 'Confession Dial' (which is sure the feature prominently in the feature), I find myself feeling relatively optimistic about the rest of the season. I can only really hope that it manages to maintain the same level of quality that it has achieved here.

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