Not to intentionally start on a negative note, but The Witch’s Familiar was always going to be a bit of an anti-climax after last week’s excellent series opener.
Fortunately, however, the episode was good enough in its own right that said anti-climax is really just a side note – one of a few small niggles in what was otherwise a really rather good episode of Doctor Who.
As with Series 8, we’ve had an early appearance here for classic enemies the Daleks, albeit with a twist, as Davros (Julian Bleach) emerges as more the star of the show than his creations. Picking up pretty much exactly where The Magician’s Apprentice left off, The Witch’s Familiar (I’m with Becky on the series titles!) sees The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) still trapped at heart of the Dalek empire, with no sonic screwdriver, no TARDIS, no friends and, or so you’d think, no hope.
Except of course, he’s The Doctor, and his loyal friends Clara (Jenna Coleman) and er, well Missy (Michelle Gomez) too I suppose, aren’t too far away, having ejected themselves from the compound after Missy saw through its spaceship disguise. Whilst The Doctor chats with his nemesis Davros, providing us with some of the most compelling dialogue we’ve seen in recent series to boot, Clara and Missy steal their way action-movie style through the Dalek sewers in an attempt to rescue him.
Said dialogue provided ample and interesting opportunities for the ‘What makes a good man?’ question to come up again, and what that means when you can quite easily time travel back to the past and not save the life of a small boy who will go on to murder billions – to pluck one example totally at random. Both Capaldi and Bleach handled it magnificently. Capaldi in general has really settled into the role in this second series. Now that he’s not in anybody else’s shadow but his own, a new confidence is emerging, symbolised rather well by his new shades (more on those later). And despite such serious and poignant considerations going on in the foreground – it’s marvellously good fun.
There were laugh out loud moments peppered through the episode, “The only other chair on Skaro”, “Course, the real question is ‘Where did he get his cup of tea?’” and the now infamous “pointy stick” to name but a handful. Michelle Gomez’s continued presence no doubt adds to this general atmosphere of amusement, with Who now unimaginable without her.
She also provides an interesting contrast with Jenna Coleman’s dutiful Clara, who can’t help but come across as much more than a walking hairdo next to her eccentric antics. What Missy is really up to though, remains to be seen. The fact that you can’t help but watch her from the edge of your seat is in part due to the brilliant energy of her performance, but also because at any moment she could drop the mask and dramatically change the status quo. Or you know, just find a new pointy stick.
The episode’s most memorable moment for many will be that of Clara trapped inside the Dalek, itself in many ways a call back to Soufflé girl, and through it our learning about how Daleks translate and channel their emotion into killing. Turns out “Exterminate” isn’t just a catchphrase, it’s their way of re-loading. Who knew? It also gave her a much needed angle, in what was otherwise fast becoming a tea party of The Doctor and his biggest nemeses.
We learn too, that Missy has, or at least had, a daughter at some stage, which, coupled with her seemingly genuine efforts to save The Doctor, leave us wondering just how many gaps need to be filled in our knowledge of their friendship, as opposed to what we already know about how many times they’ve tried to kill each other. Hopefully this reference means we’re going to find out more.
On the downside, I’m not sure quite how to feel about the ‘wearable technology’ instead of the screwdriver. It all felt rather too James Bond for my liking, much as I do like the sunglasses as a fun accessory. The sewers were a bit mad, too. Interesting idea to have decaying Daleks down there, but I couldn't quite understand why they were so angry. Surely, as Daleks, they would understand that they are ultimately just expendable killing machines? And with the spirit of self-sacrifice for the Dalek cause which so many of them have shown over the years, you'd think they'd understand that it's all for the greater good of Skaro? Or maybe this is all part of the development of their emotional side, hinted at frequently in this episode.
Will the show continue down this intriguing vein of balancing on knife edge between fun and sinister? Will we find out more about The Doctor and Missy? What will Clara’s hair be doing next week?
Becky will be with you for all this and more.