A superb cliff-hanger of an opening opened the door for this episode. It’s been a bit of a trend that the second part of two-parters haven’t quite lived up to their openers. How does The Witch’s Familiar fare? Here’s what I thought.
Trapped and alone on the terrifying planet Skaro, the Doctor is at the heart of the evil Dalek Empire – no sonic, no TARDIS, nobody to help. With his greatest temptation before him, can the Doctor resist? And will there be mercy?
I can’t really do much except applaud this episode. From the opening resolution to Clara and Missy’s fate (admittedly not surprising but well presented) to the final moments with the Doctor, this was edge of the seat Saturday night entertainment at its best.
What impressed me most about the episode was the presentation of Davros. The character has been both coldly calculating and maniacal on screen (and in some excellent Big Finish audio adventures) and Julian Bleach manages to hit both notes with aplomb. His Davros reminds me very much of Michael Wisher’s original performance as well as that of Terry Molloy on audio. This episode could almost be a two hander as the tension and emotion on screen when The Doctor and Davros interact is enough to carry a whole episode. I would even go so far as to say that Bleach outshines Capaldi in these.
Of course, another two-hander is also happening and this could also be an episode in its own right. Missy and Clara just seem to work together on screen. Michelle Gomez certainly seems to have found her centre by this episode and Missy has a suitable ruthless intelligence about her which has been missing from the character of the Master since the character’s return back in 2007. I much preferred her mad moments this week as they seemed calculated to distract and disarm. A front and an act as much as genuine loopiness. I would almost like to see a spin-off around this pairing … almost.
As with the opening half, the pace and tone were perfectly pitched throughout. At no point did my mind wander away from the plot, distracted by other thoughts. Steven Moffat (together with the cast and the excellent direction of Hettie Macdonald) manage to make Davros sympathetic and gives the audience an unprecedented insight into the mind of the man who created the Daleks. Like many villains, he believes he has acted with the best of intentions. Or does he?
Again, there were some cringe-worthy moments (well, in my eyes – probably not in other people’s) such as Missy’s actions on meeting Davros I’m also not completely convinced (in hindsight – I was enthralled at the time) that the old, discarded Dalek creatures would behave as they did towards the rest. After all, they are Daleks with Dalek programming. Speaking of bizarre behaviour, why does the Supreme Dalek insist on being on a raised Dais? It already towers over the rest of the Daleks and could just hover a bit if it wanted an edge. Also, do we have to keep seeming to wipe out the Dalek race? We all know they’ll be back. Let’s just have enough of a distraction to allow our heroes to escape. Like the old days…
As you can see, my negative thoughts are quite straw-clutchy and don’t really detract from my enjoyment of this otherwise fine episode. As a climax to a two-part story: it worked brilliantly. As a re-introduction of Davros: It worked perfectly. As a tense piece of character focussed drama: It worked magnificently.
I’m looking forward to more excellent episodes this year, but have a feeling this will be tough to beat. Especially viewed as a whole with The Magician’s Apprentice.