Could The Doctor murder an innocent child to prevent a future of death and suffering? The Season 9 premier left us asking ourselves if the Doctor we know is capable of such an act. I find that nowadays I’m not so sure I know the answer.
It was a little obvious that Miss and Clara weren’t going to actually die, as teased in the opener, and yet it’s somehow surprising to seem them safe and sound. It speaks to the air of actual threat the show has begun to emit. Missy and Clara gather their bearings, and devise a plan to go save the Doctor. Steven Moffat does something very interesting during this early scene, by revealing how Missy survived at the end of Death in Heaven. It’s a rare moment of explanation for Moffat. It’s a great little nugget.
Daleks from every era of Doctor Who are on the hunt for The Doctor, but he’s actually trying to get to them first. He does so in one of the most unexpected ways you could ever imagine, buy stealing something very iconic from Davros. It seems like every scene in this episode is jaw-dropping. There’s a great feel to it, a feeling of definite direction for the show.
Missy and Clara buddy-cop their way to help The Doctor, and the whole journey is a master class in sardonic humor and exceptional acting. And we also get a chance to further Doctor Who lore as we glimpse something else never before seen: the place Daleks go to die. At one point during their trek Missy puts Clara in danger to give them a chance take out a Dalek. When the trap works she takes her time gleefully murdering it. It’s a great scene that shows Missy is still a volatile lunatic, no matter her apparent motives.
The Doctor has no reason to believe his friends are alive, yet his only goal is to find Clara. Unfortunately his search gives Davros time to regain control of the situation, and again place The Doctor at his mercy, giving them an opportunity to talk candidly. The best moments of these first two episodes are when The Doctor and Davros are alone, plying their morality at each other like a game of chess. Steven Moffat has said he always imagined that in Classic Who their interactions were longer in duration than they actually were. Now he’s given us a real treat in making it so. The scenes are fascinating.
Davros delights in making the Doctor question his morality. Giving The Doctor another chance to eradicate the Daleks before they’re born, Steven Moffat has brought Doctor Who full circle, from when the Fourth Doctor first had the same choice. Davros tries to entice the Doctor, testing him really, by telling him Clara’s death basically removes any sense of reflected guilt he might have. The Doctor struggles mightily to keep to his personal code. His eventual choice harkens back to the very meaning of his name, Doctor.
In a particularly amazing scene Clara finds herself in a shockingly familiar place, inside a Dalek. The scene brings us back to when we first met Clara aboard the crashed ship on the Dalek Asylum. It’s a magical, intensely Whovian moment that really was a brilliant piece of writing. Almost every scene in these first two episodes feels like it was written for the fans. The show, and this episode in particular, just seem like a statement that Doctor Who has been reborn.
The episode takes a massively surprising turn towards the end. The whole Davros was trying to form a bond with the Doctor, contemplating their lives, their morality, and their rivalry. And in the end it was all to take advantages of The Doctor’s compassion, his most dangerous weakness. Davros tricks the Doctor into giving up his regeneration energy to revive not only himself, but to make the Daleks into something more: half Dalek, half Time Lord hybrids! It’s an amazing moment. One with potentially massive impact on the show.
There’s a lot of subtext to what happens throughout the episode, with implications sprouting like wildfire across the history, and future of Doctor Who. I’m not quite sure what it all means when the episode ends, but there are certainly going to be ramifications to what transpired. We also get several unusual comments from Missy that bring in to question Clara’s nature.
The Witch’s Familiar manages to avoid most pitfalls suffered by the second act of a two-parter. It stays gripping throughout, while constantly keeping you on your toes. At no point is it clear which direction things might turn, and it’s that excitement that lifts the episode to be even better than it’s first part. It’s clear we’ve not seen the last of Davros, and that the Doctor, perhaps Missy, but especially Clara will forever be changed by these events. Only time will tell.