“Doctor Who” showrunner Steven Moffat certainly knows how to launch a series with a cliffhanger. When last we saw The Doctor and his unconventional entourage, things were looking very bad indeed. Missy AKA The Master and Clara Oswald had been exterminated by Daleks, The TARDIS has been destroyed, and The Doctor has been confronted by his old archenemy, the dying Davros, at the dawn of the Daleks, with a chance to end the Dalek threat forever… but what are the real consequences? Meet me after the time and space jump for my thoughts on “The Witch’s Familiar!”
Let’s Kill Hitler
Last time I referenced the two “Doctor Who” episodes that this particular two-parter conjures – “Let’s Kill Hitler” with Matt Smith and “Genesis of the Daleks” with Tom Baker, both still have a parenting hold here in “The Witch’s Familiar. The latter episode, which not only told the origins of the Daleks, also introduced the mad villainy of Davros. In that episode Tom Baker was given the chance to exterminate the Daleks once and for all once, waaay back in 1975, and did not. Time War aside, The Doctor is not a murderer, at least not unless he’s backed into a corner.
This two-parter brings the question back up, one that is played at cooler dinner parties quite often, if you could travel through time – would you go back and kill Hitler as a child? In this case, we are confronted with The Doctor meeting genocidal maniac and creator of the Daleks, Davros, as a child. Does he save him from possible death as described in our last review, or should wipe the little freak out before he unleashes unimaginable evil and destruction upon the universe? Just wait. We have other cliffhangers to worry about first…
A Tale of the Doctor
We open on Missy, AKA The Master, and Clara, and they are both quite inexplicably alive, at least at first. Clara is tied up and hanging upside down outside the Dalek city on Skaro, while Missy sharpens a stick. While I’m thinking of it, it would have been nice for Missy to have mentioned being on Skaro once before, but perhaps that’s a bad memory. Instead of commenting on her location with any sense of continuity, Missy tells Clara a story, a tale of The Doctor.
Many of us old schoolers probably squealed with delight as we saw a black and white memory of first the Tom Baker Doctor, and then the William Hartnell Doctor. Missy has a clever comment that it doesn’t matter what he looks like, he’s always The Doctor for her, “So let’s go with Eyebrows,” using a favorite nickname for the Peter Capaldi Doctor. The tale is a vague description of how The Doctor escaped from invisible assassins by channeling energy through his sonic screwdriver to power his teleporter and escape. Apparently, that’s what Missy did for herself and Clara, trademark Steven Moffat fuzzy science. Companions not dead. Viewers unsatisfied. I did however love The Master’s admiration for his foe, as Missy is to The Doctor what Annie Wilkes was to Paul Sheldon.
After the supposed deaths of Clara and The Master/Missy, The Doctor is of course enraged, and demands Clara be brought back. His anger brings the Daleks to full alert. I found it very odd to see flying Daleks through the masterfully reconstructed city on old Skaro. Technically they didn’t learn to fly until the new series certainly, and didn’t even levitate until Sylvester McCoy was The Doctor. Before that stairs were these monsters’ kryptonite. So there. Time travel answer me all you want, they should not have been flying then and there.
Before I could get more fanboy-continuity-angered by the flying Daleks, we’re greeted by an image showrunner Steven Moffat must have found hilarious and disturbing, and so, had to create it. The mindf*ck I’m talking about is The Doctor riding in Davros’ Dalek-shaped chair. Yeah, once the shock is over, one must start thinking about the real logistics of this stunt. So The Doctor tore Davros out of that thing and left him bottomless lying on the floor while he went out to taunt the Supreme Dalek and his followers?? Wow, that’s messed up.
Exterminate Means I Love You
Moe and Curly, ahem, I mean Missy and Clara are trying to get back into the city through barely wet, but sickly slimy Dalek sewers. ‘Sewer’ is another word for ‘graveyard’ in the Dalek language according to Missy, but consider the source, her point being that these sewers are coated with the organic remains of ‘dead’ Daleks who had been released from their ruined metal casings. Yeah, ick.
Anyway, using Moffat’s notorious fuzzy science, Missy kills a Dalek with a dark star broach and these undead remains of other Daleks in the sewers. Of special note, Missy tells Clara that The Doctor gave the broach to her daughter. The Master had/has a daughter? Of course it could be just another one of The Master’s lies. Then Missy puts Clara inside the now empty Dalek shell, using her as a ruse to enter the city as a prisoner of a ‘Dalek’ – in a way, becoming the witch’s familiar. As awesome as it is to hear Clara speak as a Dalek, it becomes another chance for Moffat to make a joke. Dalek language lesson two: ‘exterminate’ means ‘I love you.’ It kinda gives new meaning to the hundreds of times we’ve heard these monsters say the word.
I can’t express what a good thing it is that this episode switches points of view and scenes so often. I had almost forgotten how angry I was at the chair stunt. I was quickly reminded however. Somehow, Davros sits up, somehow he gets back in his chair after The Doctor assumedly vacates it when attacked the snakes of Colony Sarff. Then the questions come. Did The Doctor put Davros back in the chair? It’s not just a matter of picking him up and putting him back in the chair, you know. He has to be rewired in, maybe there’s even surgery involved. More fuzzy science?
While I’m trying to get those points through my head and climb back into the story, The Doctor bargains with his arch-foe, showing unbelievable compassion and mercy. I mean, come on, we’re talking about Davros! Mercy? Compassion? This discussion and nostalgia is just a ploy to get The Doctor tied up in the snakes again. Wasn’t he already trapped by Colony Sarff once already? Are we missing something here? Did Moffat fall asleep while writing this, or was he so enamored with the idea of The Doctor in Davros’ chair, that he forgot?
The Killing Joke
No explanation, but what we do get is another joke and a heartfelt moment, the former much better than the latter. The Doctor takes a seat in “the only other chair on Skaro,” but then we get that heartfelt moment, and it’s between The Doctor and Davros. Really. Davros even cries. Is Moffat seriously trying to get us to feel for Davros, and worse than that, was he trying to have the two archenemies share a joke like Batman and the Joker at the end of Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke??
Nope, and thank goodness. It was all a frustrating ploy to get The Doctor to relinquish his regeneration energy into Davros and the Daleks. Thankfully after a death dance with the Supreme Dalek (which I wanted more of, but perhaps, after what happens later, I should be careful what I wish for – it looks as if a Super-Villain Team-Up may be in our future), Missy saves The Doctor, but that’s not all that’s going on. It all seems too easy, so easy, I kinda wanted the Killing Joke ending more.
The trick is, and props to Moffat for foreshadowing, that the regeneration energy powers all of Davros’ children – including those in the sewers, as they erupt and try to fight their way to the surface. Skaro is in literal upheaval. When Clara/Dalek approaches The Doctor and Missy, was I the only one shouting along with Missy to ‘kill it’? Yeah, sorry, I can’t wait for Clara and Jenna Coleman to take her leave. I think I like her even less than Donna Noble, and I hated Donna Noble. And speaking of Clara, whatever happened to the Impossible Girl angle? Shouldn’t she be a pro at saving The Doctor by now? She’s slacking off lately.
Speaking of forgotten plot points, the Confession Dial was pretty useless, wasn’t it? So, bottom line, do you kill Hitler? No, not if you’re The Doctor. Like Tom Baker, Peter Capaldi does not exterminate the Daleks. He’s a good man, like Matt Smith a few seasons back. I knew the TARDIS wasn’t destroyed, and I also loved the sunglasses, but I am going to miss the screwdriver, please bring it back. He’s not The Doctor without his screwdriver!
Until next week, watch out for vampire monkeys!