The Witch’s Familiar: The Good, The Bad and The Nerdy
Gustaff Behr goes through the highs, the lows and everything else from the 2nd episode.
Following last week’s episode, we had been promised a better second parter to The Magician’s Apprentice. Whatever your opinion was on that episode, the promise of a better follow-up still had to be upheld. Let’s dissect if it did, if it didn’t and what remained afterwards. Spoilers for those yet to have seen the episode.
“The only other chair on Skaro.”
Wow! I’m just going to start with that one line. I mean giving the Doctor the only other chair on Skaro to sit on – after he’d stolen Davros’? That is just way past funny! That should be everyone’s screensaver: A picture of the Doctor sitting on a stool with his face cupped in his hand. Hilarious!
Onto business, there were some real gems this week. But let’s start with the First and Fourth Doctor making a cameo appearance. That was such a nice, if unexpected nod to the past, something I touched upon in the last article. Even if we know it’s not really Tom Baker or William Hartnell sneaking about, there is just something magical about the idea that Doctor Who can get away by including fake shemp Doctors with fancy camera angles and tricky lighting effects.
I also want to talk about Missy. I have made no attempts to hide the fact that I did not enjoy this incarnation of the Master AT ALL during Series 8. I even mentioned that she poses no real threat to the Doctor. She had yet to have that ‘I am the Master/Kill-or-be-killed’ moment that convinces you that this character is truly dangerous. Killing red shirts doesn’t count as nobody that matters cares about them. They’re cheap. But hiding Clara inside a Dalek casing and then goading the Doctor into killing her? That is the Master right there. That is the missing link that critics of her Michelle Gomez’s incarnation needed to see. There was a real sense of threat and menace in her this week, something Missy’s gambit with the Cybermen lacked as EVERYONE knew (even the Star Wars-only fans) that the Doctor would never accept Missy’s offer of an army, but here? There was genuine uncertainty in my mind as the trick, the execution and the bait was perfectly setup. In-between the zaniness, we need more of these moments with Michelle Gomez’s incarnation.
Speaking of Clara, this is the second straight episode I’ve not only tolerated her, but enjoyed her characterization. The fact that she seems to be Missy’s butt monkey helps tremendously too. I will say that for once, I was legitimately uncertain whether or not Clara would survive this episode, despite knowing she’s still here for the rest of the season. It seems Dalek casings are immune to Plot Bending, one of Miss Oswald’s most renowned skills. It was disabled this week and it worked beautifully. It created a genuine life-and-death situation for her in the eyes of the viewers. It was well set-up as I mentioned above and wouldn’t made for a very tragic companion departure if this was Jenna’s last episode. Not many companions can claim they were directly killed by the Doctor after all. We need more of this I-can-only-bend-one-element Clara instead of the Avatar Clara state that usually comes out to play.
On the topic of Clara, I’m just going to mention how much I enjoyed starting the episode with her tied up and hanging upside down thanks to Missy. Okay, moving on.
It turned out the Daleks WERE working with Davros (the Bors plot hole question from last week answered) and were attempting to gain the Doctor’s regenerative power. This was a surprising twist. They don’t normally go for this sort of plan, but it worked here. Nobody could have guessed it, unlike the ‘Bad’ section below.
“Admit it. You’ve all had this exact nightmare.”
No episode is without sin and boy am I going to sin. Two! Two! TWO deus ex machinas in one freaking episode! Really? I mean come on we had a flashback ex machina – regardless of how cool it looked – it still came out of nowhere and at just the right moment as well, much like the flashback ex machina we got in Deep Breath last year. I’m sorry. Sin!
And then we got the second one – TARDIS ex machina in the form of the HADS, but not the usual Hostile Action Displacement System. No! The Hostile Action Dispersion System. Way more controlled and way more effective than the HADS we’ve come to know and love. And while I have no doubt we’ll see the Displacement system again on the show, I am sure this is the first AND last time we’ll ever see the Dispersion variation in action, it being written into the plot solely to take the TARDIS out of it with no chance of the Daleks detecting and recapturing it. How convenient? Though disappointing resolutions to last week’s cliffhanger, the ex machina siblings were more of an afterthought in my mind as I’m used to ex machinas resolving second parters.
Also, the TARDIS disperses itself in the room and no Daleks bump into its force field or detects that there are some weird TARDIS particles in the room with them? That’s just weak considering how on the ball the Daleks were last week. Anyone who denies that the plot moved that one decimal point of intelligence I awarded them last week back to its original position AND then moving it back even further away is deluding themselves.
We finally understand who the magician, the witch and the familiar referenced in the titles for these stories are: The Doctor is the magician while Missy and/or Davros are the witch. Clara and/or Davros are the apprentice while Clara is also the familiar.
Getting that out of the way, for those who didn’t know, the Master listens to Elton John, referencing The Bitch is Back. Speaking of Missy, we got a nice brick joke this week when she threatened to claw Davros’ his eye out in the last episode. Guess what she does when they meet? Well she pokes it, but it was still a very good brick joke as far as brick jokes are concerned. The episode also references the Simms Master when Missy implies she would have eaten Clara if they couldn’t find anything else to. We all know the Master is a humanitarian.
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard a Dalek say the word “mercy” before. Cue River Song flashback. And this is also not the first time a companion has gotten inside a Dalek casing and pretended to be one. We have Ian Chesterton to thank for that.
Davros and the Sixth Doctor teamed up in the audio story Davros and we got another stealthy Big Finish mention, specifically Scherzo. Using a brooch to murder? Ringing any bells?
For fans of The Evil of the Daleks, this episode served as a Whole Plot Reference to that story: Tricking the Doctor into transferring an attribute of another race into Daleks, but it turns out he has actually planned this and his actions lead to the Daleks fighting amongst themselves and destroying their city. Hell, we even have the Doctor and Clara watching the city being destroyed from a mountainside.
The Doctor has previously pointed a gun at Davros in Resurrection of the Daleks and he’s been given the opportunity to kill all of them with a single touch in Genesis of the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks, The Parting of Ways and in The Day of the Doctor. Wow, he’s squandered a lot of opportunities, hasn’t he?
The Carmel Masterplan is given a stealthy reference when Davros insists the Doctor had ulterior motives for leaving Gallifrey. This also seems to be the story arc for this season.
Davros wanting to see the Doctor “with my eyes” is a Star Wars reference I believe, two archenemies laughing at a joke is reminiscent of the Batman comic book The Killing Joke and the hat trick for those who could stop laughing long enough at Missy’s pointy stick joke… Steven Moffat has been watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus recently.
And lastly, let’s talk about the irony this episode contained. It’s a word that everybody knows, but very few understand. Steven Moffat definitely understands the word. He has Davros ask the Doctor of all people “Am I a good man?”. We get a better one later on with Clara in a Dalek: The first time we saw Jenna Coleman in Doctor Who, she played a Clara echo who’d been transformed into a Dalek, but here we have the real Clara is disguised as one.
To conclude, can this episode cash the cheque last week’s episode wrote us? Or will it bounce due to in-sufficient funds?