Last week we saw Missy and Clara seemingly die in the hands plungers of the Daleks. If that wasn’t enough, the Daleks have also destroyed the TARDIS. What’s a totally unhinged TARDIS- and sonic screwdriver-less Doctor to do?

In the Steven Moffat-penned Doctor Who parody, The Curse of Fatal Death, the Doctor and the Master were locked in an endless battle of wits where they try to outmaneuver each other, only to end up falling into yet another trap prepared even earlier by their rival.

Moffat, in his tenure as Doctor Who showrunner, has used the same device a number of times, most notably in Melody Pond and the Eleventh Doctor’s sexually-charged murder showdown in Let’s Kill Hitler. The device has been played for laughs before, though, which didn’t let me think too much about it. It just happened, we got a laugh out of it, now let’s move on with our lives.

In The Witch’s Familiar, though, since we’re dealing with the Doctor, Missy, and Davros, three of the show’s smartest characters in its entire tenure, and you can’t fault Moffat for making a totally serious version of Curse’s battle of wits. And you know what? I’m totally fine with it.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE WITCH’S FAMILIAR BELOW

Capaldi was amazing in this episode, jumping between angry and goofy and back effortlessly, often in the span of the same scene. The Doctor in Davros’ chair? Threatening. The Doctor bringing out a cup of tea out of nowhere in freaking Skaro and telling the Daleks – and the audience – to just roll with it? Fucking fantastic.

The Doctor on Dalek's chair in The Witch's Familiar

Moffat has often said when he writes a script, he doesn’t do it with a Doctor incarnation in mind – he just writes with the Doctor in mind and then he lets the actor interpret this as he pleases. This has never been more apparent here, as I feel that The Witch’s Apprentice could’ve been a Tenth or Eleventh Doctor story as well and it would’ve been interpreted in totally different directions by David Tennant and Matt Smith.

I am so happy, then that the Doctor is in Capaldi’s very capable hands. He handles the material with a swagger that not even David Tennant has. I really wish Capaldi was able to lock down this interpretation of the Doctor in series 8, because I really enjoyed just watching him have fun and not worry about being a good man or something.

The Bitch is Back

Michelle Gomez’ Missy, though, is something else. Sure, the show has hammered on our heads for decades that the Doctor and Missy are – to steal a term from Clara – “bezzie mates.” But we’ve never seen that twisted friendship on full display since Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado’s tenures. We’ve often seen the Master as someone who can match the Doctor intellectually, but their relationship isn’t often explored – we just see them as straight-up enemies.

Doctor Who The Witch's Familiar Review

This is why I am happy to see Missy as a totally complex backstabbing character who can telegraph a move like pushing Clara down a pit, but at the same time be totally trustworthy. You can totally feel how complex her relationship is with the Doctor, even though they’ve only shared a few minutes together on screen.

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Clara inside a Dalek in The Witch's Familiar

Putting Clara into a Dalek casing to sneak into the  Dalek HQ, and then later trying to trick the Doctor into killing Clara was just devious, and I did not expect any less from one of the best versions of the Master in the show’s history.

One More Sunrise

What surprised me the most, however, was the depth brought to Davros. I admit I haven’t seen enough Doctor Who episodes to fully appreciate Davros’ history, but the giggling evil mastermind portrayal in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End turned me off Davros stories. I didn’t have faith that the new series can live up to Genesis of the Daleks.

I am so glad to be proven wrong. Julian Bleach’s Davros was fantastic, showing depth with genuine – yes, I am interpreting it as genuine – happiness upon hearing that the Doctor was able to save Gallifrey from destruction. The Doctor and Davros sharing a laugh together was so brilliant I actually had shivers.

Davros in Doctor Who The Witch's Familiar

However, his betrayal of the Doctor, and the Doctor’s revelation that he knew Davros’ plans all along, threw a wrench into the amazing scene that preceded it. Were the two enemies genuinely sharing a moment, or are they both playing each other? I guess the answer is somewhere in between – much like the Doctor-Missy relationship, it’s quite possible that the two have so much shared history to be able to have a moment of total honesty with each other even though they are machinating ways to double-cross each other in the background.

Mercy

We were all expecting that this episode would deal with the Doctor and young Davros for the majority of its runtime, and I am glad it didn’t. I don’t want the answer to “Who created Davros?” to be the Doctor. No, Davros was formed because of Skaro, because of the hundreds of years of war between the Thals and Kaleds even before he was born. War and hate has been the only thing he has known, and even though Davros is able to show genuine empathy, hate is far too ingrained in him for total redemption.

Even though the Doctor showed up in the end to save young Davros from the hand mines and showed him mercy and compassion, it only made the smallest dent in the Daleks – the word “mercy” in their vocabulary. The Doctor knows it barely amounts to nothing, but he’s the sort of man who helps out whenever he can.

Doctor Who The Witch's Familiar

Doctor Who is back with an energy I have never seen since the early Matt Smith days, and I am glad that Peter Capaldi’s found his Doctor already. We are in for a ride these next three months, and I have never been more excited.

Random thoughts:

  • These last two episodes were beautifully shot and framed. That is all.
  • Clara’s barely made a standout moment in this episode. I don’t blame anyone, though. In a script stuffed with Missy’s antics and an attempt to redefine Davros and the Daleks, somebody has to take a back seat.
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Clara in Doctor Who The Witch's Familiar

  • I do not understand why Clara kept on falling for Missy’s tricks over and over. Jesus, woman, why you gotta be so dense.
  • “Admit it: You’ve all had this exact nightmare.” I cannot wait to see the Doctor in Davros’ chair Tumblr fan art.
  • As much as I want to hate the sonic sunglasses, I… I can’t. But please don’t let it be a thing, because it can get old real fast.
  • Two of my favorite comic moments: the only other chair in Skaro and Missy pushing Clara down the sewers. I laughed so hard at “20 feet.”
  • The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that Moffat made a two-parter just to set up a “your sewers are revolting” pun. I don’t blame him; if I were in his shoes I’d do the same thing.
  • Missy alluded to terrible things happening if the probes were pulled out of Clara’s head, and she turned out fine. I’m willing to bet that this is going to tie into Clara’s exit.
  • And it’s going to be poetic if her exit involves her turning into the Dalek hybrid that Davros was talking about. Her first appearance was all about human-Dalek conversions anyway.
  • They actually explained how Missy survived Death in Heaven! I wasn’t expecting that, and I’d be totally fine if they left that a mystery, but it’s neat that they did.
  • I really love that scene Missy was recounting in the beginning, with it referencing Tom Baker, Patrick Troughton, and William Hartnell’s Doctors.
  • Is the Confession Dial this year’s Crack in Time/Disappearing Planets/Bad Wolf/Mr. Saxon?
  • They’re really building up to the return of Gallifrey really slowly, aren’t they? I don’t mind. Take your time, missing planet of the Time Lords. I’m not ready for all the baggage that’ll come back with you.
  • I’ve said it before in my review of The Day of the Doctor, and I’ll say it again – I really love that the Doctor always makes sure that everyone lives. No matter how dark things can get, no matter how dark the Doctor himself can get, but at the end of the day, he finds a way to show mercy and compassion. And nothing proves it more than that scene of him and young Davros, walking hand in hand.

What do you think of The Witch’s Familiar? Let’s talk about this great episode in the comments!

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