“The Witch’s Familiar” Review

Please, please can we have the Doctor Who stage tour? I want to see ‘Gomez & Coleman, Capaldi & Bleach’ in lights, and take my seat in the theatre to experience these electrifying performances live.

Considering that a story with the Dalek’s planet or their creator’s origins are like catnip to Whovians, it’s ironic that they were superfluous here. This episode was all about the barnstorming performances of the pairs of enemies, all of absolutely top quality. I mean, I like a bit of new Skaro-lore or Davros back-story as much as the next Whovian, but to be honest, like last week’s frozen planes and serpentine chases through time, they’re a distraction. I’d go as far as to say, the episode would have been better without…

You may say “Yes, Simon, but you’re the one who likes cliff-hangers and two-parters and so you can’t cut half of it out” but I’d have used the time, quite happily, to have had an entire episode of Missy hanging Clara upside down from a rock. Indeed, can’t we have an entire series of Missy & Clara’s spaghetti-western style Adventures On Skaro?

It was too plot heavy (even despite the fact the plot was somewhat perforated – how did Davros survive out of his chair? where did the Doctor put his legs? and though the Missy’s death plot-hole was plugged, now I want to know why a Cyber-gun didn’t destroy her vortex manipulator but a Dalek gun did…) But I guess that won’t matter when people look back at this two-parter. After all, why do people remember Genesis of the Daleks so fondly? It’s because of Davros’ “tiny pressure of my thumb” and the Doctor’s “do I have the right?” speeches. It’s not for the giant clams in the caves, just as this story won’t be remembered for the silly sentient soup that Daleks apparently compost into.

What about the young Davros? I had my reservations about this plot strand last week. In fact, this was something of misdirection – we didn’t spend too much time in ‘let’s kill Hitler’ territory. But to some extent these exchanges did undermine the central themes of compassion for your enemy – after all, the Doctor’s ultimate rescue was an act of self-interest; and the extraordinary selfless “you asked, so I came” is completely undercut by the Doctor’s shame and guilt. The complex Moffat-esque structuring of the flash-forward cliffhanger overwhelms any depth this might have added to the Doctor’s interactions with Davros.

Anyway, it was great, but – because I loved the writing and the performances in the two-handed scenes – I’d have liked this one still more had it been pared back further. But perhaps this is the groundwork preparing the audience… I have heard there is a later episode this season that is, without giving away too much, even more theatrical and unusual. I’m looking forward to that very much.

Next week: never mind the haunted underwater reactor, what about the vampire monkeys?

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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