Consider… the two part episode.
The multi-part episode is nothing new in the history of Doctor Who. In fact, since its begining, the majority of the stories of the original series were broadcast in twenty-five minute installments (which were subsequently broadcast as two-hour mini-movies in the United States). It wasn’t until the the relaunch of the series in 2005 that the show switched format from the deep serialization to the standard American hour-long drama format that we know today. (In fact Nu-Who has at times subtly nodded to the original format by slipping in mini-cliffhangers at the halfway mark in certain hour-long episodes, the best example being the mid-episode cliffhanger in the Series 4 finale “Journey’s End.”)
The problem with the two part episodes, especially in terms of Nu-Who and especially under showrunner Steven Moffat’s pen, is that they are usually heavily unbalanced; with one episode or the other getting more of the meat of the episode. In fact, as all right as “The Magician’s Apprentice” was, “The Witch’s Familiar” was a vastly stronger episode thanks to some sharp acting, some tantalizing teases, and some genuinely surprising ways to look at certain members of the Doctor’s mythos.
The centerpiece of this episode was the Doctor’s lengthy showdown with Davros. Both Peter Capaldi and Julian Bleach in particular were in rare form as they squared off over their ideologies, their histories, and more. There were too many fantastic moments between the two of them in their brilliantly played scenes. The first was the charming moment when Davros and the Doctor both broke out into laughter. The second was the gasp-worthy moment when Davros, after all of those years, finally opened his real Kaled eyes and cried over the news that Gallifrey had survived. In creating the Daleks, Davros wanted to save his people, even though he has become forever isolated from them (sounds like someone we know, right?). Of course Davros’ ultimate gambit (to use Time Lord regeneration energy to basically recharge himself and all of the Daleks) threw all of the emotional truths of their conversation out the window, but as they say all good lies are built on the truth. Plus traps within traps, plans within plans, and wheels within wheels are a staple of Doctor Who since the its inception (and calls back to another famous Dalek-centric episode – more on that in my notes below).
The other big highlight of the episode was the unintentional comedy between Clara being the new companion for Missy, the great joke being that it’s not that different from being the Doctor’s companion. In her own special way, Missy was basically treating her new companion the way the Doctor does but without any filters, and putting them in as much danger. On the one hand, Missy obviously has some regard for Clara in the fact that she can put Clara in danger and she would know what to do. Additionally, there was some hilarious comedy that was played brilliantly by Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez as they had their adventure in the Dalek’s sewers / graveyard. Things turned to the macabre when we saw Clara get in the Dalek shell (in a very twisted spin on her first appearance), but it was a fascinating lesson in Dalek psychology in turning weaponizing their emotions. All of which led to the gasp-worthy moment of the Doctor being goaded on by Missy to kill Clara. It’s the nonchalantly evil way that Missy almost succeeded that makes me such a fan of Michelle Gomez’s portrayal of the Master.
All of which leads the Doctor to save everyone with a simple act of mercy for the young Davros. It’s a bit pat to say that the war on Skaro made Davros which led to the creation of the Daleks, but at the same time it’s a slightly bit audacious to see that the Doctor managed to infect their creator with the disease of compassion.
– Upon seeing the Sonic Sunglasses, I had the same reaction as Clara: “No. Seriously?”
– I will admit it did fill my heart with glee that in Missy’s flashback story we saw glimpses of the Fourth Doctor and the First One, and how the Doctor’s story explained how Missy and Clara escaped, and how Missy escaped at the end of “Death In Heaven.” (Though I am still livid that they would dare impugn the marksmanship of Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart! For shame!)
– “Admit it. You’ve all had this exact nightmare.” Who didn’t giggle when they saw the Doctor roll in on Davros’ chair? Which then led to the great joke about “the only other chair on Skaro.”
– “We’re not a team.” “Of course we are. Every miner needs a canary.” Thought Missy was saying this about her unintentional companion, this would not sound completely out of place from one of the saltier versions of the Doctor saying to one of his companions. (I can see it being said by an annoyed First Doctor, a bitchy moment from the Second Doctor, at any point by the Sixth Doctor, and maybe in an ironic moment by the Seventh Doctor.)
– Speaking of the Seventh Doctor, this half of the story, with all of its plots within plots, reminded me of the other great Dalek story from the original series “Remembrance of the Daleks,” which was not only the highpoint of the Seventh Doctor and Ace’s adventures but also established the idea that the Doctor was a master manipulator of epic proportions. (For an in-depth look at that episode, check out local writer Christopher Bahn’s article on it for The A.V. Club. While you’re there, check out his other writing on classic Doctor Who episodes.)
– “What are you doing?” “Murdering a Dalek. I’m a Time Lady. It’s our golf.”
– I didn’t mention it last time, but it still has to be said: How cool was it to see all the various iterations of our beloved pepper pots together at last!
– Did anyone catch the last shot of the Doctor when he reached out his left hand to young Davros? Foreshadowing. You’re soaking in it! (Actually it was a nice directorial touch by episode director Hettie MacDonald, who will still be remembered for her masterful direction of the iconic Series 3 episode “Blink.”)
– Some people have compared dear Clara Oswald to Sarah Jane Smith. To which I have three things to say: (1) No. Just… no. (2) If Sarah Jane Smith found herself with the Master and a pointy stick, you can bet your ass she would have gone all Buffy Summers on him. (3) I knew Elisabeth Sladen, and you Ms. Coleman are no Elisabeth Sladen.
– Aside from the confession disk, there were so many teases that I lost count: in addition to the Confession Disk, we had the tease of Missy’s daughter, the shocking idea of Missy and the Daleks working together (if Gallifrey were around, she’d be dead in less than one second for such treason!) and the really intriguing tease of the Dalek / Time Lord hybrid. Color me intrigued.
NEXT TIME: We go under the sea (well, “Under The Lake”) as veteran Nu-Who writer Toby Whithouse returns to take his first crack at this incarnation of the Doctor with another two-parter.
Photo & Video Credits: BBC