Doctor Who 'The Witch's Familiar' [TV-EPISODE REVIEW]

Oh boy. My week has not exactly been a calm one after the stunning 'The Magician's Apprentice' as not a second went by were I was not nervous about what 'The Witch's Familiar' would offer us after the disappointing 'Death In Heaven' last year. I could see all the possibilities for how this episode could fail and the more I thought about it - the more plausible it got that, that is what would eventually happen. So now that the episode has finally made its way to the public, does it somehow live up to the first part or does it become yet another example of a second part not being as good as the first?

Well, this is a rather difficult questions because there are two sides of the coin here. Either we have an episode that not only matches the first episode - but also SURPASSES it. Or we might have an episode that does not match it - but still gets pretty damn close. At the moment I am not quite sure which one I am leaning towards but what I can say is that 'The Witch's Familiar' is a very satisfying and epic conclusion to what is possibly the best Dalek story since 'The Parting of the Ways' from Series 1... and after a couple of more re-watches I might even have to go further back. What I will say though is that this was a radically different episode than what I had imagined. Yes I worked out how both Missy and Clara escaped and also how the TARDIS survived (I loved that they brought back the HADS system that was last seen in 'Cold War' from Series 7 - and was first introduced in the Troughton era - I believe it was 'The Krotons') but the resolution was handled so well and creatively that it just worked. I also cannot really diss an episode for a rather predictable cliffhanger - when the solution still makes sense and does not play out as a big twist. In fact it is surprisingly downplayed which was rather welcoming as they could easily have stretched it out and try to sound so much more clever than it really is when it eventually does reveal it.

Naturally, just like 'The Magician's Apprentice', this episode looks absolutely stunning. Hettie MacDonald shines in every single frame and leaves a major uphill battle for the other directors of the season to compete against. 'Hopefully this is not the last time we will see her because she just knows how to make even what could possibly be the most ridiculous scene - somehow work in an episode that is also rather grim and serious.

The most impressive aspect of the whole thing is just how well the episode connects several parts of the classic series and weaves them together in a way that makes sense and does not take away anything that those episodes previously established. This is an episode that both pays homage to several classic Dalek stories while also telling its own story about friends within enemies. The references and homages to other Dalek stories are through the roof here as I could see 'The Daleks', 'Genesis of the Daleks', 'Evolution of the Daleks', 'Asylum of the Daleks' (and possibly 'Into The Dalek') - only by watching it once and I can imagine I will be able to find more after I see it again. It is really impressive how well they all work together but really the major aspect from the classic series that the episode plays with is Davros himself. This could easily have turned into a major retcon but when you really look at it... it works. All of the actions Davros does in the classic series are no contradiction of him realizing that was the Doctor. There is really no way for him to realize it is in 'Genesis of the Daleks' or 'Destiny of the Daleks' because there was no TARDIS around and he did not look like Peter Capaldi at the time. After that however - he knows everything about the Doctor and decides to seek him out. After all that there never really came a moment were he would just start talking about when he was younger. We just did not see the moment were he finally figured it all out.

The best part of the whole thing though is the interactions between ALL the key players. The Doctor and Davros have some of the best scenes Peter Capaldi has had thus far and Missy is just a joy to watch with Clara. The script manages to make those two teams share some really good and quite friendly moments - but still never let go of the whole conflict between them. I mean lets not forget that only a couple of episodes ago, Missy was going to destroy the whole world and last time we saw Davros he was ready to destroy the whole universe. Missy by the way is amazing in this episode, she has clearly become her own character now and I really hope she returns in the near future as she had me rolling several times during this episode.

Peter Capaldi is absolutely magnificent here. Upon multiple viewings this might be one of the best performances the show has ever seen (not exaggerating) and it might not even be hyperbole to say he is probably the best actor to have ever played the Doctor. All his scenes with Davros just glued me to the screen because that is when the episode shined the brightest. Everything from the performances by Capaldi and Bleach to the directing to the writing just clicked for me and Capaldi's delivery of the this line could not have been done better by any other actor in the world;

I came... because you're sick and you asked. And because sometimes, on a good day, if I try... very hard, I'm not some old time lord who ran away. I'm the Doctor.

Not a single word, not a single inflection, not a single breath the Doctor took in this whole episode made me believe he was this guy called Peter Capaldi. No, this was THE DOCTOR on the screen and he made us all believe that he can save us. The Twelfth Doctor is still most definitely a grumpy dude - but he is a much more rounded character here than when he first began. You can see that he has grown a lot from his first line in 'The Time of the Doctor' and I desperately hope we continue to see this growth as Series 9 continues.

By far, the weakest aspect of the whole episode was the ultimate solution to the whole thing. I do realize now that I threw that out there that it might come across like I did not like any of it but really that is not true, in fact the solution is quite clever and definitely works. It is not a cop out by any means, which is what I almost expected to see for some reason. The problem though is that up to that point, Davros has been really careful with moving his plans forward in really strategic ways - but then all of that falls apart when we find out about that major flaw when his plan is about to come into fruition. Really the Doctor did not have to do anything in order for the day to be saved. Davros made the move and the move caused him to lose and it was such a gaping hole that based on how he was in the rest of the episode - it just came across as an out of character moment. HOWEVER, there is enough good character moments in the episode for me to be able to overlook it and not even take it into the equation when I judge the overall quality of the whole thing because Davros' plan is still great and the way it was stopped was also great.

Overall, 'The Witch's Familiar' is possibly on par with 'The Magician's Apprentice' and maybe even better. I have a feeling this is going to be an infinitely re-watchable story and should go down as one of the best of the new series. Peter Capaldi is absolutely gold, Michelle Gomez just HAS to come back as Missy and Julian Bleach becomes probably the best Davros we have ever had (maybe even better than Michael Wisher). Hettie MacDonald is a force to be reckoned with in the directing department and Steven Moffat's script is both filled with clever homages to past Dalek stories (this should have been called Celebration of the Daleks) while also telling a rather profound story of friends within enemies, enemies within friends. 'The Magician's Apprentice' and 'The Witch's Familiar' kicked off Series 9 stronger than any other Season of the new series has ever done and I cannot wait to see where it goes from here.


- Lucas


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