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Doctor Who Series 9 recap: The Witch's Familiar

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Nothing else matters so long as there's mercy. Always mercy.

BBC

If you’ve missed last week's recap of this two-part story, then I recommend checking that out before reading on. Previous discussion topics will be revisited, some will even be dropped in light of new evidence. All things considered, I guess what I'm trying to say is that any Doctor Who recap is going to be a "timey wimey" exercise, so do your best to try and keep up. If you get confused, then drop down below and ask for clarification in the comments. There is a lot more to unpack here compared to last week, so let's start off the recap with what came before.

PREVIOUSLY

The Doctor, Clara and Missy have been brought to Skaro, home planet of the Dalek race by a servant of Davros named Colony Sarff. It turns out that the Twelfth Doctor previously met Davros as a child at some point between the last Christmas special, "Last Christmas," and the season opener last week. That’s right, Missy is back once again and still causing that type of havoc that only a Time Lady can.

With Clara and Missy seemingly killed by Daleks, the episode ended with the Doctor once again facing down Davros on the battlefield of his youth. Looking to save his friend (is that Clara, or Missy?) the Doctor seemingly takes aim at Davros with a Dalek weapon. The one phrase to take away from his closing exchange with Davros in last weeks preview? "Exterminate!"

Will the Doctor actually kill a child to save his friend? Let's find out together!

MISSY'S FAMILIAR

Moffat wisely starts the episode by getting the obvious beat out of the way. Yes, Clara and Missy are still alive, and the Time Lady has a story to tell us about how the Doctor once escaped fifty android assassins. Admitting that she "may be rounding up," Missy asks Clara to consider the Doctor. How did he escape this scenario with nano-seconds to live, using only a wrist-worn teleportation device that’s out of power, no TARDIS and his sonic screwdriver?

The simple answer? Because he’s the Doctor, and he's clever, naturally. It turns out that the reasoning for their survival is exactly the same as how the Time Lord escaped a similar fate so long ago. Using the power of the energy blasts from his foes, the Doctor was able to recharge the portable teleporter and escape. This is also how Missy was able to escape the Dalek execution with Clara, and in a lovely bit of continuity it’s also explained that this is how she survived the events of "Death in Heaven" in last year's season finale. So many questions answered in one short segment, but sadly the rest of this episode opens up so many more.

Just like the first part of this story, it once again falls to the actor playing Missy, Michelle Gomez, to carry much of the exposition for viewers in what is probably one of the most convoluted stories since Doctor Who returned to screens in 2005. The delicate movements, mannerisms and inflections that Gomez uses to portray the Time Lady, formerly known as the Master, add more depth to a dangerous character than her predecessor John Simm was ever able to muster. In less capable hands, the interplay between Missy and Clara would fall flat — though Jenna Coleman should be also praised for her comic timing and range of emotions on display in this weeks conclusion.

OLD ENEMIES, BETTER LIARS

We join the Doctor as he listens to Davros explain that it took him a long time to realize that the man on the battlefield was the Time Lord. Believing that Clara Oswald was dead, the Doctor had nothing to lose by demanding that Davros "get up" out of his chair, so he could use it to confront the Daleks. I just can't imagine the Doctor forcing a supposedly dying man out of the chair which sustains him, it's too out of character for him but this story seems to bounce character alignments all over the place.

"Admit it. You've all had this exact nightmare"

As the Doctor wheels into the Dalek control center he quips one relatively funny line, something that I found inconsistent in tone compared to the raw emotion of the previous scene.

This scene serves to show how much Clara means to the Time Lord, and what happens when he approaches the mindset which he once described as the Time Lord Victorious. The Doctor was ready to burn it all if the Daleks told him that his friend, his companion, was truly dead. Of course, the Dalek Supreme doesn't know that, so when it responds that "Clara Oswald is not alive" the Doctor is taunted by Davros, who resorts to humor as a form of defense before the Dalek personal head of security, Colony Sarff, captures him and returns him to face Davros.

CLARA BECOMES A DALEK, AGAIN

It turns out that there are sewers beneath the Dalek city, which is surprising in itself given how little waste the creatures themselves would produce — you know, with them being tiny, one-eyed mutants that don’t consume food and live inside metal carriages. It also transpires that the Dalek word for sewer is the word they also use to refer to graveyards — the walls and ceiling contain the still-living remains of Daleks long since past their prime. It's here, underneath the Dalek city that Clara and Missy have another exchange, one which underlines that they're not companions on this adventure, but that they're simply using each other to survive. Missy needs Clara in order to deceive the Daleks, and Clara needs help to get back to the Doctor. Without one another their chances of success would be low, to say the very least. Between the two pairings at this point in the story it's definitely harder to get invested in the Davros and Doctor story, since we, the audience, are in on the con that Davros is trying to pull.

We know it's a trap, but even though Julian Bleach delivers an amazing performance as the centuries-old scientist, there's no intrigue beyond the end game. Moffat spends so much time trying to have him convince the Doctor that he's changed, that he's really dying and wishes to make peace before the end... that we know it's not real, and we can't expect any major surprises. Missy however, is still as dangerous and unhinged as she ever was as The Master, but you're never quite sure whether she's going to kill Clara or save her.

Eventually, they work together to kill a Dalek and the interplay between the two here is actually quite exciting, though a little tragic for the Daleks. When Missy encloses Clara inside an empty Dalek casing, there's an obvious glee on display as the Dalek programming translates Clara's speech from "I love you" into "Exterminate," and you have to wonder about all of those times when the Daleks talk to their enemies. Are they actually trying to converse with their foes or potential allies, hampered by the override of the casing as prisoners of their environment? Is it the frustrations and emotions born from being unable to say what they mean that makes them so dangerous, or are they really just as insane as their creator intended?

Maybe in the future this could be a thread worth exploring, that Daleks have no control over their actions regardless of their emotions. Maybe there's hope that not all Daleks are created equally.

REGENERATION OF THE DALEKS

It must be noted though that Davros is an evil genius, and a really good one at that.

The levels of duplicity that he traverses in order to get the Doctor to go along with his carefully developed plans go far beyond anything which he's attempted in the past. The two characters spend an awful lot of this episode in conversation, probably the most they've ever spent together on screen in history. While Missy and Clara are working together to get back into the Dalek city, Davros is trying to encourage the Doctor that he is not only dying, but that he was doing the best thing for his people when he created the Daleks. It's a powerful, tempting and manipulative conversation but one that soon passes, after which Davros switches gears and asks him why he came to Skaro.

I came... because you’re sick and you asked

Strangely, the Doctor offers Davros some of his regeneration energy in order to make it through the dawn. How many people have died over the years both in aid of the Doctor and at the hands of Davros? Why would he willingly offer such a powerful gift, even as the latter sits at deaths door? If the Doctor was aware of what Davros had planned then this gesture is illogical at best.

With the Daleks and Davros being infused with the power of the Time Lords, the former find themselves imbued with similar powers to their enemies, and the latter has now been restored to the point where he'll probably live for a few centuries longer. It's yet another illogical turn of events when the Doctor claims to have known about Davros's intentions all along as not only has he given new life to the Daleks, but he's also re-energised the remains in the sewers which ultimately destroy not only the city, but its inhabitants also. It's a resolution of convenience, and one that Moffat relies on more often than not, unfortunately.

The final segment of this story deals with Missy trying to convince the Doctor that the Dalek casing containing Clara is actually a Dalek who killed Clara. While Clara unsuccessfully tries to tell the Doctor that she is his friend, intercepted by the programming of the Dalek computer, Missy tries to get him to destroy the machine. It's a tense moment, and while Clara has only improved as a character over the past two seasons, it's clear that Clara and Missy will resolve their conflict at a later date.

We end this story with The Doctor once again returning to the battlefield of Skaro's past. It's an expanded scene from the closing of the first part of this story, with the Doctor says that it doesn't matter if they're friends or enemies, as long as there is mercy. As the Daleks were created to be a proxy for Nazis, I'm not sure that the concept of mercy rings true as a characteristic for the race. Sometimes you need rules in war, and sometimes you'll have an enemy that refuses to offer quarter in order to set your heroes up as being against incredible odds.

While I'm not a fan of how they got here, the message is that if you look deep enough you can help develop a sliver of good in almost everyone.

We'll likely see Missy again later in this season, probably working along with the Daleks again based upon her closing remarks. Perhaps that'll tie nearly into the exit of Clara Oswald later in the year, it would certainly be an excellent way to bring closure to Clara's story if she were to get revenge for her treatment at the hands of the Time Lady. We also know where this season seems to be heading with the confession dial alluded to as yet another dark secret of the Doctor's: This one is the reason he ran away from Gallifrey in the first place. With a prophecy that the Doctor will create a hybrid from two warrior races, the Time Lords and the Daleks, it's more likely that there will be another twist in that tale.

NEXT TIME

  • Clara wants another adventure, with monsters and things blowing up. The Doctor tells her to be careful what she wishes for.

  • Is this the live action BioShock we've always wanted to see? This story takes place on an underwater base inside a nuclear reactor.

  • "Every time I think it can't get any more extraordinary it surprises me... It's impossible, I hate it... It's evil, it's astonishing..."

  • It looks like he's sticking with the Sonic Sunglasses for now, not a single screwdriver in sight. It's different, but also kind of lame.