Devious Davros, tricksy Missy and Dalek Clara delight in The Witch's Familiar
But please ditch the sonic sunglasses, Doc!
TV Review Readers please note: THIS IS A POST-UK BROADCAST REVIEW – THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So it turns out Clara and Missy escape from the death-by-Dalek shocker in the first episode of this two-parter for the opening of Doctor Who, Season 9. Vortex manipulator For The Win.
And the TARDIS is also intact, courtesy of its hostile action dispersal system.
But let's get straight to the thing that surely irks every single one of us: sonic sunglasses – what were you thinking, Steven Moffat?! No, no, no.
I rather like the throwaway explanation for the Doctor's decision to suddenly adopt wearable tech: "I'm over screwdrivers. They spoil the lining of your jacket."
Still, come off it, Doc. You didn't suddenly ditch the screwdriver for gizmos that have actually taken off in a big way, such as mobile phones or even, dare I say it, fondleslabs. So what's with this weirdy homage to Google? And can we expect to see the Time Lord ditching the creepy tech specs for an Apple Watch in Season 10? I bloody hope not.
That said, perhaps Moffat is playing with all of us, and the sonic specs are simply a stop gap bit of kit to allow for the plot to move on.
Does the final scene in the Witch's Familiar dangle a tantalising clue and might the Doctor once again return to a young Davros to rescue said screwdriver and (for the audience) his reputation?
We see boy-Dav clutching the now-abandoned sonic screwdriver and wandering off hand-in-hand with his rescuer, the Doctor, who just so happens to be grasping a Dalek gunstick, which a dying-not-dying Davros earlier tells us is an "ancient" bit of equipment.
What if that gunstick is the genesis of the entire race of Daleks?
Doctor Who, Season 9, Episode 2 – The Witch's Familiar. Pic credit: BBC
Did the young Davros end up in possession of the gunstick? Also, what became of the sonic screwdriver? The two things that could (maybe) help to bring about a Time Lord-Dalek hybrid mutant.
We see in this episode that Davros hopes to create such a being. And, while the audience is led to believe that the Doctor's arch-enemy is toast as old, zombie-like Dalek gunk (or canned primordial soup, perhaps) rises up from the "revolting" sewer, AKA graveyard, of Skaros to attack their roast peanut-faced creator – we don't witness his last breath.
All of which surely promises more Davros as this season's story unfolds.
Meanwhile, tricksy Missy – having failed to hoodwink the Doctor into killing Clara, who is hidden inside the casing of a Dalek and discovering that her love is suddenly expressed as violence: "Exterminate!" – hints at yet another return.
Missy once again delivers some of the best lines, such as: "The friend inside the enemy, the enemy inside the friend. Everyone's a bit of both. Everyone's a hybrid."
Is the Witch's Familiar really just grappling with compassion and mercy, though? Or is a dark secret about the Doctor and the Daleks yet to be revealed to us?
Or maybe, just maybe, I've come up with this entire scenario so as those damn glasses are binned in the not-too-distant future.
Setting aside my sonic specs angst, Doctor Who has opened with a bang. I really hope Moffat, his team of writers and crew sustain the quality of this story-telling throughout the season.
Of course it was a trap and, of course, the Doctor would triumph, the manner of trap was its springing and its purpose.
The Doctor and Davros dance around each other in Witch’s Familiar, the second instalment of last week’s season opener, with the Doctor seemingly succumbing to a completely new side of an an adversary we thought we knew all too well.
In intense scenes reminiscent of vintage Who from the 1970s – short on action and employing a minimalist set – the Doctor and Davros go head-to-head.
'How did a tiny bit of mercy get into the DNA of the Daleks?'
Davros is brilliant, beguiling both Doctor and viewer as the tear-jerking old man, faced by death, seems desperate for meaning and to see just one more sunset.
We are played like violins: is this yet another reconciling of the Doctor to an old enemy?
No, it isn’t. But to what depths will the wily Davros stoop to ensnare Who. And what is he really after?
How about opening his useless biological eyes. Cracking a funny with both Davros and the Doctor rolling about in guffaws – a moment of light relief from the enfolding pressure.
It's clever stuff: all the while there's that voice in your head screaming at Who to be careful of being smothered by the evidence of a dying warrior scene.
I'm relieved when Davros’ trademark throat cackle creeps out as he snares the Doctor in his trap.
This, after all, isn’t a reborn – er, dying – Davros. And it isn’t about an abstract ethical victory. No, this is business as usual. It's about power.
But this is Who, so of course the Doctor's not duped – rather, he's been playing possum to tease out Davros’ latest despicable plot. What's brilliant about this latest twist in the duo’s timeless battle is the chess pieces for their confrontation, which is played out away from the massed ranks of Dalek power.
It's a cerebral battle with Davros hitting the buttons of compassion, regret, mercy and longing – all of which he despises – to reel in the Time Lord.
All of which is a refreshing difference to Who episodes of years gone by that were built on quick scenes and breathless action cobbled together by pseudo-science explainers. I’m looking at you, David Tennant years.
Away from this slowly closing trap, and following their own constricting relationship through the bowels of Dalek City, are Missy and Clara sneaking their way around – there's never been any question in my mind that they were dead; nor the TARDIS gone.
The Doctor’s assistant plays relatively wide-eyed innocent to the others in the canon of characters not to be taken at face value when doing good deeds.
Again, Missy steals some of the best lines and moments, from sharpening her stick to poking Davros in his eye.
But Who’s riding in on Davros' armoured seat is also a moment of valedictory Whovian postmodern TV: “Admit it you’ve all had this exact nightmare,” he goads. As is Davros' referential rejoinder: “Hope you are grateful – it wasn’t easy to procure. The only other chair on Skaro.”
Missy, meanwhile, plays the black widow, toying with Cara who – again, against all our best instincts – allows herself to be nearly entombed in the case of a Dalek.
The Doctor, some Daleks and a bare-footed Clara recreate classic Beatles' Abbey Road shot. Pic credit: BBC
Would Clara really have been so naive? But then, she has little choice as Missy playfully skips around as a Pied Piper knowing what comes next and what to do.
It’s right that a villain of Missy’s class is given a second lease of life, closing this episode surrounded by the enemy in a collapsing city.
Also, there is an appealing prospect that the Doctor’s actions could actually create a new class of enemy: a zombie Dalek he’ll need to face in the future.
A top-class episode, one that capitalised on what established Who: tight drama that doesn’t try to “do” science but focuses on plot, people and lines.
As Missy says in the opening scene “it’s a classic”. After last week’s cliffhanger, The Witch's Familiar sees the Doctor alone, sans the TARDIS and surrounded by Daleks.
Missy and Clara are predictably fine. Michelle Gomez (Missy) is on form again, hopping around like a demented Mary Poppins with a pointy stick. And she makes better use of Clara than the Doctor ever has: shoving her down a hole, using her as bait and finally plonking her into a Dalek carcass – something the impossible girl should know all about.
While Missy and Clara gallivant around Skaro, those hoping for more action from the Doctor will be disappointed as he spends most of the second instalment of this opener sitting around talking to Davros. Again.
Doctor Who, Season 9, Episode 2 – The Witch's Familiar. Pic credit: BBC
While it is not implausible that Darovs and the Doctor would become friends in the Dalek creator’s final hours, the switch-switchy-switcheroo is a bit far-fetched. If the Doctor knows the sewers will rise up, then why dosen’t he just hook himself up to the Dalek network straight away?
Of course, that would have cost viewers the silly, but amusing “arm and a leg” joke in an episode that was light on humour. Perhaps writer Steven Moffat exhausted his bad jokes arsenal in last week’s Bill and Ted moments.
Missy’s attempts to get Clara killed are much applauded by this reviewer, but a season wherein a devastated Doctor is tormented by having killed his companion might be a little too dark for most tastes. Instead we get the moral lesson of the day: mercy. OF COURSE the Doctor didn’t kill a small boy in a minefield. Hands up who thought he would.
The Doctor begins this episode all alone and surrounded by Daleks, and that’s exactly how Missy ends it. While the Doctor always assumes he will win, Missy is most certainly convinced to the bottom of both her hearts that she will, and more prosaically, she is far too good a character to kill off.
But before we hail this opening two-parter a success, there is one horror that must be addressed. Sonic sunglasses. Seriously! Sonic bloody sunglasses?! Wearables aren’t even a good idea in real life and they certainly have no place in Doctor Who.
The BBC’s marketing department may be to blame for such atrocities as Smarties-coloured Daleks, but taking the Doctor’s screwdriver is unforgivable.
Let’s hope someone realises that before the next episode. ®