Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar

Posted on September 27, 2015

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Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman in BBC America’s “Doctor Who.”

 

We’re unsure how to approach this episode and this review. In retrospect the descriptor “uneven” wouldn’t even begin to cover it. The hour ranged from giddy fun to heartfelt melodrama to schemes-within-schemes adventure in the grand Who tradition – none of which sounds like a bad thing, but the results felt shallow, as if too much was trying to be accomplished in one episode. However, in a twist on our normal whiny review, we’re going to try to focus more on the things we like rather than the things we didn’t.

Haha. Just kidding. We’re still going to talk about the things we didn’t like. We’re just segueing here.

Okay, we liked:

The “The Killing Joke”-inspired dialogue between The Doctor and Davros, in which their life-long adversarial relationship is both laid bare and revealed to be a twisted form of mutual respect and even affection for each other. Even if they were each scheming against the other, there was a lot of truth in those moments.

The aforementioned schemes-within-schemes setup, which was clearly ridiculous, but part of a long Who tradition.

The Adventures of Missy and Clara. Honestly, we think an entire season could be built around the idea. For all the (often deserved) criticism Moffatt gets for his sexism, this looked very much to us like a deliberate attempt to show what the series would look like if the lead character was a woman. Part of what made it work was Michelle Gomez’s fabulously hilarious performance, but there was also something to be said for the idea that – aside from some homicidal tendencies that spring up now and then – working as The Master’s companion is not really so different from working as The Doctor’s.

The somewhat fascinating revelations about what it’s like to be a Dalek and how they are literally prevented from ever expressing any emotion other than hatred; any idea other than the extermination of those who aren’t Dalek.

All of the above was great, if a little scattershot and shallow. But as whole, it didn’t feel like this episode felt fully resolved – or even that this story needed two full hours to tell. What it felt like was a setup of the themes and possibly even the major Big Bad of the season. Missy and Davros both played the “You and I are not so different, Doctor” card in these first 2 episodes and that doesn’t seem like a coincidence. On the other hand, it’s hard not to return to the complaint we made last week: that Steven Moffatt keeps recycling the same ideas over and over again. In fact, if you took the temporarily insane River Song of “Let’s Kill Hitler” and put her in Victorian dress, she’d have been pretty much indistingushable from Missy in this episode. Additionally, there were these callbacks that weren’t quite callbacks that felt – and here’s that word again – unresolved. It struck us as very odd that two of the more important plot points centered around things we’ve seen in the series already. We were introduced to a version of Clara that essentially lived “inside” a Dalek in season seven’s “Dalek Asylum” and we saw a Dalek beg River Song for mercy in season five’s “The Big Bang.” It just seemed odd to us that no reference was made to these prior episodes or events in any way. Yes, timelines and memories have been changed and/or erased – and no one but River was present when that Dalek begged for its life, but even so. Without making any sort reference to those original stories, these things felt less like callbacks or Easter eggs and more like, well, Moffatt repeating ideas again without realizing he’s doing it. It’s really hard to tell the difference sometimes.

 

But like we said, this could all be groundwork-laying for things that will play out later in the season. Certainly the whole Doctor’s confession thing is going to come up again, as is the Dalek-Timelord super-hybrid, since Missy seems to have absconded with a few remaining samples. Plus there’s the mentioned-in-passing daughter of Missy, which doesn’t seem like something that’s not going to come up again. We just felt that this two-episode opening felt a little stale and flat, even if there were moments of interest and fun scattered throughout. That may be the best we can expect from the series for now. Occasional moments of fun and interest.

 

[Photo Credit: Simon Ridgeway/BBC America]

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