Doctor Who: Lying, the witch and wardrobe malfunctions

Review: The Witch’s Familiar 

I think the Dalek loop is complete for the moment thanks to Steven Moffat. The Doctor has killed them, refused to kill them, transformed them, saved them, run away from them, and helped in a way, to invent them. Davros and The Doctor are the same and different. Scientist geniuses, the products of wars with special abilities and drawbacks. It was chilling and a relief to see them laugh. Meanwhile, The Doctor uses the expectation of his compassion as a weapon, while Davros and the Daleks persist in their single-minded goal to survive, which is always their greatest weakness. Davros too, strangely never expects the Doctor to lie, which is odd for mortal enemies with a long history.

There are real problems in depicting ‘evil’ or bad guys as always ugly, or disabled, or both. That’s a trope that ends a thesis or two, and also to end. Yet, the contrast between young Davros and old Davros is interesting and something I’ll have to go back to old episodes to explore.  The concept of his chair too, is intriguing. It’s a prison and a shell, a defence and a life support and seeing The Doctor in it was freaky in the extreme. The joke about a chair being rare on Skaro was quietly hilarious too.

In the old days, The Master's Tardis was some times a grandfather clock. Be worried it's still out there somewhere.

In the old days, The Master’s Tardis was sometimes a grandfather clock. Be worried it’s still out there and Missy’s looking for it.

This episode felt tighter, with more at stake than the previous one. While I didn’t like Missy and Clara being ‘killed’ last episode, the explanation of how they were not, was excellent. I appreciate the tension and weird camaraderie when Clara and Missy are together. Even though they kinda fail the Bechdel test, because when together they mostly discuss The Doctor.  Or Danny. Still, the lil comments Missy leaves about her past lives are fascinating. Like the fact she had/has a daughter. Or did I miss-hear that, did she mean the Doctor’s daughter?

Leaving that aside, Missy and Clara compliment each other. Clara with her hatred of Missy, but inability to actually kill her, versus Missy’s knowledge that if she did ‘really’ directly harm Clara she wouldn’t last very long. Even though she’s not averse to threats and getting The Doctor to kill Clara. This incarnation of the Master feels more dangerous than John Simm’s (for instance), but just as unstable. If Missy is the witch, Clara is fast becoming her student, as well as The Doctor’s.

Clara on the inside

So, the obvious links to episodes include The Dalek Asylum, and Missy’s stunt with Clara felt dangerous because from that episode we know what’s at stake. Clara, one of a million faceless crazed machine-animals, could easily have been lost or killed or transformed. It was claustrophobic and eerie, seeing (yet again) Clara squeezed into an armoured death chair that rewires her brain and emotions.

And I wonder what the implications of regeneration energy are for her, since she too may have had a dose while inside the suit?

The other episodes was Inside the Dalek (of course), Dalek featuring Rose’s mercy towards one, and then The Big Bang, where a Dalek asks River Song (foolishly) for mercy. Now we know how that Dalek and Clara, trapped inside the metal box, could ask. Because, always, Doctor.

With Mr Moffat, no thread goes unexplained, eventually. It could be a link picked up from decades ago (Genesis of the Daleks) or a couple of episodes ago. It all gets worked out, never quite in the way you expect (defeat by sewer anyone?) but always with a mind to how every time the Doctor arrives somewhere he is changing his own story.

Never forget that Daleks, inside their shells. are basically on eye monomaniac hate squids. Clara was nearly that again.

Never forget that Daleks, inside their shells. are basically immortal one-eyed, monomaniac hate squids. Clara was nearly that again.


Unlike previous Dalek/Time War episodes, The Witch’s Familiar didn’t see Mr Moffat unwrite anything that went before, but just made it clearer. Once involved in a timeline (like that of Davros), there is no way of escaping it. The Doctor knows this and chooses neither to attempt to kill Davros, or leave him (again), but teach him the word exterminate, while demonstrating mercy. It’s the circle of the Time War.

Mostly though, I say no to the really big change of the episode. Remembering that The Doctor lies, and knowing that wearable tech is so early 21st century human, all I want is the sonic screwdriver back.

I’m guessing at least one screwdriver will return, when River does.




4 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Lying, the witch and wardrobe malfunctions

  1. “Even though they kinda fail the Bechdel test, because when together they mostly discuss The Doctor. Or Danny.”

    Is this review supposed to be for “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar,” because it only says at the top it’s for the latter. I’ve watched both episodes three times and I’m fairly sure Danny is never once mentioned in “The Witch’s Familiar.” He does get a very brief mention in “The Magician’s Apprentice” and that’s about it . Moreover, both episodes pass the Bechdel Test, and TWF in particular has no less than three scenes from start to finish where a man never comes up, not to mention other shorter exchanges in other scenes where they have discuss multiple topics, some about the Doctor and some not about the Doctor (or other men).

    CLARA: Daleks have sewers?
    MISSY: With one significant difference.
    CLARA: Being?
    MISSY: They’re ever so slightly alive.
    CLARA: They’re what?
    MISSY: How much of a drop would you say that is? Can you see the bottom?
    CLARA: It’s too dark. Um…we could chuck a stone down or something.
    MISSY: Oh, yeah, good idea. (She pushes Clara into the pit and Clara screams.) Twenty feet.

    CLARA: What?
    MISSY: Hello. (Clara grabs Missy’s stick and points it at her threateningly.) Oh, poppet. Do you really think you could?
    CLARA: First chance I get!
    MISSY: You won’t survive down here on your own.
    CLARA: You won’t survive turning your back!
    MISSY: Oh, how exciting. God, you’re dull! (She takes the stick back.) In the future, if you’re gonna take my stick, do me the courtesy of actually killing me. Teamwork is all about respect.
    CLARA: We’re not a team.
    MISSY: Of course we are! Every miner needs a canary. Now hush, look around. Bit of a mess, isn’t it?
    CLARA: Well, you said it was a sewer.
    MISSY: The Daleks don’t generate much in the way of waste.
    CLARA: So what is it all then?
    MISSY: Decaying daleks. Daleks can’t die. Genetically hardwired to keep on living, whatever happens. Well, but they still age, poor loves. Over time the body breaks down. (She pokes the sewer walls with her stick.) Rots, liquefies. Interestingly, the dalek word for “sewer” is the same as their word… (She smacks the rotting daleks with her stick and they scream.) …for “graveyard.”

    CLARA: How am I supposed to make it go without pedals?
    MISSY: Telepathic control. Open wide. I meant your skull. Never mind.
    CLARA: Ow!
    MISSY: Shh, shh! Now, don’t worry.
    CLARA: Ow!
    MISSY: There’s loads of nanotech repairing any damage as the feed goes in.
    CLARA: What about when it comes out?
    MISSY: I have no idea. Nobody knows. Anyway, to control the unit you just have to think. A novel idea for you, but let’s try it. Move forwards.
    CLARA: I don’t know how to—
    MISSY: You see?
    CLARA: How did I do that?
    MISSY: Circle right.
    CLARA: I can’t.
    MISSY: Circle left. There you go. All right, this won’t hurt a bit. (She starts to shut the dalek casing.)
    CLARA: Hang on. No. Missy! No. No. No. No. Missy. Missy! No, no, no please don’t. Don’t, don’t, don’t please! (The dalek case closes.)
    MISSY: You okay?
    CLARA: Fine, I think. (dalek translation) FINE. I. THINK. Okay… (dalek translation) OKAY. That’s a bit weird. (dalek translation) THAT’S. A. BIT. WEIRD.
    MISSY: Just a bit! Okay, all right, say your name.
    CLARA: (dalek translation) WHY?
    MISSY: Just – just say it.
    CLARA: Clara. (dalek translation) DALEK.
    MISSY: Say it again.
    CLARA: Clara Oswald. (dalek translation) DALEK. DALEK.
    MISSY: One more time.
    Clara: I am Clara Oswald! I’m Clara Oswald! (dalek translation) I. AM. A. DALEK! I. AM. A. DALEK!
    MISSY: Just…don’t get emotional. Emotion fires the gun. Okay?
    Clara: I don’t understand. (dalek translation) I. DO. NOT. UNDERSTAND.
    MISSY: Say, “I love you.” Those exact words. Don’t ask me why. Just say it.
    CLARA: “I love you.” (dalek translation) EXTERMINATE!
    MISSY: Say, “You are different from me.”
    CLARA: “You are different from me.” (dalek translation) EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!
    MISSY: Say, “Exterminate.”
    MISSY: Cybermen suppress emotion, daleks channel it. Through a gun. That’s why they keep yelling, “Exterminate.” It’s how they reload. So, let’s go and kill them. Come on.

    • Welcome and thanks for your close reading TrueLoveRadrian! I do appreciate it, and I’ve had all day to think on this. Yes, I think I have conflated the two episodes a bit, as I see them two halves of the same story. I agree the scenes you quote do demonstrate that the story passes the test. I confess to chucking in a spur of the moment idea that I may need to expand upon.

      In my defence, though, I did say ‘kinda’ – does that help:)? To me it’s less about the dialogue and more about the aims of the characters in each scene. In working together the main prize is to get to The Doctor, regardless of what they actually say. This is partly the problem with Missy, because she is so focussed on him. Al her activities recently are about getting his attention. However, in every episode focussed on The Doctor, what happens is all the other characters end up just gravitating around him, talking about him, trying to save him, speculating, arguing, and/or trying to kill him. So, each exchange between Clara and Missy has The Doctor as goal or subtext, even as they are de-construct a Dalek or threaten to kill each other with sticks. Thus, even though I did really like this episode, I much prefer those where The Doctor and Companions aren’t talking about him (at the very least quite so obviously) and just getting on with the job.

      In addition, I wonder if the Daleks could be done for a bit, since there’s too much ‘Doctor’ in it, if that makes sense? Dalek/Skaro is too laden with significance and carries the weight of his identity. Other ‘enemies’ like the Vashta Nerada or the Angels are less laden and so reveal different facets of each character, including The Doctor, without needing to reflect on his entire history (going back to Genesis of the Daleks). Having argued all that, I do like the odd bit of Doctor/Gallifrey lore thrown in. So I probably want my cake and to eat it too.

      Anyway, thanks again for your feedback, I do value it, especially from such a dedicated Who fan!
      Cheers, Bec

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