Trapped and alone on the terrifying planet Skaro, the Doctor is at the heart of the evil Dalek Empire – no sonic, no TARDIS, nobody to help.
Davros is a character who is rightfully iconic, especially thanks to the debut performance of Michael Wisher in Genesis of the Daleks, but feels as though he’s never been given enough time on television. The creator of the Daleks featured in all of the Dalek stories in the 1980s but he never really feels like he gets as much focus as he does in this story.
Perhaps the biggest problem The Witch’s Familiar has is the fact the audience has no reason to believe that any of the cliffhangers at the end of The Magician’s Apprentice are going to stick. It’s almost as though it tries to do too much, destroying the TARDIS, killing Missy and Clara and seemingly showing the Doctor willing to murder child Davros in revenge for that. That’s why it works so well to have the reveal that Clara and Missy are still alive before the cold open, and Steven Moffat doesn’t really introduce any more new elements of the plot in the second part, instead leaving the conversation between the Doctor and Davros to have more time to breathe and form more of the dramatic backbone of the episode. The Missy and Clara subplot does take a bit more of a backseat, and gives Missy more comedic lines, which is what Michelle Gomez really does well. Moffat gives us an insight into what happens to the Dalek mutants after their Dalek casing has been destroyed, and whilst I’m not entirely convinced by the way they ultimately lead to Davros’s failure here, I think that it just about hangs together. The idea of the Daleks’ anger being used to recharge their weapons is a nice one and quite a neat addition to Dalek lore, explaining how this energy recharges their weapons through shouting their signature phrase. Hettie McDonald does a great job directing the second part here, and I particularly like the way that the TARDIS reforms at the end of the story. Equally, the moment where the Daleks all shut down before the golden regeneration energy glow appears around their headpieces is a really effective moment, which conjures up feelings of dread much more effectively than something like, say, the Cyberlords in The Timeless Children.
Whilst it is a slightly more minor part of the story, I do enjoy the Missy and Clara subplot, from its introduction revealing their survival to the conclusion, although having Clara inside another Dalek feels like a missed opportunity to call back to the first encounter we had with one of her splintered personalities. They provide a lot of this episode’s lighter moments and I particularly enjoy Gomez’s performance here, especially her reaction when she throws Clara down a pit to measure how deep it is is great. It’s a little baffling that Clara trusts Missy as far as she can throw her in this story, but I suppose that she doesn’t really have a lot of choice to survive on Skaro. Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez play off each other delightfully, and the majority of their scenes are great fun.
What the Davros stories previously have got wrong is cramming him into stories where there’s a bigger scheme attached to the Daleks, and the Doctor and Davros exchanges whilst great and often the best parts of those stories, feels like a distraction. Here, Davros is the scheming mastermind behind the trap for the Doctor and there is no wider arcing universe destroying plot for the Daleks. Arguably, their role begins if Davros is successful in getting his army of Daleks infused with additional regeneration energy and ultimately, having almost every Dalek variant ever appear here is largely window dressing. Regardless, the decision to focus on Davros allows Julian Bleach to truly shine in his scenes with the Doctor and he continues his fine performance from The Magician’s Apprentice here. Say what you will about Davros’ real eyes opening, the moment where Davros opens his eyes to see the sunrise on Skaro for the last time is one of the best moments in this story and both Bleach and Peter Capaldi’s performances sell it so well. Bleach’s performance and the script manage to surprise too – his reaction to the news that Gallifrey is safe is just as shocking to us as it is to the Doctor, considering the Time Lords’ actions against the Daleks since their inception. I remember for a moment when this was first broadcast honestly believing that Davros’ tears weren’t just crocodile tears but a genuine moment, which is testament to the performances. If this is the last time we ever see Davros on television, which I doubt, he certainly goes out on a high note.
Dalek Supreme, your sewers are revolting!The Twelfth Doctor
Of course, a lot of these scenes rely a lot on dialogue scenes between two old enemies, and Capaldi really carries his part off well. He portrays the scenes of the Doctor seemingly falling for Davros’ trap so well that it enables the audience to swallow it more that when the twist that the Doctor knew Davros’ ruse all along more satisfying. The flashes of anger he shows when he realises that Missy had trapped Clara in the Dalek with the intent that he would kill her through his rage is also superb. The Doctor spends a lot of this story angry and Capaldi utterly convinces that he is capable of burning everything through his grief. I also know that the story that Missy tells about the Doctor escaping is just fan-pleasing – but those glimpses we get of the First and Fourth Doctor as he runs along the corridor are so much fun!
Verdict: The Witch’s Familiar gives us a long Doctor and Davros conversation which manages to feel gripping, along with good performances from Gomez and Coleman. 8/10
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Michelle Gomez (Missy), Julian Bleach (Davros), Jami Reid-Quarrell (Colony Sarff), Joey Price (Boy), Nicholas Pegg and Barnaby Edwards (Daleks) & Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Daleks).
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Hettie McDonald
Broadcast date: 26 September 2015
Behind the Scenes
- The episode sees the last appearance of the sonic screwdriver that debuted in The Eleventh Hour, replaced by the sonic sunglasses.
- There are several links to The Curse of Fatal Death, a Comic Relief special written by Steven Moffat. Missy is seen in a sewer, like Jonathan Pryce’s Master in that story and the Doctor and his companion are also brought chairs when captured by the Daleks.
- This episode saw the use of the mild expletive “bitch”, which was previously partially uttered by Rose in The End of the World.
- This is the first story since Inferno not to feature the famous “sting” at the end of the episode.
It has to be the reveal of the Doctor in Davros’ chair. It is such a nicely executed sequence, along with the eventual reveal that Davros is calling for the Daleks to help him from his hospital room rather than the chair in the corridor.
There’s no such thing as the Doctor. I’m just a bloke in a box telling stories. I didn’t come here because I’m ashamed. A bit of shame never hurt anyone. 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.
Always.The Twelfth Doctor and Davros
Previous Twelfth Doctor review: The Magician’s Apprentice