The Witch’s Familiar
First Broadcast September 26th, 2015 @ 6.45pm (5.71m viewers)
The day after ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ was broadcast both parts were screened on BBC1 together in an old-fashioned omnibus. This was just as it had been presented at the series launch screening in Cardiff earlier that month. It actually suits the story better with no break in the action. Last week’s cliffhanger is a bit inconvenient frankly as the second half of the season opener continues with the themes of the first installment. Basically, this is Steven Moffat’s love letter to ‘Genesis of the Daleks’, which celebrates that story’s 40th anniversary.
The threads of ‘Genesis’ are strong throughout, not just with the short clip in ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’. Of course the scenario it throws up, knowing a child’s future, is a fascinating hypothetical. In ‘Genesis’ it is a bit more explicit that Terry Nation sees the Kaleds as Nazis and therefore Davros as the Adolf Hitler figure. If you could go back in time and take the life of a young Hitler to prevent him from wreaking so much pain on millions of people could you do it? This question no doubt influenced the episode ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’ to a certain extent. To complicate the matter Davros is at his weakest and most vulnerable during this episode.
Julian Bleach stuns as Davros
Julian Bleach’s stunning portrayal of Davros evokes the original, iconic and terrifying performance of Michael Wisher, again in ‘Genesis of the Daleks’. But after all these years he is now close to death. For the first time, we also see the Kaled creator out of his chair. With no legs and left to scrabble around on the floor. Weak and vulnerable. Like the Doctor, the viewer experiences a great deal of empathy for the decaying Kaled. Writer Steven Moffat wanted to provide the Doctor and Davros with more scenes together. When you analyse ‘Genesis’ the pair share less dialogue directly with each other than you think. This story rectifies that. As a result, we are treated to some majestic scenes between Julian Bleach and Peter Capaldi.
The Twelfth incarnation of the Doctor is of course played by longtime fan Peter Capaldi. With his scenes with Davros, you sense that the younger fan inside him is shrieking with delight. Capaldi’s understanding of the gravity of his encounter between the Doctor and Davros, absorbing the history of many memorable confrontations, is balanced expertly with his acting skills. This is expertly displayed during the sequence when Davros opens his real eyes.
Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)
Granted it is similar to Darth Vader’s wish to see his son Luke Skywalker in ‘Return of the Jedi’ but the beauty is that on first viewing it is so unexpected. Davros has always had only a single illuminated eye although actors Michael Wisher, David Gooderson and Terry Molloy saw through small holes in the mask level with their eyes. As a result, when Davros opened his real eyes for the first time onscreen it came as quite a surprise. The scene is beautifully performed and genuinely brings tears to the eyes. Despite all their disagreements over the years to see these two connect as Time Lord and Kaled, in a very human way, is emotional and exquisite.
Unfortunately, the Doctor fails to realise that Davros at his most vulnerable is also Davros at his most devious. Falling for his trap the genius scientist plans to steal Time Lord regeneration energy to heal himself. The resolution is a bit clunky, even with the humorous “your sewers are revolting” line, and sadly the first onscreen meeting of the Master and Davros is brief. Michelle Gomez is an entertaining delight and deeply philosophical meaning is attempted to be found with the Daleks understanding the word ‘mercy’. However, the true triumph of this two-part story is not just the beautiful array of Daleks on screen but the captivating and ongoing relationship between two arch enemies. The Doctor and Davros.
The Doctor – Peter Capaldi
Colony Sarff – Jami Reid-Quarrell
Boy – Joey Price
Voice of the Daleks – Nicholas Briggs
Dalek – Barnaby Edwards
Dalek – Nicholas Pegg
Writer – Steven Moffat
Director – Hettie Macdonald
Producer – Peter Bennett
Executive Producer – Steven Moffat
Executive Producer – Brian Minchin