The Witch’s Familiar 
by Steven Moffat

Starring Peter Capaldi

Airs Sept 26

Review by Cameron K McEwan

As you may remember, and hopefully now appreciate, there was much in The Magician’s Apprentice spoiler-free review I did not want to discuss. You might have thought this second part would be an easier ride, but it’s quite the opposite – so please do forgive the brevity of this look at another fantastic, but shocking, instalment from Steven Moffat.
I guess I’ll get the shocks out the way first. There are some big, big moves from Steven here as he continues to revisit Whostory in his own audacious fashion.

A huge bulk of The Witch’s Familiar is given over to the face-off between The Doctor and Davros – and it’s a fascinating watch as both men reveal their hands, very slowly, over the course of the episode. Julian Bleach, so grotesquely mesmerising in last week’s instalment, surpasses himself once more with that sickly nuanced performance we saw in The Magician’s Apprentice brought to its natural end as Davros continues his death throes to the bitter end.

Bleach has truly defined the role of the Skarosian scientist, bettering that of Michael Wisher’s truly astounding original performance (a feat I didn’t think was possible). Without spoiling the plot, it’s not just a one-note show from Bleach, the actor spreads his wings, as it were, and fully fleshes out the character of Davros. Writer Steven Moffat has gifted him with a script that no other Davros has faced before, and Bleech meets the challenge in the most brilliant and unexpected of ways.

Capaldi is no slouch either. His tete-a-tete with his former adversary, now friend (of sorts) is engrossing to the extreme and old-skool fans will delight at further takes and revisitings of scenes and dialogue from Genesis of the Daleks. There’s also a tip of the hat, yet again in Doctor Who, to the film Return of the Jedi in an eyebrow raising, YouTube reaction video-making scene.

Scares and horror are also delivered by director Hettie MacDonald as we dive into the murky and malevolent Dalek sewers and discover much about the mad little tanks. In fact, we learn a great many thing about the Daleks and there’s a terrific comparison with their fellow Who badboys: “Cybermen suppress emotion, Daleks channel it.”

I do have some quibbles, however. Steven Moffat has, in his unique fashion, made some continuity and mythology choices which I can’t say pleased me greatly (and I imagine I won’t be alone); the writer is bringing in the changes to the past and future in colossal ways. Some fans will applaud, some will boo. Plus ca change.
But these are minor quibbles for me. I do want to highlight, however, a moment which I do consider to be unfitting of Doctor Who – and that’s the use of the word “bitch.” In recent times, the language used and suggestions from the show have been, from time to time, a little too near the knuckle for my liking (do feel free to skip the next paragraph if your sense-of-decency-o-meter is calibrated differently to mine).
Both former showrunner Russell T Davies and current, Steven Moffat, like to push that dirty/tasteless adult envelope, as it were. Whilst many don’t have a problem with that sort of thing (RTD’s “slab love” in Love & Monsters and SteeMo’s mention of Steve Jobs in Dark Water, for example), I do. For me, Doctor Who is not the place for that sort of teenage, Twitter-baiting gag or language. But, we all have different tastes, and I’m sure many will guffaw and appreciate it in the context of the story.

Some of the bigger shocks and revelations I cannot discuss, though I would love to, but viewers won’t be disappointed with what’s going on elsewhere on Skaro. Whilst not as frantic or frenetic as last week’s opener, The Witch’s Familiar in its own wordy and contemplative fashion is guaranteed to keep you hooked in the same way.
The final moments hint at an epically volcanic and disturbing (in a good way) story arc to come, or even multiple story arcs; the future does not look rosy for the Time Lord. And these closing seconds also give fans something to get apoplectic about (and I look forward to watching Twitter when that happens) but also a quiet moment for a hand, mercy and friendship. True tenets of Doctor Who.

Doctor Who, The Witch’s Familiar airs Sept 26 at 7.45pm on BBC One


  1. Your review leaves me exceedingly intrigued. 😉 The closing paragraph reminded me of one my favorite quotes, though:

    "A good story should provoke discussion, debate, argument…and the occasional bar fight."
    — J. Michael Straczynski

    I really get the feeling this will be one of those, in every sense.

  2. Great review. As I was lucky enough to go to the premiere in New York last week, I have seen the episode myself. I can honestly say that this two parter is Capaldi's best story by far. And I agree with you on the language issue. Hearing the Doctor say, "What the hell?", for example, just does not seem right. And "bitch" does not belong on televised Doctor Who. Maybe Torchwood, and the more adult novels, but not the parent show.

  3. Was last weeks episode really "frantic" and "frenetic"? I thought it was almost sedate and I say that as someone who found last years more measured pacing a breath of fresh air.

  4. Sell said on the language topic. Some adult scenes and themes seem cheap attempts to legitimise the "drama" tag but they aren't necessary – Doctor Who can be dramatic enough in its own right when done well; RTD and SM are more than capable without that descent.

    That said, really looking forward to part two. Part one was stunning. Your reveal that there are to be further reveals was revealing and I can't wait to see what is unveiled!

  5. I'm not trying to defend this episode, but I'd like to point out that Rose called Cassandra a 'bitchy trampoline' in only the second episode of the revival.

  6. Hi. Good review. I am looking forward to it. I have to say though that I am not convinced that taking time to discuss your personal preferences re language use was either a good part of the review or necessary. I suppose all reviews are subjective, but that was a bit like saying you only like salt on your chips because you find vinegar acid


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.