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 Who
story 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