‘Doctor Who’ Season 9 Episode 2 review: ‘The Witch’s Familiar’

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‘Consider The Doctor’, says Missy.


We’ll consider The Doctor in a (Dalek) sec. But first we need to consider a more important question, which one day may be of universal importance to the show:

Does Missy always carry thirty feet of sturdy rope around on her person?

Or did she make it, like her stick? The Master once carried a Tissue Compression Eliminator, then later a Laser Screwdriver. Now she has a pointy stick. And the thing is, the way the brilliant Michelle Gomez ponders it with that swivelling, lunatic, ‘half-past-midnight on Buchanan Street’ stare, it’s easy to believe it’s more dangerous than something which can turn you into a doll or age you 1,000 years into a Gallifreyan Gollum. Who’d have expected whittling to be part of Missy’s deadly skill set?

But who’d have expected any of what happened in ‘The Witch’s Familiar’?

Doctor Who The Witch's Familiar Michelle Gomez Missy

Vampire monkeys? The carnival hilarity of The Doctor taking Davros’ chair out for a test drive? Seeing Davros open his eyes on screen for the first time? Turns out they’re not melted into his skull, he just has a prescription forehead eye.

He should’ve gone to the opticians where The Doctor got his ‘Deus Ex’ Sonic Specs. They’re an eye-rollingly convenient bit of kit, but nonetheless a fun change from the over-used sonic, and an easy prop for cosplayers. And Capaldi doesn’t half look good in them. A proper rebel Time Lord.

Darker but also funnier than its first half, ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ is that rare thing, rare as a chair on Skaro: a Part 2 that fulfils the promises of its Part 1. Perhaps that’s because it gives plenty of breathing room for dialogue and character exploration, as well as explosions, rather than breathless jargon squeezed into 45 minutes. Already the largely two-parter format of Season 9 seems to be paying off.

Peter Capaldi Doctor Who The Witch's Familiar

Davros, like a marginally less morally repugnant Piers Morgan, interviews The Doctor with a view to getting him to spill some compassion and Artron energy. And just as with a Piers Morgan interview, it’s all carefully orchestrated faux-interest and crocodile tears. (No phone-box hacking jokes, please.)

The Doctor and Davros are master manipulators, and Capaldi and Bleach are at their very best when articulating that, but we’re the ones being manipulated as we consider The Doctor in such depth, only to be tricked toward sympathy for Davros. It’s terrific rhetorical writing.

As Davros and The Doctor have a heart to two-hearts, there’s immense fun to be had from straight-laced Clara and lace-turned-into-a-garotte Missy making their way into the Dalek city through the sewers/graveyard.

The Witch and her familiar, the miner and the canary. Watching them is an early Halloween: a camp and funny and vaguely threatening assortment of tricks and treats. Especially the referential treat of Clara doing an Ian Chesterton and climbing into a Dalek. Clearly Missy’s been re-watching the classic Doctor Who DVDs that Davros played for us last week.

Doctor Who The Witch's Familiar

Naturally it’s not long before everyone’s true colours show. Davros isn’t some repentant figure with scales of evil fallen from his eyes. And The Doctor isn’t dumb enough to fall for it, even if it does mean losing more than an armful of Artron energy.

Fuelled by his Ready Brek glow, up come the undead Daleks, pouring out of every orifice like a sci-fi norovirus. It’s one of the show’s less daft ways of defeating the pepper pots.

And among the Dal-excrement there’s poor Clara, betrayed by Missy and about to be killed because Daleks don’t have Google Translate. What a shame Jenna Coleman’s going to leave the show to become Queen Victoria and set up the Torchwood institute, because even in a tin can, with a camera up her nostrils, she convinces.

It’s a scream of ‘Mercy!’ which saves her. It’s a surprise to The Doctor, but not to anyone who watched River Song in 2010’s ‘The Big Bang’. And now we know where it comes from. The act of an old man saving a helpless little boy. A helpless little boy who’ll grow up to be blown up time after time by that old man. It’s a neat resolution and, given it involves Davros, strangely touching.

Doctor Who The Witch's Familiar Michelle Gomez Missy

As for our other antagonist, she’s cornered and facing extermination. Hardly insurmountable odds for her, if previous form is anything to go by.

Perhaps Missy’s escape will involve that stick. Or some rope. No doubt it won’t be long before ‘the bitch is back’. I miss her already. Might it be too much to hope for a return in the finale, or will we be too busy being ‘Hell Bent’ on this year’s big mystery: what is on The Doctor’s confession dial?

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’ve only just embarked on Season 9. And if the rest of it is as frenetic, ruthless, and funny as ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ and ‘The Witch’s Familiar’ then this will be a run to remember.


Aired at 7.45pm on Saturday 26 September 2015 on BBC One.

> Buy Season 9 on DVD on Amazon.

> Buy Season 9 on Blu-ray on Amazon.

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