Doctor Who Series 9, Episode 2
“The Witch’s Familiar”
Posted by Kim
“Consider the Doctor…”
From what I know of the Time Lords, they aren’t the easiest species to be around. They are ruthless and they are power-hungry and often downright terrifying. It’s clear that the Doctor has never felt truly at home among his own people. That alien feeling is what drove him to cower under his bed in “Listen” as he overheard his parents talking about him becoming a soldier (“Fear is a superpower”) and perhaps it’s the very reason he stole a TARDIS and ran away to see the world. The Doctor’s compassion has always been what’s set him apart from his people. Of course, The Doctor IS capable of being fire and ice and rage, we all know this. But I think that part of his nature scares him and it’s why he resists taking positions of power and it’s what lead to his identity crisis last series. The theme of “mercy” has been an especially strong one during the Moffat Era, from “A Town Called Mercy” to “Cold War” (my recap of that was called “Honor in Mercy”) to this week’s episode, “The Witch’s Familiar”. The Doctor’s capacity for compassion and mercy is both his greatest strength and his fatal flaw, depending on who you talk to. The depths of the Doctor’s compassion when he comes face to face with his greatest enemy (sorry Missy) Davros…especially when he thinks that Davros is responsible for the death of the person he loves most, Clara Oswald.
Oh, yes. Clara and Missy. They were seemingly exterminated at the end of “The Magician’s Apprentice” but since we’ve all seen the trailers for Series 9 and we HAVEN’T seen that epic hug in the TARDIS (or the hug with Clara in the space suit SO MUCH HUGGING), they are clearly alive. In the interim, Missy has tied Clara up by her feet, just for shits and giggles (and in case there’s nothing to hunt). She sits and sharpens a pointy stick while she tells Clara a story about the Doctor (“Shhh…Mummy’s speaking” WHY ARE YOU SO DELIGHTFUL MICHELLE GOMEZ?), which is really just a means of explaining how they survived the Dalek attack (and how Missy survived “Death in Heaven”). Finding out how she survived (some jibberish about using energy to fuel a time vortex manipulator, wouldn’t it be easier to just apparate?) was really secondary to me. What felt important about this story is the fact that Missy continually tries to lord her relationship with the Doctor over Clara (“It doesn’t matter which face he’s wearing, they’re all the Doctor to me.”). Missy’s like a childhood friend who, when you bring home your new friends from university, tries to one-up all your friends by reminding them JUST how long they’ve known you and asking questions about you your new friends may not be able to answer. It’s funny though…Clara Oswald is able to work out all the answers to the questions Missy throws her way. “Why does the Doctor ALWAYS survive?” Missy asks. “Because he always assumes he’s going to win.” These are the two women in the world who know The Doctor the best. Missy is his past, his Time Lord self. Clara is his present (and his future NOT SORRY). Like it or not, they are going to have to work together if they have any hope of saving him. They are facing an entire nation of Daleks and the Doctor is in the center of it. They only have a pointy stick and their wits. How do they start? “We assume we’re going to win.” Bless Clara Oswald’s light forever and ever.
Thus, Clara and Missy set out to save the Doctor. And boy, is he currently in need of saving, both from the Daleks and himself. The Doctor has been driven to a murderous rage by Clara’s apparent death (take that for what you will). He overpowers Davros by taking his chair and leaving his legless body helpless in the infirmary. He cruises into the heart of the base (LIKE A BOSS) wielding a Dalek gun, ready to kill everyone in his path. “The Doctor does not use weapons,” the Daleks say. Well, he does when you take Clara Oswald from him. Again…take that for what you will. “Ask me what I want,” the Doctor says through clenched teeth. “Clara Oswald. I want Clara Oswald, safe, alive, and returned to me immediately.” Normally, even when faced with the creatures he hates the most, the Doctor doesn’t just start killing for the hell of it. He only kills when he has to…but take Clara away and he’s ready to obliterate everything in his path. Unbeknownst to him, Clara can HEAR his desperation and her FACE as she hears him rage is heartbreaking. Guys, I know *I* am not ready for Clara to leave the TARDIS, but you know who is REALLY not ready? The Doctor. I don’t know what her ultimate end is going to be (#ClaraDiesAnOldLadyInHerBed2015) but I DO know it’s going to do a number on the Doctor. I DO know he’s going to have a hard time inviting another companion into the TARDIS. I DO know it’s all going to be awful and I’d like to halt time, please and thank you.
I can’t believe I am saying this, but lucky for the Doctor, he is overpowered by Sarff before he can go on a killing spree that he would ultimately regret. It’s time for a heart to heart with Davros. The Doctor goes on SUCH an emotional journey in these scenes, it kills me. Davros points out a mass of cables, saying that they link him directly to the heart of every Dalek on Skaro. It’s what’s keeping him alive. All the Doctor has to do is destroy it and he can be rid of the Daleks (again). “Genocide in a MOMENT,” he taunts. It’s exactly the wrong word to say to the Doctor, really. His face completely changes. The Doctor always remembers his past actions, even if the events of “Day of the Doctor” changed the outcome. He’s been responsible for a genocide before, he will not be again. Not by choice. The Doctor steps back, his rage momentarily quelled, be it by his shame or his conscience. A little shame never hurt anyone, especially if it prevents him from making the same choice over and over again. “No one would know,” Davros taunts. “Are you ready to be a God?” But the thing is…Doctor would know and that’s enough for him not to do it. He’s also HAD that offering made to him before, and like he has in the (recent) past, he chooses not to take it. “I’m just a bloke in a box telling stories,” the Doctor says, reminding himself of the man he CHOOSES to be, the man he DECIDED to be back in that graveyard in “Death in Heaven”. He won’t fall for Davros’ manipulation of his past actions. Not this time. Compassion, always. It makes him who he is. Even if it kills him…at least he would die at peace with himself. All we need to know about the Doctor is summed up in this exchange…
Davros: Compassion then?
The Doctor: Always.
Davros: It goes strong and fierce in you like a cancer.
The Doctor: I hope so.
Davros: It will kill you then.
The Doctor: I wouldn’t die of anything else.
This entire scene reminded me of the moment Frodo offered Galadriel the One Ring in The Fellowship of the Ring. She looks at the ring and sees all the power she would have if she took it. The power is great and terrible and it would destroy everything that she is (“All shall love me and despair.”). That power is tempting, no doubt. But she refuses to take it and when she does, you actually SEE the burden lift from her face. Just because the choice is there doesn’t mean you have to take it and that’s what the Doctor realizes in this moment. He doesn’t HAVE to be the Time Lord Victorious and you see him REALIZE that with a big exhale of relief. He chooses to remain The Doctor and that is everything.
Meanwhile, Clara and Missy have made their way to the Dalek Sewers. Well…they aren’t sewers, REALLY, they are more like a breeding ground for Zombie!Daleks. To be honest, a lot of the explanation went straight over my head, but the important thing to take away is this: the underground is made up of Daleks desperate to be alive again and they will feed off of any living Dalek that crosses their path. Clara and Missy may be on the same side for the moment, but they both know their alliance is tenuous at best. Missy shoves Clara down a 20 foot hole. Clara threatens to kill Missy with her own pointy stick. Missy uses Clara as bait to lure a living Dalek to the sewer (“You can’t kill a Dalek with a brooch!” “Yes you can!”). These two don’t trust each other in the slightest and it makes for both delightful banter and a terrific sense of impending dread. At the Q&A before the NYC premiere, Michelle Gomez likened Missy to the scorpion in the fable of the frog and the scorpion. You can’t expect her NOT to sting…it’s what she does. It’s only a matter of when she does it and Clara knows this. She also knows that Missy represents her only ally in her endgame of getting to the Doctor. Therefore, Clara has no choice but to comply when Missy tells her to get into the casing of the Dalek…she just has to trust in Missy’s plan.
Did I say that too casually? MISSY MAKES CLARA BECOME A DALEK. The entire theatre lost their SHIT over this turn of events. Clara Prime doesn’t know that one of her splinters (RIP Souffle Girl) met her end by becoming a Dalek but WE DO and to see Clara WILLINGLY become a Dalek is outright terrifying.
Even more terrifying is Missy’s gleeful reaction to Dalek!Clara. It is in that moment that we truly see, no matter how hilariously quippy she is, that if you don’t FEAR Missy to the very core of your being, you’re an idiot. She does nothing but laugh and dance with joy as Clara panics. She gleefully asks Clara to say “I love you” and whoops when the response comes out as “Exterminate”. Like I said. HORRIFYING. What’s done is done though, and Missy uses Dalek!Clara to gain an audience with the Supreme Dalek, getting them one step closer to the Doctor. “Tell him the Bitch is back.” INDEED.
Now that the Temptation of the Doctor has passed (I don’t believe for a moment the Doctor was ACTUALLY tempted, but still that’s what that whole scene was), it’s time for him and Davros to get REAL. The Doctor confesses that Gallifrey is back (“It is safe. From both of us.”). Strangely, this revelation seems to MOVE Davros and when he congratulates the Doctor, it feels genuine. “A man should belong, Doctor. I’m happy for you.” And then Davros fucking CRIES tears of joy for The Doctor. The entire scene felt like an out-of-body experience. Were we supposed to be feeling PITY or AFFECTION for Davros? It gets even more Twilight Zone-y when Davros turns off his Dalek eye and looks at the Doctor with his own eyes. (I can’t be the only one who thought of Darth Vader wanting to look on Luke with his own eyes before he died, can I?) He freaking asks the Doctor if his life choices were right. He asks the Doctor if he was a GOOD MAN (“Clara…be my pal.”) which is really just too much for me to handle. It’s all about perspective, really. Choices have to be viewed from the perspective of the person making them. It’s the very definition of compassion. Davros always thought he was doing good, that he was protecting his own. And I think, at the end of his life, it’s all he wants to hear. While the Doctor doesn’t QUITE give him that (could you IMAGINE if he had said yes? My head would have exploded), he does give him the platform to talk about his choices. For a pair that were/are mortal enemies, it’s pretty monumental.
THEN Davros cracks a joke, saying the Doctor isn’t a very good doctor after all and the mortal enemies SHARE A LAUGH. WHAT? The whole thing was so hard for me to wrap my head around. Could Davros actually be having a come to Jesus moment at the end of his life? It sure seemed that way and it was SO ironic that he wanted to spend his final moments with the man he fought against his entire life. Davros claims he wants to see the sun one last time, so the Doctor moves him to the window. “How far we have come to go home again,” Davros muses. And it’s true. It’s like they were both letting bygones be bygones in that moment, and Davros marvels at the Doctor HELPING him. “I’m helping the little boy I met on the battlefield. I owe him a sunrise.” It’s the least the Doctor can do, if he’s truly about to be rid of him forever. “I wish just once we had been on the same side,” Davros says, and GOD HELP ME, I believed him. And the Doctor did too, I truly believe he did. The Doctor ALWAYS wants to believe in the best of people, even if they’ve done nothing in their life to earn that trust. As my friend Shannon just pointed out to me (as she is standing in for Sage, who is currently traipsing about in London), The Doctor walks right up to that line of FORGIVING Davros in this moment. He wants to show him compassion at the end of his life. “Look, the sun’s coming up. We’re on the same side now.” It’s all so genuine and lovely and really I just want to cry in a corner.
Davros keeps pressing the Doctor that he wants to see everything with his failing eyes and that’s where all the red flags go up. I said in the intro that the Doctor’s faith in people can be both his greatest fear and his biggest weakness. When he offered up a bit of regeneration energy, my full body went into a “nonononononono Doctor” response because really…has Davros changed so much that the Doctor can trust he won’t turn on him? How could the Doctor give something so precious away SO WILLINGLY? As soon as he DOES, Davros cackles and the Doctor KNOWS he’s been played. Sure, there were some genuine truths spoken between them, but Davros played the Doctor like a fiddle. “As always, compassion is your downfall,” he laughs as he siphons the magic of the Time Lords and restores his life. It’s devastating.
All of the Doctor’s siphoned regeneration energy starts floating up through the all the Daleks on Skaro, alerting Missy that the Doctor has done something very very very stupid. She abandons Dalek!Clara and runs to the Doctor, finding him unconscious. The first words out his mouth when he comes to? “Where’s Clara?” BECAUSE OF COURSE. (I think this response plays into Missy’s actions later because she really can’t deal with the fact that Clara is always the first one he thinks of. Missy just came to his rescue and the first words out of his mouth are about Clara Oswald. I’d be a little pissed too if I were her.) He turns to Davros with a triumphant grin on his face, announcing that he KNEW Davros was playing him the whole time and he let him do it. Now. I don’t know if I fully believe this based upon the devastation on his face when Davros trapped him in the cables. He may have always had a back-up plan just in cases but I do not doubt that the Doctor believed in Davros’ apparent change of heart (again because the Doctor ALWAYS believes in the best and gives the benefit of the doubt) and was devastated when he was proved wrong. Nevertheless, he plays off his devastation as a GOTCHA! moment because yes, the regeneration energy restored Davros’ life but you know what else it restored? All the zombie Daleks in the sewers and boy are they pissed. I don’t reallllllllly get the whole sewer thing and I’ve watched the episode three times right now but whatever, it gives the Doctor a win, so I’m going with it. Time to get the hell out of Skaro.
A lone Dalek confronts the Doctor in a hallway. We all know that it’s Clara but the Doctor DOESN’T and Clara can’t communicate with him because all her thoughts are translated into Dalek speak and it’s all just generally horrible. Remember how I said that Missy was a scorpion? Here is where she chooses to strike. SHE knows that the Dalek is Clara and she also knows that this is her opportunity to get rid of her for good. In this moment, she’s the jealous ex-girlfriend who can’t handle her boyfriend loving anyone more than her. So she tries to both take away the thing the Doctor loves most AND destroy the Doctor in the same moment because you KNOW as soon as he killed the Dalek she would be all “whoops that was Clara, this is what you get for loving her more than me.” She turns to the Doctor and says that Clara is dead and this is the Dalek that killed her. (Again, the verbal response from the audience at the premiere was amazing.) “I’m so glad you didn’t have to see it,” she purrs and you actually SEE the Doctor going through all the stages of grief in one facial expression. Clara is panicking TRYING to get the doctor to see reason but the only thing that comes out of the Dalek’s mouth is “I AM YOUR ENEMY”. The Doctor advances on Dalek!Clara (Missy: YASSSSSSS!) but somehow the Dalek FINALLY translates Clara’s pleas into the one word that will always stop the Doctor: “Mercy.” (Missy: DAMMIT SO CLOSE).
In that moment, everything falls into place for the Doctor. “Why aren’t you trying to kill me?” he asks Dalek!Clara. “Because I would never kill you. You are the last person I would kill.” or “I love you” or “MERCY! MERCY!” is her reply. I can’t remember which because essentially she says all three things. He gets Dalek!Clara to open her casing. Missy’s all “see I got you to pass the test!” but it’s a load of bullshit because she KNOWS she’s been caught red-handed. The Doctor has one word for her: “Run.” Subtext: “I’m about to get Time Lord Victorious on your ass and you don’t want to be on the receiving end of that.” So Missy does what any reasonable person would do when the Doctor speaks to them in that tone of voice. She runs.
- “The real question is: where did I get the cup of tea? Answer: I’m the Doctor, just accept it.”
- Missy oh-so-casually drops the information that she has a daughter. IS THAT WHO MAISIE WILLIAMS IS?
- Really, all of Missy’s quips were on-point. “I’m a Time Lady, it’s our golf.” “You’re my secret favorite, don’t tell the others.” Michelle Gomez earns a spot on our top performances of 2015 from these two episodes alone. And I’m not so certain we’ve seen the last of her. Missy is like a cockroach…she just WON’T DIE.
- Missy also made good on this promise.
- I absolutely CAN NOT with all the tenderness here. I’ve already read some ficlets about exactly how The Doctor freed Clara from the Dalek casing and it involved Clara saying that she loved him and REALLY I AM FINE.
- In the same vein, I absolutely cannot with all the eye-sexing here. HE LOVES SHOWING OFF FOR HER SO MUCH.