Clara channels her inner Dalek, and the Doctor gets friendly with his oldest enemies.
Lets bitch it out …
After last week’s false cliffhanger, I was worried about how this week’s episode was going to begin: would Moffat and crew proceed as though there had been actual tension, or would they acknowledge the artificiality of the narrative construct? Fortunately, they chose the latter, and all tension is resolved in the first seconds of the episode. Before the blurry, spinning picture has even come into focus, we hear a bright musical cadence in a major key. This subtle gesture is quick, but it telegraphs to the viewer that everything is already okay, and all we need to do is hang on for the ride. As the picture comes into focus upside down, we’re assured that in true Doctor Who style, it’s going to be a bumpy one.
The opening scene between Clara (Jenna Coleman) and Missy (Michelle Gomez) is comedy gold, mostly due to Gomez’s extraordinary take on The Master. Coleman is hopelessly outmatched in the scene, but Gomez has enough panache to carry it for the both of them, and it’s mostly about Missy anyway (well, about her deep love and loathing for the Doctor). In a beautifully succinct parable lasting less than five minutes, Missy explains the premise of the show: Doctor gets in trouble, uses wit and cunning to escape, lands in more trouble. While doing so she also manages to tie Capaldi’s Doctor to the long history of “old man” Doctors, and imbue him with a charm and playfulness many viewers feel his character lacks. I’d certainly be up for a telling of “The Doctor and the pit of Vampire Monkeys.” Perhaps most importantly, Missy brings Clara (and so us the viewer) to the deep understanding of the latent hopefulness at the heart of the series: the Doctor survives because he assumes he’s going to win.
‘The Witch’s Familiar’ gives us some gorgeous moments of psychological exploration as the cast probes the complex nature of friendship (the symbolic import of the Confession Dial). The Doctor sent his will to his closest friend in the universe, a Time Lord who is also a mortal enemy. The duo share a bond that goes beyond most descriptions of friendship. Each is very much responsible for shaping the other, and while neither can abide the other, they both long for and hope that one day they might. Similarly, the Doctor is challenged this episode to deal with his unrelenting hatred for Davros (Julian Bleach), yet reconcile his personal commitment to a compassionate outlook, which will force him to rescue the child Davros, thus allowing him to become the monster the Doctor reviles. Through several twists and turns, it is this same compassion that leads to Davros’s eventual downfall, although the “revolting sewers” resolution is marginally preposterous. Won’t the now more powerful decaying sewer Daleks just take over and become an even worse enemy?
The “friend inside the enemy” theme gets its most literal representation in the physical sealing of Clara inside the Dalek body. This is the second time Clara has been inside a Dalek, the first time being in the first episode of the seventh season, ‘Asylum of the Daleks.’ The difference this time is that Clara is cognizant of her situation, and for the time being she is in control of the monster. Through Clara’s experience in the Dalek we come to understand the limited nature of the race’s existence: all emotion is reduced to hatred, and all sense of self is subsumed within the collective consciousness of the species as a whole. Her reunion with the Doctor and Missy at the end of the episode is beautifully crafted. As the Dalek becomes more and more frantic, repeating “I am a Dalek,” we can only imagine Clara’s state inside the machine becoming more and more desperate and frustrated. Confronted by the horror of Missy’s betrayal, and staring at annihilation from the hand of her friend (an empty threat, the Doctor would never fire), she finds the only word in the Dalek vocabulary capable of conveying an emotion other than hatred: mercy. Grappling with this seeming paradox, the Doctor finally understands his role in the creation of the Daleks, and rushes off to save a young boy’s life. In the end, nothing has changed, except maybe the Doctor is now a little more fun.
- The scene between the Doctor and Davros had some gorgeous moments. In the hands of lesser actors, this could have been a slow slog of an episode. Julian Bleach manages to convey a wealth of emotion, and create empathy for a psychopathic killer, without moving his body or opening his eyes for most of the episode.
- I really hope to see more of Missy. She is far too good a character to write off, and the chemistry between her and the Doctor is palpable.
- During the Doctor’s time with Davros we get several hints that this may be the season he goes off to find Gallifrey. But I guess it’s a double edged sword. What do the writers do with a free Gallifrey? The romance of the current Doctor is that he’s (one of) the last of his race.
- The Doctor has replaced his sonic screwdriver for upmarket Google Glasses. Not sure if I’m going to be able to buy into it. As a prop, the screwdriver was immensely powerful, and slightly phallic. It will be odd to watch Capaldi opening doors by clicking the sides of his sunglasses. I’m hoping that Moffat isn’t married to this idea.
Best Lines (too many to get them all, so here are just a few):
- Clara (hanging upside down): “Why are you sharpening that stick?”
Missy: “Well I’ve no idea how long we’re going to be stuck out here. I might have to go hunting.”
Clara: “So, why am I tied up?”
Missy: “In case there’s nothing to hunt … (wink).”
- Missy (getting exasperated with a slow-minded Clara as she describes the Doctor as clever): “Yes, but there’s lots of clever dead people. I love killing clever clogs, they make the best faces.”
- The Doctor (after stealing Davros’s chair and squealing into Dalek HQ ): “Anyone for dodgems?”
- The Doctor (after surviving extermination in Davro’s chair): “Of course, the real question is, where did I get the cup of tea? Answer: I’m the Doctor … just accept it.”
- The Doctor (to Davros who say’s he’s dying): “You keep saying that, and you keep not dying. Could you give it some Welly?”
Your turn: What do you think of the Doctor’s sonic sunglasses? Will this be the end of Davros? What are your thoughts on the relationship between Clara and the Doctor? What does she represent to him? Sound off below.
Doctor Who airs Saturdays at 9pm EST on BBC America