You will be redirected back to your article in seconds
Back to IndieWire

Review: ‘Doctor Who’ Season 9 Episode 2, ‘The Witch’s Familiar,’ Plays With Mercy

Review: 'Doctor Who' Season 9 Episode 2, 'The Witch's Familiar,' Plays With Mercy

PREVIOUSLY: Review: ‘Doctor Who’ Season 9 Episode 1, ‘The Magician’s Apprentice,’ Lives Every Day Like It’s The Last

Oh Missy, You’re So Fine

Clara and Missy aren’t dead, obviously, and Missy explains it all in a glorious technobabble flashback to the Doctor escaping invisible androids and falling into a nest of vampire monkeys. This would sound self-consciously wacky coming from anyone else, but Michelle Gomez is so naturally bonkers that it sounds completely plausible. She’s in fine form here, whittling a pointy stick like Missy the Vampire Monkey Slayer, in the hopes that she can get her Katniss Everdeen on and go hunting.

Clara and Missy’s interactions are perfect — Clara shifts from her automatic state of “dealing with an erratic Time Lord” to remembering how much she hates Missy. And Missy, despite happily using the Doctor’s companion as a human shield, clearly loves having someone to riff off. It’s the world’s most unlikely buddy movie — give them a Cadillac, a gun and a young Brad Pitt and they could be Thelma and Really Evil Louise. It’s worth noting that so far Missy has taken Clara out for coffee, saved her life and brought out the handcuffs. A lesser reviewer would be shipping them right now. Reader, I am that lesser reviewer.

Clara Oswald, Dalek

If you’re claustrophobic, cover your eyes now. Tiring of their double act, Missy shuts Clara in a Dalek body in order to escort them safely to the Doctor — and also because Scary Poppins is and will always be a bit of a sadist. The truly terrifying thing is the way the Dalek shell translates Clara’s words — “I love you” becomes “I hate you,” “friend” becomes “enemy” and when she tries to say her own name, all that comes out is “I am a Dalek.” It’s nightmare-inducing, and raises an unsettling question — what are those angry, squid-like creatures really saying, inside their homicidal pepperpot casing?

The Doctor Makes a House Call

The Doctor has got a comfy Dalek seat of his own, having stolen Davros’s souped up wheelchair — no matter how evil Davros is, the fact that the Doctor left him alone and essentially helpless is a little not good — and somehow even got a cuppa. While Missy and Clara are trapped in a tunnel made of rotting Dalek flesh, the Doctor needs to come face to face with one of his most hated enemies. But Davros is dying and the Doctor, good man or not, has compassion in spades and sits with the creator of the Daleks for one last sunrise.

This should be hokey or unbelievable, but Julian Beach and his three inches of facial prosthetics nail it. He’s tired and dying and it’s time to call a truce, however brief. The two old foes share find themselves laughing at the same terrible joke, and Davros legitimately congratulates the Doctor on Gallifrey’s return, because no one should be without his people. The chemistry between the two characters is electric, and it works for the same reason that the Master returns time and time again — there’s a bond that the Doctor has with his enemies that he can never have with his friends.

(The next part of this review is smeared and illegible, as though someone had spilt water or tea or all the tears of humanity over it. The only words that can be made out are “unexpected Dalek bae,” some hearts written in the margins and “Mrs. Kaite Davros” in bubble letters.)

The Doctor, being the Doctor, gives Davros some sparkly regeneration energy to give him a little longer. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, because the Doctor gets hooked into some kind of Dalek matrix to also give all the Daleks that little extra boost. Unexpected Dalek Bae has betrayed us all! Luckily, the Doctor anticipated this, because after vampire monkeys and Michelle Gomez switching accents every other sentence, nothing shocks him anymore. Yes, the Daleks get their groove back, but so do the ones rotting away as tunnel walls. Zombie Dalek ooze rises up and takes over the younger generation of Daleks, presumably in an effort to show them that they’re just not trying hard enough because after all, by that age, they had a house and Dalek children and frankly, it’s time to stop expecting trophies just for exterminating things.


We end up where we started, with the Doctor and young Davros on the battlefield. And so what if the only reason the Doctor shows him mercy is so that Dalek!Clara will be able to plead for it years later?

It’s a relief to see that the season premiere wasn’t a fluke and that showrunner Steven Moffat is back on form. Last season was patchy, the Christmas Special was cloying, but this may be the season where it all pays off. Peter Capaldi is the Doctor. Just accept it.

Questions (That Aren’t “The Oldest Question”)

What happened to Missy’s daughter?

No, seriously, who is doing Clara’s eye makeup? It’s on form this season. Maybe even on fleek, if the kids are still saying that.

Does Colony Sarff get sick of people making trouser-snake jokes?

How does the title link up to the episode? Who is the witch and who is the familiar?

What does Missy have up her sleeve now? It’s going to be bad, isn’t it?

Grade: A+

READ MORE: ‘Cucumber’ and ‘Banana’ Creator Russell T. Davies on the Importance of Global Television

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , , , , ,