The Witch’s Familiar
Review by Eddie McGuigan
Davros! I can say “Davros”! Look “Davros”!
You’ve no idea how hard it’s been for me not to mention something that happens right at the start of The Magician’s Apprentice, and now I have the same trouble with episode two!
Let’s get it out the way at the start – The Witch’s Familiar is superb – it is, as promised by Steven Moffat, a perfect companion piece to Episode One, but the tone and pace of the episode is very different from its earlier brother. In this episode we get some very Big Finishesque exchanges by an old and dying Davros and a guilt ridden Doctor. Guilt, and of course, grief ridden Doctor, as he comes to terms again with the fact that the Daleks have exterminated his two best friends and destroyed his ship.
There is much to recommend about this episode and much to talk about, but, unfortunately, lots are just big old spoilers, and far be it from me to ruin it for the millions who haven’t seen it.
Capaldi and Bleach crackle against each other in this episode, two thesps at the top of their game given no quarter and asking for none either, and both breath new light into the old dynamic, and more Doctor cameos thrill the fanboy. Davros’s plan is a masterpiece, something different again, and it takes all the Doctor’s guile to come up with a way out. But don’t think this Doctor is completely the victim. Capaldi shows more depth than ever before as the Doctor, and chews the scenery up around the very still Bleach. A Doctor confronting the Daleks is always something to relish, and THIS Doctor does this with a brand new, never before seen approach.
This episode will step on some pedants’ toes, it’s fair to say. Things are done in this episode which will be fan favourites and also enrage some. My pal Paul Simpson over at Sci Fi Bulletin pointed out to me that there is indeed a lovely channelling of Curse of the Fatal Death too and the denoument of the episode is not what you’d think, it’s almost Sherlock in its cleverness. Like the use of the Daleks of many types – behold a Special Weapons Dalek crying EXTERMINATE! – Hettie MacDonald uses fantastic sets, colouring and camera angles to portray both old school and new styles. It’s a lovely mishmash.
As well as the sparkling dialogue, and the clever ending, and, indeed, some comical moments (but not as many as last week), there are some truly horrible – and I mean horrible – fates in this and it has some awfully dark conceits, but it’s fair to say that all the characters are played out exactly as you would expect them to be, despite actions it would seem to the contrary. Again, this season is about identity, and nowhere is this more evident in how the main characters act in this episode.
For me, both these stories have been the strongest start since The Eleventh Hour. That’ll either excite you or scare you. This is very much a new way of approaching Doctor Who but in many ways it’s the no holds barred devil-may-care approach we’ve all wanted. In being so however, it doesn’t particularly bother with what people will think, assuming people will think it’s great. And it is.