It was only to be expected, after last week’s bravura opener that the follow up would struggle to maintain the same level of energy and invention. Standards do slip in “The Witch’s Familiar”, but not by much and the deceptively small cast make the most of the meaty moral dilemma Steven Moffat has cooked up for our favourite Time Lord. Unfortunately, he hasn’t shed his tendency to set up a juicy and perilous cliffhanger only to not quite pick up exactly where he left off.
Trapped alone in the City of the Daleks, The Doctor finds himself reluctantly comforting Davros as he contemplates his own mortality Missy and Clara who (of course) survived their ‘extermination’ look for a way to rescue the Doctor.
If Davros is the father of the Daleks, the Doctor has a good claim to being their other parental figure due to his involvement in their creation and development and this episode gives mum and dad plenty of alone time to reflect on their long relationship and where it has brought them. Julian Bleach is mesmerising as Davros, achieving the seemingly impossible and making the Doctor’s fiercest foe a figure of sympathy and pity, even while you’re absolutely certain that it must be a trick. And of course it is a trick with Davros’ ultimate plan actually becoming quite obvious early on and it’s disappointing that the Doctor falls so easily for it: a disappointment not entirely erased by the lazy-feeling ‘ha ha, I knew of your plan all along’ moment the Doctor claims later.
Meanwhile, the Missy show goes from strength to strength and her unlikely double act with Clara continues to delight. It’s actually through Missy that a lot of the important elements in the story’s resolution are seeded and the Dalek mythology further
grossed fleshed out – which is in itself an achievement after so many years. There’s even a sneaky and amusing explanation of why Daleks repeat themselves so often.
After last week’s expansive feeling part one, this concluding episode is much more contained, keeping the action exclusively on Skaro although thanks to the performances, it doesn’t necessarily feel smaller. No doubt more economical to produce, the budget allows for some never before seen Doctor Who gems such as Davros out of his chair. Of course, nature abhors a vacuum and it’s not long before we see who’s sitting in the big chair instead and it’s tremendous. Everything with the Doctor in Davros’ mobility scooter is pure gold and Capaldi milks it for all its worth.
On the down side, I can’t say I’m overly pleased with the new sonic shades, but I guess BBC’s marketing department have sold all the screwdrivers they can and the last time the Doctor discarded the sonic screwdriver it started the Great Fire Of London so at least it’s been disposed of responsibly this time.
Missy’s fate is coyly left hanging but I’d be surprised if anyone’s in any doubt whether we’ll see her again, hopefully sooner rather than later because she adds a much needed snarky unpredictability to this current TARDIS team. It’ll be interesting to see if the dynamic feels her absence in next week’s episode, which has been scheduled at the audience-limiting time of 8:25pm. This season, the Doctor’s greatest foe may be the lack of a regular and family-friendly timeslot.