Last week, “The Magician’s Apprentice” ended with a huge cliffhanger, with the Doctor pointing a gun at a child after Clara and Missy are presumably killed by the Daleks. Now we have had the conclusion while also setting up the arc and threat for the season to come.
Clara awakes tied up and hanging upside down while Missy is sharpening a stick as Missy reveals how they survived the Dalek attack. Together they decide to go back into the capital city of the Dalek to help The Doctor who is being held captive by a dying Davros and his Dalek army.
“The Witch’s Familiar” is a much stronger entry than the previous episode. It’s what fans would want from Doctor Who, a grand epic of an adventure with The Doctor facing his greatest foes. Because the set up has been done in pervious installments, the follow-up was able to jump straight into the action. “The Magician’s Apprentice” was too bogged down with the series continuity, making the episode only one die-hard followers could get into. “The Witch’s Familiar” was less dense, more accessible, despite it being the second part of a two-parter. It was A two-pronged story, one of The Doctor and Davros having a battle of wits and the other being Missy and Clara going on a rescue.
One of the main criticisms of the last season was, it turned into Clara Oswald show and The Doctor was her companion. Though Jenna Coleman seems like she is a perfectly nice person and her Clara does have a cheek to her, her character is too understated and bland. For the rescue mission Missy takes the lead, and Clara is on the receiving end of the Time Lady’s actions. Their interactions raise a smile and Michelle Gomez excels once again, showing off her brilliant comedic timing, an intelligence and arrogance that can rival The Doctor and a ruthless and self-serving streak that makes her a truly Machiavellian character. Clara is still made out to be very intelligent because of her experience with The Doctor, but she’s not central to proceedings. Her big moment is a reference to the big reveal in her first Doctor Who appearance in “Asylum of the Daleks”.
The Doctor and Davros mental sparring is also a major part of this episode, both of them trying to outwit each other. Much of their conversations about the morality of their actions over the years and similarities between the two, like the rivalries between Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, Batman and the Joker and Professor Xavier and Magneto. But while The Doctor and Davros have been battling for years, Davros’ attempts to seek forgiveness and feeling guilty rings hollow considering his creations are nothing but hate-filled war machines programmed to commit genocide. They are not a misguided attempt to try to do the right thing. The Doctor does get physical with Davros and we get the fun of seeing our hero in Davros’ chair pointing a laser cannon at the Daleks.
Hettie Macdonald returns to directing a Doctor Who episode for the first time since “Blink” and she transitions brilliantly from a horror themed mystery to a more grand sci-fi spectacular. The episode is full of epic moments like the Daleks floating over the capital of Skaro, having the choir based music. The reboot series does have amazing classical style music. This episode is a special-effects heavy episode having some big moments and Macdonald directs some wondrous moments, like when Davros is pulled out of his chair and just a torso with cybernetic entrails, Davros opening his real eyes and the sunrise of Skaro. Macdonald does get a moment to show her abilities with horror when Clara and Missy are in the Dalek sewers, covered in a half-live goo craving to be reborn.
This episode was the one setting up the arc for the series to come, continuing a storyline from “The Day of the Doctor” and “The Time of the Doctor,” which tells of an ancient prophecy that could make The Doctor face his greatest nightmare. It also contained some small bits of dialogue, side mentions, that can lead to other potential storylines. It will be exciting to see how Steven Moffat and the Doctor Who writers will proceed with this arc, whether it will be continually referred to or simply be left for the finale; it will probably be the latter.
“The Witch’s Familiar” is a big step up from the previous episode, a follow-up that has everything you want from Doctor Who, rife with drama, comedy and spectacle. Hopefully, there will be more of this to come from this new season.