This review contains spoilers.
The Witch’s Familiar delivered some stunning moments and had the potential to continue a strong start to this season. However, I felt like the episode was undercut by the repetition around Clara and Missy’s interactions. If you have to question a character’s motives every two seconds then it shouldn’t feel like a seesaw of ‘YES, I TRUST THEM IMPLICITLY’ and ‘NO, THEY ARE ABSOLUTELY EVIL’ but that’s what it felt like for me.
The one time Clara’s hatred for Missy was explored outright was when she threatened to stab Missy in the back with a stick. However, Moffat’s writing did nothing to up the stakes in that scene metaphorically or literally. Death in Heaven made me believe that Clara could kill Missy. But in The Witch’s Familiar, there’s not even a possibility that it could happen; despite her shoddy character development, Clara’s not stupid. She’s not going to kill the one person keeping her alive. As a result, the death threat felt like a throwaway attempt at addressing the issue before forcing them back into gal pal mode.
Clara is tied up, pushed down a 20-foot sewer pipe, handcuffed, and forced into a Dalek casing but it’s not until the Doctor doesn’t recognise her that she finally seems to recognise that Missy is not to be trusted. There was a nice symmetry to Clara’s time as a Dalek. Slightly anachronistic symmetry, but symmetry nonetheless. In Asylum of the Daleks she was able to verbalise that she was human—or that she believed she was, anyway. Here, that ability has been stripped and Clara is only to scream that she is a Dalek. Not that such an anachronism is uncommon in Moffat’s writing.
I was hoping for some kind of consequences following Clara’s time as a Dalek. Maybe that she wouldn’t be able to get out of the casing as quickly, or she might have some traumatic flashbacks. By now, Clara has been through the Doctor’s time stream and I guess she should be able to remember her time as Oswin in some way, right? But, since that was never addressed for a second after The Name of the Doctor, who bloody knows?
At any rate, Clara didn’t seem to get any of the Doctor’s regeneration energy and for that I’m grateful. Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks taught us that Daleks should never, ever attempt hybridisation for fear of turning out to be the least scary villain since the Thumb-Thumbs from Spy Kids. With that in mind, hopefully hybrids are not going to be this season’s overarching plot no matter what Davros and Missy hinted at.
I did really enjoy Davros’s redemption storyline. There’s something heart-warming about old enemies putting aside their differences, even if those differences are repeated attempts at murder and genocide. But, of course, everyone’s too scared to kill off Davros properly and he can’t just turn over a new leaf for the rest of his long years so it turns out he’s just a manipulative prick who will always be one step behind the Doctor’s double bluff.
The sonic sunglasses are not my favourite. At all. The sonic screwdriver is now ubiquitous with the 2005 series of Doctor Who and it suits the Doctor’s personality. During the Eleventh Hour panel in 2013, Moffat himself said, ‘When they made this particular hero, they didn’t give him a gun—they gave him a screwdriver to fix things. They didn’t give him a tank or a warship or an x-wing fighter—they gave him a box from which you can call for help. And they didn’t give him a superpower or pointy ears or a heat-ray—they gave him an extra heart. They gave him two hearts. And that’s an extraordinary thing. There will never come a time when we don’t need a hero like the Doctor.’
If that’s true then why take any of that away and replace it with wearable technology? Everything about the Doctor is tied to saving or fixing things and that’s the Doctor I know and love. Hopefully when the sonic screwdriver makes a comeback, Twelve will get his own individual model. Moffat is finally starting to write for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor instead of Matt Smith’s so it’s about time the screwdriver changed to reflect that.
Though I was hoping for a more literal interpretation and perhaps even a Fantasia reference, it seems The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar are simply referring to Clara’s relationships with the Doctor and Missy respectively. With the Doctor, she is an apprentice and someone worthy of helping with his role in the world. And, as Missy said, ‘Every miner needs a canary.’
This episode had its ups and downs but in the end I couldn’t truly connect with it. In true Moffat style, there were some glimpses of what could have been an exceptional story that were eschewed in favour of an easier way out. Usually because time was running short and was spent on vague, waffling conversations.