TV Recap: Doctor Who, ‘The Witch’s Familiar’

Warning…Spoilers.

Doctor Who Series 9 Poster

The Witch’s Familiar Plot Summary:

The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) confronts his arch enemy Davros (Julian Bleach), who is on his death, and is seemingly looking to make amends. Meanwhile, the presumed dead Missy (Michelle Gomez), and Clara (Jenna Coleman) must devise a plan to help save The Doctor, from what they believe is a trap.

If there’s one major issue with the past few seasons of Doctor Who it’s the flimsiness of episodic resolution. How many times have we sat through nearly entire episode where The Doctor, and his companion (or companions) are thrust into the most insane, and nearly impossible to escape predicaments, only to have them escape by some vague loophole, an overly convenient escape hatch (both literal and figurative), or by deux ex machina. It can be utterly maddening to watch — we’ve invested so much time into an episode, then we’re supposed to accept a quick ‘everyone goes home happy ending’ because it’s The Doctor, and he always wins?

Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who
Photo Credit: Simon Ridgway, © BBC WORLDWIDE LIMITED

‘The Witch’s Familiar,’ the conclusion to the two-part Series 9 premiere, is blessed by a strong, logical resolution to the nearly impossible to escape predicament. It’s also blessed by some extremely clever writing, and terrific acting.

The encounter between Davros and The Doctor is moving, poignant, and highly emotional. It’s time lifelong enemies, confronting each other for the final time. They aren’t there with weapons drama, but with hearts on their sleeve. The Doctor is able to admit his doing in the creation of Davros, as well as almost tearfully spilling the beans about Gallifrey’s resurrection. Davros, despite ages of hatred for The Time Lord, is able to admit his admiration for The Doctor, and begs The Doctor to tell him, he’s a good man. There’s even a little bit of morbid hilarity when Davros asks The Doctor if he (The Doctor) thought Davros was dying. When The Doctor says ‘no’ Davros responds with ‘Then you’re not a very good Doctor.’ Both the audience and The Doctor get the initial feeling Davros is commenting on The Doctor’s personality (and the major theme from last series), but we realize the joke. The laughter wonderfully breaks up the misty-eyed final moments of Davros, and humanizes the encounter between these two arch enemies.

Of course, this poignancy, and pathos only makes Davros’ turn even sweeter. When The Doctor goes to lend Davros send of his regenerative energy, Davros traps The Doctor and funnels the regenerative power to his Daleks. And here’s the brilliance of the episode — The Doctor knew this was all a set-up and allowed himself to pass his regenerative power to all The Daleks. Yes, by all The Daleks he even means the ones languishing in the graveyard known as the sewer system. This rebirth of billions of dead daleks, leads to a mass extermination of the famed war machines. This double was so smartly written. It was subtle, surprising, and it made total logical sense. It made the ending that much more satisfying.

Photo Credit: Simon Ridgway, © BBC WORLDWIDE LIMITED
Photo Credit: Simon Ridgway, © BBC WORLDWIDE LIMITED

The performances in this episode were some of the better performances of the Capaldi era. Michelle Gomez once again proved she is an utter revelation. Everything little thing this actress does is magic, and she plays such an excellent foil to The Doctor. Having her as a series regular would be excellent, as just when you think you have Missy figured out, there’s a new wrinkle that Gomez brings to the character. Peter Capaldi is really bringing his A-Game this season. He’s much more animated, and much less grumpy and stoic than last series. He’s able to be a lot looser, and really seems to be more comfortable in his ‘Whovian’ skin than at any point last season.

‘The Witch’s Familiar’ hit all the right notes of a great Doctor Who episode — it built a great predicament for our heroes, it had unexpected twists and turns, really strong acting, and enough comedy to keep a smile scrawled upon your face. Series 9 is shaping up to be excellent — cannot wait for next week.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10


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Bill Bodkin is the Owner, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He is beyond excited that Pop-Break will be seven years old in 2016 as this site has come a long, long way from the day he launched in it in his bachelor pad at the Jersey Shore. He currently works as a project manager in the telecom world, and is a freelance writer for NJ.com. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites