27 September 2015

Doctor Who S9E2 "The Witch's Familiar" review

I said last week that I was very nearly done with Doctor Who altogether. A combination of poor pacing, a lacklustre story and an overwhelming amount of fan pandering made "The Magician's Apprentice" one of the worst episodes of Doctor Who I thought I had ever seen, an episode so bad that I was certain the the second half of this two-parter would be unable to make up for it. Following on immediately from "The Magician's Apprentice", "The Witch's Familiar" first deals with the continued existence of Missy and Clara (obviously - anyone who genuinely thought they might be dead must be an idiot) before jumping back to the main portion of the episode - a long overdue conversation between The Doctor and a dying Davros.

It's clear now that this conversation between Davros and The Doctor is the entire reason for both "The Magician's Apprentice" and "The Witch's Familiar". This is the kind of conversation that Doctor Who has always done best - no immediate threat to either party, but a discussion between two radically different people about morality and the dividing line between good and bad that sees adversaries finding similarities between themselves, a strange kind of civility between enemies that shows the mutual respect that they ultimately share despite themselves. It's a great example of the kind of thing that ultimately keeps me coming back to Doctor Who, even if a last minute plot twist does potentially ruin it just a little bit.

Whether or not half of a good episode makes up for one and a half bad episodes is another matter entirely. I found Clara and Missy to be just as annoying here as I did in "The
Magician's Apprentice" for the most part, with only one short scene near the end of the episode actually feeling like it justified the inclusion of either of these characters at any point during what I would consider to be the two-parter's main story. They serve as walking talking exposition machines, their slapstick misadventures simply acting as a frustrating distraction from the real meat of the episode, and I can say with some certainty that, if condensed down into one episode, Clara and Missy would be the first things I would leave on the cutting room floor.

It is this unnecessary guff (a by-product of the decision to make this story a two-parter) and the what I am now going to name 'Moffat-ism's' that stop "The Witch's Familiar" from being the episode that I believe it could have been. Yes, that central conversation is fascinating - but so much else is wrong and out of place and just downright insulting to any audience member with the smallest amount of memory about the integrity that Doctor Who once has. I'm not asking for a lot (I never have from Doctor Who) - but (spoiler alert!) don't end your episode by having The Doctor escape near death by rebuilding the TARDIS with a pair of fucking sunglasses. That, for me, is more than crossing the line into the pure ridiculous.

At the end of the day, "The Witch's Familiar" managed to do just enough right to ensure that I will be continuing to watch season 9 of Doctor Who for now. I stand by the fact that it should have been a single episode, I stand by the fact that it shouldn't have been the introduction to a new season, and I stand by the fact that no one episode of Doctor Who needs to rely this much on it's own history - but I do have to concede that ultimately, I enjoyed "The Witch's Familiar" in spite of both a large portion of the episode and myself.

But man, the sunglasses bit was dumb.

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