Doctor Who, Season 9 Episode 2: “The Witch’s Familiar”

“The Witch’s Familiar” is a perfect example of why I haven’t enjoyed Doctor Who during Steven Moffat’s tenure as showrunner. I thought that what happened in the season premiere was bold storytelling which was undercut by having everything tied up in a neat little bow by the end of the two-parter. There were some interesting things going on, but in the end it was just about Missy and Clara competing for the Doctor’s affections because that’s all women are capable of, and also The Doctor knew what Davros’ plan was all along. And also we shouldn’t forget that compassion can be our strongest weapon, because they said that at least five times in the episode.

Time-travel is pretty much my favourite sci-fi/fantasy trope, but I get really annoyed when cause and effect are dependent on each other the way they were in this particular two part adventure. The Doctor saved Davros first because it was the right thing to do, and then at the end because the only way Daleks had the word ‘mercy’ programmed into their software/genetics/whatever was so that Clara could be saved after she already had been. Maybe I’m thinking about this way too hard, but it seems like the events shouldn’t be mutually dependent on each other, just the latter on the former. What I’m comparing it to is the great Time-Turner chapter in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Another example of how this doesn’t quite work is in Ocarina of Time, in which Adult Link learns the Song of Storms from the man whose windmill was ruined by Young Link playing it. You have to learn the song as Adult Link before you go back in time as Young Link to ruin the windmill and empty the well. This wasn’t even my main problem with the episode, although it circles back to it. Spoilers for Psycho and the first two episodes of Scream Queens (which I reviewed yesterday) ahead.

Think back to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, in which the herione dies in the first 30 minutes of the film. Similarly, Ariana Grande was killed in either the first or second episode of Scream Queens.  You hire a big name, you think they’re the star of the show, and then they’re dead. Doctor Who not killing Clara in the season premiere uses similar narrative acrobatics as Colin Farrel’s not-death in the first half of #TrueDetectiveSeason2. The TARDIS was also fine because of course it was. The Doctor lost absolutely nothing this week, he was the cleverest man in the room once again because he always is. The Doctor isn’t a well-written character if he always wins – he’s our hero, so we always want him to win, but if Missy and Clara didn’t die and the TARDIS wasn’t actually destroyed, there are no stakes in this story whatsoever. What made it worse is that The Doctor and Missy apparently knew what the plan was the entire time, which is just boring.

The Doctor’s greatest weakness was compassion, but it was actually his greatest strength, which Davros has clearly forgotten in the hundreds of years since he programmed mercy into the Daleks. So, Davros appeals to The Doctor’s compassion in order to prevent him from dying, and The Doctor feeds his regeneration energy into the contraption that connects Davros’ life force to all the Daleks. Meanwhile, Missy and Clara took a stroll in the Dalek sewers/graveyard, because it turns out that Daleks don’t really die of old age or something. What if they’re killed in combat? Anyway, The Doctor somehow knew that Davros was going to trick him into giving him the regeneration energy, and also that Daleks don’t die, so that the sewer Daleks would come up to the surface for revenge.

In the most interesting storyline of the episode, Missy puts Clara inside a Dalek shell, ostensibly to break back into Davros’ compound, but really to test the Dalek translation devices so that the Doctor would kill her. Once again, the only storyline Steven Moffat can come up with for two female characters is for them to argue over a man. Snore. What was more interesting was seeing Clara as a Dalek, because that is how both the Doctor and Doctor Who‘s audience first met her. Eggs. Stir. Minute. We know that that was just a fragment of Clara that somehow ended up in some bizarre future timeline, but what if it really is just Clara’s future? That’s a much scarier thought, and much more interesting to have every character who died actually end up alive in the next episode. That’s just cheating.

Other thoughts:

  • I’ll keep watching Doctor Who for a few more weeks, but I don’t think it’s something I can write about on a weekly basis, I’ll just get annoyed.

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