‘The Witch’s Familiar’ is part two of a story started in last week’s part one ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’. Though the titles are similar, and it is a continuation of the same story, it is a very different sort of episode altogether.
Missy and Clara are still alive and well despite seemingly being killed by the Daleks at the end of the last episode. We learn how they survived, and at the same time how Missy survived being shot by the Brigadier in ‘Death In Heaven’. The explanation is simple. She used her vortex manipulator to teleport at the exact right time.
They enter a Dalek sewer. The Dalek’s don’t produce much waste, but what they do use it for is horrific. For Daleks, a sewer is the same thing as a graveyard. Even worse, none of the Daleks that are put in this place are actually dead. Daleks can in theory live forever, but they still age and decay, becoming a black liquid eventually, and at that point they are just shoved into the sewer/graveyard, but still alive and conscious.
Missy comes up with a plan. They have to trap and kill a Dalek, and she uses Clara as bait by handcuffing her to a wall. A Dalek approaches and Missy punches holes in it. The Dalek says this damage is minimal, but as Missy puts it, it’s “A puncture in a bad neighbourhood”. The Daleks in the sewer have sensed it, and ooze around the casing hoping they can take possession of the casing themselves.
After removing the mutant from the casing, Missy puts Clara in. We learn that the Dalek machine is powered telepathically, not only that but it translates what the creature is thinking. Anything emotional, such as “I love you” for example, comes out as ”Exterminate!”, anytime they say their name it comes out as “I Am A Dalek”.
Meanwhile, the Doctor forces Davros out of his chair and goes into the main Dalek room. This doesn’t last for long, as Colony Sarf’s snakes grab the Doctor, but we learn that Davros’ chair is immune from the Dalek’s deathrays.
The Doctor is bought back to the infirmary, with Davros back in his chair. The reason of Davros’ long life is that he is connected by cables to every single Dalek in Skaro. He is feeding off their life force. Davros tempts the Doctor to kill all the Daleks… he can do it simply by using the cables, and nobody would ever know. The Doctor will not do this, and tells Davros he didn’t come to see him out of shame because of a guilty conscience, but out compassion because Davros is ill.
Davros says to the Doctor he is pleased for him that he has found Gallifrey, and wants to see him with his own eyes rather than the mechanical eye in his forehead. He turns his central eye off and opens his real eyes. The Doctor realises that Davros genuinely is dying. Davros replies to him with a quip. “You didn’t think I was dying? Then […] you are not a good doctor”, which makes the Doctor laugh.
Davros says he wants to see one last sunrise before he passes away, but cannot open his eyes again. The Doctor uses some Time Lord Regeneration energy to allow Davros that little extra stength. This turns out to be a trap. What Davros actually wanted to do was to drain all the energy from the Doctor to prolong his life and power up the Daleks. He was inspired to do this from an old prophecy of a powerful half Timelord half Dalek hybrid. Missy breaks into the infirmary, saving the Doctor.
However, the Doctor was a few steps ahead of Davros all along. He knew his plan, and allowed him to do it as Davros forgot an important thing. The energy reached every Dalek on the planet, including the ones in the sewers. They are coming up and attacking the main Daleks.
The Doctor runs into Clara, still inside the Dalek casing. She tries to tell him who she is, but it only comes out as “I am a Dalek”. Missy arrives, and after making sure this “Dalek” is Clara… she tells the Doctor Clara was killed by this Dalek and he should kill it to avenge her! Clara tries to tell the Doctor this isn’t true, but it only comes out as “I am a Dalek”, and being frightened and in tears only comes out of the Dalek as “Exterminate!”. She begs the Doctor not to kill her, which partly comes out as “Mercy”. The Doctor says why would the word “mercy” be in a Dalek’s vocabulary in the first place. He tells the Dalek to open its casing, which Missy didn’t tell Clara how to do, but you simply just have to think it and say “open”. The casing opens, revealing Clara, and the Doctor advises Missy to run away. She does, but ends up surrounded by Daleks. She tells them she’s just had a brilliant idea…
The Doctor and Clara escape, but the Doctor can’t help wondering why Davros would give the Daleks a concept of mercy at all. He decides he has to make sure it happens. He goes to the battlefield where the young Davros is surrounded by the handmines, and uses his sonic screwdriver to destroy them. He says he wants Davros to remember the importance of mercy and that it matters more than which side of a battle you are on.
I liked the way of doing a part two episode by essentially rewording the title of part one. The title is likely referring to Clara. She’s the Magician’s Apprentice, the Doctor’s companion. Here she is the Witch’s familiar, Missy’s companion. The names also reflect how the dynamics work. The dynamic between Clara and this incarnation of the Doctor is something like a teacher and student. A witch’s familiar is also an assistant of sorts, but is usually a bit like a pet, such as a cat or an owl. Missy treats Clara more like an animal than a human. Even that’s probably a bit generous, she mostly treats her as a pawn for her own games.
After all the action in last week’s episode, this is mostly the Doctor and Davros, two sworn enemies, having a long discussion. Missy has been compared to a female version of the Joker, and this episode was intentionally inspired by Batman and the Joker, specifically the hero laughing at one of the villain’s jokes. Davros mentions that he greatly admires the Doctor. There is the idea that the Doctor and Davros have quite a lot in common, that they are two sides of the same coin. They are both very clever scientists who have, temporarily at least, experienced the loss of their entire race and home planets. In this episode, they are both trying to pull a similar trick on each other.
Julian Bleach has been good in all his appearances as Davros, but he is great here, very compelling . Davros is pitiable, especially seeing how ill and close to death he is. But he is evil and twisted enough to exploit that, all in the aims of his even more evil and twisted ultimate goal.
Missy has some great lines again. Calling the Doctor a swot, and how the teamwork with Missy and Clara works, “Every miner needs a canary”, when they trap and kill a Dalek “You’re the bait, I’m the hook”. When she presents Clara in a Dalek casing to the Daleks as “Giftwrapped. Better – canned”, and trying to pass off her attempt at tricking the Doctor into killing Clara in the Dalek casing as her making a point of “The friend inside the enemy, the enemy inside the friend”. A new thing we find out in this episode is that she mentions having a daughter.
Another version of Clara, Oswin in ‘Asylum Of the Daleks’, also suffered being converted into a Dalek. In that episode the horror and sadness came from Oswin realising what had happened to her, but in this episode it comes from the fact that Clara is helpless to tell the Doctor who she is and is trapped inside the casing, and that he may end up killing her thinking he’s taking revenge for her death.
It shows how awful it would be to be a Dalek. What they say might not be exactly what they truly mean or what they’re even trying to say, and any individuality they have is lost, they are simply “a Dalek”. They never die, they just rot forever. The Daleks themselves come off as quite tragic in this episode, as well as Davros.
This was an interesting episode, and I think a better attempt at making us feel some sympathy for the Daleks than something like ‘Into the Dalek’ from last year’s series. While it wasn’t as varied and jam-packed as ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ there was still a lot going on, which made the ending seem a bit rushed. (We have to get home. Oh yeah, almost forgot the Daleks have destroyed the TARDIS in the last episode! Oh never mind, it turns out the TARDIS was just pretending to be blown apart). If I’m going to nitpick, like a lot of people I’m not a fan of the Doctor’s “sonic sunglasses” acting like a new sonic screwdriver. But all in all, another decent episode.