Monthly Archives: September 2015

Doctor Who XXXV/9.2: The Witch’s Familiar

Art by Stuart Manning, for radiotimes.com

Art by Stuart Manning, for radiotimes.com

Still no comprehensive account from me; work is even more hectic than it was a week ago. Perhaps this was the reason I found this episode heavy going, while acknowledging the steel joints of its snakes-and-ladders plot and the sigh of relief as some recent developments were explained in a way that made them seem less glib than they had done. Or, perhaps it was the catalogue of violations: the Daleks cast out from their casings to liquefy in the sewers, still living; the Doctor, milked for compassion he freely offers, gently performed but drawing out the audience’s apprehension; and Clara, treated as a disposable tool by Missy, fun to be tortured and used as a torture instrument. I’d feared for Clara during the week – and it’s rare I become that involved in a character’s fate between episodes – because I wondered if some Dalek nanogenes would do their worst. For a while, we seemed to be heading in that direction, with Clara wired into a Dalek in a manner which echoed her pre-introduction in Asylum of the Daleks, though Moffat’s theory of Dalek engineering seems to have changed a little to serve this story. I wondered if a scene dramatising the difficulties of disconnecting Clara from the Dalek was cut; the episode’s flow seemed disrupted.

This was an episode based on four great performances, but it was Michelle Gomez and Missy who seemed to be having the most fun. I particularly liked her Gurney Slade-like gesture at the end of the pre-credits sequence which gave permission for the title music to begin; and if Doctor Who has a series of usually silent narrators, Rose Tyler alone breaking her silence with ‘the last story I’ll ever tell’, Missy’s emphasis on the Doctor’s adventures as mythology and romance suggest that this two-parter has been her tale, down even to our seeing the beginning of her negotiated escape before the city of the Daleks is smothered in sentient effluent; the latter an obvious nod to perceived childhood obsessions, Moffat’s own Curse of Fatal Death and perhaps even the argument of some critics that enduring shared universes emerging from low-status forms (I think Grant Morrison on DC Comics, but others will know better than me about this) become sentient entities in themselves. Perhaps this story has been laid down only to be picked up again in some later form.

After this it’s no surprise Clara wants to return to exciting adventures with monsters: and so next week we get a ghost story for the darkening evenings.

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Doctor Who XXXV/9.1 – The Magician’s Apprentice

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Illustration by Stuart Manning for radiotimes.com

No essay from me this week, but negatives first. There aren’t many of them, and are largely personal in that there’s always an awkwardness to me in the Doctor revelling in pop culture or being a rock musician, and yet here I can see it was the right choice. I’m not sure where the Doctor’s audience in 1138 went either…

Otherwise, superlatives. Steven Moffat and company projected their most coherent vision of the Doctor Who universe so far; though I did find myself wondering if the Shadow Architect’s hairdresser (probably a Judoon, come to think of it) had been killed in action since The Stolen Earth. The Maldovarium is a sorrier place for the loss of Dorium. Clara’s confidence as schoolteacher and UNIT’s contact radiated and Jenna Coleman’s authority in the part was more than a match for Michelle Gomez’s calculating tricksiness. The traps within traps were sprung and the Daleks depicted as more detached from human or Gallifreyan values while justifying their fond parent’s description of them as children. Barry Norman’s comparison of fifty years ago, that they are devices through which children imagine killing grown-ups, was made plain here; as was the realisation most fans have had at some time, that the Daleks are tanks (and I’ll link to John Wilson’s article on the subject as soon as I’ve identified the relevant issue of Tides of Time – it’s issue 23, but I can’t manage the link at present – search for “Tides 23” at tidesoftime.wordpress.com for the pdf). Taking up the convincingly-performed but sidestepped ‘Do I have the right?’ speech from Genesis of the Daleks is a dangerous exercise and we’ll only find how well it works next week. Otherwise, a sense of the programme trying something new and Peter Capaldi’s most moving and enthralling performance in the role.