So here we have it. Part two of Doctor Who’s season opener, “The Witch’s Familiar.” Just as last week’s Part One, “The Magician’s Apprentice” referred to Clara, as does this week’s episode. This week though we juxtapose the doctor’s (or the Magician’s) relationship with Clara against Missy’s (The Witch). I could watch a whole season of Missy and Clara’s abusive partnership. Right off the bat we find out what most of us already knew, that Clara and Missy survived their “extermination” by the Daleks. This was explained away with a very timey wimey story of the Doctor once using his enemies’ weapons to power a personal teleporter, so instead of disintegration what we saw last week was teleportation. While this was another bit of a cheat from a show known for cheating its way out of trouble, I didn’t mind it here. It was clever and the flashback to the Doctor was well narrated by Missy and had a couple of quick throwbacks to past Doctors. Missy’s explanation that she just sees him as his current face was a cute way to leave it to us to decide which incarnation of him actually was present for the story.
From the first moment of their pair up this week, with Clara tied up and Missy quizzing her and casually threatening to eat her, these two have a funny vaudevillian style to their partnership. I’m not sure what’s funnier, Missy’s gleefully naughty delivery or Clara’s naive trust of her. Last week Missy compared Clara to a puppy and it’s easy to see why this week. After awakening tied and hanging from a tree, while Missy sharpens her ever-important pointy stick, Clara still trusts her. Then seeing a large hole in the ground, Missy asks her to lean over it and judge how far down it is, and of course promptly pushes Clara in so she can tell how deep it is. Even after all of that, poor, trusting, at this point bordering on dumb Clara still trusts Missy when asked to look at a security camera and then climb into a Daleks armor. If it wasn’t so slapsticky I would be angry that they turned Clara from a capable companion into a complete sucker, but it comes off more like an old Laurel and Hardy bit here.
This episode offered a lot more than just humor though. Dramatic moments were in plentiful supply. While the Doctor believes Clara to be dead, enraged, he tears Davros out of his motorized chair and leaves his legless torso on the floor. This gives us another clever moment from the Doctor, figuring out that Davros’s chair must have a force field since his children, the Daleks, have such atrocious aim. Not only is this a clever bit of intuition it also is a fun nod to how bad the Daleks actually are at killing people, firing wildly all the time and hitting very little.
Also for the first time in this modern version of Who, Davros feels like an intellectual challenge for the Doctor. Davros and the Doctor have a wonderful back and forth where they go from hated enemies to almost nostalgic old friends and back again, in a subtle and surprising manipulation of one another. For a second there I even believed Davros’ crocodile tears. The scenes here were wonderfully played between the two and each twist comes as a complete surprise.
Overall this episode is one that will likely go down as a long effecting episode in Doctor Who’s run. This is for three major reasons.
First, the Doctor has seemingly abandoned his sonic screwdriver. Since the future version of Davros still has it after receiving it as a child this suggests that the Doctor did not take it back after he saved young Davros. In its place we see the Google Glass equivalent of the Who-niverse, sonic shades. The Doctor dons his trusty Raybans and it turns out that they have a sonic function, as the doctor says he’s now into wearable tech. From the previews for next week it appears that the sunglasses will stay for at least another episode or two, and if this ends up going longer than that it could be one of the biggest shakeups in the shows history. A Doctor without his screwdriver.
The second point that feels like its impact will be long felt is the idea of a hybrid. A Dalek infused with the regenerative power of a Time Lord. While seemingly unsuccessful here, the fact that Davros and the Daleks have the idea for a hybrid in their minds, along with lots of metaphors from Missy about friends within enemies and vice versa, it feels like this concept will figure prominently somewhere down the line.
The third and possibly largest shake-up for the series, if it pans out, is the idea that the Daleks now understand mercy. The Daleks have been traditionally cold, emotionless killing machines, if what we learned this week means that they now have the capacity not only to ask for mercy but to show it as well. The dynamic between the Doctor and his most famous foes could get turned on its head. On top of this we got the first real look at what it’s like for a Dalek inside of its suit. How much of a prisoner they really are is much more apparent now. All of these things could really shake up the status quo from here on out.
While I’m sure some die hard fans will hate this, I for one am excited to see what new doors this could open for future stories. With a franchise fifty years old, Doctor Who could use some major change-ups to its tried and true formula.