Wow, two episodes into the new series, and I’m already a blog post behind… AGAIN. This is what happens when I go to Conflux. Anyway, the follow up to The Magician’s Apprentice is even better than its first act. Who doesn’t love a Clara/Missy double act, Skaro, Davros and tricksy moments between The Doctor and one of his more long running enemies?
Missy and Clara
I cannot emphasise enough how much I enjoy Michelle Gomez as Missy and would pay good money to see her in her own spin-off show. I quite liked seeing how Missy interacted with Clara as a ‘makeshift’ companion: from ‘make your own pointy stick’ to a lecture of respect, to making Clara climb into a Dalek, what a firecracker this character is.
I couldn’t help but wonder if The Doctor had signed Clara’s almost death warrant when he demanded that the Daleks produce Clara alive and never mentioned Missy once. The Master is jealous and cruel and doesn’t like to share. Moffat also did some nice foreshadowing by having Clara climb inside a Dalek early on necessary for both Clara and Missy to rescue The Doctor from Davros. It is horrifying when Clara tries to parrot Missy’s phrases (I love you, You are different to me, exterminate), yet Missy’s plan to infiltrate Davros ship makes sense.
It makes the final stages of the episode all the more powerful when Clara is trying to tell The Doctor that she is Clara Oswald and alive. if people thought that Moffat was allowing The Master to become too likable, this moment should have re-assured. For one frightening moment, I thought that the show was actually going to have The Doctor kill Clara thinking she was a Dalek and manipulated by Missy. Of course, the show could never really have gone there. Murder of his own companion is something that I don’t think The Doctor would ever recover from, but for one powerful moment, it seemed possible…
What’s In A Name?
The Doctor Who Watchalong group I frequent got caught up on the episode titles. I see them as allegory. The Magician’s Apprentice referred to The Doctor as magician teacher of Davros. In the first part, we thought he made Davros the villain he becomes in adulthood. The Witch’s Familiar flips that concept on its head. Instead, The Doctor teaches Davros compassion. The Witch’s Familar then, refers to Missy as The Witch and Clara as The Familiar, which makes me wonder very much how Clara will exit the show and whether she will leave it enemy or friend.
Gallifrey, Missy and The Doctor
This plot twist on why The Doctor left Gallifrey from the beginning seems to have split the fandom. I’m withholding judgement until more unfolds, but like The Wedding of River Song, there is scope for Moffat to get it very wrong. Still, I quite enjoyed Missy accusing The Doctor of being the one who had always run away before she ran off down a corridor and her un-nerving declaration that she had chosen Clara for The Doctor to show “In a way, this is why I gave her to you in the first place; to make you see. A friend inside the enemy, the enemy inside the friend. Everyone’s a bit of both. Everyone’s a hybrid.” was quite brilliant. Part Dalek, park Time Lord, though? And what exactly is The Doctor’s confession? Not sure if this is a terrible idea or genius?
Redemption or deception?
The quiet heart of this episode was definitely The Doctor’s dialogue with a dying Davros. Davros in The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End lacked conviction or power for me. This episode, he raises the ‘am I good man?’ theme which The Doctor faced from series 8;
Davros: Did I do right Doctor? Tell me, was I right? I need to know before the end. Am I a good man?
Davros even appears happy when The Doctor reveals that Gallifrey has been saved from the Time War.
Davros: If you have redeemed the Time Lords from the fire, do not lose them again. Take the darkest path into the deepest hell, but protect your own … as I have sought to protect mine.
Bizarrely, The Doctor and Davros even share a laugh together over Davros’ death bed:
Doctor: You really are dying, aren’t you?
Davros: Look at me. Did you doubt it?
Davros: Then we have established one thing only.
Davros: You are not a good doctor.
Such banter couldn’t help but feel tinged with unreality. The Doctor/Davros truce couldn’t last. I doubt many were all that surprised when Davros back-stabbed The Doctor, trying to use The Doctor’s regenerative energy to trap him. More surprising was The Doctor’s second guessing of Davros’ plan and his use of regeneration energy to contaminate the Dalek’s, causing ‘the sewers to revolt.’
We all knew that The Doctor wouldn’t really harm a small boy, regardless of who he grew up to hurt and what he later created. Does this mean the look on The Doctor’s face which Clara interpreted as shame, wasn’t shame after all?
The Doctor: I didn’t come here because I’m ashamed – a bit of shame never hurt anyone. I came because you’re sick, and you asked.
The lines in this section of the episode are simple and beautiful. At a Doctor Who panel at Conflux on the weekend, myself and other panelists discussed the fundamentals of the show and all of us agreed that the fundamentals of the show are what fellow pannelist John Blum termed ‘the adjectives’ – things like ‘never cowardly, never unkind, never give up and never give in,’ and now ‘compassion.’
Davros: It is so good of you to help me.
Doctor: I’m not helping you. I’m helping a little boy I abandoned on a battlefield. I think I owe him a sunrise.
The ending of this two parter was so simple and yet so beautiful. The Doctor destroys the hand mines and rescues a young Davros, contaminating him, and through him, his Daleks’ by showing young Davros compassion.
Doctor: I’m not sure any of that matters. Friends, enemies. So long as there’s mercy. Always mercy.
A strong episode because of its willingness to focus on character moments, quiet drama and relationships and made more interesting than its first part because of a clever spin on the true morality of The Doctor, The Witch’s Apprentice is a classic.
The Witch’s Apprentice: 11/10 inky stars