As someone who watched old Doctor Who reruns growing up, I’m quite fond of the multi-episode arc that Doctor Who traditionally used to tell stories. It’s something we rarely see from modern Doctor Who, at least not to the extent that it used to be used as a story telling device. In fact, this is only the second two-part season premiere of Doctor Who since the revival.
The problem with a multi-episode story arc is that you really need to have a good payoff to the individual episodes and the story as a whole. I’m not convinced that The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar two-parter really fulfilled either side of that.
Let’s start at the end. That was deus ex machina to the highest degree. I always call it out when I see it because I really hate when you get swerved for the magical happy ending and are left scratching your head wondering what the hell just happened.
So, in this instance, The Doctor knew that Davros bringing him to Skaro was a trap. That much makes sense. The creator of the Daleks is probably the type of person that would shake your hand and have their fingers crossed behind their back so it doesn’t count.
What doesn’t make sense is that The Doctor predicts Davros’ plan to steal regeneration energy so he lets himself get into a trap so he can be drained of regeneration energy so that a secret sewer of decomposed into goo dead Daleks can come back to life to somehow kill other Daleks and tear the planet apart. That plan makes no sense when The Doctor presumably didn’t know he was on Skaro when he was brought there. He needed Missy to save him from being sucked dry of regeneration energy using a Dalek laser arm that was just lying on the floor when he thought Missy was dead. And he needed Davros to want regeneration energy in the first place for the other parts of his plan to even need to happen. Not to mention that thing about the TARDIS’ energy shields that stayed in place after it was destroyed which is the cherry on top of a sundae of utter insanity.
This plan was so ridiculous that even if I was able to successfully defeat Davros and the Daleks, I wouldn’t admit to it because it’s far too impossible to believe. And it’s so disappointing that this was the big finish to an episode that was so well written for the first half to two-thirds.
As expected, Clara and Missy weren’t dead. The explanation didn’t make a whole lot of sense as we got some more deus ex machina but at least it tied into how Missy wasn’t dead. The little handheld vortex manipulator that Clara and Missy used to for time travel last week were modified to absorb laser beams to be used for an instant jump away from the scene of the shooting. I suppose I can live with that because I knew coming out of last week that Clara and Missy weren’t dead and Michelle Gomez’s boundless charisma can carry just about any scene that she’s in.
Speaking of which, Missy conning Clara into getting into a Dalek shell was a fun little scene. Like I said, Michelle Gomez can carry any scene she’s in and that includes tormenting Clara in a little Dalek shell. It also served as a nice little throwback to when we first met Clara inside a Dalek in Asylum of the Daleks. I suppose you needed Clara’s concern and unfamiliarity with the workings of a Dalek to make the scenes work from a dramatic perspective but she should have been familiar with being a Dalek from that episode.
The real heart of the episode was The Doctor and Davros spending a little quality time together in Davros’ infirmary. The relationship between The Doctor and Missy has hinted that the line between best friends and bitter enemies is a very thin one. It seems like a supervillain cliché when they tell the hero that “we’re not so different” but Moffat is in his fifth season of exploring that very statement.
The way that The Doctor and Davros were able to connect, if not bond, during this episode play back to that theme. While the Timelords and Daleks and The Doctor and Davros have fought to the near-extinction of each race time and time again, it’s almost as is the rivals respect each other despite the animosity that must have built over time. Sometime, time heals all wounds but can it when you have all of time (and space) at your disposal?
If it wasn’t for the convoluted plan within a plan, it would have seemed that even The Doctor can have compassion for one of his greatest and most dangerous enemies. In the moment, the laughter and tears that the pair shared seemed so genuine and heartfelt. Like there was still some humanity left in the man who had transformed himself into a half-man, half-Dalek creation. The scene where Davros opened his eyes to watch the sunset was the most moving scene in the episode. It’s something so simple but so very effective.
The episode properly ended with a Missy heel turn. After being part of the side of good for the last two episodes, albeit with some criminally insane homicidal tendencies, she just went complete villain and tried to get The Doctor to murder Clara. No explanation given. Just something for a laugh. It felt more like cartoonish supervillainy than the usual insane but justified villainy that makes Missy such a great version of The Master.
So if you discount the ending, this was actually a very good episode. I’d say that it was better than last week’s The Magician’s Apprentice. The first part set the stage for this week and it paid off. It leveraged superb performances by Peter Capaldi, Michelle Gomez and Julian Bleach. We expect Capaldi and Gomez to do that but Bleach was a pleasant surprise. He was given a script beyond straight “be evil” and it turns out that the man can work magic with the right material and direction. More of this please.
Other random points of note:
- Everyone seemed to think we’d get to hear what’s in The Doctor’s confession dial. That’s a season finale sort of thing. It’s not going to get forgotten about. We just won’t know what it says this quickly.
- I omitted to mention that last week’s episode saw the reintroduction of the original silver and blue Daleks. Now, I’ve actually seen the original Dalek series on TV but it was shown in black-and-white so only the most diehard of fans would have caught that throwback.
So I complain off the top about a lack of multi-part episodes and then I go on Wikipedia and find out that eight of this season’s 12 episodes are made up of four two-parters. The second two-part story starts next week with an underwater base and ghosts. At least, it looks like ghosts but I somehow doubt the explanation is that simple in Under The Lake.