Sunday, 27 September 2015

Review: Doctor Who 9.2: The Witch's Familiar

It's nice to see the older Daleks after the whole
"Every Dalek Ever" fiasco, but what's the point of them?
This is really frustrating. Really, really quite frustrating. Because it wasn't necessarily the case this week that I thought that the episode was bad - Moffat is continuing with this whole thing of getting better at some elements and just as terrible at others. This week I wasn't cringing at insensitive lines so much as I was cringing at the more twist-and-turn aspects of the plot which have become so idiosyncratic of Moffat's style. While the episode was so filled of terrible Moffat cliches, I think I'm just so tired of them that I saw past it to the genuinely good moments, of which there were myriad. It keeps coming back to this point with Moffat scripts that even if I enjoy the more recent ones, I still wish they were better and that they were something I could call "good Doctor Who."
     The episode immediately negated the cliffhanger of the previous episode with a lengthy cold open which used technobabble to excuse it away, as well as explaining why The Master survived being shot in Death In Heaven. The episode followed two subplots, one with The Master and Clara making their way through the Dalek "sewers" (an interesting concept where the sewer consists of the still-living rotten remains of dead Daleks), and another with The Doctor and Davros discussing his fate. Davros claims to be dying, and offers The Doctor congratulations at the knowledge that the Time Lords are alive. He even goes so far as to open his real eyes for the first time in the show's history, just to be able to watch one last sunrise. The Doctor, being compassionate, decides to give some of his new regen. energy into the Dalek's hivemind, which apparently is a trick by Davros to rejuvinate himself and the Daleks. This is discussed for a while but then turns out to be another trick by The Doctor, with the living sewers rising up against the Daleks. And at one point Clara ended up inside a Dalek casing and it was weird.
     Ignoring for now the question of whether it was a good Doctor Who story, let's ask - was this a good Dalek story. Everyone has their own criteria for what that means - for me, it means that we got a story where the Daleks were not only good villains, but which showed us something new about them. Like the rest of the episode, there is good and bad. On the bright side, a lot of the scenes where Clara's voice was translated through the Dalek speech modulator, and The Master explained how a Dalek thinks. Julian Bleach's Davros is still an amazing addition to the show, and the scenes where Davros is pretending to be dying had me on the edge of my seat. The downside was that a lot of the episode's concepts for the Daleks are either derivative of other Dalek stories, or directly contradict previous stories.
Julian Bleach is the best Davros since Michael Wisher,
hands down.
     There are elements of the show which still really don't work going forwards, and it's the kinds of things which prevent me from fully enjoying the episode. Moffat had the first female Master call herself "the bitch" in this episode - not a word unique to Moffat, RTD used it twice in reference to Cassandra, but the word rings differently coming from The Master because he has spent the majority of his life (as we've seen it) as a male persona. Ignoring for now the relative absurdity of an alien race that can completely rearrange its DNA having the same concept of gender as we have, this history means that all of "Missy"'s lines come from the mouth of a man. Gomez is brilliant in the role and there are a lot of moments her character brings which are genuinely enjoyable villainy. But there was no reason for Gomez' Master to be here for anything other than popular demand, and she seems to be being employed in the same way that River was a few seasons ago.
     When I watched Dark Water last year, I had some hope that Moffat had maybe learnt to tone down some of his old habits. That story had some brilliant buildup, slow and menacing, alongside an interesting sci-fi idea. It avoided Moffat's old traits - bizarre posturing, women being used as devices, "wacky" moments that had no effect on the plot. This episode was so on the edge of being brilliant - Julian Leach is amazing, the Davros moments were phenomenal, and the scenes with The Master and Clara in the sewers were making my day. But the fact is, they were sharing the stage with so many of those old moments: the weird effing "sonic sunglasses", this claim about a "great prophecy" of a Time-Lord/Dalek hybrid when the same thing happened in Evolution of the Daleks eight years ago. I don't expect perfection in TV - I couldn't be a critic, otherwise. But this episode was blisteringly close to that perfection, and that makes the bad moments sting all the more.


NEXT WEEK: Underwater mayhem in Under The Lake.

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