Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar review

Review

The Witch’s Familiar

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Missy: Okay, I’m going to tell you a story of the Doctor. It’s classic.

Doctor Who Season: S35 (Ep2).
Story Number: 254b.

Skaro…

Skaro is an ongoing story of the Doctor.

When we watch Doctor Who, it’s the story of the Doctor. There are exceptions that prove the rule to a greater of lesser extent: it’s significant that the one Doctor Who story with no prescence of the Doctor whatsoever is a Dalek story though, (Mission to the Unknown of 1965, or “Dalek Cutaway”), as you can argue the Daleks are as much the “star” of the programme as the Doctor. (They certainly were during the 1960s.) Love & Monsters, Blink, Turn Left – these are all stories that explore the absence of the Doctor. It’s curious that the previous part of this story should end with Missy & Clara “leaving the stage” and yet it’s them that set the stage for this new episode.

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The story of Doctor Who is that of a Time Lord & their companion going on an adventure – if we have read the previous episode title as referring to Clara, then we can read this one as what happens when Clara get familiar with a witch. (That is, she’s now a companion to Missy.)

The Doctor is with Davros. When Doctor Who came back, one of the criticisms was that it was “too much like a soap”, and yet this episode shows that this can be a huge strength: what the Doctor & Davros scenes most resemble is the rightly-celebrated “Dot & Ethel” episode of EastEnders, (a two-hander television play in which the two reminisce about their lives since the War and surprising depths are added).

The Doctor cares for his companion. As the Master is the Doctor upside down, she doesn’t care for Clara – quite the opposite. She tells Clara to get inside the Dalek shell to save the Doctor, tells the Daleks she’s brought them Clara, when really she’s brought this “Dalek” to be destroyed by the Doctor: the ultimate victory for Missy is to show him “the Doctor” is not so different from “the Master”. She just wants to be close to the Doctor.

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The most thought-provoking (for thoughts on what the Twelfth Doctor era is about) dialogue that runs with ideas from episodes that immediately preceded it, The Name of the Doctor and The Day of the Doctor:

There’s no such thing as the Doctor. I’m just a bloke in a box telling stories. 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. And because sometimes, on a good day, if I try very hard… I’m not some old Time Lord who ran away. I’m the Doctor.

The Doctor would never drop his companion down a hole to test how deep it was – that Missy does is cartoonishly shocking. To “be” the Doctor though, he needs to actively be part of “a story of the Doctor”, with a companion by his side and a villain or monsters to thwart.

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The boy on the battlefield, the young woman trapped in a Dalek shell, have they simply been caught up in the story of the Doctor? When they take the Doctor’s hand, it’s their choice, but do they realise what it will mean to be part of the story of the Doctor?

picRating 5/5

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(The Witch’s Familiar on bbc.co.uk/programmes/)

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