Friday, October 2, 2015

Doctor Who 9.02: "The Witch's Familiar"

“There’s no such thing as the Doctor. I’m just a bloke in a box, telling stories. And 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

I have mixed feelings about the latest episode of “Doctor Who.” There was some great work by Peter Capaldi and Julian Bleach as Davros did some great work in the middle of the episode with some very emotional and revealing scenes between their characters. Clara also faced a very interesting predicament given her past (well, parallel, really), although a reference to that previous event wasn’t made explicit. I didn’t love the resolution to the episode, though. It was a bit hand-waivey in a typical Moffat way, and it had big consequences for the Doctor. I also don’t love what has become of the sonic screwdriver. I am hoping the Doctor makes a change in his choice of Sonic technology again soon and we go back to the classic.

Right away in this episode, we learn the fates of Clara and Missy. They both survived the Dalek extermination attempt, of course. As the episode opens, Clara is tied up and hanging upside down while Missy watches over her. This opening scene reminded me distinctly of the first episode of the latest season of the also Moffat-written “Sherlock.” Missy tells the story of how the Doctor once made a daring escape by tinkering with a vortex manipulator to teleport himself just as it seemed he was getting shot. Missy used a very similar concept to save herself and Clara from the Daleks. In the episode of “Sherlock” I referenced, many characters spend time wondering what happened to Sherlock during his fateful encounter with Morriarty that left him presumed dead.

The Doctor, meanwhile, thinks he’s in a good position in Dalek HQ. The Daleks are all looking for their leader, and they find Davros immobile on the ground (he doesn’t have a lower half of his body) and the Doctor occupying his chair. The Daleks try to exterminate the Doctor, but that doesn’t work because Davros’ chair has a force field. While the Doctor is gloating about his triumph, though, Davros gets the upper hand. His bodyguard that can morph into a snake traps the Doctor. In an aside, Davros tells his bodyguard that they’re going to “trap a Time Lord.”

Missy and Clara, meanwhile, are exploring the caves of Skaro, hoping to get closer to the Doctor so they can rescue him. Missy decides to speed things up by pushing Clara down into the sewer. We do get a fun fact about the sewers on Skaro. They are actually formed by very, very old daleks. You see, Daleks don’t completely die. They just gradually wither away and when they get really old, they are put in the sewer. Lovely creatures, the Daleks. In the sewer, Missy uses Clara as bait to attract a Dalek, and when she is successful, she punctures it multiple times with a brooch. The goo that is the remains of several old Daleks then infiltrates the casing and destroys the Dalek from within. Missy convinces Clara to go inside the Dalek shell and hook into it. When it closes up around Clara, it changes her words. Instead of saying her name, it says “Dalek.” Any emotionally charged phrase translates to “Exterminate.” Apparently yelling “Exterminate” is how Daleks recharge their weapons. Who knew?

The part of the episode that impressed me the most came near the middle, when the Doctor and Davros had a very long conversation about how Davros’ connection to the other Daleks works and about the Doctor’s tendency to run away from the rest of Time Lord society. On the first point, Davros has basically been syphoning life force from the Daleks for years. It is why he is still alive. The Doctor also mentions that Gallifrey still exists, although it’s hidden in a place the Doctor doesn’t even know. Davros seems to be happy about this news, saying that the Doctor deserves to have people to claim as his own. The Doctor thinks Davros must really be dying if he’s talking like this. Davros then expresses a wish to see the sun rise with his own eyes one last time, and he asks for the Doctor’s help. The sunrise starts to happen, but Davros says he’s having trouble opening his eyes. The Doctor offers a bit of regeneration energy, but as Admiral Akbar would say, it’s a trap. The snake bodyguard guy holds the Doctor in place so that regeneration energy starts to flow into all Daleks.

Meanwhile, Missy and Clara execute a scheme to keep the other Daleks from exterminating them. It’s the old Wookie prisoner maneuver. They try to convince the other Daleks that Missy is an important prisoner because she’s a Time Lady. She also announces to the Doctor that she’s got Clara. Clearly Missy is working multiple angles trying to get some leverage. Eventually, they make their way to the room where the Doctor is being drained of his regeneration energy, and they manage to save him. It turns out, though, that the Doctor had planned this all along. The regeneration energy goes to all Daleks, even the surly, mostly dead ones in the sewers. Those Daleks rise up and start fighting the younger, fully intact Daleks. Sure, making them fight from within is great and all, but was it really worth potentially multiple regenerations? It seems like such a waste. The Doctor was incredibly lucky to get that second set of regenerations, after all.

With the immediate Dalek threat past, attention turns to Clara in the Dalek suit. Missy tries to convince the Doctor that Clara is actually a Dalek. The Doctor seems about ready to shoot her, but when Clara begs him to stop and it is translated as “mercy,” it gives the Doctor pause. He doesn’t think Daleks should be able to say “mercy.” He tells Clara how to open the Dalek tank, and he is happy to see her alive and well (and furious with Missy). I thought this was an interesting bookend with series 7’s “Asylum of the Daleks,” where a parallel universe version of Clara did actually become a Dalek. We then learn that the Doctor has turned in his Sonic Screwdriver for some sonic sunglasses, and he uses the sunglasses to rematerialize the TARDIS. I don’t love this particular change. The Sonic Screw driver is iconic. Yes there was a time during the Classic era when the Doctor didn’t have a Sonic, but it came back again. I can’t believe the ego on Moffat to think he should change something so fundamental about the Doctor.

As the Doctor and Clara are getting ready to leave Skaro, the Doctor finally realizes why the Dalek shell was able to say “mercy.” He jumps in the TARDIS and whoops back to the time when young Davros was threatened by the hand mines. You might think he’s about to shoot Davros to change the timeline, but he doesn’t. He shoots all the hand mines and saves Davros’ life. The implication being that Davros was exposed to a bit of mercy that day that he continued to carry with him, even as he became a Dalek-inventing psychopath. Everybody lives! (And yes, I meant that ironically.)

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