The Witch’s Familiar blasts the Doctor back onto our screens after last week’s dramatic cliffhanger. In this week’s Doctor Who review we delve into the sewers of Skaro and seek out the evil Davros, a man who uses compassion as a weapon.

Cliffhangers used to be a staple of Doctor Who back in the day. Stories could be four or even six episodes long and so weekly cliffhanger endings were what kept people watching. Narrative storytelling has changed a lot over the years and since its return in 2005 Doctor Who has kept its cliffhangers fairly sparse. But this year we will have more of them and I welcome the change. This week has been one of speculation and wonder – just how did they get out of this one?

Missy / the Master
Missy / the Master

It’s Missy who gives us the explanation through the medium of a story about the Doctor. It’s about how he escaped from invisible assassins by turning their own killing power into a way to charge his teleporter and how this inspired Missy to do the same. We get to see the Doctor from the Master’s point of view a little bit – how she sees his attitude. How does the Doctor always escape? Just being clever? Well, the Master has always been incredibly clever but doesn’t always succeed like the Doctor does. After Clara and Missy have their banter, they enter the Dalek sewers and head back towards the city to rescue the Doctor.

Davros is still taunting him, but the Doctor is determined to put himself back on the upper hand. He is desperate, emotional, and above all, caring. He cares deeply about Clara and wants to see her safe, so he refuses to accept that she is gone. In what will no doubt be an eternally remembered scene, the Doctor steals Davros’ chair and goes wheeling about the Supreme Daleks’ chamber.

Meanwhile, Missy and Clara manage to bait and trap a Dalek who has come to investigate them in these living sewers. Here we get to see Missy as the extreme version of the Twelfth Doctor – willing to sacrifice people and use them as human shields in order to achieve her ends. While the Doctor may do this with less glee, they both have a history of doing it.

This, I felt, was one of the more well done aspects of the character dynamic between the Doctor and the Master. It wasn’t beaten over the heads of the audience, but just left there for us to realise. After last season saw moral dilemmas agonised over and the Doctor’s decisions questioned at length, Missy springs into action immediately and without question. She’ll push Clara down a well, chain her to a wall, and threaten her extermination, all just to get a small advantage. It is also clear that she enjoys doing this, and that only adds to the horror.

Davros and the Doctor are reunited after a brief scuffle with the other Daleks. There’s a line about the only

The Special Weapons Dalek
The Special Weapons Dalek

other chair on Skaro that gave me a genuine laugh out loud moment. We then delve into these two characters and their endless moral struggle. There’s very little action because it’s not needed. The tension that rides on every word in this confrontation is so clear that it just draws you in. The Doctor acts childish, aggravates Davros, but ultimately Skaro’s top scientist is the one showing all the emotion.

These are devastatingly strong performances from two towering actors. We delve not only into the emotions of the characters but into their pasts and we get some genuinely touching moments. Which I never thought I’d see from these two! From questions of why the Doctor left Gallifrey, to Davros begging to be told that he did the right thing to protect his people. You can see the Doctor’s strained compassion – it wants to break free but his reason is screaming at him to stop.

Back in the sewers Missy is also pushing things to uncomfortable levels. She puts Clara inside a Dalek and has her control it through thought maneuvering. Here we get a bit of Dalek lore that made me raise an eyebrow. Daleks do not suppress emotion like the Cybermen, they channel it. The Dalek’s voice coder won’t allow her to say things like ‘My name is Clara’, which becomes ‘I am a Dalek’, and ‘I love you’, which becomes ‘Exterminate’. I’m not sure if I completely bought it, but it served the story.

As the Doctor and Davros battle with words, we are led into some very dark places. Davros begins to cry, and opens his real eyes. This, again, took me out of the story a little. Davros’ eyes had always looked as if they had been burned out, but to see that they were just closed made the whole thing irk me. It’s nothing major but it distracted me from an otherwise very powerful scene.

Davros
Davros

Davros and the Doctor eventually share a laugh and almost look like old friends. We see the Doctor’s compassion growing and Davros begs him to help him see one last sunrise before he dies. But then his eyes will not open and the Doctor, in his desire to come to the aid of someone who is sick and called for help, consents to giving up some of his regeneration energy.

But then the tables turn and Davros drains the life out of the Doctor, feeding it into the Daleks. We are also given a glimpse of a Time Lord prophesy that will no doubt come into play later on (it sounded very much like the Doctor-Donna if you ask me, though). However, this not only invigorates the functional Daleks, but also the ones who had been deposited in the sewers.

“Supreme Dalek, your sewers are revolting!”

This was a somewhat silly ending, but it made me laugh. We were also treated to the Master trying very hard to get the Doctor to kill Clara. As she was trapped inside a Dalek (like in Asylum of the Daleks, only different) and unable to properly communicate, you almost think he’ll do it. It’s a very tense moment.

In the end, we see that the Dalek had a concept of mercy and the only way the Doctor can think of that becoming the case is if he shows mercy to the young Davros. We are taken back to that battlefield and see the Doctor saving his arch enemy from the Hand-Mines, showing him mercy, and planting the idea in him.

Overall, this was an episode that rose on its great performances, only stumbling on some clumsy concepts and the occasional ridiculous moment. Sonic Sunglasses? Really? Peter Capaldi has certainly cemented himself as a truly brilliant Doctor (whatever Davros might say) with this performance alone and I really cannot wait for the rest of the series to showcase what he can do.