So! A new season of Doctor Who
, then! I missed the first episode because I was in Bournemouth for Lib Dem Conference, and although I did catch up with it last Saturday (effectively watching both as a two-parter that evening), I haven't had time to write about them until now because I wanted to get conference written up first
, and have then had a busy week.
I really liked these two episodes, though. I went into them with fairly low expectations, after a week of reading various comments around the internet to the effect that The Magician's Apprentice
was not that great. So it may be that the low expectations in themselves helped me enjoy both episodes more than I might have done otherwise. But certainly, watched together, they seemed pretty strong to me.
The basic set-up and central drama, revisiting the Genesis of the Daleks
dilemma by giving the Doctor the power of life and death over a being whom he knows will kill billions but right now is powerless and innocent, is sound enough and professionally handled. OK, you could argue it's a lazy re-hash of Doctor Who
's back catalogue, but I liked the structuring principle which meant that we kept getting new takes on how the Doctor had actually responded to that dilemma right up until the end of the two-parter, even while the consequences (and causes) of his actions played out in another time-line.
The real star of this story for me, though, was Missy. Looking back at my reviews for the last two
stories of last season, I didn't have terribly much to say about her beyond the gender-switch thing, but this story really let her blossom into a fully-developed character, so that she has officially become loads of fun. In particular, she is far more interesting here than she ever was in the last series for the ambiguity around whether she is temporarily collaborating with the Doctor and Clara purely out of expedience, or out of some kind of respect for her history with the Doctor. This really broadened her out from a fairly one-dimensional villain into a fully-fledged incarnation of the Master, whose relationship with the Doctor always was shot through with the ongoing reverberations of their childhood friendship / rivalry. As others have said, Michelle Gomez's performance very much rose to meet the new opportunities, replete with echoes of Masters past along the way. So I am now really looking forward to seeing more of her (and her gorgeous purple Victorian outfit!) in the future, and fervently hope that she will displace River Bloody Song as Doctor Who
's resident mysterious recurring female character. I'm also looking forward to meeting her daughter (or son by this time, of course) - though in grand Whovian tradition, it could literally be decades before we do.
Missy wouldn't have worked anything like as well as she did, though, without Clara to play up against - and torment a bit. I thought Clara's side of the dynamic worked particularly well during their first encounter, when she was able to pin Missy down to business and stop her from randomly killing people because she could by insisting that Missy 'make [her] believe' that there really was something serious going on relating to the Doctor. That is the same self-assured, experienced Clara that she had grown into by the end of last season, and whom I like very much.
Clara's moments trapped within the Dalek shell, unable to communicate her human emotions and even frighteningly unable to convey her identity to the Doctor were excellent too. They were stronger for recalling the life of Oswin Oswald her fellow-inmates in Asylum of the Daleks
, but would have been good anyway for giving us a new level of insight into the horror of what Daleks are - not to mention an explanation for why they shout 'exterminate' all the time! Fine achievements after over fifty years of them.
Then there were the scenes between the Doctor and Davros - also good, and for much the same reasons of ambiguity as those involving Missy. Probably Davros is
just Evil, and tricked the Doctor into coming to Skaro so that he could harness his regeneration energy. And probably the Doctor, for all his compassion, knew full well that he could turn Davros' plans against him by activating the gloopy dead sewer-Daleks, so was never really in Davros' emotional grasp. But maybe, just maybe, on some level they do actually also like and respect one another. Certainly, it was compelling to see these two ancient enemies recognising each other for the two sides of the same coin they have always been, even if it was only a temporary and somewhat illusory truce.
In general, then, excellent character-led drama, with just enough new twists on the familiar staples of the format to make the story seem new. On the other hand, though, I could really have done without yet another
fake companion death, and particularly one used so overtly as a fridging device to push the Doctor into doing (plot-necessary) crazy things in the Dalek city. And while I appreciate the attempt at representing racial diversity by putting black faces in the crowd in AD 1138, still
in this story a black character (young Davros' companion in the hand-mine field) was the first person to die on screen yet again
. Doesn't anybody explicitly double-check scripts for this, given how a) common
and b) fucking racist it is?
Finally, two things in this episode reminded me strongly of The Fires of Pompeii
- 1) the hand-mines with eyes in the palms of their hands, much like the Soothsayers of the Sibylline Sisterhood
, and 2) the Doctor and Clara standing on a hill-side, watching the destruction of the Dalek city. This is what I mean on the latter point - the composition of the shots is never quite the same, but the general feeling is very, very similar:
So Caecilius in Fires of Pompeii
and the Doctor in The Witch's Familiar
have now stood in similar settings, watching cities being destroyed, while wearing the same face. And since the Doctor said himself at the beginning of last season that he must have been trying to tell himself something by choosing it
, I feel like we should pay attention to that.
A few smaller, random thoughts to finish us off:
Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.
- Missy's static planes reminded me really strongly of the various examples of planes caught mid-flight by Google mapping satellites.
- Davros being referred to as a Dark Lord and being served by an intelligent snake all seemed very Harry Potter.
- But there was also something very Darth Vader-ish about Davros having once been a round-faced little boy on a desert planet, becoming dependent on a life-support system later in his life, and wanting to see the Doctor with his own eyes in his final moments.
- Davros' supposedly-dying speech rang some strong Augustan bells for me. Compare and contrast: "Did I do right? Tell me, was I right? I need to know before the end - was I a good man?" and "Did I play my part well in this comedy called life?" It is classic Great Man / Strong Leader stuff - the iconic historical agent with power over millions revealing his inner humanity just before the end.
- There was a strong set-up for a scene in which the Doctor would have to pull the Dalek wires out of Clara's head, causing her significant pain in the cause of restoring her humanity, but in the end we didn't get it, and skipped straight to her being fine and running along a corridor again. Looks like shoddy editing, I would guess because the story as initially planned turned out to over-run.