The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Thursday, October 1, 2015

"The friend inside the enemy, the enemy inside the friend"--Thoughts on The Witch's Familiar

Well, the second part of the story that began with The Magician's Apprentice did not disappoint. On the whole, I thought it was a superb episode, following up neatly from the first part. Dismissing (albeit with an imaginatively set explanation) the "extermination" of Missy and Clara at the end of Part 1, the story moves briskly on from there, with Missy taking the role of the Doctor for much of the episode, and Clara functioning as her familiar.

These two episodes are as Doctor-ish as we've ever seen the Master, and it works beautifully; while Missy admits her old friend thinks faster than she does ("What a swot!"), she handles matters cleverly, scrupulously keeping Clara alive, though playing with her throughout. (Note that she throws Clara down the shaft after Clara's thrown the stone.) And the Missy-Clara team are critical to the plot's resolution. By secreting Clara within a Dalek casing, Missy is able to regain entry to the Dalek citadel and--

--well, wait. While the Mistress and her companion are working their way to rescue the captive Doctor, the Doctor and Davros are having another conversation, like last week's the most philosophical they've had since Genesis of the Daleks in 1974. From the transcript:
The Doctor is apparently gazing at his reflection in a wall screen.)
DAVROS: Make your confession, Doctor. Why did you really leave Gallifrey?
DOCTOR: How long has it been, you and I?
DAVROS: Long enough. Galaxies have burned.
DOCTOR: And now you ask me a personal question?
DAVROS: You have slaughtered billions of my children, as I have slaughtered billions of your race. We have exhausted the conventional means of communication.
(The Doctor removes his sunglasses.)
DOCTOR: My people are alive. They didn't die. I brought them back. I found a way.
DAVROS: Is this true?
DOCTOR: Gallifrey is back in the sky. I don't know where, I may never know. But Gallifrey is back and it is safe from both of us.
DAVROS: Doctor, my most sincere congratulations.
DOCTOR: I'm sorry?
DAVROS: This is wonderful news. Beyond all hope. I congratulate you.
DOCTOR: Why are you saying that?
DAVROS: A man should have a race, a people, an allegiance. A man should belong, Doctor. Believe me, please. I am happy for you. So happy.
DOCTOR: I don't, I don't understand this. Why are you
(The Doctor is speechless.)
DAVROS: Come closer again. Let me see your face.
DOCTOR: You've seen it often enough.
DAVROS: Let me see it again with my own eyes.
(The blue light in his forehead goes out. The Doctor leans forward as Davros opens his rheumy eyes.)
DAVROS: Closer, please.
(Their eyes meet.)
DAVROS: If you have redeemed the Time Lords from the fire, do not lose them again. Take the darkest path into the deepest hell, but protect your own as I have sought to protect mine. Did I do right, Doctor? Tell me.
(Davros puts his hand on the Doctor's.)
DAVROS: Was I right? I need to know before the end. Am I a good man?
DOCTOR: You really are dying, aren't you?
DAVROS: Look at me. Did you doubt it?
DAVROS: Then we have established one thing only.
DAVROS: You are not a good doctor.
(They both chuckle, then Davros struggles to breathe.)
I've seen several people compare this moment to the end of Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, and fair enough. But Capaldi and Bleach absolutely sell this exchange. This grace period (if it is one) comes between Davros's two efforts to get the Doctor to touch the cables (i.e., Colony Sarff), first by an open invitation, second by eliciting the Doctor's compassion. But, interestingly, this doesn't negate the exchange. Davros has earlier warned the Doctor about his compassion:
DAVROS: Why do you hesitate? No one would know. Clara Oswald is dead. Is this the conscience of the Doctor, or his shame? The shame that brought you here.
DOCTOR: 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.
DAVROS: Compassion then.
DOCTOR: Always.
DAVROS: It grows strong and fierce in you, like a cancer.
DOCTOR: I hope so.
DAVROS: It will kill you in the end.
DOCTOR: I wouldn't die of anything else.
DAVROS: You may rely on it.
Davros then works the Doctor's compassion--the Doctor helps him to see a last sunrise, pointedly remarking "I'm not helping you. I'm helping a little boy I abandoned on a battlefield. I think I owe him a sunrise." And he is caught, regeneration energy streaming out of him, Davros becoming healed, the Daleks changing. Now, I am quite prepared to believe that the Doctor knew about the sewers (after all, Missy did), and anticipated the results. But here's the thing--he has no escape plan this time. Hence Missy's comment about the Doctor without hope--he left his confession behind because he didn't expect to survive, but felt an obligation to respond to Davros's call--"because you were sick and you asked." But he has no way out; the regeneration energy is being torn out of him, and the revived mutants in the sewer are not getting to him anytime soon. So the Doctor is really for it here--

Until the primary Doctor-figure of this episode, the Mistress, comes bursting through the door, Dalek gun in hand, destroying the machinery (and, seemingly Colony Sarff in the process), and saving the Doctor's life. In 1983's The Five Doctors, the Master said, musingly, that "a cosmos without The Doctor scarcely bears thinking about." Here, she makes good on that thought. In her own, sociopathic, amusing way, Missy has saved the Doctor and the day.

That's why I'm not sure how I feel about the ending, possibly the one major flaw in this episode. Missy's effort to get the Doctor to kill Clara, and his grating out warnings to her to "run" are in character for both of them, but somehow cheapen this story. Not because Missy has "turned guid." No, because it feels a little petty for her to try to off a companion--the "puppy" as she cuttingly described Clara last week--after demonstrating her friendship for the Doctor in stunningly dramatic terms. As before in The Five Doctors, Missy came--not even a little unwillingly this time--and this time actually succeeds in saving the Doctor. Her low-grade (though quite cruel) treachery for a little laugh, and his stranding her on Skaro, feel a bit forced. Missy's jealousy of Clara (if that's what motivated the trick at the end) seems out of place (the Delgado Master had rather a fondness for Jo Grant), and the Doctor, who has been slighting Missy throughout (notice how he only demands the production of one of his two friends from the Daleks--Clara), is pretty ungrateful to the old friend-turned-enemy who's just saved his bacon. It's a sour note, though believably played by both actors, not quite redeemed by our last sight of Missy, surrounded by Daleks, musing "ou know what? I've just had a very clever idea."

Yes, she'll be fine. Of course she will be. And she even got to poke Davros in the eye (well, she did say last week that she'd "scratch his eye out"). But this once, just this one, Missy is owed more by the Doctor and by the story. Because by her actions prior to her last minute semi-betrayal, she's proven the truth of her words, the real explanation of why she put Clara and the Doctor together: "In a way, this is why I gave her to you in the first place. To make you see. The friend inside the enemy, the enemy inside the friend."

A great episode nonetheless.

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