Monday, September 28, 2015

Doctor Who Season 9, Episode 2: The Witch's Familiar

This week we got the second half of the two part season opener. Since Part 1 seemed like it was all setup, how'd Part 2 do? Eh, pretty good, and better than I expected.

To absolutely no one's surprise, Clara and Missy weren't actually killed by the Daleks last week. Nor was the TARDIS destroyed. And despite how it looked at the end of the episode, the Doctor did not go back in time and kill young Davros on the battlefield, which would have prevented the creation of the Daleks and wiped out fifty years of continuity.

We did get a lot of good character moments. The stuff between the Doctor and Davros was great as always, even if it was reminiscent of Genesis Of The Daleks and The Return Of The Jedi. The Clara/Missy pairing was fun too. And we also got a bit of new insight into what makes the Daleks tick, which is tough to do for characters that have been around for fifty years.


The Plot:

Clara and Missy are still alive after being "exterminated" last week by the Daleks. When Clara asks what the hell happened, Missy says she used the Dalek death ray energy to power their vortex manipulators and teleport them outside the city. Or something. Does it even matter at this point? The two then head back toward the city (Dalekopolis?) to rescue the Doctor.

Meanwhile the Doctor confronts Davros and rips him out of his life-support chair. He then rides into the Dalek chamber, protected by the chair's force field. He demands the Daleks find and return Clara, but they insist she's dead. Colony Sarff then appears and strangles the Doctor into unconsciousness.

Clara and Missy sneak into the Dalek sewers. Missy says Daleks can truly never die, so the sewers are filled with the rotting and decayed remnants of millions their discarded bodies. I guess when one "dies" they flush it down the toilet, like a pet alligator? Missy "kills" a passing Dalek and forces Clara to get into its casing and hook herself up to its interface. Once inside, Clara finds that if she speaks her name, the interface translates it as "I am a Dalek." If she expresses any positive emotion, it comes out as "Exterminate!" The two then head for the upper levels of the city.

The Doctor comes to in Davros' chamber. Davros reveals that the nest of life support cables surrounding him are connected to every Dalek on Skaro, and their life forces are sustaining him. Davros actually sheds a tear when the Doctor tells him Gallifrey still exists. Davros says he wishes that just once in their long lives they'd been on the same side, and they even share a joke. The Doctor then transfers a small amount of regeneration energy into Davros' life support cables to give him a little more time.

Suddenly Colony Sarff grips the Doctor's hands, and the life support cables begin draining the regeneration energy from him at an alarming rate. This was Davros' plan all along— get the Doctor to lower his defenses and steal his life force. The regeneration energy is transferred into every Dalek on Skaro, creating Dalek/Time Lord hybrids. Just then Missy appears and kills Colony Sarff, saving the Doctor.

The Doctor then reveals that he saw through Davros' plan, and allowed himself to be drained. The regeneration energy also leaked into the sewers, where it rejuvenated the "dead" Daleks. They bubble up to the surface and kill the still-mobile Daleks.

As they flee the disintegrating city, the Doctor and Missy encounter Clara, still in the Dalek casing. Missy tries to get the Doctor to kill it. Clara desperately tries to tell the Doctor it's her, but her words translate into "I am a Dalek." She eventually manages to get it to say "Mercy," which the Doctor says is impossible for a Dalek (sending ripples of outrage through fandom). He releases her from the casing. He recalls the TARDIS, which was not destroyed last episode, and they depart Skaro. Missy is surrounded by a group of Daleks, and says, "I've just had a very clever idea."

The Doctor then goes back in time and saves young Davros from the hand mines, thereby instilling the concept of mercy into him.

• At the beginning of the episode, Missy has Clara tied to a tree and hanging upside down for some reason. So where'd she find a rope in the middle of the desolate Skaro landscape? Secret pocket under her skirt? Or did she find it in the same place the Doctor got his cup of tea?

• Please, please, pleeeeeease tell me the Doctor didn't permanently dump his sonic screwdriver for a pair of sonic sunglasses. What the hell is wrong with Steven Moffat? That's like trading in the TARDIS for a scooter.

• Last week I said I wasn't clear who the episode's title (The Magician's Apprentice)  was referring to. Same goes for this week. A familiar is the magical pet of a witch. Was Clara supposed to be Missy's familiar?

• As a graphic designer, I have to point out one of my (many) pet peeves. That isn't an apostrophe in the title. It's a so-called "dumb quote," a holdover from the days of typewriters. A true quotation mark is curved.

Pedantic? Overly critical? Borderline insane? Possibly. But there's a right way to do things, and there's this way. Professionals use proper typography. If you want to look like a professional, learn to use the proper symbols and marks.

• I really liked the design of the Dalek city. It had a cool, retro sci-fi look to it, and of course echoed the design of the Daleks themselves.

• Missy's slowly starting to grow on me, but I still prefer the "Suave And Mannered Bond Villian" version of the Master, as originated by Roger Delgado.

• We've seen the actual organic Daleks that live inside the mechanical shells before, and they're not much bigger than a basketball. So how in the name of sanity was there enough room for Clara to get inside one and sit comfortably? There must be a lot of empty space inside those things.

• I did like the Dalek demonstration, in which any slightly positive phrase uttered by Clara was translated into "EXTERMINATE!" It must be really frustrating to be a Dalek. No wonder they're insane.

• Once again they're doing their best to soften this Doctor. There's no way in hell the Twelfth Doctor from the beginning of last season would have ridden around in Davos' chair and asked the Daleks if they wanted to play "bumpers."

• Davros once again tells the Doctor that he's dying. The Doctor says what was on the audiences' mind: "You keep saying that, and you keep not dying." Haw!

• So apparently the Doctor just ripped Davros out of his life support chair and tossed him on the floor so he could steal his ride.

That's pretty harsh on the Doctor's part. Davros doesn't even have a lower body, which is kind of unsettling. Shouldn't removing him from the chair have killed him? Yet shortly after this wanton act of violence, the Doctor tells Davros he came to see him because "he's sick and he asked," and even offers him some regeneration energy. Um... make up your mind, Doctor. Are you trying to kill Davros or save him? Because you can't do both.

Also, what exactly is the Doctor sitting on when he's riding in Davros' chair? Wouldn't there be all kinds of tubes and pumps and life support equipment in there? I doubt there's a seat, since Davros apparently doesn't have an ass.

• Davros offers the Doctor the only other chair on all of Skaro! Haw!

• Davros tells the Doctor that he wishes he could see the sun rise over Skaro one last time, with his own eyes. He then turns off his blue cybernetic ocular device, and... simply opens his opens his own eyes. What the hell?

For decades now it's been implied, if not outright stated as fact, that Davros is blind. Hence the need for the Dalek-like bionic eye. Is Moffat telling us that all these years Davros has just been sitting there with his eyes closed

Besides being an incredibly stupid idea, this also makes Davros considerably less horrifying. A blind alien troll with an unblinking, glowing mechanical eye in the middle of his forehead is creepy and unsettling. A guy who can see but just refuses to open his eyes is baffling and ridiculous. Besides that, if all this time he's been able to open his eyes, why the hell did he go to all the trouble of having a bionic one implanted in the center of his goddamned forehead?

One last thing— Davros yearning to see the sunrise sounded a LOT like Darth Vader wanting to "look upon Luke with his own eyes" at the end of The Return Of The Jedi.

• Ever since Davros was introduced back in 1975, the show's writers have reveled in pitting him and the Doctor together in meaty, dialogue-heavy scenes. The same goes here, as Davros and the Doctor each try to out-speech the other. 

There's some good stuff here, especially when it appears that these two ancient enemies actually have a strange sort of bond and affection for one another. Davros says he wishes just once they'd been on the same side, and actually sheds a tear of joy when he hears that Gallifrey survived. Unfortunately all that's negated when it's revealed that everything they've said has all been part of some intricate deception on both their parts.

Davros reveals his master plan to the Doctor, cackling with glee at how easy it was to manipulate him. The Doctor counters this by saying he knew he was being tricked, and went along with it so he could spring his devious trap.

This all sounds very much like the 1999 Comic Relief Doctor Who episode The Curse Of The Fatal Death. In that parody sketch, the Doctor (played by Rowan Atkinson!) and the Master take one upsmanship to an absurd comedic level. They both face off against one another, saying things like, "I saw through your trap, Master!" and "I knew you'd see through my trap, Doctor, which is why I constructed an even more lethal trap," and "I knew you'd know I knew about your trap, so I..." and on and on.

Would it surprise you to find out that our old friend Steven Moffat wrote The Curse Of The Fatal Death? At times he comes dangerously close to channeling his own parody in this episode.

• The Doctor and Davros even share a laugh near the end of their exchange. That scene seemed very reminiscent  to the 1988 graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. In that story, Batman and his arch enemy the Joker both chuckled over a shared joke.

Personally I'm not a fan of such scenes. Davros is responsible for the slaughter of millions throughout the galaxy. Would the Doctor really be laughing it up with him? Imagine it this way— if you could somehow meet Hitler, would you put your arm around him and guffaw at one of his jokes?

• Apparently the Doctor's regeneration energy somehow (briefly) created Dalek/Time Lord hybrids. You know, for a race that prides itself on its genetic purity and hates all other life forms, the Dalek bloodline sure gets polluted a lot. There was a hybrid Dalek/Human back in Daleks in Manhattan, Davros himself replenished the race with cells from his own body in Journey's End, and now they've got Time Lord regeneration energy coursing through their veins.

• So the Doctor can take a little bit of his regeneration energy and inject it into non Time Lords, extending their lives a bit. Interesting. I wonder why he's never offered to do that before for any of the many people who've died in his care?

I also wonder how much regeneration energy was leeched from him by Davros and the Daleks? Several lives' worth? He just got a brand new set of twelve regenerations a couple years ago. Did he just blow two or three of them already?

• At first glance, Missy's statement that Daleks can never die seems patently ridiculous. But it actually makes a lot of sense. Their entire race has been wiped out numerous times over the years, and they always manage to come back somehow. It's because they can never truly die!

I wonder how this Dalek/Time Lord hybrid business will affect them? Or will it be conveniently swept under the rug like so many other past events and revalations?

• The Doctor's about to shoot the Dalek that Clara's hiding in, until she manages to get it to say, "Mercy." The Doctor freezes and says no real Dalek would be capable of saying such a thing, and realizes it's Clara.

Whoops! Back in the Season 5 episode The Pandorica Opens, River Song pointed her gun at a Dalek and it shrieked, "Have mercy!" before she shot it. Maybe Moffat ought to watch some of his predecessor's episodes before he sits down at the writing desk. This wasn't some obscure event that happened forty years ago or in some lost episode, it happened in 2010.

Some fans have tried to explain this discrepancy by saying the Doctor wasn't present for the River Song confrontation, and so didn't know about the whole mercy thing. Nice try. That's a pretty weak explanation.

I suppose you could invoke some time travel bullsh*t here and say Daleks weren't capable of the concept of mercy until the Doctor went back in time to Young Davros and introduced the concept to him. I suppose you could say that, but again, it's pretty weak.

• At the end of the episode the Doctor reveals the TARDIS wasn't destroyed, but rendered invisible with the Hostile Action Displacement System. We first saw the HADS function used in Cold War, but then it was called the Hostile Action Dispersal System.

Speaking of Cold War, which took place on a submarine, next week the Doctor faces watery ghosts in another sub (or possibly an underwater base).

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