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Doctor Who: The Witch’s Familiar (Review)

“Of course, the real question is where I got the cup of tea. Answer: I’m the Doctor, just accept it.”

– the Doctor tells it how it is

As is the norm for Moffat-era Dalek episodes, The Witch’s Familiar is a mess… but it is an interesting mess.

The Witch’s Familiar works best as a collection of intersecting character moments than a narrative in its own right. In some respects, The Witch’s Familiar feels like a season premiere in the same way that The Magician’s Apprentice did; it is light and breezy, with more energy devoted to character dynamics than to dramatic stakes. The Witch’s Familiar is quite blatantly set-up; it is all about establishing things that might possibly become more important later on. Davros is revived; the Hybrid is mentioned; Skaro is back in play.

Destiny of the Davros...

Destiny of the Davros…

The plot is all over the place, with Moffat’s script avoiding retreading old thematic ground about “the Oncoming Storm” and justifiable genocide by barely alluding to the moral quandaries that The Magician’s Apprentice set-up. When Davros alludes to the idea of the Doctor wiping out the Daleks through a single act of murder, or harnessing all that power for his own ends, it feels like Davros is just barreling through a check list of cheap shots that any major adversary is expected to land when facing the Doctor. The Dalek Emperor did it more convincingly in The Parting of the Ways.

Still, this familiarity does allow The Witch’s Familiar to lock the Doctor and Davros in a room together for an extended period of time. It affords the pair the chance to trade barbs and to understand one another in a way that no previous story has attempted. One of the more interesting aspects of a season of ninety-minute stories told across multiple episodes in 2015 is that the format is remarkably different than a season of ninety-minute stories told across multiple episodes in 1989. This is a season of serialised stories, but it is not a return to the classic model.

Exterma- wait a minute!

Exterma- wait a minute!

The classic series would never have been able to pull off this sort of quiet and understated interaction between the Doctor and Davros. The nature of a classic Dalek story was to build to a climax of the Doctor and Davros screaming at each other across the room; the pleasure of The Witch’s Familiar is the space that it affords both characters to move past the shouting and to something towards mutual comprehension. It helps that The Witch’s Familiar has two fantastic central performers in Peter Capaldi and Julian Bleach.

The Witch’s Familiar might be yet another example of the Moffat era trying and failing to construct an entirely functional Dalek story, but it is quite possibly the single best Davros story ever told. (Give or take a Revelation of the Daleks.)

Shades of grey...

Shades of grey…

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Doctor Who: The Magician’s Apprentice (Review)

“The TARDIS will not be entered. The TARDIS will be destroyed.

“Good luck with that. She’s indestructible.”

“Did the Doctor tell you that? Because you should never believe a man about a vehicle.”

 – The Daleks, Clara and Missy share some truths

The ninth season is certainly ambitious.

The idea of building an entire season around a series of interconnected two-parters is a departure from the show’s traditional format. It certainly makes it a lot harder to review the show on a week-by-week basis, if only because it means that reviewers are talking about each episode having only seen around half the story. That is not the way that people typically consume Doctor Who. Even modern DVD releases of the classic series package whole series together so it is not so much a four- (or six-) part episode as a single story.

Battlefield.

Battlefield.

Since it returned to television in 2005, Doctor Who has adopted an approach to narrative driven by the single episode as the default narrative unit. Sure, there were multi-part stories; but they were the exception rather than the rule. Sure, there were season long arcs; but they were largely driven by arc words and core themes as much as plot. This was, after all, the big controversy over Moffat’s “Impossible Girl” arc, which was presented as a plot mystery only to be revealed as a clever thematic point.

During the Davies era, the two-parters were typically allocated for big “event” episodes. There were roughly three in a season, and they allowed the show to adopt a bigger sense of scale and spectacle. The first two-parter was typically lighter and little bit toyetic (the “toy monster” two-parter) and the second was a lot darker and ominous (the “highlight of the season” two-parter). Davies would then use a two-parter to provide a suitably bombastic conclusion to the season, offering “blockbuster” family entertainment at the height of summer.

An axe to grind...

An axe to grind…

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Doctor Who: Planet of the Daleks (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Planet of the Daleks originally aired in 1973.

You know, for a man who abhors violence, I must say I took great satisfaction in doing that.

– The Doctor on demolishing a Dalek

The combined Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks serials were intended to mark the tenth anniversary of Doctor Who with a twelve-part epic that could be measured against the lost Daleks’ Master Plan. I’m quite fond of The Frontier in Space, and I’d argue that it stands as the best space-opera of the Pertwee era, but I’ll concede that the story is severely weakened by the links it shares with this little adventure, which is conclusive proof that Daleks were quite stale long before Davros was invented.

Not all Dalek stories are gold…

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Doctor Who: Destiny of the Daleks (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Last of the Time Lords originally aired in 1979.

Oh, look! Rocks!

– the Doctor

Destiny of the Daleks is a bit crap. I know that there’s a whole bunch of “a bit crap” Dalek episodes, but Destiny of the Daleks doesn’t suffer because it doesn’t make sense, or it hangs on plot contrivance. Instead, it’s just a little bit dull. At least Resurrection of the Daleks bangs along making no sense in a reasonably exciting manner. In contrast, Destiny of the Daleks just sort of… is. In a way, it serves as the perfect opener to Graham Williams’ final year as producer, perfectly capturing the gap between the production staff the cast and the writers that so often led to bit of a mismatch in this part of the show’s history.

While I have a fondness for Terry Nation, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to argue that his style was hardly progressive or dynamic when he first wrote for the show in 1963. Indeed, my fondness for his work in the early years of the show is mostly down to how it harks backwards to pulpy classic science-fiction. If Nation wasn’t the most forward-looking of writers in 1963, then perhaps he really wasn’t best suited to open a season for Graham Williams and Douglas Adams in 1979.

Romana II goes through one of the oldest companion rites of passage...

Romana II goes through one of the oldest companion rites of passage…

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Doctor Who: The Daleks (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Daleks originally aired in 1963-4.

Make! no! attempt! to! capture! them! they! are! to! be! exterminated! you! understand! exterminated!

– four episodes in, the Daleks have a catchphrase

Because of the somewhat confusing naming conventions for the Hartnell era, where each individual episode had its own title, this one goes by a variety of names: The Mutants, The Dead Planet, or The Daleks. Still, if you’re reading this, you probably know the serial I’m talking about. It’s the one that introduced everyone’s favourite psychotic little pepper pots.

Taking the plunger…

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