Doctor Who (9.2): In which the quality of mercy *is* strained…

9275114-high-… and the witch is, indeed, familiar. As is what I’m coming to realise is the Moffat trope that annoys me the most – things done for just for show. Lord knows, I’m no fan of Clara and I was happy to enjoy her being strung up and tutored/tortured by Missy – right up until the point it was clear there was no point to it. (See also last week’s Doctor on a tank with a guitar.)  It’s a shame, because otherwise it was quite a nifty piece of cliffhanger exposition – not an easy thing to do well. (Pushing Clara down the sewer to gauge the depth, on the other hand, was funny even if you could see the joke coming a mile away, because there was at least a purpose to it.)

If we could just wean Stephen Moffat off his addiction to unnecessary posing, I bet I could stop having to write ‘could do better’ reviews. There are plenty of good things in here, but too much Flash Harry carrying on to make the episode properly satisfying.

The sleight of hand of the Davros leaving the infirmary scene is a good example. It’s cleverly done but achieves nothing in story terms. I found myself embarrassed by every moment the Doctor was in Davros’s chair, but the “I’m the Doctor, just accept it” speech was probably the lowest point. If they’d just had him drink the tea and not acknowledge it, now that might have worked.

One of the things Moffat does do well is to dissect the Doctor – the “how does he always survive?” conversation being a good example. Cleverness alone wouldn’t have carried him this far, and while I think ‘hope’ is probably oversimplifying things a little, it is so hugely preferable to ‘love saves the day’ (you will know how I feel about that bloody trope by now) that I’ll let it go.

He’s also had the good sense to give us much more Missy – long may Michelle Gomez be skipping across our screens in Missy’s fine footwear (and with handcuffs in her pockets). I like that the second thing she did in this episode was make a weapon (though you could argue the knife she was whittling with would be a better weapon…) and that the weapon was a pointy stick (love me a pointy stick). Chekov would have something to say about a pointy stick whittled in the first act not being stuck in something in the third act though… (As an aside, do we think we’ll be revisiting Missy’s comment about her daughter in this series? It’s one thing to leave a pointy stick unstuck, but entirely another to mention a child in an offhand line and never visit it again. Did we ever get to the bottom of why the Tardis was blown up at the end of series 5, by the way?) Missy’s “God, you’re dull” line to Clara made me smile too.

Unfortunately, Clara’s dullness makes it impossible for me to empathise with the Doctor as he demands her safe return and gets all genre-savvy with his unlikely insistence that her disappearing was a trick. I’m not sure it was wise to have the Doctor flagging up the word ‘inconsistent’ either – it’s all too apt a description for the show. Yes, there was a good line about the rarity of chairs on Skaro, the moment in which you actually feel sorry for Davros genuinely floors you, and the exploration of how the Dalek casing translates Clara’s thoughts and emotions was clever and fascinating, but it’s undermined by the weakness of the story and the inconsistency of this Doctor  – he’s not mercurial, he’s unreliable. And while I understand the need to tie up the boy Davros’s story at the end, it would be more satisfying to think that actually the mercy in the Dalek DNA came from the transplant of the Doctor’s energy rather than a single timey-wimey post-dated experience of mercy. (And, to go back to this review’s title – the quality of the Doctor’s mercy is strained here. He doesn’t choose to show mercy for its own sake, but because he thinks it will eventually save Clara’s life. He certainly doesn’t show it thinking it will be twice blessed…)

In conclusion, there are good moments in The Witch’s Familiar, plenty of them, and it’s a strong finish to the start made by The Magician’s Assistant, but we’re a long way from buying-the-series-boxed-set territory. Perhaps the next few weeks will change that…

See you here at some point next weekend. (With a start of 8.25 – next week’s review is highly unlikely to get finished on Saturday night!)

Jo the Hat

1 Comment

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One response to “Doctor Who (9.2): In which the quality of mercy *is* strained…

  1. Tim

    Flawed as it was, I enjoyed this. Missy was good fun (although I hope we don’t go back to that well too often, too soon) and I did like the fact the Davros/Doctor confrontation was given room to breathe – when the two old enemies laugh and the Doctor offers up some of his regeneration energy, both those moments feel earned, which they wouldn’t have done in a shorter scene. But did we have to see Davros telling Colony Sarff beforehand that they were plotting to trap the Doctor? It rather undercut what followed.

    Bit dissatisfied with the timey-wimeyness of young Davros learning about mercy but on the whole I preferred this slower-paced story to the zaniness of previous Doctors’ adventures (not that I didn’t enjoy those at the time, mind you). Feels a bit more old school to me, which is no bad thing.

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