Writing about ‘The Magician’s Apprentice’ and ‘The Witch’s Familiar,’ I’ve mostly just been saying “wow.” That’s perfectly appropriate: I found both episodes well made, strong examples of the form, excellent Doctor Who. But there’s so much good stuff in there that didn’t make my first impression. This is some of that stuff.
It goes without saying:
Julian Bleach as Davros turns in a startling performance. Dying Davros is both tragic and horrifying, and his rejuvenation is as inevitable as it is terrible. We believed in him fully, whichever way he was playing.
Missy is one hundred percent wonderful. Her interactions with the Doctor and Clara are a delight. Friendship; anachronisms; nemeses; gravity; her delivery on each topic is perfect. I want more Missy and more Michelle Gomez in everything.
There’s something so right about Capaldi’s Doctor on the electric guitar. Capaldi has said it was something he mentioned he’d love to do, which Moffat then surprised him with, and that’s delightful in itself. But playing to an actor’s strengths and desires can really pay off. Capaldi’s Doctor puts heart into that solo – and those puns! – that few other Doctors could manage.
The same could be said of his interactions with Davros. Capaldi knows Davros better than any prior Doctor. As a long-time fan, he has a depth to his relationship that few others reach. You can see their history in his face. And when Davros tells a joke – a joke!! – his surprise and pleasure are entirely real.
In short, Capaldi makes it easy to forget he’s an actor in a role. He IS the Doctor in so many ways.
Does Clara remember being Oswin Dalek? I doubt I’m the only one having ‘Asylum’ flashbacks. I wonder what the thinking was behind the scenes. I enjoyed the theme of friends and enemies as one, particularly relevant with Missy, but at least a little bit true in all relationships. The Doctor and Clara have betrayed one another before.
The child Davros: That reveal knocked us out of our seats. ‘Genesis of the Daleks,’ where the Doctor faces his greatest moral dilemma, remains a fan favorite even after 40 years. Its questions remain relevant. What Time Lord wouldn’t be tempted to avert the disaster that was Davros’ legacy? What human, given a time machine, wouldn’t consider murdering Hitler? And what would really result from those acts? The Doctor couldn’t live with himself as the man who abandoned a child in a war zone. Would the death of Hitler save six million Jews, or would some other calamity take his place? Would the universe truly be a better place less a single person? And whose decision is it to make? Surely there have been horrible humans before Hitler; why him and not them? And if them, how many? Where does it stop? Who gets to make that call?
It’s hard to disagree with the Doctor. He saves people, even children who grow up to be murderers. By that act perhaps he instills sufficient mercy to save the life of one dear friend. By that act he saves himself: the man who could not live with that child’s blood on his hands.
Of course this argument could go back and forth for days. As Clara said of Missy, is all the blood the Daleks shed now on the Doctor? Is he responsible for the evil he declined to prevent? It’s a favorite theme of the writers, to blame the Doctor for his enemies’ bad acts. But I respectfully disagree.
Maybe the death of the child Davros prevents some of the chaos and destruction the Daleks sow. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe someone else invents unstoppable little war machines. Maybe their warmaking destroys someone even worse. Maybe people die horribly for no reason all the time, and everything a time traveler tries to do to stop it can only exacerbate the evil. Taking fate into one’s own hands can hardly be a good thing, regardless of intentions. No good can come of a child’s death, no matter who that child is destined to become.
Of course the Doctor takes on fate all the time. He interferes; he changes things. But maybe there are places where his changes are part of the fabric, and places where they aren’t. The fluid moments he speaks of, versus the fixed points. Maybe the Doctor isn’t a good man; maybe none of us are. But he tries to be, and I’m pretty sure that’s the point.
This post got rather more philosophical than I was expecting. Therefore, I leave you with this: