After last week's cliffhanger, it was always going to be an uphill struggle to dig the story out of its proverbial hole. Obviously Missy and Clara couldn't be dead, and whilst Missy's anecdote about the Doctor escaping android assassins brought out the best in Clara—as she picked through the clues, made the correct deductions whilst hanging upside down, threatened to kill Missy, before finally stomping off pointy-stickless to save the Doctor—I'm not sure the rest of the episode allowed her to shine so brightly.
Although trapping Clara inside a Dalek shell to get inside Dalek City was a nice homage to 'The Daleks', it sadly sidelined her for much of the episode. Mind you, even outside of it, she seemed to fall into Missy's traps awfully easily. Would you have allowed the woman responsible for creating the cyber-pollen which turned your dead boyfriend into a Cyberman to stand behind you as you peered into a large suspicious looking hole? And whilst I wasn't overly enamoured with how the Dalek shell censored Clara's speech—what it chose to reinterpret felt far too plot-convenient for my tastes—it at least managed to achieve two things. Firstly, it raised some interesting questions about how a Dalek actually feels inside. If a Dalek's speech is moderated on the fly, with all unsanctioned speech filtered and reconfigured, is it possible that there's more dissension in the Dalek ranks than previously thought?
To be honest, I'm not really a fan of full-on bonkers Missy. I quite like her when Moffat keeps a cap on her hyperactivity, but tonight she was uncensored and unleashed, and for me, it really diffused the drama. I like her quips—but did there seriously have to be so many? Virtually every sentence she uttered was pitched for laughs. I get that she's the comic relief, lightening what was an otherwise emotionally dense episode, and in a different context I'd have had less problems with it. But with Clara missing in action, Davros on the cusp of death, and enemies en masse behind every door, what could have been an incredibly tense 48 minutes was instead annoyingly punctuated by Missy flirting with the Dalek Supreme, busting out a protracted faux American accent, incessantly threatening Clara, going 'Wheee!' at explosions, and poking Davros in his third eye. (Not a euphemism.)
Capaldi I thought turned in another impressive performance. I didn't entirely buy the Doctor zipping around in Davros' chair, cracking jokes and drinking tea so soon after hearing of Clara's demise—presumably he was either in a state of denial, or had more faith in Missy's resourcefulness than I did—but Capaldi sold it like a pro. I don't think he's put a foot wrong since taking over the role. I've heard a lot of recent online talk about Capaldi 'coming into his own' this season; when was it ever otherwise? Likewise, Jenna really milked the last dregs of drama out of her time inside the Dalek. I was a little disappointed that Clara didn't find a way to circumvent the Dalek's translation mechanism, but when the emotion and relief finally arrived it felt real, and when the character stuff works, any minor quibbles are secondary.
The real highlight of this episode for me was Davros. Julian Bleach turned in a simply scintillating performance as the Doctor's arch-nemesis, and Moffat's script provided the meat on which Bleach voraciously feasted, wringing out every ounce of anguish, hopelessness, self-doubt, and finally victory. That we were momentarily able to sympathise with such an utter toe-rag speaks volumes of Moffat's skills. Davros speaking about family and wishing he'd fought alongside the Doctor was so heartfelt and so plausible. It was also utter bollocks. I silently cheered when Davros cackled evilly as the Doctor seemingly fell into his trap. Let's face it, it was a much healthier laugh than that crazy sound which emanated from the lips when he shared a joke with the Doctor.
Last week's episode posed the question: who created Davros? The implication was that as a result of the Doctor abandoning Davros to his fate, the Doctor was in some way responsible for birthing a monster. Now that we know the Doctor returned and rescued him, whatever it was that transformed the adorable, freckled face Joey Price into the cackling Mr. Potato Head—whether it was the attrition of war, or some other equally horrific event—at least the Doctor has been absolved of blame. And this week asked the same question which plagued the Doctor for most of last season: is Davros a good man. Hell, no! Not by any metric known to man, beast, plant, mineral, or small furry creature from Alpha Centauri.
'The Magician's Apprentice' set an impossibly high benchmark, and whilst I had a few problems with this week's offering, I still thought it a solid entry. And with Missy in negotiation with the Daleks, the contents of the Doctor's confession dial still a mystery, and with a newly floated Time Lord/Dalek Hybrid prophecy in the mix, I'm optimistic as to where this season's headed. Bring on Toby Whithouse!
—So the Doctor has replaced his sonic screwdriver with wearable tech? I wonder how long that will last?
—If losing a small amount of regeneration energy can result in missing limbs or reduced stature, then what will be the after-effects of losing the amount Davros tricked out of the Doctor?
—Great shadowy glimpse of the first and fourth Doctors. I always get a thrill when they do stuff like that.
—Did us learning why the Daleks can't stop yelling 'I am a Dalek' and 'Exterminate' at the top of their lungs, or that emotion reloads their guns, add anything worthwhile to the Dalek mythos?
—Missy must be the worst wood whittler ever. Sharpen your knife, for goodness sake!
Davros: 'I am dying, Doctor.'
Doctor: 'You keep saying that, you keep not dying. Can you give it some welly? C'mon!'
Dalek: 'You are a time lord?'
Missy: 'Time lady, thank you. Some of us can afford the upgrade.'
Doctor: 'Dalek Supreme, your sewers are revolting.'
Dalek Supreme: 'What is happening?'
Doctor: 'Oh, same old, same old. Just the Doctor and Clara Oswald in the TARDIS.'
Paul Kelly received his degree in Contemporary Circus and Physical Performance from Bath Spa University. He was also runner-up in the 15th annual Huttons Ambo Beautiful Baby Competition, but was later disqualified on the grounds of being in his late teens.
For moor peaces eye rote, sea hear.
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