Doctor Who: When A Dalek Says Mercy

Let’s say we are still playing a game called Doctor Who. It’s to be expected that in a game between The Doctor, Missy, and Davros that the rules will change constantly, but imagine that both “The Magician’s Apprentice” and the more recent “Witch’s Familiar” share a one-word thesis statement.

What is that word?

Before we answer that, and realize why that is the correct answer, let’s look at what we might have gotten wrong. The conceit of “The Magician’s Apprentice” was that Davros was still in a nihilistic mood from “Journey’s End.” He already knew he was dying, there seemed to be nothing he could do about it, and it looked like it was going to be a case of “If I go down, I am taking you with me, along with my stupid, disobedient children.”

Seriously, my Daleks were too stupid to even notice the people they killed survived and failed to kill them again. Maybe I should have made snake people instead. Oh. Wait ...
Seriously, my Daleks were too stupid to even notice the people they killed survived and failed to kill them again. Maybe I should have made snake people instead. Oh. Wait …

In retrospect, it might have also seemed clear that The Doctor symbolized the magician — who appeared out of nowhere on Skaro in the past to abandon a young Davros to Handmines — and that Davros was the apprentice to the ultimate sleight of hand and disappearing act of The Doctor. The act of abandonment and helplessness was changed by Davros into the creation of the ultimate survival of the strongest lifeforms that were fully dependable: on exterminating the hell out of you.

Some of this makes sense and you would totally be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that Steven Moffat attempted to lead us to: that Davros would force the magician of The Doctor to complete his disappearing act and help him go back in time to kill him as a child and destroy The Doctor’s own sense of compassion.

But there is something to be said about super-villains. The best super-villains are those with two qualities: complexity and, strangely enough, optimism. Most super-villains have a plan: even and especially when they are near defeat. It’s kind of like being a magician, or the apprentice to one. There is always something up your sleeve: which is even more incredible when you’re Davros and you only have one cybernetic arm left.

Now let’s bring Clara and Missy into the act. I know that a day or so before “The Witch’s Familiar” I remembered that Missy and Clara both have vortex manipulators. It explains a lot. So of course neither of them were dead. Right now I’m just going to say: if this episode will be remembered for anything aside from the compelling and uncomfortably poignant dialogue between The Doctor and Davros, it will be for the pure psychological torture porn situations in which Missy puts Clara.

Missy must have ignored her parents admonitions to not play with her food.
Missy must not have been there on the day when her parents told her not to play with her food.

This is literal. We start off the episode seeing Clara hanging upside down from a rope on a desolate tree while Missy is sharpening a long stick. Of course, Missy isn’t going to make it that easy. I will give you several guesses as to who the witch and who the familiar are in this dynamic. Clara doesn’t so much need Missy to help her rescue The Doctor so much as survive the horrors of the Dalek City itself. Missy explains the situation and lets Clara come to her own conclusions, but she doesn’t make it easy for her. But whereas The Doctor might have a tough love attitude with Clara at times, and still quite a lot of leeway, we are always reminded of that scene in “The Magician’s Apprentice” where Missy compares Clara to a pet.

Missy manipulates Clara. She threatens her in an almost playful manner. She comes up with plans and makes Clara do all of the dirty work. You can see Missy’s utter disdain, and amusement at hanging Clara from a tree, tossing her into the Dalek City Sewer, the psychological game of turning her back to a stake-wielding Clara only to remind her of her powerlessness and disarm her with ease, and then making her sit in Dalek armour after killing its original host, and always leaving Clara wondering if and when she is going to turn her over the Daleks.

Missy sometimes likes tinning her food as well.
Missy sometimes likes tinning her food as well.

This last act of Missy’s is especially terrifying when you remember “Asylum of the Daleks” where one aspect of Clara, Oswin, was turned into a Dalek. If this Clara has any of Oswin’s memories, you can imagine her reliving that lost life over and again.

Clara is even more of a plot device in this episode and somehow loses more agency than before under Missy’s seemingly arbitrary but ultimately meticulous cruelty. It almost makes up for The Doctor, yet again, trying to convince us that right now Clara is his “be all and end all”: and the most important person in the show.

So here we have a magician who is drawn into the act of his inadvertent apprentice, and a witch manipulating her familiar into her own scheme. These dynamics will overlap in final acts against The Doctor.

The backdrop is excellent as well. We are shown more about Dalek physiology and the differences between the Cybermen that interact with their systems through the repression of emotion, and the Daleks that express their power through anger and hatred. There has always been something poetic about how the Daleks speak and Moffat has Missy explain this in an extremely clever and disturbing manner. I mean, who knew “I love you” in the Dalek language meant something along the lines of “Exterminate exterminate.” But the Dalek Sewers are even more beautiful, in a horrific way. Daleks don’t consume enough to make a lot of waste. However, they have to put their dead somewhere. There is just one thing … Daleks are extremely hard to kill, and they do not die of old age. Imagine vast underground chambers where dying and rotting Daleks merge together into dark filth filled with pain, helplessness, and nothing but their own hate. It’s the literal foundation of Dalek society.

Dalek Sewers double as Graveyards for undying pain and suffering. Aren't all great societies and civilizations founded on the quality of their plumbing?
Dalek Sewers double as Graveyards for undying pain and suffering. Aren’t all great societies and civilizations founded on the quality of their plumbing?

But then we travel above the Sewers and back to the top. You might find it kind of sad just how the interaction between The Doctor and Davros actually goes.

Because this ...
Because this …

After The Doctor steals Davros’ chair — and you realize that Davros pretty much has no legs, or an arm and you get the lovely spectacle of seeing his metal spine sticking out of his torso — we get another “Genesis of The Daleks” moment where Davros tells The Doctor that he has been keeping himself alive through wires and tubes that connect him to all the Dalek race and entices him to destroy them.

... isn't deja vu at all. Oh no siree.
… isn’t deja vu at all. Oh no siree.

And then we have the greatest feat of the episode. Whereas seeing the usually self-sanctimonious Clara humbled constantly is nice (there isn’t even a Shut Up Clara Mini-Game in this entire episode), Moffat actually manages to make us … feel sorry for Davros.

Oh it’s true. We know that Davros is most likely planning something, and he is, but you realize that everything he is saying to The Doctor is absolutely true from his perspective. Davros really did want to save his own race. He saved them by his own standards. He wanted to live so that he could further aid them in surviving and thriving. What is really touching in a weird kind of way is seeing the rapport between these age-old enemies: and Davros accepting his own mortality is reminiscent of The Face of Boe dying. It makes you want Davros to die this episode: for an entirely different reason. And look: it turns out he still has his eyes after all … and he’s crying.

But he probably stole those eyes from someone else because, what a surprise, he tricks The Doctor and tries to use his regeneration energy to make his Daleks more powerful: and keep himself alive. It is kind of a let down to be honest. Here we had a story that could have been quite poignant: with an antagonist that actually shows some humanity before he dies, or perhaps just wants The Doctor to give him a mercy kill.

Seriously, Doctor, if there was ever a clear case for euthanasia ...
Seriously, Doctor, if there was ever a clear case for euthanasia …

I mean, it’s pretty horrible to be Davros when you think about it: the terrible will that drove him through all that pain and torment  — by others and his own hand — to create a legacy that has tried to destroy him so many times. Or at the very least there was that hint of Davros getting his ultimate moral revenge.

But as I said before, super-villains have to be generally optimistic — read: ambitious — and Davros and his treachery makes sense for what he is.

And Davros is going to screw you over in five, four, three, two ...
And Davros is going to screw you over in five, four, three, two …

Unfortunately, this isn’t the only heavy-handed villainous final act. After Missy actually rescues The Doctor — and hilariously pokes Davros in his one eye — she tries to trick The Doctor into killing Clara: who is still trapped in her Dalek armour and can only say “I’m a Dalek” and “exterminate.” Or so it seems.

And here is where things get interesting. Aside from the fact that Davros is, in The Doctor’s own words, “a moron” for not realizing that regeneration energy would affect the rotting Daleks in the Sewers — “The Sewers are revolting” being  one of the best lines in this entire episode — Missy’s long and elaborate story about how she tried to save Clara from “the Dalek” would trip so many alarm bells in The Doctor’s mind that even the TARDIS crashing would be more subtle. Surely Missy understood that The Doctor knew she was more of a liar than he is and is far less trustworthy.

Traumatized. For. Life.
Traumatized. For. Life.

But here is where the game reaches its most important point. Remember the beginning of this article: how I asked you if you were going to find a one-word thesis statement for this two-part season’s opener, what would it be?

Daleks have a limited vocabulary. Aside from the Cult of Skaro, only one other Dalek said a word that was an anathema to its existence: such as when the Dalek in “Dalek” asked The Doctor for “pity.”

Clara, through her Dalek armour, asked for “mercy.”

And there it is. “Mercy.” How is that even possible for a Dalek to say without throwing up a little bit in its non-existent orifice of a mouth? But that word is the thesis of both “The Magician’s Apprentice” and “The Witch’s Familiar.” It is The Doctor’s greatest strength.

Cue in the timey-wimey. That’s right. It turns out Sexy didn’t die. TARDISes apparently have the ability to disperse into scattered molecules. So Sexy takes The Doctor back in time: back to where he abandoned a small child. He then destroys those mines with the gun he cobbled together and takes little lord Davros back home to, most likely, his fascist and warmongering family.

Seriously though: trauma for the rest of his life.
Seriously though: trauma for the rest of his life.

At the beginning of “The Witch’s Familiar,” Davros laments that all Daleks have a genetic defect of “respect” towards their creator. But it seems as though they have another “defect” as well. And now we know why.

Then consider Missy. Missy, after The Doctor realizes Clara is in that Dalek armour, reminds him that there are friends in enemies and vice-versa. Then she leaves. She must have known that the Daleks knew that word: mercy. She just made both The Doctor, and in particular Clara, work and suffer for it.

So there we go now. Davros and Missy are most likely still alive: and scheming. Clara becomes the plot device that resolves another episode yet again and inspires The Doctor to perhaps subliminally influence Davros into placing some compassion into the Daleks. We even get to see more tantalizing hints as to what The Doctor’s and Missy’s previous lives on Gallifrey might have been like while not spoiling the rest of their character development. And The Doctor continues to possess one power greater than Time Lord regeneration. One magic word.

Doctor Who: Missing You Missy

So: who is surprised by this revelation?

Not me and probably not countless other Whovians either. According to Michelle Gomez,  Missy will be returning to Doctor Who. Note: Missy won’t be returning in another incarnation or as The Master or another Mistress or in some of the weird forms that her previous incarnations in which her previous selves were forced to return.

It will be this Missy.

So, out of curiosity, how do you think she did it? Do you think that her brooch had something to do with her life being saved? Or perhaps one of the rings on her fingers? We know that this is how The Master survived after “Last of the Time Lords” and that one of The Master’s aliases back on Gallifrey, at least in some of the books, was Koschei: taken from the Russian folktale of Koschei the Deathless: a being who can’t die because his soul is held in an object somewhere else.

Or perhaps Missy sent an actual tactile hologram, or an android? Maybe it has something to do with the Nethersphere, which is supposedly running out of power and fading out of existence? Maybe Missy can convert herself into digital information. And let’s not forget that the Brigadier was using Cyberman technology that she, dare I say, upgraded herself. And we do know one thing about The Master: that when he was male, he certainly looked out for his own skin (and even looked for new skin in his failed regeneration) and if that well developed sense of self-preservation transferred over to Missy as it had so many other regenerations, she definitely has contingencies in place.

There are so many possibilities and, let’s face it, we’ve only just met Missy. There is so much that she can still do and having her as an ongoing nemesis, like she was back in the day, will only make Doctor Who stronger for it. I like the idea of Missy constantly hounding The Doctor. After all, there are still a few loose threads from the latter part of this series and the beginning of Doctor Twelve’s run.

The Doctor suspects that Missy has a TARDIS somewhere. But where or, chameleon-circuit withstanding, what is it? And who got The Doctor to go to the Oriental Express? Who created that politely malicious AI Gus? And did she write that classified ad for Clara and The Doctor back in “Deep Breath?” Were these part of Missy’s plans?

And let’s not forget another question. How did Missy survive? Yes, Gallifrey was saved but The Master’s DNA was destabilizing in a terrific way at “The End of Time.” Was there still enough of him and enough energy, which he had been expending much of, to regenerate properly? And how did Missy escape Gallifrey? Did she piggy-back transmat herself out when the Time Lords sent The Doctor a new regeneration cycle? Or go through the Gallifrey Falls No More painting?

Perhaps some of these answers will be revealed in the November 13th edition of Doctor Who Magazine but certainly, and in time, we will see what happens in the next season and just how Missy can outdo her own villainy this time around. I know I look forward to it.

Doctor Who: Missy Takes The Season Finale

So …

“Death In Heaven.”

Please, don’t read past this point if you haven’t seen this season’s finale of Doctor Who. It’d be something of an understatement to say that there will be spoilers.

I have to say that I think Missy, aside from this incarnation of The Doctor, has been my favourite character in this latest iteration so far. In fact, she is an excellent villain. Don’t misunderstand: I like the sinister, urbane, and hammy tones of Roger Delgado’s Master and the sheer bat-shit zany madness of John Simm’s Master but Michelle Gomez’s Missy manages to take those elements and make them understated and subtle with moments of vicious crazy as punctuation while conveying the Time Lady’s insanity in an overarching and truly horrifying scope.

I mean: what could be worse than decimating one-tenth of the human population and playing pop culture songs while making the survivors suffer in labour camps? Or duplicating one’s self to overwrite the DNA of an entire sentient species? How could anyone top that?

Well, try manipulating the fears of the rich and powerful into giving you their bodies, converting them into new forms of Cybermen, then going back in time and creating a concept of an afterlife (or manipulating existing ones) for an entire species so that you can store all of their consciousnesses onto a Gallifreyan hard-drive and then make a cloud substance — presumably composed of nano-technology — and resurrect all of that species’ dead as Cybermen.

And why? Why would you violate an entire species’ lives and even their deaths? Why would you manipulate your enemy into having a Companion that you can exploit as a weakness on a purely psychological level — to play on his compassion — kill some of his friends, and then turn over the army you made to him?

Poor Osgood. You would have made a dream Companion.
Poor Osgood. You would have made a dream Companion.

It’s very simple why Missy did all of that. She wanted to show The Doctor that they weren’t that dissimilar. She wanted his validation, his friendship, and even his love. This warped way of showing that love is to unleash as much pain on The Doctor as possible and even after Missy’s supposed “death” (and we have yet to see concrete evidence that she’s actually dead: meaning that given who she is, she probably isn’t) and that hearts-wrenching moment where The Doctor realizes she lied about Gallifrey being at those coordinates is all a part of that.

And I hope Missy isn’t dead because of the wasted opportunity that would be. After all, The Doctor did mention that she must have a TARDIS somewhere.

I like this character, this new incarnation of the being that used to be The Master, because she actually makes The Doctor more human again: bring him out of his cold and detached, even grumpy exterior and seeing him display the emotion of empathy more blatantly again. And the interplay of love, hate, and fear between them just really adds something to the show that has been lacking for a while.

I have to say: I’m still not very impressed with Clara. Her attempt to pretend to be The Doctor was rather underwhelming in itself: although it’s a nice teaser of The Doctor one day becoming a woman … as if Missy weren’t enough on her own for that. Seriously, I like the idea of Time Lords — or Gallifreyans — being able to change sex. There are just so many storytelling possibilities in that if handled right.

But that aside, Clara is just lacklustre and, if anything, it’s Danny’s transformation into a Cyberman that really hits home: and how he takes that and transforms what could have been a psychological mercy killing into something of salvation and personal redemption.

Some hard choices were made.
Some hard choices were made.

And, at the end, when you see The Brigadier … well, I would just love to see him become a Cyberman vigilante: protecting the Earth when The Doctor is away. After all, after saving his daughter and seemingly killing Missy, we never saw him self-destruct like the others. And oh man: he waited ages to shoot the being who was once The Master.

Brigadier, we and The Doctor salute you.
Brigadier, we and The Doctor salute you.

The episode almost ends much the way that Clara has been acting for most of this latter season: and The Doctor, arguably, has most of his life. Clara pretends that Danny has returned and The Doctor pretends that he found Gallifrey so that she can stay on Earth. To be honest: as a character I saw so much potential with, I was almost relieved that he didn’t want Clara to come with him. I think it’s time that this — whatever it is that Moffat has been trying to make — with Clara and The Doctor is over. Maybe he can actually go and search for Gallifrey now.

Hugs are just ways to hide one's face
Hugs are just ways to hide one’s face

But I guess we’ll see what Santa Claus has to say about that. And so ends this recap of Doctor Who until Christmas. It’s been fun writing these up and I look forward to the next one. Travel well, fellow Whovians.