I’ve come to almost fear two-episode story arcs on television for the simple reason that the concluding episode is almost always disappointing. Having compared “The Magician’s Apprentice” to the Season 6 premiere “The Impossible Astronaut”, I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that the last time a concluding episode delivered relative to the first on Doctor Who, in my opinion was “The Impossible Astronaut”/”Day of the Moon,” the latter episode being every bit as engaging and satisfying as the first installment, if not even more so. While I wouldn’t go that far in describing “The Witch’s Familiar” (or “The Magician’s Apprentice,” for that matter), I was certainly pleasantly surprised by how no momentum was lost between the first two episodes of this season. Indeed, “Familiar” possessed several qualities and raised several questions that the previous episode did.
Some of the most interesting and entertaining content from this episode were the moments with Clara inside of and operating the Dalek armor. I especially enjoyed the shot with Missy laughing sadistically at Clara as she struggles to express herself while enveloped in the suit. The Dalek “translation” of some of Clara’s declarations was an incredibly clever device and an aspect of Dalek operation I never really thought of but was an absolute no-brainer once I realized what was happening.
Intra-species translation issues (i.e. “there’s no word for ____ in ____(Dalek, Klingon, Dothraki )”) is such a classic science fiction trope as to be a cliche, and creating a scenario where the technology employed by a hive-minded race doesn’t even allow an outsider to assert her individual identity or verbalize expressions of love or friendship is a really innovative and clever way to approach it. That device was made all the more prescient by the fact that it paid off at the narrative climax of the episode and The Doctor’s arc. That scenario and the way it concluded put Daleks, The Doctor’s interactions with them, his relationship with Clara and indeed all his companions and allies into perspective. It’s yet another example of why Steven Moffat is one of the all-time science fiction screenwriters.