Magician and Witch

If these first two episodes are reflective of the rest of the Series 9 stories, then am I excited for what the next 10 weeks will bring. 

On the whole, I found The Witch’s Familiar as satisfying as The Magician’s Apprentice.

The various pop culture media spheres seem to agree that Clara is Missy’s familiar. Can’t argue with that as Clara literally followed Missy around for most of the episode. However, I am going to make the argument, which I believe is incorrect but feels much more emotionally and psychologically satisfying to me, that it is Davros, not Clara, who is the Magician’s apprentice. 

I know, I know. Clara is obviously the Doctor’s apprentice as evidenced by how she filled his shoes at the beginning of episode one. Clara becoming more and more Doctorish has been a theme in the main plot of several episodes now. So, obviously….

Davros the Apprentice

And yet, consider with me for a moment, Davros as the apprentice. The Doctor encounters Davros when he is still a young boy (the achetypal apprentice). Davros goes off the rails, as apprenti are wont to do (see Disney’s  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice for details). He goes crazy with his power and loses control of his creation (again, reference Apprentice Micky as well as Attack of the Daleks). In this episode, the Doctor asks Davros what the Daleks are going to do to Clara and Missy. Davros actually says, “Who knows? You know what children are like…I gave the Daleks life. I do not control them.” And yet, a lesson was learned. The lesson of Mercy. 

The Doctor returns to young Davros once he realizes that he somehow influenced the evolution of the Dalek mind. Through the Doctor’s actioms and the words, “I’m not sure any of that matters, friends, enemies. So long as there’s mercy. Always mercy.” Davros internalizes the concept of offering mercy, which then materializes in his creations generations later. 

Unfortunately, in the history of the relationship between these two characters, mercy is not the only lesson the Doctor imparted to Davros. In Genesis of the Daleks, it is the Doctor who suggests to Davros (inadvertently) that he could have the power to wipe out all sentient life in the universe (sparing the Daleks, of course). Davros embraces this possibility with exhilaration. 

By placing Davros into the role of Apprentice, the story becomes about relationships and the unpredictable and lasting impact two beings can unintentionally have on each other. It also speaks to the ultimate grayness of morality. Series 8 was all about whether the Doctor was good or bad. Davros is (almost?) always placed into the “absolutely evil” box. Yet, as the Apprentice in this story, his manipulation of the Doctor hints at possibilities of authenticity and the story gives us a much more accurate exploration of ambiguity in both relationships and morality.

Clara the Familiar

Turning to Clara as the Familiar,  I was a little disappointed. I have heard some excellent commentary (Verity!) that Clara fell into the traditional “companion” role in the face of Missy’s overwhelming Doctorishness. Again, I think this is probably correct.

However… There is another explanation, likely unintended by Mr. Moffat.

Clara’s obedient, apparently unthinking and compliant response to Missy’s insistence that she step into the Dalek and obey her subsequent commands, mirrored a very real, human response to trauma colloquially called freeze (or for you psychology nerds- the dorsal vagal response described by Dr. Stephen Porges in his Polyvagal Theory).

When we believe we are threatened (whether we actually are or not), our sympathetic nervous system responds by pumping a whole bunch of really powerful chemicals in our blood stream, and shifting around where that blood goes, in order to either fight the threat or run away from it. (Wonderfully, the Doctor described this response when he talked to young Danny Pink about fear in Listen. He called fear our “super power.” I love that!)

If fight or flight fails to create safety, evolution has provided us with a Hail Mary, last ditch, response called freeze. When we are in freeze, the electrical system of the body and brain shut-down. This shut-down operates on a continuum from mild to complete. When we are in freeze, we are, to some degree, disconnected from the world around us. One response to freeze is to become compliant. 

Clara was previously turned into a Dalek and died at the Dalek Asylum during Asylum of the Daleks. Obviously, a traumatic event. It has not been clarified that Clara remembers her previous incarnations. What is really interesting, however, is that one primary coping method our brains have to deal with traumatic events is to forget them (or perhaps more accurately, make it really difficult to remember them). So, even if Clara has consciously forgotten her experiences in the Doctor’s timeline, a part of her may remember. 

When facing the demand to become a Dalek (unlike during Into the Dalek in which she retained her own identity, perceptions and body), she behaved very much as if she had gone into freeze. Terrified and compliant, Clara lost agency and the ability to be self-protective. We witness, at that point, a terrified Clara who obeys Missy’s ridiculous commands, unable to resist or fight for herself.

The Effects of Too Much Freeze

This is one theory behind the alarming statistic that people who have experienced a traumatic event are 50% more likely than someone who has not to experience additional traumatic events. It is possible that too much freeze response robs us of the ability to be assertively self-protective.

The good news is that there is some really good trauma treatment going on out there. If you feel like you are expereincing more freeze in your life than you should, ask for help. It is out there for you. (One place to check-out is the SETI website)

OK-those are my thoughts for this week. I’d love to hear what you think!


2 thoughts on “Magician and Witch

  1. Love your psychological take on freezing! I hadn’t thought about Clara facing the trauma of being a Dalek again, and can definitely see what you’re going for there.

    You make a good argument for Davros as the apprentice, too, and I initially thought the same. However, I’m now falling more on the side of Clara as the apprentice as well as the familiar. I’m wondering if this series, as Clara’s last, is likely to be very Clara-centric. These first two episodes seem to me to point to two of Clara’s roles: the Doctor’s companion/apprentice and Missy’s tool/familiar.


    1. Totally! Of course Clara is both. I just like it better my way… 🙂
      I wish Mr. Moffat would clarify if Clara can remember her other selves in the Doctor’s timeline. I guess she could still freeze, having to go into a Dalek-I would!!
      Thanks for commenting.


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