Warning! Spoilers for: Asylum of the Daleks, The Bells of St John, all of series 8 of NewWho, The Magician’s Apprentice, The Witch’s Familiar
So, the new series of Doctor Who is on. I’ve seen a lot around the Internet of people hating on the first two episodes, The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar. Personally, I rather liked them, but that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the theme of the second episode of the two-parter: mercy.
During The Witch’s Familiar, Missy puts Clara into a Dalek casing, which changes what Clara says so that people on the outside can’t hear what she’s really saying. When Clara has to convince the Doctor who she really is, the sentence ‘I am Clara’ is heard by the Doctor only as ‘I am a Dalek’.
First thing, Clara inside a Dalek? Now where have we seen that before…?
Second thing – and this is what the post is really about – Clara asks the Doctor for mercy, and the word can be understood by the Doctor on the outside for what it really is. It doesn’t get changed, and the Doctor realises that the word ‘mercy’ is in the Daleks’ vocabulary, when really it shouldn’t be. This prompts him to go back in time to the child Davros and grant him mercy, in the hopes that when he grows up, he will teach the same virtue to his creations and the Daleks’ knowledge of the concept of mercy will allow the Doctor to save Clara when it all happens again.
What was interesting about this scene was that the Doctor had never heard a Dalek mention the concept of mercy before – in fact, he even goes so far as to say that the word simply shouldn’t have been in the vocabulary of a Dalek. But the Dalek in The Big Bang tells River that it knows that she will grant it mercy because she is an associate of the Doctor. That Dalek knew the concept of mercy; it uses the word outright, and even begs for River to show it mercy.
At first, I thought that was a plot hole. But then I realised – the Doctor wasn’t around to hear the Dalek talk about mercy in The Big Bang. Only River heard it. Which put me in mind of the patience that Moffat has when it comes to his intricate plots and the importance of throwaway lines from previous series which suddenly become incredibly significant. After all, the plot line of series 8 was started half a series earlier in The Bells of St John, when Clara gets the Doctor’s phone number from ‘a woman in a shop’ who turns out to be Missy.
Maybe Moffat had been planning this ever since The Big Bang. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into this. Either way, I wouldn’t put it past him.