Television

Published on November 3rd, 2014 | by Brad

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Doctor Who – Dark Water review

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Warning – this review of Dark Water is going to be very spoiler-heavy. It’s a seriously plot-heavy episode, and it’s impossible to really talk about without spoiling some key plot elements. So, you’ve been warned. Spoilers.

Do you know how long it’s been since Doctor Who ended on a cliffhanger? 1,260 days, that’s how long. I think that’s been a weakness for the show, I love my multi-part episodes, and a good cliffhanger will keep you on tenterhooks all week long. And my word, Dark Water has a beast of a cliffhanger. I hope that that’s not all the episode is remembered for, because I think it was pretty excellent all the way through, but that is the risk you run. We won’t know for sure how this episode will be thought of until next week, so it spends this week in a unique limbo, where it can be judged on its own merits, free from the context of its resolution.

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The episode opens in daring fashion with the death of Danny Pink. On the phone with Clara, he’s struck by a car and killed. Not doing something heroic, not being killed by a villain as part of a larger scheme, just a simple, mundane car accident. And it’s that which hurts Clara, seemingly more than his death itself. Travelling with the Doctor has warped her perspective to the point where she’s less upset by the loss of the love of her life than she is by how ordinary his death was. When the Doctor calls, grief-stricken, she decides to force the Doctor’s hand and attempt to save Danny’s life.

The volcano sequence, in which Clara threatens the Doctor with the destruction of the TARDIS keys, is a crucial moment, solidifying a relationship Clara has been doing her best to sabotage. In the Doctor’s own words, she betrayed him; betrayed his trust, betrayed their friendship, betrayed everything he has ever stood for. She let him down. And he forgives her. Because that’s who this Doctor is; he may be stern, he may be abrasive, and he may seem uncaring when someone is already dead, but ultimately, he is forgiving. And Clara’s betrayal is something I can’t see any of the other NuWho Doctors forgiving.

So they use the telepathic drive circuit from Listen and wind up in a mausoleum, filled with what appear to be large fish tanks. Each tank contains a human skeleton, sat in a chair. With no soft tissues to bind the bones together, the Doctor is naturally curious as to how they retain their structural integrity. It is revealed that each is held together by a supportive exoskeleton, hidden from view by the refractive qualities of the liquid in the tanks, the Dark Water of the title, which only allows organic matter to be visible. Organic remains inside inorganic exoskeletons. Naturally, the Doctor feels like he’s missing something obvious…

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While the Doctor is conducting his investigations, Clara is put in touch with Danny. Danny is in the Nethersphere, the afterlife we’ve seen pop up so many times this series. He’s oriented into the place by Seb (Chris Addison), a delightfully oily and obsequious creature, just the wrong shade of charming which makes him skin-crawlingly creepy. We finally get to see what it is that made Danny quit the army – whilst storming a house, he accidentally shot and killed a young child. He has a meeting with the boy, during which he makes the spectacular faux pas of asking someone he killed if they’re doing okay, while they’re sat in the afterlife. Tactful, Danny. Really tactful. His conversation with Clara is a heartbreaker, though; as she tries to establish if it’s really him, he realises that she’ll very likely kill herself to be with him if that’s what it takes, so he plays up to the impression that he’s just a trap for her, to save her life. Samuel Anderson’s been great this series, and this episode is his best work yet.

Final warning on the spoilers. Here we go. In the mausoleum, the Doctor is greeted by Missy. Initially posing as an android greeter, she quickly drops the façade, and begins instructing the skeletons to drain the fluid from their tanks. As the fluid drains, the exoskeletons are revealed; Cybermen! Missy then reveals the centrepiece of her plan – a Matrix Data Slice, Time Lord technology, into which minds can be uploaded. The minds of the deceased are uploaded into it, believing that they are in the afterlife, their emotions are deleted, and they are then re-downloaded into upgraded Cyberman bodies. It’s a brutally dark plan, and the Doctor demands to know who Missy is, and why she has Time Lord technology. So she makes it clear, reminding him earlier that he’d felt her twin heartbeats. She’s a Time Lord. Time Lady, even, she’s old-fashioned like that. But which Time Lady? “The one you abandoned, Doctor. The one you left for dead. Didn’t you ever think I’d find my way back?”

The Doctor runs to find Clara and winds up outside. They’re in present-day London, inside St Peters’ Cathedral. The Doctor attempts to make the locals flee, but they ignore him. He demands of Missy one more time to tell him who she is, and she finally obliges. “It’s short for Mistress. I couldn’t very well keep calling myself the Master now, could I?” The Doctor looks understandably horrified by the notion of the Master with an army of Cybermen at his beck and call, the Cybermen recreate a classic shot from the Second Doctor serial The Invasion, and we end with Danny about to delete his emotions when he sees the reflection of the young boy looking at him. Holy crap.

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On its own merits, I loved Dark Water. The performances are first-rate, the villain plot is brutally dark, and the reveal of the Master is every bit as good as the reveal in Utopia. The early scenes with Danny’s death and Clara’s grief were as raw as anything we’ve seen on this show in a long while. Now, we wait for Saturday, and pray that Death in Heaven can stick the landing. Dark Water deserves to be remembered as part one of a classic.

Stray observations (or, it’s all coming together)

  • So I was totally wrong about Missy not being the Master. Very glad about that. Michelle Gomez was fantastic in the episode, and I hope we get to see her again in the future beyond next week.
  • If we have a cameo in flashback next week for John Simm, I’m going to go ahead and call that the best kept secret in the history of this show.
  • If Seb is the AI of the Matrix Data Slice, then that means we’re very unlikely to get a meeting between Chris Addison and Peter Capaldi. Booo!
  • It’s quite difficult to review the first of a two-parter in isolation, with no knowledge of how things are going to pay off. I may revisit this episode a little next week, we shall see.
Brad

Brad

Consumer. Scribbler. Occasional drunkard. Nice beard, though...
Brad

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