Sunday 2 November 2014

Reviews in Time & Space: Dark Water

Doctor Who s08e11 - Dark Water

The end is in sight for Doctor Who season eight. After ten weeks of learning the new side of the 12th Doctor and Clara Oswald becoming a character rather than a plot device, the season finale has finally arrived  - Dark Water. Danny Pink is dead, and Clara wants the man she loves back. After showing the Doctor just how determined she is, the two head off to find out just where people go after they die. As Danny's past resurfaces as he struggles with his death, the Doctor and Clara find themselves in 3W - a strange organisation that houses the dead in strange tanks. As the two explore a chilling prospect of what happens to us after we die, they not only uncover a Cybermen plot but also come face to face with the mysterious Missy. As she reveals her true identity, the Doctor is in for quite a shock...

Clara Oswald
Clara attempts to reach Danny

In the lead up to season eight Moffat was eager to tease this as being a much darker season to those that had come before it. And while a handful of episodes may have semi-justified the later time slot, none of them really compare to this. Dark Water is DARK - to the point where its debatable that things might have gone a little too far for the family-friendly show its become. The cold opening sees Danny Pink tragically struck down by a car, which progresses into the Clara turning against the Doctor in order to save him. From there the story toys with the idea that the dead are still conscious and feel everything that's happening to them even though they can't communicate, prompting those three words "Don't cremate me". On top of that, Danny not only dead but he has to come face to face with the boy he killed during his time in Afghanistan. Probably the not the best thing to put on TV given recent events, and no doubt also haunting for anyone who's recently said goodbye to a loved one.

Danny Pink
Danny struggles with the concept of afterlife wi-fi

That aside, the chilling atmosphere and subject matter of Dark Water do make an rather gripping tale. But as powerful the backdrop may be, it's the characters that make the episode so powerful. From Clara's shocking threats toward the Doctor to the reveal that she played right into his hands, the episode has had some pretty shocking twists before the TARDIS has even landed at its main destination. It's an interesting turn to see the darker side of Clara this episode, while the Doctor proves to be fiercely loyal despite his demeanour in past weeks. The issue of bringing back the dead and time paradoxes is something that's quite obviously never going to have a clear set of rules in Doctor Who, but the Doctor's promise of finding Danny suggests a more curious, open-minded Doctor that has less tolerance for rules than some of his predecessors.

Sadly the appearance of the Cybermen in this story was dashed of any effectiveness by the BBC's advertising department, but the slow build up of their reveal was nicely handled. All the clues are there if you know what to look for (such as the dark water only showing organic matter), while elements like the 3W logo and teardrop door windows hammer it home in a way that can't help but put a big smile on your face. However the Cybermen haven't fared too well in the new series (the horrible Parallel Earth versions may have gone, but the new versions haven't done much other than be Borg rip-offs yet), and with Missy taking centre stage as the villain of this finale there's every chance that a big Cyberman invasion could be little more than background noise to this story. Still, that shot of them marching near St Paul's Cathedral was worth it alone - a beautiful nod to such an iconic scene from 1968's The Invasion.

The Cybermen march
UNIT must be thinking "not again"

Finally we have that glorious cliffhanger, where the enigma that is Missy finally reveals herself as none other than the Master. The whole "Missy > Mistress > Master" angle has been predicted by fans since the beginning of the season, but that obviousness didn't stop the moment where the bomb drops from being any less shocking. The idea of Time Lords changing gender is something that was first confirmed back in 2011's The Doctor's Wife, but this is the first onscreen example of it. Michelle Gomez is simply brilliant in the role, already mastering the role of a complete madman with Sue White in Green Wing. Given the Master's penchant for surviving at no matter the cost, it seems very fitting that he'd be the first we see onscreen to make such a drastic change. The jury's still out on whether this is a regeneration though I think - between the six previous actors that have played the character (excluding audios) only half of them have been proper regenerations. The Master has stolen bodies, turned into a zombie, a gooey snake-thing and even almost into a cheetah person! Who knows what he could have got up to this time.

The Doctor finds out Missy's identity
It has well and truly hit the fan

However it's still an idea I'm very much on the fence about for a number of reasons. The change feels less like something natural and more a way of testing the waters for a female Doctor in the future, as well as getting some shock value out of the audience with that twist. It also feels like a massive shame that Moffat's gone straight back to the Master for another season finale, when the Rani (a pre-established villain Time Lady) would have been PERFECT for this story. The whole idea of downloading the memories of the dead into Cybermen is the Rani through and through, and it seems like a massive shame to turn down another piece of Doctor Who history just to shake things up a bit. I personally have never been a fan of the romance angle they've been playing up with the Doctor and Master since the series relaunch, and this is going to take things to all new levels. However Dark Water was all build up to that cliffhanger, and its far still too early to tell just how well this change is going to go down.

*That* kiss
Not helping.

Dark Water was incredibly chilling territory for Doctor Who. Whether its subject matter was entirely appropriate for a family-orientated show is debatable, but without a doubt this is some of the scariest stuff the show has ever come up with. Building up to its big conclusion through shifty mis-direction and some not so subtle signposting, Dark Water ticked pretty much every box when it comes to crafting an excellent finale opener. Of course it could all fall spectacularly apart in the next episode, but this is the most eager I've been to watch the next episode all season.

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