Hello Whovians and DAPs-devotees, and welcome back to the Doctor Who Review. Where do people go when they die – is it really the end-all be-all, or is it just another state of existence? The Doctor and Clara aim to find out by any means necessary, traveling to Who knows where seeking an answer. Yet what they find is not what they expected, and an old enemy returns just for the occasion. Seeking life after death break every rule there is to break – nothing the Doctor hasn’t done already! Find out what they discover in Doctor Who’s ‘Dark Water. Warning, spoilers ahead, and this time I mean big ones!
Would you go to the ends of the earth to find a loved one you’d lost? Well Clara seeks to do just that after the untimely death of Danny Pink, attempting to drug the Doctor and threaten him by locking him out of the TARDIS forever. Yet even after it’s revealed to have been a scenario manipulated by the Doctor himself, he still agrees to help her find Danny Pink by any means necessary. Meanwhile, Danny is dealing with his death in the Nethersphere as he is confronted by old ghosts and painful realizations. It’s a race against time, space, and death itself, with the mysterious Missy overseeing it all.
‘Dark Water’ is a Moffat-driven and written episode, and it certainly feels like it. Like most Moffat=centric episodes, it has great theatrical moments, plot twists, and set-up; unfortunately it also suffers slightly with some less-than-stellar characterization and dialogue. Yet even the worst Moffat episode is pretty good, and this is far from the worst. The production values are stellar for the two-part finale of the eighth series, from the company 3W’s offices and mausoleum to the expansive, city-like Nethersphere. It’s a brilliant ride from start to finish.
Peter Capaldi doesn’t play to his strengths in this episode, opting for a more relatable and befuddled Doctor for most of the runtime, and it pays off. While he does trick Clara into thinking she has the upper hand as she demands he save Danny, he firmly yet gently refuses all of her protests and ultimatums. Even when he reveals that it was all an illusion and she has basically outed herself as someone who would take all the trust he has given her and throw it away to save Mr. Pink, he doesn’t bat an eye.
It’s the caring, kind side of the Doctor that fans have been clamoring to see, and it can be argued that by having Capaldi play irritable and crass for most of the series, his gentler moments have a far greater impact. He also plays a much more easily confused and uneasy Doctor, as he tries to figure out exactly where he and Clara are in relation to Danny Pink and the mysterious 3W company. To see the Doctor be at a loss for explanation is relatively rare, and it makes the audience feel as uneasy as he is.
Clara starts the episode with a whiplash-inducing gambit of emotions – her nervousness in admitting that she’s been traveling with the Doctor, her numbness at the loss of Danny, and her fury and desperation to save the man she loves make for the most intense opening five minutes of Doctor Who in the series. She shows the lengths she’s willing to go, betraying the Time Lord for the Soldier by using every last ounce of trust and cleverness the Doctor has given her. While for most of the rest of the episode she isn’t given a lot to do, she Jenna Louise Coleman’s performance in those first minutes was nothing short of spectacular.
Danny Pink’s characterization isn’t over just because he’s dead – far from it, he’s given the most screentime he’s had since the series started. The focus on his past as a soldier, the guilt he lives with, and the overwhelming sense of loss is an emotional rollercoaster. Even during his darkest hour, when he fears that Clara will lose her life trying to reunite with him, he has the sense of self and mind to turn her away, even as it breaks his heart. Samuel Anderson does some of his best work here, switching from disbelieving to calm to heartbroken in only a few minutes; like most everyone else in the episode, he does some of his finest work in ‘Dark Water.’
Be warned, the following is a massive spoiler for the ending of ‘Dark Water.’ If you haven’t seen the episode, turn away now, because we finally learn the answer to the question:
Our series-long antagonist, the watchful Missy, is none other than the Doctor’s archenemy the Master. Now going by the Mistress (Missy for short) instead of Master due to his female form, the Master has returned and teamed up with the Cybermen to bring down all of Earth, the adopted planet of the Doctor. This reveal is perhaps one of the best twists Moffat has done, breaking the mold of having the Time Lords stick to one gender and opening up a realm of possibilities. It’s the return of one of the oldest, most infamous and fearsome villains of Doctor Who history, giving us something other than the Daleks or Cybermen who have honestly been visited over and over in the last few seasons. While I’m excited to see Michelle Gomez take on the role (and all while looking like an evil Mary Poppins no less), I am worried about the length of her run on the show – I would hate to have this age-old nemesis brought back for the series finale only to be killed or banished by the end of it; if Missy’s reveal is to mean something, she has to stay for longer than two episodes.
Short version: go watch this episode. It is a fantastic start to the two-part finale that leaves a lot of room for greater, even more troubling times for the Doctor. While it had its minor missteps and I do fear that Missy will be dismissed, the episode creates so much drama and potential for the future of the Doctor Who series.