Doctor Who: 8.11 Dark Water
It’s been a long time since we had a bloody good cliffhanger in Doctor Who (introducing John Hurt as the Doctor) and even longer since we had a two-parter. The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People was technically the last one back in series six. As such the bold closing moments of Dark Water made for a refreshingly dramatic end with the promise of more great things to come.
For ten weeks we’ve been teased with Missy and the Promised Land arc and it all came together beautifully through the blindsiding death of Danny Pink. Yes, we didn’t see that coming and it proved that Steven Moffat is just as callous when it comes to romantic relationships as the master of death himself, Joss Whedon. However, unlike the doomed romances of Buffy, Angel or Firefly I still hold out hope that the Coupling-style moments between Clara and Danny haven’t all been for nothing. His death is more a huge, Everest-sized stumbling block than the actual end of these two.
But it did lead to Clara’s finest moment yet. Jenna Coleman rocked the hell out of her blackmail scene with the Doctor, throwing the keys into the volcano as she demanded that he change time and reverse her boyfriend’s death. Coleman just gets better and better each episode and there is part of me that hope the rumours of her departure at Christmas are false. At the same time, if we’re nearing the end then Clara will go out of the high as my favourite companion since, well, Sarah Jane.
There I’ve said it. Thanks to series eight, Clara Oswald is the BEST companion in Nu Who.
Moffat delivered a rollercoaster of emotion this episode. From Danny and Clara’s sweet final conversation to her single-minded mission to trick the Doctor into saving Danny to the twist where it was ’all a dream’…but in a good way. You see, this Doctor is far too clued up to let Clara drug him, steal all the TARDIS keys and get himself stranded outside the TARDIS. What’s more he chooses to help. The moment when he says ”Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make such a difference?” was so beautifully played Capaldi and Coleman, showing just how far his Doctor has come over the last eleven weeks.
What’s more we found out Danny’s darkest secret and while it was obvious that it had to be the death of an innocent woman or child it was still delivered masterfully when Danny was confronted with the boy he accidentally killed. Samuel Anderson has been great too this series. Danny hasn’t started off as a bit of a wimp and a dope that Mickey and Rory began as – though Rory [the Centurion] turned out to be awesome. Danny has had many endearing qualities and proved to be Clara’s rock on Earth.
I’ve believed every moment Anderson and Coleman have shared together but what was nice about Dark Water was that it gave Danny the chance to deliver a spell-binding performance that was completely separate to his relationship with Clara. I hated and loved that cliffhanger – will he ’delete’ those emotions - and I mean hate in the right way because I was afraid he really would. There is a lot of stake for him next week, not just his romance with Clara but his own personal journey too.
Some time ago I finally forgot about Matt Smith. This week I truly marvelled at just how wonderful Peter Capaldi was. His ruthless edge is a great facet to his character but there is so much more to his character than that. From his endearing relationship with Clara to his wonderful comic timing. I loved the moment where he told Doctor Chang to hurry up or he would hit him with his shoe. So gruff and yet excellently delivered. I hope he has the opportunity to do more of this as he continues his tenure on the show.
I also loved how he continues to be alien not just to humanity but to his previous two incarnations. There was no flirting with Missy when they finally met. He seemed genuinely shaken by her kiss. Hugs are a no go, kissing was an absolute invasion of his personal space.
So what of the three characters that existed in the Nethersphere? Well Michelle Gomez was clearly having a blast. I wasn’t so sold on her robot imitation but then I loved how it really was an act. Her call for "Doctor Chang!" was pretty funny too.
But really, its all about the revelation. She is just as dark and ruthless as this Doctor for one reason entirely; Missy is the Master. There has been so much talk about the Doctor regenerating into a woman that the best way to test Timelord gender-swapping was to try it out with his nemesis first. The Rani - my guess - was probably never going to be Missy because, as Moffat said, very few people know who she is. But the Master is much more well known. It's a plot device that will infuriate some fans. Personally I love it.
Also she had the best line in the episode as the Doctor ranted and raged about the invading Cybermen to unsuspecting public in Central London.
“Another ranting Scotsman in the street, I had no idea there was a match on.”
Chang and Seb were good supporting characters, if a little functional. Personally I was expecting more from Chris Addison, having already played the character of Seb in The Caretaker. Though he did convey his civil-servant type role well and did the best in his exposition heavy role.
Of course the big moments – beside Missy’s own reveal – centered around just what the Nethersphere and this episode did not disappoint. Moffat excels at bringing the chills to Doctor and Dark Water had this on many levels. The idea that human souls and bodies were being harvested for the Cybermen was a particularly insidious twist. There are more dead people than living people on the planet, harvesting that for an invading army raises the odds against the Doctor – and humanity – and we were all left wondering how on Earth they were going to survive this one.
Added to that, Moffat found another way to scare the little ones with the skeletons in the water tombs. In my mind, Moffat is the only writer to make a Cyberman scary before; I’m talking of course about the zombie Cyberman attacking Amy Pond in the tombs beneath Stonehenge in The Pandorica Opens. He brought that creepiness and mixed it with the Silence in the Water prisons from The Wedding Of River Song to raise the chills as the mystery of the Nethersphere deepened. My only grumble is that the trailer for the finale revealed too much. I guessed the skeletons were Cybermen long before that ’twist ’ was revealed.
That being said, the glimpses of the Cybermen invasion in the trailer didn’t spoil the ending of the episode. The recreation of that iconic scene from Patrick Troughton’s The Invasion in 1968 – Cybermen marching down the steps in front of St Paul’s Cathedral – was incredibly thrilling. In hindsight there was also a bit of a 'Tomb Of The Cybermen' vibe with the tombs containing the hidden foes rising across many levels; proof that Moffat has gone for the very best Cybermen stories for inspiration when tackling the foes properly for the first time.
Dark Water isn’t Moffat’s best episode but it is his best finale – and two-parter - since The Pandorica Opens. Ultimately its success will be judged by the concluding Death In Heaven. But for now the stakes have been raised very high and series eight looks set to go out in style.