Doctor Who: Dark Water review

Review

Dark Water

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The Doctor: Clara my Clara I don’t think you will.

Doctor Who Season: S34 (Ep11).
Story Number: 252a.

Missy. Is…

…the character we’ve been curious about since Episode 1 of this season.

Actually, as Deep Breath with its mention of the phone call of The Bells of Saint John reminded us – a mystery-character that’s been a question-mark since Spring 2013, ever since the (third-time lucky) introduction of Clara.d-02

Leading up to this episode, there have been several scenes sprinkled across the season, ever since the electric coda to Episode 1 – after that comparatively lengthy scene, there have been what you might say are old-fashioned “arc” mentions for the character, almost as if it’s 2007 again when the mention of “Mr Saxon” meant people were thinking “this is this year’s arc” after being prepped by the Bad Wolf shenanigans of 2005.

The actual proper arc however of this season has been Clara’s relationships: with the Doctor; with Danny Pink.d-04

It doesn’t play by the Doctor Who rules, this episode – the cosy Tea-Time Horror show that has its boundaries we thought we understood has changed: Clara’s grief over Danny is uncomfortable viewing. It’s understated yet conveyed beautifully by the 360-degrees costume-change camera-move as Clara stays rooted to the spot as time passes.d-86

Expectations for this episode were partly created by its preview, the “NEXT TIME” for the finale: a finale that’s a two-parter. It’s notable that this is the first two-parter (with an actual cliffhanger that bisects an actual story) since Spring 2011, that was Story number 217 and this is now Story number 252, about three-dozen stories later.

What’s unusual about that “NEXT TIME”, seen at the end of last week’s episode, is that it actually also previewed the episode after this (the second-half of this finale), including one jaw-drop moment of the Clara saga (that this review won’t mention as it wasn’t part of this week’s episode). So this two-parter definitely doesn’t play by the Doctor Who rules, with even its preview being very unusual. We will have to wait another week, after this episode’s “TO BE CONTINUED”, to fully understand the finale’s preview.d-89

The other jaw-drop moment of that “NEXT TIME” preview – Clara emerging like Mephistopheles to challenge the Doctor, that has some resolution this episode. It’s an astonishing scene, with Clara as some sort of stylish Frodo sending the Doctor’s precious to the volcano’s lava.d-90

Seven keys to doomsday, averted.

“Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” – Moffat sure knows how to write a scene for maximum emotional effect. The Doctor cares and so next for the episode is the very Greek idea of journeying to the Underworld to bring someone back. Clara says she doesn’t deserve the Doctor, the line “Clara, I’m terribly sorry, but I’m exactly what you deserve” is a subtle one, an opaque one – an acknowledgement perhaps from the Doctor that any journey with him isn’t always going to be enjoyable, and after that stunt she pulled on the dream-volcano he’s thinking, perhaps, appropriately so.d-92d-94

There’s a lot to these 46 minutes. The expectations created by that NEXT TIME. The expectations created by knowing it’s the finale, and that it has the Cybermen in it, (thanks to all the publicity, and the very public re-creation of the The Invasion‘s most iconic moments on the steps by St Paul’s). To jump ahead to seven minutes before the end of the episode: there’s the revelation of the Gallifreyan Matrix technology and the two hearts.d-46

“You felt it. Surely you did.”

“Two hearts.”

Missy is the Rani?!

Expectations for this episode were partly created the BBC’s week-before-the-episode #WhoisMissy Twitter-campaign, elevating that question as some sort of “arc resolution” – really though, as said, before the most compelling “arc” element of the season (one that’s been a progression through the episodes) has been Clara’s relationships with the two men in her life. If the season is a sequence of music this Doctor Who episode is like a suddenly discordant noise played, heralding a complete change of style – unexpected, it certainly has your attention. How the music will resolve itself we will understand next week.
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That Missy could have regenerated recently was suggested by her first appearance with her line from Deep Breath: “I do like his new accent, though. Think I might keep it”, so a Gallifreyan resolution to her mystery has always been in the mix. If an existing Doctor Who character, if a Time Lady with a new face, then there were three options, the most logical of those three being the Rani.d-82

We know she’s a “big” character. The silly nonsense about her being a “droid” throws us – we know she can’t be. To spin back to more audience-throwing moments: the precredits. What is Clara going to say to Danny? d-84d-88

She has the notelets, one for each past Doctor Who episode this year and more. We don’t even get to know what she wants to say though, beyond the number 1 thing, prompted by her “Just Say It” notelet – “I love you” – as the untimely demise of Danny Pink heralds a new direction for the episode, one that means the Doctor’s question “So what can I do for you Clara?” has an mini-cliffhanger of its own. And… credits, theme-tune.d-44

“Which Time Lady?”

“The one you abandoned, Doctor”.

Missy is Susan?!

To jump ahead again, it’s the mention of the idea of the Doctor having abandoned this female Time Lord (though really he was sending Susan her own adventures) that prompts that possible answer to the question of “Who is Missy?”

By the episode’s end, we know that the Doctor & Clara (via Listen‘s TARDIS-timeline-tech) have been inside St Paul’s the whole time – the Cybermen too with their Dark Water version of The Tomb of the Cybermen tombs. We know the Cybermen were going to be one of the stars of this episode. It’s similar to Army of Ghosts/Doomsday though – and please note this review is going to mention some of the big plot-surprises of the last ten years of Doctor Who – with the draw of the Cybermen for the finale trumped by another villain.

The Cybermen – always the bridesmaids, never the bride.d-60d-12

The “Dark Water” idea is a means for a great visual reveal (a reveal of something we were entirely expecting) for the Cybes of 2014, with the X-Ray Water slowly draining away. The “new” Cybermen simply being brains in a robot-machine (the model for 2006 & 2008), that seems to lessen the body-horror of these monsters. Moffat prefers to have some bones beneath the steel.d-52

The 3 Words thing is another element of the story that doesn’t play by the Doctor Who rules – sure Moffat has made of thing of turning the real world (weeping statues, shadows) into a scary Doctor Who moment but this is different. It’s the real-world fear of death that’s given an extra-scary twist, and we have to ask – does it even need it? These are some dark waters that Doctor Who is venturing into.d-11

Similarly, the whole sequence with Clara’s boyfriend, Danny Pink – the flashback to Afghanistan, we see exactly what he was weeping over in that Into the Dalek episode that introduced him – it’s simply something that Doctor Who doesn’t show, the grim reality of war, yet it did.

The last seven minutes, with their gradually unfolding revelation, have the same exhilarating urgency that the last ten minutes of Utopia do: the dizzying thrill of a new Gallifreyan face for the programme, with a stirring Murray Gold score.d-05

“Who’s Missy?”

“Please, try to keep up. Short for Mistress.”

Missy is Romana?!d-58d-59

The fake-outs keep coming as “Mistress” seems to allude to what K-9 used to call the Doctor’s Time Lady companion. As the Cybermen stride from St Paul’s, she finally says:

Missy is the Master.

Rating 5/5

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(Dark Water on bbc.co.uk/programmes/)

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