REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘Dark Water’

The Doctor's worst nightmare comes true in 'Dark Water'.
The Doctor’s worst nightmare comes true in ‘Dark Water’.

So what happened?

Tragedy struck in the penultimate episode of this series as Danny was hit by a car during a phone conversation with Clara. Grief-stricken and determined that this can’t be the end for their relationship, the young school teacher enters the TARDIS after The Doctor calls her and begins to gather all seven of the keys to the time machine, before rendering the Time Lord unconscious and transporting them to volcanic planet equipped with the knowledge that lava is the only thing that can destroy the keys. When The Doctor awakens Clara begs him to take her back in time and stop the crash that killed her boyfriend, and each time he refuses she throws one of the keys into a volcanic pit until they’re all gone. With things seemingly hopeless, Twelve wakes her up and reveals that the device she used on him had actually made her suggestible and what just happened was a means for him to see how far she was prepared to go. Whilst she’s still reeling that he’s prepared to forgive her for betraying him, The Doctor comes up with a plan for them to find Danny if he still exists somewhere: by her placing her hands into the TARDIS’ console once again and merging her time stream with her boyfriend’s once again, thus locating him.

Danny moments before he's killed.
Danny moments before he’s killed.

Of course it works and they land themselves in what appears to be a vast mausoleum, housing numerous skeletons that seem to be preserved in some kind of liquid, and soon they are greeted by Missy who apparently reveals herself to be some kind of customer service robot working for the company who’ve preserved all of the bodies. After kissing The Doctor, much to Clara’s amusement, she introduces them to Dr Chang who explains to them that one of his predecessors came to the earth-shattering conclusion that after people’s bodies die, their consciousness lives on. Not only that, they can feel what happens to their bodies after their death and can be heard by the living in white noise. Curious as to whether she can communicate with Danny, she asks to be patched through and is able to speak to one of the newest residents of the Nethersphere, who, unbeknownst to her, has just met the little boy he accidentally killed on a mission in Afghanistan during his previous career as a soldier. Unwilling to comply with his girlfriend’s wishes to verify that it’s really him, Danny goads Clara into cutting the link by continuously telling her that he loves her instead of answering her questions. We leave him with his finger hovering over the delete button on the Ipad Seb gave him, a move which would delete all of his emotions and stop all of the guilt and pain he’s currently suffering.

Clara giving The Doctor an ultimatum.
Clara giving The Doctor an ultimatum.

Meanwhile The Doctor has gone to examine the skeletons again and is once more greeted by Missy, who begins the slow reveal of who she really is by killing Dr Chang and then draining the ‘dark water’ from the tanks which has been masking the metal exo-skeletons which surrounds each of the bodies, unleashing an army of Cybermen in London. As Clara finds herself trapped in a room with one of them, Twelve tries in vain to evacuate people from the vicinity and is finally formally introduced to Missy, short for Mistress, formerly known as ‘The Master’. The look of horror on The Doctor’s face says it all.

Monster of the Week

Marieke: And they’re baaaahaack! Long time, no see, Cybermen! As much overused as the Daleks, I am wondering how excited Whovians are about seeing them return so quickly. Although, well, they are more menacing than the Skovox Blitzer which apparently was far more dangerous…
I have to say it is a shame it was already spoiled in the trailer and that it had become a well-known fact the Cybermen would return. It could’ve been such a brilliant reveal, the skeletons standing up in the dark water actually being Cybermen. Imagine the little gasp that could have occurred instead of already figuring out what the skeletons were. It’s a shame that for a villain so overused the element of surprise was erased. Now most scary is the amount of Cybermen roaming the Earth. That is one giant army. Which is being controlled by the biggest monster of all, the Master. Or the Mistress, whatever. Let’s leave this ‘reveal’ to the mystery section!

Danielle: And so those giant tin cans are back everybody! Be sure to arm yourself with can openers and swiss army knives just in case! On a serious note, I was a little disappointed with the reveal too. Even if you hadn’t come across any of the numerous spoilers, as soon as Dr Chang explained what ‘Dark Water’ was, it seemed a little obvious that the liquid in those tanks was hiding Cybermen exo-skeletons. That’s not to say this particular introduction of one of The Doctor’s most deadly nemeses has to be a complete damp squib, we just need to see where this is going in the next episode.

The Cybermen are back!
The Cybermen are back!

Creep Factor

Marieke: The Nethersphere. Dead people being turned into Cybermen. Countless dead people. But maybe what was mostly creepy was that the Doctor had no idea his biggest nemesis was back? I actually think it was the ‘trivial’ and ‘easy’ death of Danny. He had to go to end up in the Nethersphere, but his dead seemed too ordinary for someone who’s fought wars as a soldier. No heroic death here. Being hit by a car, it could happen to anyone.

Danielle: For me, the creepiest thing in this episode was the idea of being able to feel what happens to your body after you die. It’s the same terrifying thought that spurred Victorians to have a bell inside their coffins in case they ‘woke up’. No wonder cremation was not too popular amongst those in the Nethersphere. The clinical way in which Seb offered Danny a way out from his crippling emotions was also rather chilling, almost as if denying all the things that make him human was a clerical formality that could easily be surmounted, rather than a huge decision that would fundamentally change who and what he is.

Mystery

Danielle: So the ‘Mystery of Missy’ was conclusively solved here. Praise Baby Jesus! In retrospect it seems a little obvious who she was, not just because her name was only thinly disguised, but because we’ve had numerous hints dropped relating to The Doctor’s home planet, Gallifrey, and his existence as ‘The Last Time Lord’. Naturally Moffat had to pull the rug from under us and play with our expectations about regenerations and who The Master/Mistress could be. The one remaining mystery is who Clara is to Missy and why she’s referred to as ‘My Clara’. My mind can’t help but wander back to ‘Listen’ and that moment when she was under the bed and clasped what we thought was The Doctor’s leg. Did it have to have been his leg though? We never saw the boy’s face, and even if we had, we wouldn’t necessarily have recognised him as an early incarnation. Could it have been The Master who was sobbing in that bed? Could Clara have unwittingly comforted The Doctor’s nemesis and set off a whole chain of events that’s led to the Cybermen marching through London? We shall see!

Missy kissing The Doctor.
Missy kissing The Doctor as a bemused Clara looks on.

The Return of ‘The Master/Mistress’

Marieke: There are obvious problems now the Missy really turns out to be the Master. She didn’t have to change her name, but for the sake of mystery I guess it had to be done. Although you could wonder how much mystery there actually was left. I think this was category River/Pond to be honest. Not your cryptic puzzle in the paper every Sunday. We can also wonder about other implications. There always was a connection between the Doctor and the Master and especially the duo Tennant/Simm had shippers galore. But now the Master is a woman, it is suddenly okay to really have them (sort of) together (snogging at least!) in the show. Isn’t that a bit too heteronormative for as show that gave us Madame Vastra, Jenny and Captain Jack? I have to say I think Michelle Gomez is excellent and she could make a fine nemesis, but why does she look like Madame Kovarian and basically ever other female villain Moffat writes? Shouldn’t the Master/Mistress have her own style? And of course this opens up possibilities for the most obvious question ever asked: Can the Doctor become a woman? Time (Lords) will tell, but I think this could also be a ‘fun Moffat type of red herring’ to hand out to the audience. We also have to see if the new Master will be accepted. If that still is problematic, we’re no doubt far away from a female Doctor.

The Verdict?

It was the broader, thematic brush strokes that were the best thing about ‘Dark Water’. There have been complaints to the BBC about the tone of the episode, but why shouldn’t a family show deal with death and grief? It seems a little insane to us that children are exposed to violent images on an almost constant basis, and it’s only when a show tackles the emotional consequences of bereavement that some people find it distasteful. Generally, it wasn’t a perfect episode. We’ve already criticised the anti-climax of the the big cybermen reveal. However, what it did have in bucket loads was a sense of scope and scale that’s been a little lacking in Series 8. At this point, because it was the first instalment in a two-parter, it seems a little premature to give it the thumbs up or down so we’ll be passing judgement more conclusively next week.

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