I had every intention of writing reviews for episodes 7 through to 10 of the current series of “Doctor Who”, but given the impact that certain revelations… well, one revelation… has made on the online Whovian fandom buzz, I’ve decided to ditch that plan and go straight to reviewing last night’s episode (at the time of writing) “Dark Water”.
This episode is built upon two main storylines – both of which tap into basic human needs or fears. The first premise is one previously explored in the Series One story “Father’s Day” – whether to keep looking back at the loss of a loved one or to move forward with your life – something that Clara’s gran comments upon when she says that we all have to let go of a loved one at some point in our lives.
The parallel with “Father’s Day” comes right from the off withvClara deciding to use the Doctor’s TARDIS to time travel so that he can save Danny’s life, much in the same way that Rose did when she pushed her father out of the way of the car that was going to hit him, which is understandable given Clara and Danny’s love for each other. However, I have to admit that the execution of this plot strand left a little to be desired. Firstly, Clara’s motivation is that the Doctor “owes” her. Even in grief, this doesn’t ring true with the selfless Clara that we have witnessed over the last season and a half. Yes, she would more thsn likely ask him for help, but to think about hijacking the TARDIS is too far a leap to remain credible. Secondly, would the Doctor really be as careless as to leave all seven keys to the TARDIS in obvious hiding places for Clara to find along with the dream state patches. This, along with Clara’s wish to travel to a volcano for no apparent reason, should have set alarm bells the size of the Cloister Bell ringing.
That said, it does set up a couple of great scenes between the Doctor and Clara. Firstly, the dream state conversation shows how far Clara is willing to push the Doctor and how far he is willing to push back for the sake of their friendship. It also harks back to her recollections in the series opener “Deep Breath” where she realises that you can’t start a negotiation at the end game, in this case the destruction of the Doctor’s access to the TARDIS. Even in a dream, the Doctor realises this and calls her bluff. But it begs the question, would the Doctor have pushed her as far had it not been a dream.
The following scene within the TARDIS shows how much the Doctor has been humanised by Clara. His respect for her friendship is demonstrated by his willingness to help her, despite her actions. Although we as the audience, along with Clara, believes that he is telling her to go to hell, rather than it being simply a comment on the destination, it is the first real moment where the twelfth Doctor is emotionally vulnerable. He is genuinely hurt by her betrayal of who he is and not having the faith in his ability to create a solution for her. However, once he agrees to help her, his emotional armour comes back on because he can only act decisively with a strong Clara beside him.
The second main strand of this story was the more intriguing as it keys into the human fear of what happens when we die and this is seen from two perspectives. For Danny, it’s the bewilderment of being trapped in the Nethersphere along with being reminded of the darkest day which prompted him to leave the Army – the accidental death of a boy whilst on a mission, something the Seb and Missy can use in their plan as a vulnerability. For the Doctor and Clara, it’s the piecing together of what the W3 Institute represents for the human race. It’s not the bodies in thr Dark Water tanks that are frightening or that humans have been earmarked to become Cybermen, it’s the lone voice of a frightened person begging not to be cremated that’s the most disturbing because even with the sci-fi trappings, the one thing we are all afraid of is that our lives will end at some point.
But the plot point that really has set the internet alight is the revelation of who Missy really is. There were lots of theories out there – Was she a distorted splinter of Clara scattered along the Doctor’s timeline? Was she a warped TARDIS matrix, similar to Idris? My own theory was that she was a representation of Death in reference to Clive’s speech in “Rose” of Death being the Doctor’s constant companion. But it was the simplest explanation that finally eventuated – Missy is the latest incarnation of The Master. Now, I don’t have a problem with Time Lords/Ladies changing gender as a precedent was set in “The Doctor’s Wife” when the Doctor explained that thr Corsair had changed between male and female, and I believe that Michelle Gomez is a cracking choice for this new interpretation of the character as she portrays the Master/Missy’s penchant for being evil in an operatic way perfectly along with providing a new twist on the Doctor/Master dynamic.
However, again, there are holes and inconsistencies with this revelation when you look back at them. How did she escape the time locked Gallifrey? Why has she returned to the Master’s default evil setting after his noble sacrifice at the conclusion of “The End Of Time”? Why start off with a needless pretense of being an administration droid only to reveal her true nature at the end of the episode? And finally, is the Doctor really THAT stupid not to notice that she’s a Gallifreyan? Hopefully, some of these inconsistencies are ironed out in next week’s episode “Death In Heaven”.
The cliffhanger of this story also ended up not being as strong as previous season ending multi-parters. The reason for this, in my opinion, is that you’re overloaded with cliffhangers – the reveal of the Cybermen, the reveal as to who Missy is and Danny’s desperate choice to retain or delete his emotions. This leads to a bit of an anti-climax and my personal preference would have been for a braver edit, either at the scripting or post production stages, by picking one strand and running with it.
Despite the episode’s flaws, the acting is top notch with Peter Capaldi taking the Doctor’s character development forward in becoming the Doctor that we know and love more – a far cry from the unlikeable, aloof version in “Kill The Moon”. This episode affords the character the chance to be Clara’s truest friend and fiercest advocate whilst still giving Capaldi the chance to challenge the friendship between the Doctor and Clara in the early stages of the story. I loved the sly gag when the Doctor’s psychic paper ended up showing swear words to Doctor Chan as he attempts to convince thast he’s a government official – surely a reference to Malcolm Tucker. His interaction with Michelle Gomez crackles as we travel from the flirting on Missy’s part at their first meeting (if only because she’s wrong footing him) to the Doctor’s horror at her revelation as to who she is.
Jenna Coleman delivers a great performance as Clara as we are guided alongside the character’s grief. However, as i said earlier, no matter the reason the character’s actions aren’t consistent with what we expect of Clara and I wouldn’t believe that she could have gone through with her plan. This is tempered though with great partnerships with Peter Capaldi and Samuel Anderson.
Samuel Anderson has really grown in the role of Danny Pink. From the early episodes to now, you can really see character development taking place, most notably in his flashback scenes which recount the accidental killing of a boy and his gesture to prevent Clara going forwards in her aim to go into the Nethersphere to save him, whilst his cliffhanger of deciding whether to retain or delete his emotions was played out to heart breaking effect and really should have been the final cliffhanger with no others to compete.
But it’s Michelle Gomez who steals the show as Missy. Who would have thought that the delightfully deranged Mary Poppins-alike would actually be the Doctor’s best enemy? Ms Gomez really plays the Master/Missy in the only way the role can be – over the top with a twisted showmanlike quality and I hope that she continues in the role beyond this story.
This episode is a bit of a curate’s egg with great ideas and concepts being brought together in a haphazard fashion. So, whilst I welcome a new and interesting take on an old favourite, it’s with an eye on the fact that the episode structure could have been executed a lot better and with a hope that there are more answers than questions in next week’s episode.