‘Doctor Who’ Begins the End of This Season With “Dark Water” and a Perfect Reveal

By  · Published on November 2nd, 2014

BBC America

It’s great to have your predictions be wrong when the alternative is something you couldn’t have imagined. But if the truth is something that should have been predicted, because it’s something that normally occurs, then there’s less satisfaction. For Doctor Who’s Series 8, the ending begins in the afterlife with part one of the finale, titled “Dark Water,” an episode that sort of clears up my observations about a suicide theme – there’s apparently no significance to it – and turns out an inverse of my expectation that Clara (Jenna Coleman) would “die” in a sacrificial matter involving the Doctor (Peter Capaldi), and Danny (Samuel Anderson) would make the effort to save her. Instead it’s Danny who, rather clumsily and totally unintentionally, is killed by a truck. Then, Clara urges the Doctor to find a way for them to bring him back.

That would cause a paradox, as the Doctor explains with an unsurprising lack of sympathy for his companion’s tragic loss. What might be surprising is that he didn’t also mention the last time he witnessed a time-traveling companion save a man from his fate of being killed by a car. This episode could have just been a repeat of 2005’s excellent, emotional “Father’s Day,” in which Rose Tyler changed the past in order to have her father in her life, and of course that disruption of order causes the scary creatures known as The Reapers to attack and threaten all of history. Fortunately for Clara, she doesn’t need a paradoxical change of the past to get her soldier boy back, because the TARDIS can seemingly take her to “the Promised Land” so she can pull a “What Dreams May Come” (again, surprisingly no suicide comes into play here) and be reunited with her love.

By the end of “Dark Water,” the couple is not yet back together – because “to be continued” – and they’ve barely even connected through a WiFi-enabled Skype for Heaven (I found the “we’ve got Steve Jobs” joke a little unnecessary, by the way) since it’s implied (and she thinks) that it could be not-quite Danny we see with his afterlife case worker (Chris Addison, almost reunited with Capaldi, his old The Thick of It co-star) and meeting a young boy he killed during combat in Afghanistan. The real Danny, consisting of just his soul and memories, could be inside a “Nethersphere” ready to be downloaded (or uploaded?) into the body of one of the Cybermen, which are then revealed to be half of this story’s villains. What a fun reveal, too, through the Cybermen-eye-shaped company logo and door window followed by the “dark water” drainage – or would have been had BBC not shown the baddies in their promos and spoiled the whole thing.

The other half of the finale villains, finally dealt with in full, is Missy (Michelle Gomez), ultimately confirmed to be the latest incarnation of the Doctor’s arch-nemesis, The Master. What a fun twist that while many fans had once hoped for the Twelfth Doctor to be played by a woman, we at least get a female Master – or Mistress. She’s a scrumptious adversary, as well. The kiss, the teasing, the faked-out explanation of who she is (M.I.S.I. – Mobile Intelligence Systems Interface) but most of all the dark charm Gomez exudes in performing those things as the character all make up for any whiny complaints I could have about seeing the same villains over again (hardly worth criticizing with this show). The Master tends to be a more favorable returning bad guy (or girl) because it’s partly always a new portrayal of the character, and he/she is usually played by someone who really takes command of the screen. It’s hard to follow John Simm, but Gomez is making a very good go at it so far.

So far. Because this is only the first half of a two-part storyline, I can’t rightly review the thing properly as if it were a whole. So, here are just some notes I’d like to make at this point in the finale:

– Would Clara have wondered about Orson Pink, the great-grandson of Danny (and presumably her) whom she met in “Listen,” and how his existence would be explained if Danny is to die when he does? I’m just going to pretend that she’s pregnant, and that would explain Pink having a descendant, not that I’m presuming Danny stays dead.

– Normally I would hate the kind of fake out that the Doctor pulls on both Clara and the audience with his “dream state” trickery, but this is an episode with quite a few switcheroos, and next to the spoiler of the Cybermen in the BBC’s promos, it was nice that it turned out to be something other than what, in the same promos, appeared to be a visit to Hell.

– Speaking of Hell, the “go to Hell” line was kinda funny, but it was also really unrealistic and in explanation rather unsuitable a phrase, and it felt included anyway just because writer Steven Moffat thought it was a clever joke.

– Just a bit of trivia, this and next week’s part two of the finale were directed by Rachel Talalay, who directed Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and Tank Girl and produced Hairspray and Cry-Baby and now I just want John Waters to guest star as a Doctor Who villain.

– For a second, I thought the show was throwing in another moral message with the whole point that cremation is bad because the soul can feel what happens to the body from the afterlife. We have no reason to think that known atheist Moffat has secretly become a Catholic.

– It’s annoying when an episode reminds us of an earlier, better one through similar ideas, such as how this one recalls “Father’s Day” and two in this series have evoked “Fear Her,” it is nice to get the sort of visual homage that “Dark Water” has to 1968 serial “The Invasion,” which also had the Cybermen march down the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

– Speaking of reuses of locations, though, is it now definitely time to recognize that Missy’s introduction in “Deep Breath” was only coincidentally shot in the same place as seen in “The Girl Who Waited”?

– Are we to really believe that the Doctor will be locked out of the TARDIS if all his keys are destroyed?

– Are we to really believe that the Doctor is so not-cheeky that he doesn’t get jokes about x-ray water and bathing suits?

– I believe that, by this point, the Doctor isn’t merely willing to overlook Clara’s betrayal but more interested in regaining her affection so she wouldn’t actually betray him.

– Returning to the x-ray “dark water,” is its only true function to keep everyone from seeing that those bones are inside Cybermen? Why even have the windows, but also how many people would even need to be duped other than the Doctor?

– Will we find out if Missy’s Edwardian clothing has any significance besides it just makes her look like a badass evil Mary Poppins?

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.