Doctor Who: Dark Water Review

doctor-who-dark-water-headerIt certainly hasn’t seemed like this season has been on for very long but we’ve reached the end of this season of Doctor Who. After ten weeks, it’s time for the two-part season finale. After all the teasers of Missy and the afterlife, The Doctor and Clara finally stumble upon it after the personal stakes are raised.

I found there to be a lot of little red herrings in this week’s episode. The flickering back and forth in time during the episode’s first fifteen-ish minutes was confusing but between that and last week’s teaser, it kept me on my toes.

For example, you tie the Clara being a part of Missy’s plan with Clara’s post-it notes and Doctor-esque shut ups, clearly Missy executed a body swap and P.E. has to help. Nope! That’s wrong. How about Clara throwing The Doctor’s TARDIS keys into an active volcano? Clearly Missy executing her plan. Nope! Not only was that not part of the plan but not even something that really happened. Danny getting run over by a car was clearly part of Missy’s plan to get to Clara. Again, not that it would seem.

And while a load of red herrings all at the start of the episode was a bit tiring and confusing, it allowed us to get all of the big budget action out of the way early so that we could use the rest of the episode for storytelling.

Interesting storytelling and characterization, it certainly was. After a lot of the fighting over reestablishing their relationship now that The Doctor is a dapper older gent rather than a comical younger man who Clara fancies, we’ve seen where they stand with each other. Though Clara isn’t as willing to stand by The Doctor as he is willing to help her based on throwing TARDIS keys into lava. However, that doesn’t stop The Doctor from taking Clara to “hell” to rescue Danny.

From this point, I’m not sure if I’m a fan of the slower pace of the episode. We needed to catch our breath but it feels like the let down was a bit much. Shockingly, I thought that the interesting part of this episode was Danny coping with being dead. He’s having to deal with being alive while actually being dead, the haunting memory flashes from his time as a soldier and Clara’s Doctor-aided disbelief that Danny was actually Danny and that the whole afterlife operation was all a hoax.

Really, though, the whole episode was about the buildup to the big reveal that Missy, the mysterious woman in the afterlife who keeps appearing at the end of various episodes. After ten weeks of speculations, it turns out that Missy is short for “The Mistress” which is a name she adopted because it was the feminine of THE MASTER! Yes, The Master is back and creating his own afterlife to power a new army of Cybermen to take over the Earth. Basically, the sort of everyday Master things… Apart from being a woman.

One thing that was a massive mistake in this episode was made last week. As soon as they mentioned that the water that the skeletons were in saw through inorganic matter, it was obvious what was happening. All the dead bodies were inside Cybermen. I wouldn’t have guessed if it wasn’t for last week’s teaser of this episode. That’s one time where not telegraphing that twist some 15 or 20 minutes before it was actually revealed would have made this episode so much better.

Still, they did a good job of keeping the Missy secret under wraps until the very end of the episode. We still don’t know how or why Missy / The Mistress / The Master is doing what she’s doing but at least it’s new and different. Something new and different has kept me interested in and looking forward to all the little Missy scenes scattered throughout the series.

I’m hoping for a big reveal of Missy’s master plan (pun intended) next week. Something beyond Timelord technology separating minds from dead bodies so the Cybermen could be run from a central server. Of course, that’s where… Oh, I’d speculate here but I have an annoying feeling that I just stumbled upon the solution there. Maybe I’ll write it in white and you can highlight my guess to read it if you want: Taking down the Timelord harddrive will be the key to deactivating the Cybermen. The Doctor and Clara can’t do it from the outside so it’s up to Danny inside to save the day. And someone how he comes back to life though Danny’s timeline from early in the season shows that will happen.

So this week’s episode is a lot of slow building to next week’s episode. It wasn’t the most exciting episode of the season and was quite heavy-handed with slow exposition but you can’t really judge two-parters properly based on just one part. However, unlike what keeps happening over on Haven, this isn’t one episode of a two-parter that’s so bad that you don’t want to tune in the next week. The tension and drama peaked at just the right time to make next week a must-watch.

Other random points of note:

  • Anyone else think that The Master returning as a woman was a little hint from Moffat that he’s not going to be beholden to the rules of the past? Like it’s a way of saying that if The Master can become a woman, so can The Doctor. Perhaps this is a hint that is not off the table when it comes to casting the next Doctor (though I doubt that Moffat will be making that choice).
  • Throughout this episode, there were lots of nice little lines. There was the quip about the swearing on the psychic paper which is a Malcolm Tucker shout-out, a mention of The Daleks not being able to climb stairs and a mention of iPads in the afterlife being a product of Steve Jobs being there. If there’s one thing that Moffat loves, it’s his inside jokes.
  • If you’re a long-time Doctor Who fan, you might have recognized that closing scene. An early November 1968 story, The Invasion, also saw Cybermen walking down the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. That was a Second Doctor adventure, in case you were wondering.

So there’s one more episode this season. The Cybermen have invaded the Earth with help from The Master. Clara is trapped in a lab with a lone Cyberman. UNIT was nowhere to be seen this week. It’s chaos in London as The Master tries once again to take over the Universe. Say what you will about driven insane by the time vortex and second-last of the Timelords Master from the Davies era, I kind of like classic supervillain Master.

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About Steve Murray

Steve is the founder and editor of The Lowdown Blog and et geekera. On The Lowdown Blog, he often writes about motorsports, hockey, politics and pop culture. Over on et geekera, Steve writes about geek interests and lifestyle. Steve is on Twitter at @TheSteveMurray.

Posted on November 3, 2014, in TV/Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Yeah… so I can’t wait for Saturday. Most promising end of season for a very long time. Possibly since the first time the Master came back, although the payoff to that was… not great. Great review!

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  2. I agree it didn’t last long, I felt this season didn’t fit very well- yes individually they were good (some better than others) with plot, theme, effects etc but for me it was too random except for Missy at the end of each episode. Honestly, I thought she was the creepy Lady with the Eye patch during Matt Smith’s series, literally thinking “Hold on where’s her eye patch??”

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    • Well, I was about to contest that the Missy story and the randomness of locations, villains, etc., all build to Missy assembling an afterlife but I realized the biggest inconsistency of manipulating events killing people all over time and space to end the human race is that Missy is using dead people on Earth as her Cyberman army… Suddenly, you’ve got me realizing that the pieces don’t fit quite as well as originally thought.

      But apart from Missy, the biggest challenges Moffat had was re-establishing The Doctor as someone very different from the previous two incarnations and changing the dynamic between he and Clara. I think those overarching goals and narratives kind of necessitated being a bit all over the place to throw different situations at the pair and have them react, so to speak. I didn’t really mind that though I also crafted the Missy narrative in my head that I’m now questioning.

      And I completely blanked on the eye patch lady until I looked her up… And realized that I was so into that season that I checked out most of that season. Is it worth going back and watching that?

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