Doctor Who #958: Dark Water

"Do you really think that I care for you so little, that betraying me would make any difference?"
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.1 2014.

IN THIS ONE... The Doctor and Clara go to hell for Danny, and Missy's identity is revealed.

REVIEW: First-run, the big question was whether this episode, which on the whole feels like it's all set-up for the finale, would stand up to repeat viewings, or if knowing all the answers would kill the buzz. I'm happy to report it actually got better with age. Because it's more than set-up, it's actually misdirection. It's an episode that takes its full meaning after you've seen Death in Heaven, and watching it a second time is a pleasurable experience as things dawn on you that merely intrigued before. Like Missy's Heaven. It's actually a version of the Matrix, that repository of Time Lord minds (waste not, want not) with virtual reality properties AND the ability to archive whatever a TARDIS "sees", which all fits what we see of it here. There's a lot of horrific talk about the dead staying conscious and feeling whatever happens to their bodies, but these are plainly lies ("be skeptical!"), with everything designed to push the uploaded mind/soul to press DELETE (oooh, hint!) on an iPad so the Cybermen Missy is creating can have "operating systems" devoid of personality and the attachments one builds up over the course of one's life. Because one question you might ask after the first viewing is why Missy is joining forces with the Cybermen, but these aren't the Cybermen we've seen before; they're a new breed SHE'S created, an army of the Doctor's friends and foes reincarnated as Cybs. So many lies and red herrings - including the leaked scene/script where Missy reveals she's the Rani - but inside the lies, you'll find the truth. It's a matter of interpretations.

Missy's actual identity wasn't very hard to figure out: Missy, Mistress, Master. It's all part of Moffat's plan to make a female Doctor acceptable to audiences - I'm convinced that's where we'll be going next, CONVINCED I tell ya! - but though a lot of fans had guessed it, Moffat still tries to confound expectations. Missy at first pretends to be an android guide, for example, finds an excuse to kiss the Doctor, and so on. Michelle Gomez makes for a delicious psychopath and could become one of the better Masters. Chris Addison as her Nethersphere attendant Seb still manages to steal the show though. He'd be great at playing the Devil, based on this, hiding great evil in apparent kindness and empathy. The Cybermen are mostly underwater skeletons in the episode, but make for cool zombie-types. They're referencing Tomb of the Cybermen, in a way, and I don't know how I didn't see the two teardrop on the doors as a single Cyber-face first time 'round. X-ray water is a completely bonkers idea, but I'll allow it for the cool reveal.

The real shocker is the death of Danny Pink. It happens abruptly, and like Clara, we might be put off because it was such an ordinary death. Well, until you figure out that it's very likely the car that "came out of nowhere" had Missy at the wheel. It sends Clara into a tailspin, and regardless of what happens in the rest of the episode, the scene in which she tries to force the Doctor to break all the laws of time - inside a volcano, no less! - remains one of the season's best moments. Distraught, she starts throwing TARDIS keys (7 of them... to Doomsday?) into the lava flow, but the Doctor won't back down. It's all a hallucination ("be skeptical!"), but the betrayal is real. Rather wonderfully, the Doctor can get past it and though he agrees to go to Hell (or wherever) to get Danny (telling that his go-to afterlife is Hell), he won't let Clara fall prey to false hope. Danny IS alive after a fashion, or at least a copy of his mind is, but he's being tortured with the child he accidentally killed in the Middle East (so that's what happened), also a denizen of "Heaven", so that he'll push DELETE on the pain. This more than anything fills me with dread. I can take cyber-zombies and so on, but the death of identity (and this theme returns with a vengeance here) is truly horrific to me. Danny's final "I love you", designed to make Clara terminate the call, is another reversal of expectations. Words she wants to hear, but that she can't trust. But at the same time, he means it, and it's a way to sacrifice himself so she can go on. We should be skeptical of everything we see and hear in Dark Water, but perhaps not that. No, not that.

THEORIES: So what Clara trying to tell Danny at the very start of the episode? We know she didn't want to do it face to face, and that she had a hard time getting it out. "I love you" [and only you, forever] was only a prelude. So what was going to follow? Well the prevailing theory is that Clara is pregnant. This will ensure Orson's eventual birth, and would explain why Clara leaves the Doctor in the Christmas special (as is rumored). Like a lot of the episode, much of the evidence has a double-meaning that works both before and after you figure it out. First up are the post-it notes. They list elements from adventures, because Clara was presumably going to tell Danny everything she did with the Doctor, as promised in the previous episode. Two stand out however as possible clues. One of these is "3 months", which sounds like it could be the length of her secret trip, or might be how far along she is. Another says "Miniature Clara", a reference to Into the Dalek... or to a baby? Then there's the Doctor's scan of Clara, where he assesses that she's a mess of chemicals. On the surface, it sounds like he's describing her grief, but could it actually be more than that? On the thematic front, the episode is very much interested in babies and progeny. Missy is giving birth to a new Cyber-race, for one thing, and Seb uses that interesting metaphor about babies communicating womb-to-womb. Is there a reason the script is pointing us towards that image? We'll find out soon enough.

An episode that works differently but equally well whether you've unlocked its secrets or not, but still not a complete story.


Toby'c said...

" I don't know how I didn't see the two teardrop on the doors as a single Cyber-face first time 'round"
You mean not at all, or just not until the show emphasised it with Twelve's line about him missing something obvious?

Siskoid said...

The "face", even though there's a push in on it, didn't register and was forgotten by the time the Doctor started saying that. The Cybermen were no surprise, they were in the trailers. But the image itself escaped me.

Madeley said...

I was hugely, hugely glad that- and I don't know how the hell I managed it- I avoided every spoiler, rumour and trailer for this episode so I was completely oblivious to every single twist before it landed. If I knew that the Cybermen where going to be in the episode I'd completely forgotten about it and I only realised seconds before the reveal what they were. It was a brilliant experience, I was completely stoked, and with Missy too.

To be honest, the Missy stuff threaded through all the other episodes seemed so tacked-on, and so irrelevant to everything else that was going on (and everything else was so engaging anyway) that I don't think I'd thought that much about the whole "mystery". So enjoying the final explanation as much as I did was an absolutely ace experience.

As I mentioned on Twitter at the time, I love the Cybermen, I think they're my favourite Who bad guys, but they're very rarely any good. Writers too often forget that they're a type of undead creature of ancient origin and foul technology, and just write them as Evil Robots. Seeing them raised from the dead here really brought back the 20th Century Gothic feeling of 10th Planet and Tomb of the Cybermen for me.

Here's the other thing that was personally a huge thrill for me: The "paradise" scenes in the garden were filmed in Dyffryn Gardens, the country house not far from Cardiff where I got married. My wife happened to be there with my young son when they were filming the scenes from Deep Breath, and Michelle Gomez complimented him on his coat, of all things.

Pretty cool to discover that the story's gone from them meeting a generic Who villain to being there when they filmed the first appearance of the first female Master. This whole series has been personally satisfying on so many levels.

Siskoid said...

You got married in Heaven!

Or, you got married in the Matrix!

Either way, pretty cool.

Madeley said...

Also, weird coincidence (OR COULD IT BE DELIBERATE) Dyffryn House itself is the one we see in the Library data core that River Song and others are uploaded to in Forest of the Dead.

And the gardens are ALSO used as the place where Amy got stuck an aged in The Girl Who Waited.

Siskoid said...

Does that mean you only VIRTUALLY got married?

Anonymous said...

"it's very likely the car that 'came out of nowhere' had Missy at the wheel"

You had better not be implicating Bessie.

Madeley said...

I wish we could have got away with paying virtual cash for it.

Ryan Lohner said...

One thing majorly missing in this episode and the next is any confirmation that the Master was behind Danny's death. Because otherwise it comes off as if this whole grand plan she's been teasing all season ended up depending on random chance.

Also, having noticed for years Moffat's own quiet brand of sexism, the whole "I couldn't call myself the Master anymore" thing really ticked me off. It's not enough that his female characters have always been able to find a happy ending in being a wife and mother and nothing else, now he has to say that a woman having the title Master would be as silly as them being allowed to captain starships (because I have to throw in a random dig at Star Trek sometimes).

Also, I love to imagine Moffat's reaction when he went to all that trouble to build up a big shocking reveal of the Cybermen, only for the BBC to casually blow the twist in the episode's trailer. I imagine some creative cursing was involved.

Siskoid said...

As you know, I prefer ambiguity to explaining everything.

But even if Missy hadn't killed Pink, she has a time machine and an unlimited life span. Pink would have died eventually, or Clara's dad, or someone close to her.

I'm not sure I buy Clara as an unwitting agent of the Master - we'll probably talk about that tomorrow - but the two enemies with the craziest, ludicrous and convoluted plans in Doctor Who history are the Master and the Cybermen. And here they are together. Can't exactly say it's out of character.

Anonymous said...

As much as people love the Master in general and Missy in particular, to me the Master only really worked as Roger Delgado. That's because they were working off a successful model: if Jon Pertwee was a tiny bit James Bondy, the Master was surely a Bond villain.

... well, Professor Yana was pretty good too, it's a shame we didn't see more of him.

Maybe Missy should have been the Rani. Granted, this adventure follows the basic template (the Master launches a convoluted scheme and is defeated by his greatest enemy), but the Rani might have been more satisfying of a foe. We'll see.

Just wanted to call attention to "Time Heist" and how the Teller was willing to do anything, anything at all, to save its mate. Were you paying attention, Clara?

Nicholas Yankovec said...

Curious about the boy that Danny Pink killed. In his first appearance, it was brought up that he had a reputation as a lady killer, and from his reaction it seemed pretty certain that he'd killed a woman on his tour of duty.

I wonder if there was a change of plan along the way, going from a woman (or girl) to a boy?

LondonKdS said...

About the previous scenes with Missy seeming tacked on - there were complaints in Moffat's previous seasons that the Doctor's dropping the season's big mystery when it was time for a stand-alone episode (the cracks, the disappearance of the little girl who'd been in the spacesuit) made him look irresponsible. Him not knowing anything at all about the Missy/Nethersphere scenes may have been a response to that.


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