SPOILER WARNING! If you're yet to see the episode, it's probably best to hold off reading until you have! Doctor Who's pre-credits teases have generally been excellent this series – intriguing, inventive and attention-grabbing – but none of them can compete with what Steven Moffat offers up here. Danny Pink dead. In the first few minutes of the episode. And just after Clara had opened up her heart and told him how she felt. It’s heart-wrenching stuff – like the show’s answer to the opening of Up – but it’s not the end of the emotional stuff. In fact, this is one of the most powerful Who episodes since the Russell T Davies era – with the impact carefully earned with the very sweet Danny/Clara love story arc throughout the series.
From Danny telling Clara he loves her to stop her coming for him, to Clara’s own grief-stricken quest, “Dark Water” is frequently Who at its most dramatic. Jenna Coleman’s been brilliant all series, but she totally knocks it out of the park here, particularly when she holds the Doctor ransom by throwing his TARDIS keys into a volcano. Okay, it’s a bit of a cop-out that the Doctor had tricked her and allowed it to play out as a fantasy, but it’s still a remarkable scene, a brilliant demonstration of how far she’ll go to save Danny – further than the Doctor had perhaps wanted to believe. When Coleman does eventually leave the show – hopefully not for a good while yet – it’s going to be much weaker without her, so integral to the TARDIS dynamic has she become. Meanwhile, Danny meeting the kid he killed when he was a soldier is hard-hitting stuff. How do your respond to that? Doctor Who has grown up in many ways this year, and the maturity with which it handles this scene – without feeling the need to show us any actual shooting – is incredibly dramatic.
Time Lord Trivia
This isn't the first time the Cybermen have taken a sightseeing trip to St Paul's Cathedral. They previously descended those famous steps in Patrick Troughton story "The Invasion". Coincidence? We think not.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. “Dark Water” is frequently very funny, one of those Moffat episodes where the dialogue sizzles to the point where it’s difficult to pick your favourite lines. Indeed, in many ways this is maximum Moffat, with ideas hurtling at you thick and fast and requiring maximum concentration – in a good way. There are some amazing ideas here: the dark water itself, a compound that makes all but organic tissue invisible is an ingenious narrative device, that allows the Cybermen to keep hidden until a very creepy reveal, while the moving skeletons themselves are incredibly spooky and appropriate for Halloween. The full meaning of the three words of 3W – “Don’t cremate me” – is one of the scariest concepts ever explored in Doctor Who. The idea that a dead body might be able to feel everything that happens to it is utterly chilling – “Sounds like someone left their body to science” Brrr – and stays with you long after the episode has finished. Indeed, there’s enough great stuff here to allow you to forgive the fact that the whole afterlife-meets-Time Lord technology idea of the Nethersphere doesn’t quite makes sense. Hopefully all will become clear next week.
And in a series of great Capaldi performances, this is one of the best, going from sarcastic to caring to condescending to genius to vulnerable in a beat. As his run has gone on it’s become clear that the old Doctor(s) is still there, it’s just that in the Twelfth version the settings have been slightly messed up and certain character attributes are rather higher in the mix. It’s most evident in the fact he doesn’t quite know how to handle Missy – she’s all over him, but unlike his direct predecessors, he’s far from comfortable. He really is a no kissing Doctor…
So how will he react now he knows that Missy (Michelle Gomez having a whale of time as a wonderful villain) is the Master – it’s certainly good to have him/her back. As with all two-parters, the promise of this first half lives and dies on what happens next week. But with the Cybermen poised to invade London (again – maybe they’ve got a better strategy this time), and Danny pondering whether to terminate his existence with an iPad, it’s poised beautifully. Fingers crossed here that Peter Capaldi’s mostly excellent first year in the TARDIS will go out with the bang it deserves.
So, Missy is the Master. It was always going to be the Master or the Rani , wasn’t it (a gone-bad Romana the Time Lady seemed unlikely, somehow), and we reckon Moffat’s made the right choice. Surely the clue was in the name all along, hiding in plain sight – it’s not that dissimilar, is it? (And Moffat’s answered that old question once and for all – the Doctor could regenerate into a woman next time.)
What a shame the BBC chose to reveal the Cybermen in the pre-publicity for the episode – the skeletons turning into Cybermen as the dark water runs away is a great reveal anyway, but it would have been magnificent if we had no idea what was coming. We’re just hoping that they’re rather more scary than they have been in recent Who outings.
Did You Spot?
Those Nethersphere doors look familiar... Rather like a Cyberman's eye, perhaps?
Director Rachel Talalay was behind the camera for 1995 comic book adaptation Tank Girl.
Doctor Who airs on BBC One in the UK and BBC America in the US on Saturday nights.