Cliffhanger, Thy Name is Evil
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Doctor Who two-parters are always an enormously tricky thing to navigate. Generally within the series the story doesn’t always come together until the second half and especially under Steven Moffat’s tenure as show runner things sometimes don’t come together until the end of the season. I actually thought for a good second about whether or not I should write a review for each separate episode, but each episode ultimately has to stand on its own, so here we are. Dark Water has a lot riding on its shoulders, primarily with the mystery of who Missy is and largely it does pay off remarkably well. That success can partially be attributed to the reality that Moffat (unless I’m quite wrong here, which is possible) for what may seem to be the first time has built a season that is interconnected in an intimate, character-driven way. Who this season isn’t as obsessed with plot mechanics although they’re certainly present as necessary. It’s been focused primarily on the relationship between the Doctor and Clara and thank goodness for that because it has been the saving grace this year. So when the tragedy strikes like it does here, you feel something. Dark Water isn’t a flawless hour but it ends with a holy mother of a cliffhanger that promises more darkness than ever before.
Oh, that tragedy. One pristine moment occurs when Clara calls Danny Pink, her eyes scanning a note of post-its detailing her lies that reminds me of a mini, snack-size version of Carrie Mathison’s wall on Homeland. But even with all of the notes she had pasted everywhere, there was only one glaring option for her, only one thing she could do to salvage anything. She had to tell the truth. She calls Danny, telling him in absolute earnest that he is the last person who would ever hear the words “I love you” from her mouth would be him. There’s static on the other side side of the phone that lends itself to an eerie silence, a quiet moment where all the sound, the music, and the noise cut off just to hear Clara ask for Danny over, over, and over again. And suddenly a sobbing woman answers the call. Danny is dead. Jenna Coleman acts the hell out of this episode and the montage of the world moving on as she just stands there, wallowing in grief. This is where the episode falls a little short. I understand the need to get through the plot in forty-five minutes, but a few more minutes with Clara trying to understand the sheer grief of losing Danny in such a mundane way would have been helpful. After traveling with the Doctor, perhaps Clara has become accustomed to the extraordinary. Danny’s death in all of its tragedy was boring, she noted. He was there one second and gone the next.
And then Clara betrays the Doctor. In a quick sequence of events, she finds all of the TARDIS keys, seemingly drugging the Doctor and taking him into an active volcano. In a sequence calling back to Fires of Pompeii, Clara demands that the Doctor help her get Danny back. Otherwise she was going to throw all of the TARDIS keys down into the lava, one of the few substances capable of destroying the keys. One by one the keys go into the lava, Clara’s stability breaking down with it. And the final key goes into the lava, right before Clara completely breaks down, realizing what she had just done. Suddenly the scene switches and the Doctor reveals his own cleverness. It was a dream sequence he had implanted the two of them into, wanting to understand how far will Clara go. She’s terrified, her extreme guilt over what she had just done clearly evident. “Where do we go now?” she asks in a small voice. “Go to hell,” he replies scathingly and Clara only has the words “Fair enough” to respond with. She knows what she has done. “Clara,” he suddenly calls again, “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” Her eyes swell with a vast amount of gratitude and guilt, her tearful eyes one of the few sights the Doctor can’t stand. He knows that she betrayed him, perhaps more heavily than any other companion, but he also understands the depth to which grief can carry you away. And that’s why we love the Doctor, in spite of everything.
They arrive in the Nethersphere, a creepy mausoleum where all of the bodies are basically skeletons encased in what Dr. Chang calls “Dark water.” It’s an eerie sight and it naturally makes Clara extremely uncomfortable. Danny meanwhile is being handled by a man named Seb, who in a hilariously awkward manner reveals that Danny is dead. Moffat has always been great at toying with our expectations in relation to things we take for granted or assume for their nature and death is no exception. For anyone to think that they are conscious after death is an aptly terrifying thought, although they apparently do have access to iPads and Wi-fi, so go figure. Seb has to go through a variety of paperwork, which apparently never goes away, so there’s that. And as Danny sits there, staring out at the landscape of the Nethersphere, he remembers the war in Afghanistan. As it turns out, he accidentally killed a child and you see him breaking to pieces when that dead child comes before him. And suddenly the entire subplot of soldiers and the Doctor’s mistrust begins to come full circle. Dr. Chang meanwhile introduces Clara to Danny via an audio Skype of sorts, with the Doctor warning her of it being a trap, a folly. You can hear the heartbreak in Clara’s voice as she so desperately wants to believe that it’s him. She begs him to tell him something that would make it obvious that it’s truly him and not just “I love you”. Danny pauses for a moment, allowing his love for Clara to consume him. He couldn’t risk drawing her in there, for she as he notes has her entire life ahead of her. “Clara,” he begins quietly, “I love you.” And I burst into tears as Clara turns the audio off in a moment of tragic resignation.
Missy’s reveal is multifaceted and kind of brilliant. At the beginning of the episode, she pretends to be an android, even kissing the Doctor in a moment that’s the closes to comedy this hour gets. Slowly she reveals her real identity as the Master, well, Mistress (she’s old-fashioned, you see). The skeletons in the dark water weren’t hiding rotting flesh – they were hiding the outer shells of the Cybermen. They erupt out of St. Paul’s Cathedral in a scene echoes the 1968 invasion of the classic Doctor Who era, ready to serve their Mistress at last. For what reason, what purpose, we have no idea yet so feel free to conspire below in the comments. “Humans have a great weakness,” she notes quietly, “The dead outnumber the living.” To be fair, that could probably count for a lot of species, but the chilling way she says it is suitably terrifying. The episode proceeds to end on a series of cliffhangers, each more heart pounding than the one preceding it. An army of Cybermen are mounting a true invasion force. The Master is back as the Mistress. Clara is locked in a room with a Cyberman. Danny is about to sign his emotions away as the shadow of the child he gunned down appears behind him. And the day looks darker than it ever has been. On to next week, my fellow, possible tear-stained Whovians.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Nobody deserves anything.”
+One of the TARDIS keys was in A Time Traveler’s Wife
+“Are you serious?”
+Wi-fi in the Nethersphere
+“iPads? We have Steve Jobs.”
+Michelle Gomez and Chris Addison turn in great performances as Missy and Seb, respectively
+Jenna Coleman, Peter Capaldi, and Samuel Anderson at the top of their game
+“Why? Was he an idiot?”
+“Your eyes. They… inflate.”
+3W = Three words = “Don’t cremate me.” = Cremation means no Cybermen
+ Doctor: “Are you okay?”
Doctor: “Good. There would be something very wrong if you were.”
+This episode is the first episode of Doctor Who directed by a female. Rachel Talalay, you did an amazing job. The way her cameras framed the characters within their surroundings was brilliant, especially Clara with the Cyberman at the end of the hour.
+The subtle shots of the skeletons moving.
+The Malcolm Tucker reference with the profane psychic paper
+How great was it to see a Time Lady?
+Dr. Chang’s death scene
+“Your mind is conscious.”
+“You felt it? Surely you did.”
+“I had no idea there’s a match on.”
Title: Dark Water
Written By: Steven Moffat
Directed By: Rachel Talalay
Image Courtesy: IGN