The finale has begun for the Doctor and Clara as the latest episode of ‘Doctor Who’ ‘Dark Water’ was broadcast. There are some MAJOR revelations underway about the nature of Missy, Seb and the Nethersphere, so if you have yet to watch the episode, DON’T READ THIS but why not check out Geoff’s spoiler-free post here: http://sfcrowsnest.org.uk/doctor-who-dark-water-by-steven-moffat-doctor-who-review/ Otherwise ‘We Promise’ you won’t be disappointed about what comes next…
Or maybe you would be depending on to what level your spoiler threshold was set. The downside to using outstanding locations like St Paul’s Cathedral is that people will always know when you film some Cybermen outside it, they’ll watch you film and take pictures. Even more so if you’re deliberately recreating one of the classic series’ most iconic scenes. The production team clearly knew this and therefore decided the big reveal, ie not the Cyber invasion, would take place at the episode’s very end. Gomez and Capaldi mouthed their final lines and they were overdubbed in ADR. So far so good, but knowing that the Cybermen were going to be in it rather removes from one of the key mysteries the story attempts to set-up of why all the skeletons in the tanks? Visually it looked marvellous, like Missy was curating a Damien Hirst exhibition, but even the most casual of viewers must have caught-up quite quickly about what the tanks really contained. We were dealt some curveballs: ‘Dr Skarosa’ sounds more suited for a Dalek cover operation, while another name glimpsed on one of the tanks read ‘Xylo Jones’ – Ianto, Martha, Harriet all sprang to mind.
Therefore the episode’s real tension lay around the death of Danny Pink, Clara’s grieving and her attempt to coerce the Doctor into helping her change history. We’ve been down this route before with Rose and her father. The Doctor rightly says no and the confrontation between himself and Clara over this is as worryingly uncomfortable as Capaldi and Coleman can make it. The two actors perform brilliantly. Actor Samuel Anderson, after being side-lined in the previous episode, finally has something decent to get stuck into. Danny Pink’s killed and taken to Heaven or in fact his mind’s been uploaded to a Matrix Data Slice, in an idea Moffat’s reusing from ‘Silence In The Library’/’Forest Of The Dead’. Anderson gets to play opposite the the officiously helpful Seb. Chris Addison, Capaldi’s long-time co-star from ‘The Thick Of It’ begins the episode acting like he’s in a Python sketch or Douglas Adams story but then sensibly scales-back the attitude as he begins to guilt Danny into giving up his consciousness. It’s a neat philosophical premise, be absolved of your guilt upon death, but give up your conscience. Danny’s guilt is represented by the boy he killed during a battle. The scenes between the two are brief, as this is ‘Doctor Who’ after all, but work in preserving the episode’s sombre emotional tone.
Despite the episode’s death and despair though, only Missy seems to be having a good time and for good reason. Like her previous incarnations Missy/The Master delights when a dastardly plan nears completion and reaches near-orgasmic levels of giddiness if it means sticking it to the Doctor at the same time. While I think there is still room for the production team to explore a suave, sardonic approach as perfected by Roger Delgado to the character, they seem to be sticking with the nutty aspect, as favoured by Ainley and Simm. Michelle Gomez takes on the fevered look of glee and insanity well, highlighted all the more by Capaldi’s stunned face.
The Master is also a woman. While a precedent was set for this in ‘The Doctor’s Wife’, my guess is that most watching would have no idea, but be genuinely surprised that the Master is now female. Personally, I regard this as a huge step-forward for the show. It opens the way for a female Doctor, something I would absolutely love to see. Some will and do detest the idea. Aliens who are men should stay men, which to be honest is an attitude that ‘Doctor Who’ should correctly discard. Others will argue that this is simply a case of Moffat pursuing his own interests around sex and sexual politics. What started out as a joke in ‘The Curse Of Fatal Death’ is now real. It’s also the logical extension of the show’s themes around female sexual domination. The title of ‘The Master’ was made into a joke in the ‘TV Movie’ and now the title is ‘Mistress’, she even dresses in the fetished black, spiked governess’s outfit.
Given that this is part one of a two-part story, it’s a little unfair to judge the episode individually because, to be honest, it lacked action, was very talky, the Cybermen were a little obvious and how you feel about Danny Pink pretty much governs how tense you were feeling during the cliff-hanger. The main drama was over ten minutes in but remained memorable thanks to Capaldi and Coleman’s performances.
Fingers crossed next week is an action-packed finale. Personally, I’m hoping that the minds downloaded into the Cybermen from the Master’s big Matrix mind-drive will mean they become more talkative, just like my beloved eighties versions. Judging by their stompy, piston-driven marching it sadly looks like it will be same-old, same-old for the Cyber race, while The Master moves on.
© John Rivers 2014
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Doctor Who: Dark Water: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04nv6kr/doctor-who-series-8-11-dark-water
Doctor Who Extra: Dark Water: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p029n2f5/doctor-who-extra-series-1-11-dark-water