I have watched this episode the most of all of series 8 and it is by far my favourite. It is the episode where we get Missy unleashed, Danny and Clara find their emotional centre, Samuel Anderson learns to act and some lovely characterization occurs. Oh, and the story is dark and horrifying to boot. What’s not to love? The only bad part the first time around was that a friend told me the fate of Danny before I’d viewed the episode.
Dark Water is the perfect example of the return of Moffat rug pulling. He is the master of diverting your attention one way while he does another thing. I certainly had no idea that Danny would get fridged before the opening credits just as Clara told him the truth about how she felt. Kudos to Jenna Coleman for some great acting in the phone call scene and the subsequent scenes with her grandmother (who incidentally is a great character and I’d love to learn more about her next series). Jenna definitely shines alongside Capaldi in a way she never did with Matt Smith. There was poetry and sadness and pain in the following lines:
Clara’s grandmother: It was a terrible, terrible thing. You both deserved better. You deserved better.
Clara: It was boring. Ordinary… nobody deserves anything… but I am owed better… I am owed.
There was a quiet yet terrible conviction in Clara’s voice which felt just as frightening as anything Missy devised.
The Clara/Twelve Friendship
When Clara reunites with Twelve, we get to see control freak Clara in action, the Clara who doesn’t give a damn about the rules (time can be re-written with great precision and care and I don’t care). The lava and the disintegration of multiple TARDIS keys was truly terrifying and the first time around I genuinely had no idea of how Moffat was going to write himself out of the problem. For once there was storytelling purpose behind the attention grabbing start, with The Doctor wanting to know how far Clara will go for Danny.
When Twelve tells Clara to go to hell, she thinks it is literal, but The Doctor means to find Danny and when he realizes his mistake and explains, Clara questions his sudden kindness to her. I haven’t always been sold on Twelve, but the latter half of the series saw him deepen beyond the mere curmudgeonly. The line, “did you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” is one of the most poignant lines I’ve ever heard on Doctor Who. What a beautiful affirmation of true friendship!
The Doctor’s assertion to Clara that they will search the afterlife for Danny is also telling. His shocked face when the TARDIS actually brings them to a location indicates that he didn’t really think his plan would work and later, his comments to Doctor Chang when he says “the dead are dead” reinforce that he had no faith in finding Danny. He had no faith, but he tried anyway. For Clara and for the friendship they share. For the sake of helping his hurting friend to heal.
Clara: I don’t deserve you.
Doctor: I’m sorry Clara, but I’m exactly what you deserve.
Again, lines delivered as quiet drama, but somehow far more powerful than battles and explosions.
The Danny/Clara Relationship
For the first time since the end of Listen, I believed, really believed in the Danny/Clara relationship (when he was dead!) Dark Water sees Samuel and Jenna play a lot of scenes apart and I think the separation did them good. There was no real chemistry between the two and I found Samuel Anderson to sound too whiny in scenes where he talked with Clara (even in Dark Water I noticed this when Danny first began to speak to Clara over the iPad). In death, he found new lease of life and I found it in me to care about what happened to him. At episode’s end, when Danny continued to repeat “I love you” in an attempt to prevent Clara from finding a way to the afterlife, it is truly sad and truly noble. He knew control freak Clara too well and would have done anything, anything at all, to prevent her from finding herself in the hell he was in.
Dan, the soldier man
Dan, the Soldier Man, was always someone we were told about and told to care about far more than we were ever shown. Though some may feel it was too little too late, Dark Water finally showed us Danny’s past, and allowed Samuel to highlight his character’s vulnerability, crippling guilt and rage over the accidental murder of a young child. The callous way Seb reunited the two was chilling, his calm, yet mocking explanations of Heaven cruel and difficult to watch.
The Nethersphere/Heaven/The Promised Land was all an illusion – a hideous mockery of human belief in life after death, so nightmarish because of its alignment to earth style bureaucracy. Hologram Seb in his white suit and surrounded by plain, yet pristine, white walls, felt like a government official out of the Department of Human Services.
The bureaucracy hides an even darker purpose. Danny is shown a traumatic memory to help him on his journey to become a Cyberman. The supposed choice is simple: die screaming giving your body to science or have more life than you expected facing your deepest fears and insecurities. Faced with such a choice, it is no wonder people chose to delete their human emotions.
I’m not sure where Missy’s lovely garden so similar to The Girl Who Waited fits – perhaps her TARDIS after all?
Missy’s Diabolical Plan
Oh, and what a plan Missy had. When we were first introduced to Missy, I prayed that she wouldn’t be the next incarnation of The Master. I’d had my fill of the character as John Simm hammed up the role with an abhorrent script in The End of Time so badly, I couldn’t picture the character genuinely frightening again. I was so wrong. Michelle Gomez as Missy/Mistress/The Master is funny (Ranting Scotsman and I’m not a Dalek) at the same time as she is callous and frightening (Now let’s not dwell on horrid things… I’m not going to kill you until you say…something…nice). She reminded me of a poisonous spider – fascinating yet very dangerous.
Missy’s plan is complex in some ways, but for the most part fiendishly simple. Using Time Lord technology she uploads the souls of the dead into the Nethersphere and then, on earth, spreads stories of cremation affecting the dead and torturing them beyond the grave so that humanity will give her bodies (the dead remain conscious… the dead are fully aware of everything that is happening to them – made worse by Danny’s affirmation that he feels cold because his physical body is somewhere cold). The front of 3W (three words – don’t cremate me) is ingenious. The reveal of the Cybermen created from this mixture of soul and body is so clever that we know that Missy is a force to be reckoned with this finale. We also are reminded of The Master in classic Who as the perfect Doctor troll. Missy makes a mockery of death, of human belief and of our penchant to commemorate lives with her Cybermen plans.
Frightening, horrible, and dark, yet simultaneously poetic, tragic, moving and beautiful, Dark Water is one of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who in a long time.
Dark Water: 11/10 inky stars