The Good: Some wonderful Doctor moments, Some decent concepts, Good performances, Emotional ramp-up for Danny Pink
The Bad: Reveal does not actually make the rest of the season make much more sense
The Basics: In the first part of Season Eight’s two-parter, the villain the season has been leading to is revealed when the “Dark Water” drains out!
As we rush toward the first season finale of Doctor Who featuring Peter Capaldi as The Doctor, the only consistent element outside The Doctor, his companion Clara and her burgeoning romantic relationship with Danny Pink, has been the abrupt appearances by Missy, a mysterious figure who whisks away those who apparently die in prior episodes at the moment of their death. Missy appears each time in “Paradise,” where she seems to be the reigning force. Amid a number of otherwise terrible episodes in the current season, the question has lingered: Who is Missy? My wife has been convinced it is The Master, softening audiences up for the day when The Doctor will be recast with a woman. Personally, I hoped that Steven Moffat was going somewhere really creative, by having Missy being the living embodiment of the TARDIS, out for revenge against The Doctor for getting her blown up a few seasons back and constantly putting her in danger. While I doubted that my theory would be the one that the show went with, it had the virtue of making sense; all of the victims saved by Missy and brought to Paradise were proximate to the Doctor and the TARDIS when they were rescued and there are infinite rooms in the TARDIS in which Missy could hide and could embody each saved person’s Paradise.
“Dark Water” is the episode that finally answers the question of who Missy is. The first episode of the two-part eighth season finale, “Dark Water” is saddled with the unfortunate burden of attempting to redeem an erratic season. Unfortunately, it’s a steep burden for any hour of television to bear; “Dark Water” has the potential to actually lift up the erratic season, though it starts with an essentially problematic concept. Missy has been harvesting those who appear dead from various points in time and space and that type of effort is dramatically overcomplicated for her agenda, especially when she points out near the episode’s climax that Earth’s key strategic weakness is that the dead outnumber the living. In other words, most of the “seeding” scenes come to make less sense in the context of “Dark Water,” as opposed to more sense (especially when one considers that the first person rescued by Missy is an automaton in “Deep Breath,” reviewed here, who was not human and was failing as a machine!). Even so, “Dark Water” is largely satisfying.
Opening with Clara telling Danny Pink that she loves him before she confesses to him all her lies about her time with The Doctor, Clara’s life is thrown into chaos when Danny is run over by a car and killed. Called by The Doctor, Clara hatches a plan. Taking the TARDIS keys and knocking The Doctor out after she has him bring her to an active volcano, Clara extorts The Doctor to bring Danny Pink back from the dead. But her gambit was a test for her and in its wake, The Doctor volunteers to help Clara find Danny Pink. Bonding with the TARDIS, Clara and The Doctor set out for the Nethersphere.
Pink, for his part, wakes up at a desk in an office, Seb’s office, in the Nethersphere, a city that is established on the inside surface of a hollow sphere. Run by the mysterious 3W corporation, the Nethersphere seems to be the home of both millions of corpses in aquariums . . . and MISI (Mobile Intelligent Systems Interface), a droid who is supposed to welcome the visitors to the Nethersphere. As Danny is acclimated to the afterdeath, including meeting with a boy he killed while as a soldier, The Doctor finds himself upset by the origins of 3W. Discovering that Missy is lying, The Doctor learns what the Nethersphere actually is . . . and how his people are responsible for the new horror that is about to befall Earth!
One of the immediate problems with “Dark Water” is that The Doctor, who can seem callous, just seems stupid when Clara tells him that Danny Pink is dead. Instead of saying something uncaring, like “Wasn’t he important to you?” he just asks Clara a variation of “so what?” when she tells The Doctor he is dead. Fortunately, The Doctor does not stay stupid very long. Instead, “Dark Water” has The Doctor committing to his friendship with Clara and proving that he will go to any length for her. The Doctor is rational, but more emotionally aware for the bulk of “Dark Water” as he tries to help Clara.
The truth is, Clara Oswald has, historically, been one of the least-compelling Companions for The Doctor (outside the theoretical concept of her as the Impossible Girl, which – once resolved – left writer Stephen Moffat and other with remarkably little to do with her), so this season has had her paired with Danny Pink ostensibly to keep her interesting. In “Dark Water,” Clara is preoccupied with her relationship with Danny Pink, but it does not make her more distinctive or interesting. She illustrates an admirable amount of resolve in “Dark Water,” which is more forceful emotion than she has exhibited the rest of the season.
3W is an interesting concept, which is something the current season has been low on. The name of the company stands for 3 Words – the words heard in white noise that acted as a revelation to the founder of the company. While the underlying concept in “Dark Water” is a cheap rehash of the horror movie White Noise, the Doctor Who twist on it is compelling.
What makes it interesting is Danny Pink. Pink has been characterized as emotional, perhaps overly emotional, since his debut in “Into The Dalek” (reviewed here!). So, when Pink’s emotions are ramped up from seeing the boy he killed and then Clara, it leaves him in the perfect manipulated state to willingly, if witlessly, fall into Missy’s agenda. It is the strength of Samuel Anderson’s performance as Danny Pink that makes the latter half of the episode not only watchable, but enjoyable. With Peter Capaldi so busy exposing plot points and reacting to them and Jenna Coleman acting opposite a tablet computer, it falls to Samuel Anderson to keep the audience connected. He succeeds.
What “Dark Water” has most is the tease of potential. The basic villain is going to be quickly defeated, obviously, but for the first time in a long time, Doctor Who is set up to make a real paradigm shift. Such a shift seemed ready to happen at the climax of the last season, but it did not materialize – whatwith The Doctor learning that Gallifrey still exists, albeit in a pocket universe, and he was set to embark on a quest to find it. That entire plotline seemed abandoned at the outset of the current season, in favor of an episodic season that was incredibly erratic. But Missy is a bigger-than-life antagonist and after building her up for an entire season, she has the chance to change the direction of Doctor Who . . . if only the second part does not so quickly eliminate her. Instead, Missy is set up with the potential to become an intriguing new Companion, which would alter the aimless direction of the series at this point. If that is the pay-off of the second part of the story begun in “Dark Water,” then it is hard not to look forward to the next episode and the next season with excitement.
“Dark Water” will either be the tease that relaunches enthusiasm for Doctor Who or the first line of innumerable jokes about how this was where Moffat finally flushed the toilet on the series.
For other episodes that wrestle with resurrecting characters, please check out my reviews of:
“Yesterday’s Enterprise” - Star Trek: The Next Generation
“T.A.H.I.T.I.” - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
“Who Are You, Really?” - True Blood
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Eighth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor here!
For other Doctor Who episode and movie reviews, please visit my Doctor Who Review Index Page!
© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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