Dark Water

Posted in Episode by - February 19, 2016
Dark Water

Aired 1 November 2014

‘Dark Water’ is a chilling episode, tapping into one of humanity’s primal fears while bringing back some of the Doctor’s most dreaded foes. While Steven Moffat, much like his predecessor Russell T Davies, has sometimes been criticised for failing to fully capitalise on the momentum his story arcs set in motion ‘Dark Water’ offers a more linear and calm opening instalment to the two-part finale than is usual, putting aside a need for complicated temporal affairs or explanation for events.

The story starts its emotional impact with a particularly shocking moment as Danny is hit and killed by a passing car. Showing this from Clara’s perspective is an incredibly moving storytelling device, and Jenna Coleman’s fantastic range makes it believable as she fully swings back to Danny’s perspective and threatens to strand both the Doctor and her in the most perilous of locations if the Doctor could not somehow go back and save Danny. It’s at this point that her commitment to Danny becomes fully evident, her heartbreaking willingness to throw away every single key to the TARDIS a tangible threat that the Doctor could not ignore.

Of course this was never going to happen, but the raw emotion and pleading provides a catalyst for the Twelfth Doctor to agree to help her. The return of the psychic controls leads the duo to Missy’s location, and it’s here that ‘Dark Water’ starts providing answers at a rapid pace. It’s actually quite impressive how much this episode achieves without ever feeling rushed and still allowing characters to have reasonable conversations, even more important since it’s through these conversations that so many of the reveals are successfully made.

Before talking about events proper or the shocking ending, though, credit must be given to the Doctor Who staff members who, in an age of spoilers galore, managed to hide the identity of Missy until it could be revealed on their terms. Missy is not a droid, brand new enemy, nor even the Rani (as Steven Moffat cheekily tried to leak with scripts), but is instead the newest version of the Doctor’s age-old foe the Master. Michelle Gomez offers a very subdued performance this time out, and it’s clear from the start that she could prove a very worthy adversary for Capaldi’s Doctor. Undoubtedly not everyone will be a fan of the gender swap, especially as it now clears the way for a female Doctor at some point, but there is no denying the power that Gomez manages to imbue Missy with in a very short time.

Back to the episode proper, there are a couple of truly eerie moments as, in a rarity for a family programme, ‘Dark Water’ tackles the subject of death directly. Even keeping in mind the Doctor’s disbelief of what is happening to Danny, it takes absolutely no impact away from the apparent link between Missy’s Nethersphere and the afterlife. Particularly horrifying is the fact that Danny is cold in the Nethersphere because his corpse is in a cold morgue in the real world, but that doesn’t even begin to touch the horrific truth behind the dead begging not to cremated since they can feel everything. For as good as the threats that monsters pose are for this show, ‘Dark Water’ again proves that words have the ability to trump everything.

The one unfortunate aspect of this tale is that the reveal of the Cybermen was not kept secret, a shame because their eventual appearance within the story is handled extremely well and could have delivered a shocking punch. However, for those who managed to avoid spoilers or for those who watch the stories sequentially in the future- even if the multiple clues scattered throughout are picked up- that surprise will surely still be present. The Cybermen are more than just another alien threat in ‘Dark Water,’ though, as the Nethersphere, a modified Time Lord device, is revealed to be a means for the Cybermen to get new bodies for conversion.

Unquestionably, ‘Dark Water’ achieves a lot, answering many questions while still leaving many more to be answered in the second part ‘Death in Heaven.’ Chris Addison’s Seb is fantastic as a typical office lackey, delivering some key information and lines, and it will be interesting to see if he continues to play a role going forward.. The Doctor, Clara, and Missy will all clearly play pivotal roles in the resolution of the Master’s teaming with the Cybermen, but the big lingering question is just what will happen with Danny. His past that has been alluded to so frequently throughout the series finally catches up with him, and he holds his own deletion in his hands. Is this the end or will there be a miraculous way out for him? His character still has so much potential for future tales and it truly would be a shame for the accident to bring his story so abruptly to a close. Still, regardless of the direction his story takes, by setting the fate of the world teetering and delivering a fantastic cliffhanger, ‘Dark Water’ sets a lofty level for ‘Death in Heaven’ to meet.

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