There’s not been a great Cyberman story since Doctor Who returned in 2005. There’s been some alright ones and some nice moments featuring the Cybermen but even their face-off with the Daleks at the end of the second series was a bit underwhelming, even though it was fun. Dark Water has been promised to be a dark, scary Cyberman story by Stephen Moffat, so does it actually serve up the best Cyberman story since the programme returned in 2005? Well, yes after a fashion as it’s only really a story which happens to have the Cybermen in it as they’re not the real threat but more of this later on.
It’s a dark episode for what is basically a children’s/family programme. In fact, I can imagine a lot of kids having some quite disturbing conversations about death after this episode; ‘mummy, is grandad’s soul in torment and constant agony forever because you decided to cremate him?‘. But again, I get ahead of of myself.
The episode starts with Clara acting odd as she goes over her and the Doctor’s adventures this series while speaking to Danny Pink who is walking around one of the bits of Cardiff that sort of looks like London if you squint hard enough.As Danny and Clara have a chat on the phone about their relationship Danny ends up walking out in front of a car and is killed in a scene which verges on melodrama (and falls into it at times) but is still oddly effecting as Danny isn’t a bad character, it’s just his and Clara’s relationship doesn’t feel quite real enough. This isn’t a problem of either Jenna Coleman or Samuel Anderson who have both shown themselves to be splendid actors this series, but it’s the often cack handed dialogue they’re given.
Still, it’s a shocking start to the episode to have it revolve round the death of a major character. This forces Clara into doing something very stupid with the Doctor as she thinks she’s blackmailing him into going back in time to save Danny, but as the Doctor points out he can’t do that. Clara thinks she’s fooled the Doctor in talking her to a volcano so she can bribe the Doctor by destroying the keys to the Tardis (even though it’s now well established the Doctor can open the Tardis by clicking his fingers) one by one. Of course this is Stephen Moffat pulling a bit of a bait and switch as it turns out that Clara has only betrayed the Doctor in a dream but she’s still betrayed him. This is all to give Capaldi a chance to show Clara (and the audience) that this Doctor may be harder and more pragmatic but he’s still the Doctor regardless of what he looks and acts like. He forgives her and decides to use the telepathic circuits of the Tardis to track down wherever Danny is and that could be the afterlife, something the Doctor says he’s been meaning to find out exists.
From here on this episode becomes incredibly unsettling. It asks questions about death and what happens to the consciousness after death that is frankly, possibly a bit too heavy for parts of it’s audience. I don’t mean children, I mean people who think it’s just always been a genre programme. Who has always asked it’s audience tough questions in the past in all it’s 51 years from the moment it introduced the Daleks to an audience still with the memories of the Nazis fresh in their mind.
The Tardis is taken to somewhere called 3W. A organisation that is effectively a privatised version of the afterlife. Clara and the Doctor have the story explained to them by one of 3W’s doctors that the company’s founder managed to record the voices of the dead in television static and they found out that the dead were in eternal torment. This is because the consciousness lives on in another life but it’s connected still to it’s body in this world. How Moffat explains it is in a scene where the 3W doctor explains that a foetus knows only the nine months spent in it’s mother’s womb and when it’s born, it forgets it’s previous ‘life’ as a bunch of cells floating around in amniotic fluid. After all none of us remember the trauma of being born and being ripped from one world and thrown into another has to be a trauma. It’s all genuinely disturbing not to mention it’s Doctor Who playing with the supernatural in a very Nigel Kneale style and doing it very well indeed. It also allows Moffat to reference this Monty Python sketch.
The Doctor says this is rubbish even though 3W have managed to contact Danny in the afterlife (who is having what happened to him explained and has met the child who he killed while fighting in Iraq. Another moment which jolts the viewer as it’s told in flashback) so while the Doctor leaves Clara to work out if it’s really Danny or not, he explores the 3W site and it’s again he meets Missy, who the Doctor and Clara think is a robot designed to show people around 3W’s massive mausoleum full of skeletons sitting in chairs.
On the Doctor and Missy’s first meeting they kiss. This isn’t especially important but in light of revelations later it’s something which is causing a fair amount of fuss online.
Dark water is the name of the liquid that fills the tanks where the skeletons sit. The Doctor knows these skeletons are covered in an exoskeleton but dark water is something that makes inorganic material invisible. This allows for a slow reveal as Missy activates these skeletons who are actually Cybermen. The Doctor also discovers that 3W hasn’t discovered the afterlife, but people are being uploaded at the point of death into a Time Lord Matrix, a sort of cyberspace first introduced in the Deadly Assassin way back in the 1970’s years before Keanu Reeves knew kung fu.
We leave Clara hanging up on Danny who hasn’t done enough to convince her that he’s really Danny, or at least that’s what he’s made her think as he’s clearly trying to protect her. As he’s about to delete his consciousness he’s stopped by the boy he killed. Meantime Clara is surrounded by Cybermen.
As for the Doctor and Missy, he finds that they’re in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London which allows the programme to update a classic shot from the 1960s that featured Cybermen.
That was then.
This is now.
It’s a nice little nod and well done by the episode’s director, Rachel Talalay.
It’s on the steps of St Paul’s that the Doctor finds out who Missy is and she tells him that Missy is short for Mistress, or the Master and that’s the end of this part of the finale. At this point cue tens of thousands of heads exploding as people get to grips with the Master becoming female. In fact one needs only to look on social media or places like Gallifrey Base to see some pretty nasty stuff being spouted about the idea that Time Lords can change sex so easily. Frankly if you accept a programme about an alien who can change his appearance when he dies and flies around space and time in an old police box, then the only reason you can possibly have in objecting to Missy being The Master is because you have a problem with gender and sexuality.
Yes, the reveal is a bit of a problem as it changes the episode from being a big Cyberman story to one about Missy and how The Master escaped Rassilon to get where she is now, but when I read people wittering on about the programme ‘jumping the shark’ or worst of all, ‘political correctness’ then it does make me quite sick as to mow many small minded arseholes there are. Missy has been played wonderfully by Michelle Gomez and she’s going to make a great addition to those who’ve played The Master. It is of course teasing the day when the Doctor will be played by a woman and I only hope whenever that day is that some of those bleating out the UKIP-esque shite about ‘political correctness’ have grown up or fucked off.
The final episode has a lot to deal with. It has to tell us how Missy came to be, where the Cybermen came into it, rescuing Danny Pink assuming it’s possible, saving Clara and of course the Earth from Missy and the Cybermen and tying it all up in an hour so we can watch Casualty and Match of the Day in peace. There’s a lot of plates being spun which has always been a problem for Moffat as we saw in the final Matt Smith episode where three years of plot development was tied up in a passing line.
I will say I’m impressed by Moffat getting a director like Talalay. Okay, she’s not as good as the superb work Ben Wheatley did but she’s a very, very good director and I don’t care what people think, Tank Girl is still a good film.There’s been a lot at stake this series after the limp performance of the mess of last series, but Moffat’s managed to pull off a fine series this year thanks mainly to some good scripts and of course, Peter Capaldi who has grown into the role brilliantly and I look forward to see how he develops next series now we’re at a point where this Doctor isn’t heroic, but he’s a good man who has to do awful things at times in order to be good. He’s a strong, decent realist as opposed to the idealists of Tennant and Smith.
Next week is the final episode of this series before we have a six week wait for the Christmas episode and then a long painful stretch before next August and Capaldi’s second series. If the final episode is of any sort of quality then for me, this will have been the most consistent and best series since Tennant’s second series in 2007. I only hope it is.