Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 11 review: Dark Water

Posted: 8 November 2014 in entertainment, television
Tags: , , , , , ,

The nature of death itself provides the backdrop for the return of two old adversaries as Steven Moffat’s Dark Water plunges Doctor Who into contentious territory with its risqué adult-orientated themes.

Danny, I’ll never say those words again. Not to anybody else, ever. Those words, from me, are yours now.

It’s nigh on impossible to comprehend that Dark Water stems from the same creative mind as the writer who kicked off Peter Capaldi’s time as the Twelfth Doctor with the atmospheric brilliance of Deep Breath. After being excised for the first 10 episodes of Series 8, all that’s been bad about Steven Moffat’s oversight of Doctor Who makes an unwelcome comeback. As was the case with The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor, stupidity is rife. Ludicrous character development, inappropriate sexual innuendo, supposed jaw dropping shock revelations that fail to stand up to sober followup consideration.

Doctor Who - S8 E11 Dark Water

If Amy (Karen Gillan) had threatened to destroy all the TARDIS keys in order to blackmail the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) into bringing Rory (Arthur Darvill) back from the dead, the shock to the audience would have been profound. Not so much the shock of Rory being dead (that tended to happen a lot) but more that Amy was prepared to betray her beloved Raggedy Man. Gillan and Darvill had fantastic characters and genuine chemistry in that respect, even when the writing got ropier towards the end of their tenure.

Clara (Jenna Coleman) throwing away everything she’s built with the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors for the sake of the sopping wet blanket that’s Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) is patently ridiculous. Since his introduction in Into the Dalek this ex-soldier turned maths teacher has remained utterly devoid of an interesting personality, despite emotional chains wrapped tight around him. The intimation that Danny killed a child during his military service in Afghanistan receives confirmation in Dark Water. And it leaves an unsavoury aftertaste as Doctor Who is dragged into the real world in an unpleasant fashion. Granted the bullet-ridden corpse of the Afghan child Danny shoots in the fog of war isn’t shown but the implication is there and the results too easily imagined. The realistic representation of warfare isn’t appropriate for Doctor Who. Imagine a Patrick Troughton story featuring a massacre during the Vietnam war or a Tom Baker story revolving around the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Stop it with the eyes. Don’t do that with the eyes. How do you do that anyway? It’s like they inflate!

Whilst Clara and Danny’s relationship continues to be as exciting as rainy days on the seafront of an English coastal resort (Coleman and Anderson truly have zero chemistry), the interplay between this latest Doctor and his companion continues to sizzle beautifully. The Twelfth Doctor’s horror at Clara’s deep and emotional outpouring of friendship, and Missy’s snogging attack, are laugh-out loud moments of acting brilliance from Peter Capaldi. Long gone are the huggy-feely “romantic” Doctors. Once again a profoundly unpredictable and moody Doctor is at the helm of the TARDIS. Despite all their proclamations of inner darkness the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors never felt as fundamentally dangerous as this version of the Time Lord. All Capaldi’s got to do to convey the Doctor’s ancient and powerful nature is stand and glower. Even the psychic paper picks up on this angrier nature. Not since Tom Baker has there been such a seemingly effortless projection of the lead character’s alien heritage.

Doctor Who - S8 E11 Dark Water - Cybermen

Don’t cremate me. Don’t cremate me!

Dark Water brings a haunting vision of death to the universe of Doctor Who. Moffat’s concept of the dead retaining a form of consciousness after their bodies have ceased to function, and pleading for the non-cremation of their remains via white noise, is an unsettling one. Complaints have been levelled at the BBC about the suitability of such powerful ideas in a programme viewed by children. Death’s an inevitable part of life but how it’s conveyed to children is a tricky issue. In the wake of Dark Water it’s inevitable that many children will have asked awkward, and doubtless unanswerable, questions of their parents.

It’s a rare Doctor Who story that doesn’t feature a body count of some kind but Dark Water is a unique acknowledgement of the grisly reality and mechanics of death. Though the Doctor shoots down many of the theories proposed by 3W (the organisation named from the three words “don’t cremate me”) Moffat has introduced fascinating and controversial ideas about death. But it remains debatable whether Doctor Who is the correct forum for them. The concept of bodies lying in mortuary freezers whilst their consciousnesses beg for mercy within the Nethersphere has been irretrievably sown in the minds of the nervous and impressionable.

Cybermen from cyberspace. Now, why has no-one ever thought of that before?

The concept of a resting place for the dead being harvested as a source of organic material to create cybernetic lifeforms isn’t new for Doctor Who. Revelation of the Daleks featured the (as good as dead) cryogenically frozen inhabitants of Tranquil Repose providing genetic material needed by Davros to create a new race of Daleks. Now in Dark Water skeletal remains are used as the foundation for new Cybermen. As soon as it was mentioned that human skeletons had been encased within mechanical exoskeletons it was obvious that the Cybermen were lurking around. Doubly so as they’d featured heavily in publicity for the episode. Keeping their appearance under wraps was nigh on impossible given their presence in front of St Paul’s Cathedral for a scene that homages/rips off (delete according to preference) a classic moment of Doctor Who imagery from The Invasion.

Dark Water marks Moffat’s first time of penning a proper Cyberman tale (he only gave them cameos in The Pandorica Opens and The Time of the Doctor) and he seems to be laying the foundations of a memorable NuWho outing. The Cybermen’s previous appearances in 21st century Doctor Who have been pretty unmemorable, with perhaps their best moment coming during the bitch-off with the Daleks in Doomsday.

So-called “dark water” is one of Moffat’s neater ideas. Allowing the organic aspects of the Cybermen to be viewed whilst concealing the mechanical parts from prying eyes. It also allowed for some nice Ray Harryhausen-style moments of skeletal movement.

Doctor Who - S8 E11 Dark Water - Twelfth Doctor and Missy

Please, try to keep up. Short for Mistress. Well…I couldn’t very well keep calling myself the Master, now could I?

For all its successes in inventive groundbreaking storytelling Doctor Who occasionally serves up instances of crass, illogical and plain stupid storytelling. For every The Talons of Weng-Chiang or The Caves of Androzani there’s a Timelash or Love & Monsters. Too often plot developments occur that leave viewers banging their heads against hard surfaces in an attempt to knock away the memory of the idiocy of the writer, director and production team. There’s the Gel Guards from The Three Doctors, Leela going off with someone she’s barely spoken to in The Invasion of Time, and Time and the Rani has Sylvester McCoy donning a Harpo Marx type wig to double for Colin Baker in the Sixth to Seventh Doctor regeneration sequence.

Now to be added to this collection of profound stupidity is Steven Moffat’s inane, incredulous and inept decision to change the sex of the Master. It’s quite simply the most idiotic thing he, or anyone else connected to Doctor Who, has ever done. Roger Delgado’s suave, hypnotic super villain has ended up as Michelle Gomez’s pseudo-dominatrix Mary Poppins wannabe.

What. The. Actual. Fuck?!

This profoundly daft revelation came armed with zero build up. All of Missy’s appearances have involved prattling nonsense about “Heaven” or “The Promised Land”. When the Master was introduced to NuWho audiences in Utopia writer Russell T Davies and director Graeme Harper beautifully wracked up the tension. The Tenth Doctor’s horror at the realisation that his ultimate nemesis still existed was spine-chilling. In Dark Water there’s a moment of shock at Missy’s statement, a moment of “did she really say that?” and then the illogic of the situation cuts in. No intelligent reason exists to change the Master from a Time Lord to a Time Lady. Is Moffat attempting to appease all those he offended with his past misogynistic scripting? “Look, I am on the side of feminists, I’ve made the Doctor’s Moriarty into a woman”.

By foisting this bizarre plot twist upon the Master/Mistress Moffat is not only called upon to explain his/her escape from the events of The End of Time but how a sex change occurred. Big Finish’s Doctor Who Unbound adventure Exile employed suicide as a means of the Doctor transitioning into a female incarnation (Arabella Weir). If a strong Time Lady villain was required then the most obvious candidate is the flamboyant and amoral Rani. First portrayed by the late Kate O’Mara in The Mark of the Rani the character’s return is about to occur in Big Finish’s The Rani Elite, with Siobhan Redmond assuming the role.

With Clara attempting to save her dead boyfriend (honestly don’t bother), Cybermen on the streets of London (again), and the Master/Mistress scaring the hell out of the Doctor, the series finale of Death in Heaven has a lot to wrap up. Thankfully Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and Osgood (Ingrid Oliver), two of the best characters of NuWho, will be on hand to provide UNIT-orientated assistance. It remains to see how the anti-military Twelfth Doctor greets them…

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