Hey, so, after the crapstorm that was last week’s episode, and a week where I speculated in dramatically wrong ways about what would happen in the Doctor Who season eight finale, I’ve come across something sorely missing in the last ten weeks: an episode that I loved almost unconditionally.
I think it’s telling that, for the first time this series, me and the Consort finished watching Dark Water and immediatley negotiated more episodes to watch. It was an outing that reminded us of Doctor Who at it’s best, and made us want to go back and wallow in the triumphs of yesteryear (we matched it with the Lake Silencio two-parter, and the Bad Wolf finale for season one, both of which are always better than you remember). This episode was tantalising, and wasn’t enough on it’s own. That’s a good sign.
I really thought Dark Water was a belter of an episode, the best and most true to form of the series so far (Listen was magnificent, but it didn’t have the fun or breakneck pace of this one). Early in the episode, Danny is killed, and Clara and the Doctor go to find him (incidentally, Jenna Coleman’s performance throughout this entire segment was jaw-dropping, award-winning stuff, particularly the scene where she explained the real tragedy of his death lay in the mundanity of it all), leaving Danny Pink in Heaven/Hell/The Nethesphere with Chris Addison as his poison-tongued tour guide. This segment had some of the best writing all season going for it, with Chris Addison’s description of our understanding of the afterlife being a particular highlight. And the offscreen screaming as Chris Addison winced that they had “left their body to science”? Masterful.
A big shout out to Rachel Talalay, one of the distressingly few female writers or directors to grave Moffat’s run of Who, as she did a cracking job on the direction. Her close-up, tight shots on Danny and Clara as they have their last conversation were heartbreaking, but not as gutting as the cut between soldier Danny realising he’d killed a child, and afterlife Danny realising he was going to meet him. C’mere, Samuel Anderson, let me buy you all the drinks for saving the series.
And then, of course, there was Missy. I’m going to put a big fat SPOILER ALERT here, which I rarely do as I assume most people coming here have already seen the episode, but the reveal of Missy’s identity was so good I don’t want it ruined for anyone here. Go away. Come back. Watched it? Are you sure? Certain? One hundred percent? Okay.
HOLY SHIT IT WAS THE MASTER! I do not exaggerate in the least when I say that I threw a bottle of juice against the opposite wall in excitement when she announced her identity. Like most two-parters though, the success of this episode will rest on how well they pull of the actual finale. Either way, Michelle Gomez is a saccharine delight and a worthy successor to the formidable John Simm. And surely we’ll be seeing more of her after this season ends, because you don’t bring the Master back as a woman then only give us one episode of her. Everything comes down to next week, and I’m hoping they do well because this episode was teeming with brilliant lines, scenes, and ideas-more than I can even touch on here- and I want it to remain as good as I think it is now.
But. Well, there’s always a but, isn’t there? This isn’t really a criticism of the episode, but you’ll have noticed that I haven’t been talking a whole lot about the Doctor. And there’s a reason for that. It suddenly struck me, in the middle of the night, which is when I write these reviews in my head and mentally paste them into the blog in the morning, that the problem is not with Peter Capaldi. Peter Capaldi is doing an excellent job playing the role he’s been given, but the problem is that role isn’t the Doctor. It’s leaning towards the sociopathic otherness of Moffat’s Sherlock, stripped down of much of his humanity and warmth. Watching Chris Ecclestone’s Doctor again, it’s so clear that a “dark” Doctor doesn’t have to be the aloof, trickster, testing personality that Capaldi’s playing to perfection right now- he is still the same man at heart(s), and doesn’t want to torture, tease, and even kill those who he comes into contact with. Anyone else of the same page here? Either way, I think that Moffat needs to hand over the reins to someone else and focus his attention on Sherlock, as it seems to be where his mind is at right now anyway. I’ll have you yet, Moffat. But if you can pull of next week, I’ll call off the hordes.