So, here we are: the penultimate episode of this series of Doctor Who. And, as the first of a two-part finale, we start to get some answers as to what on earth (or off it or, actually, on it) has been happening behind the scenes – or should that be potentially manipulating all of the scenes to begin with.
With me so far? Good.
We start off with a plethora of undoubtedly significant post-it notes and a brutally cut off telephone conversation between Clara (Jenna Coleman) and Danny (Samuel Anderson) during which the latter is hit by a car and killed. Cue Clara making the poor but very human decision to try and travel back in time to prevent it although, of course, she knows better than to ask The Doctor about this directly. Instead, she stages the ultimate betrayal and holds him hostage, killing off his TARDIS keys one by one, flinging them into a volcano. Apart from, thankfully, The Doctor is always at least ten steps ahead and has instead conveniently usurped her plan and made her think she is destroying the keys. And don’t think those ‘dream patches’ won’t be appearing in fanfiction from here to kingdom come.
“Did you think that I care for you so little that betraying me would make any difference?” Top writing from Moffat as Clara and The Doctor unite (for what almost feels like one last time) to save Danny. Soon we’re shown the interior of the ‘Nethersphere’/’Heaven’/’Promised Land’ that has been teased to us all series. Danny is there, coming face to face with the young boy he killed as a soldier. Whilst Danny’s storyline is surely supposed to be emotionally affecting, it falls a little short of the mark because everyone already knew what the big reveal about it past was going to be – it’s not subtle or unexpected.
But the main meat of this episode is all about Missy, The Doctor, the symbol that’s on all the doors of 3W (it took me a depressingly long time to figure out where I’d seen it before), heartbeats and death throes. While the reveal of Missy as The Mistress – Master as was – wasn’t necessarily a shock either; Michelle Gomez’s performance more than makes up for it. She’s manic, manipulative and exactly the right kind of psychopath to completely mess with The Doctor ‘s new, precarious sense of self. And the fact she’s a woman, although drawing some predictably negative comments from some quarters, is a stroke of wonderful from Moffat and the team. We don’t quite get to see enough of her at full steam in this episode but I’m hopeful the finale is going to be a rollercoaster.
As for Clara, who has grown exponentially as a character this series, she’s a little wasted this episode too. After her heart-breaking betrayal, she’s sadly locked in a room talking to into an ipad for the majority of Dark Water. Although her conversation with Danny is at times a wrench to watch, it is a little repetitive and her forced segregation of her ‘Doctor life’ and her ‘Danny life’ throughout the series lessens its impact. However, the slow reveal of the Cyberman in the room with her is chilling in its almost incidental nature.
Dark Water is a spooky, entertaining introduction to the end of the series. It feels like a vast tale in terms of scope and emotion, despite a couple of reveals not quite hitting their mark. I’m still not really any the wiser about what Missy’s ultimate plan is: helping the Cybermen to take over the world seems a little pedestrian for her.
What can be assured is that tonight’s episode is going to have some serious repercussions for The Doctor and Clara. I suspect Dark Water has only just scratched the surface.
Doctor Who Concludes Saturday on BBC ONE.
Contributed by Jane Harrison