When Steven Moffat was launching Series 8, he declared that Samuel Anderson as Danny Pink would be the ‘secret weapon’ of the show in Peter Capaldi’s first year. We know of course that the first rule of modern Who is that Moffat lies. There’s something innately masochistic in fandom that actually on some level likes it that Moffat lies – it allows us to indulge in paranoia and whinging, and to spin theories out of straw and what-ifs, even when the theories have no validity, because in Moffat’s World of Who, anything is technically possible, so even the ridiculous theories are valid until proven otherwise. But fans could be forgiven for a sense of being sold a bill of goods over Danny Pink. He was a secret weapon inasmuch as he destroyed the Cybermen (thanks for that, PE), but otherwise – meh.
We understand some of the reasons for Danny being there – Clara, her world changed by the regeneration of her ‘boyfriend’ Doctor into her ‘curmudgeonly Grandad’ Doctor, decides to get on with her life, stops being a live-in helper for her friends’ kids and gets a job at Coal Hill School, where she meets Mr Pink, the new maths teacher who cries when people mention that he used to be a soldier. The clear inference from the start is that he killed people he ‘shouldn’t’ have killed, and is now trying to make a life for himself beyond all that. Like many former squaddies, he has trouble readjusting to life on Civvie Street. Clara helps, because if we know anything about Clara – even beyond the ‘control freakery’ which seems usually to be rather more told than shown by her nature, it’s that she’s a sucker for helping people. In fact, Clara has a version of White Knight Syndrome that makes her ideally suited to a life on the Tardis, and life as a teacher, so helping a damaged soldier find life and happiness in the civilian world is right up her tidy, organised, compassionate street.
When Danny becomes aware of the Doctor though, there is instant antipathy – the Twelfth Doctor’s bonnet has a decided bee in it when it comes to soldiers, and Danny feels betrayed by Clara’s secret ‘affair’ with the older man, running off to have adventures that she has kept secret. He saves the world from the Skovox Blitzer, yes, in a very indirect sort of way, and later in the series, he saves Clara, the Doctor and a bunch of rugrats by shining a torch in a tiger’s eyes, but beyond that, he’s essentially the anti-Rory: he disapproves of the Doctor and his methods, but whereas Rory knew that the allure of time and space was something he had to become part of it he was to keep Amy and her honesty, Danny essentially forces the issue, and Clara, unready yet to give up the potential of the Tardis, lies to him and carries on seeing the Doctor behind his back. Whatever Clara may think, whatever Danny may think, the writing for their relationship is in on the wall from that moment on. There is no sexual element in Clara’s deception with the Doctor, but in Danny’s terms of reference, it’s always going to feel like an affair – she has to lie to him, when all he claims to want is the truth. What he actually wants of course is the truth that the allure of him is stronger than the allure of ‘the other guy’ – he’s a man, after all. And like many men, he forces the woman he loves either to accept a lesser life than she could have by committing to him before she’s ready, or to lie to him because he can’t deal with the complex reality of her.
By Dark Water though (which takes place an unspecified but significant amount of time after The Caretaker, which is itself at least a year on from their first meeting), she’s ready to lay all her cards on the table, to lay out her heart and her life for him, because she’s decided that she loves him enough.
And then the idiot gets run over because he’s talking while crossing the road.
T’riffic. Thanks Danny. Not like we were invested or anything…
All that follows of Danny has a hollow, somewhat pointless ring to it – he feels too much to be entirely Cyberised (or he’s simply got a faulty emotional inhibitor), he hears the truth about Clara’s feelings towards the Doctor, and doesn’t want to feel any more. He rails against the Doctor’s fine speeches and eventually flies off to destroy himself and the rest of the Cybermen. But the revelation of ‘who the Doctor is’ comes off as hollow when you consider it’s not actually the Doctor’s fault he’s dead or Cybernetic – it’s the ‘boring’ truth of a mundane human death that puts him in this position, not some grandiose miscalculation of the Doctor’s, and not, either, Clara’s betrayal of him. Yes, he dies a soldier’s death and is given the opportunity for a soldier’s absolution by sending back the young boy he killed, rather than taking his own opportunity to come back and live happily ever after with the woman he now knows will never voluntarily give up her time travelling friend. He refuses to take the challenge of personal growth into a wider universe that ultimately both Mickey Smith and Rory Williams took before him. He’s less than amazing, and at the same time, he’s the mature grown-up who genuinely doesn’t see what the would-be companions see – the thrill of time and space, the chance to do better and be better by exposure to the universe.
At least, not yet. Technically he’s died twice on-screen, with the implication of a third ‘mind-death’ at the end of Death In Heaven. But in Moffat-Who, of course, death is sometimes not as permanent as it otherwise seems – what has this season been about if not the potential of something beyond the point of material death? So there’s always the potential for Danny to redeem himself in the future. How, we wonder, do we get to Orson Pink? Is Clara already pregnant at the end of Death In Heaven, or is there more of a story to tell about Mr Pink, the maths teacher?
For the sake of his place in the rostra of Who characters (rather, I confess, than because I desperately want to see any more of him), I hope so.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk