Tony just about passes Water.
On broadcast, Dark Water divided fandom straight down the middle. Some thought it was a brilliant new development of the Cyberman idea, and reveled in the final proof that Time Lords could change sex when they regenerated. Others howled at the re-use of the Nightmare In Silver Cybermen, claiming they looked more cute than scary, and wailed at the ‘mockery’ Steven Moffat had made of decades of Time Lord continuity by making the Master – gasp – a woman.
Let’s see if, after a year, it still has the same kind of divisive power.
The pre-credits sequence is long, and the tone goes from hope, through a determination towards honesty, to love, to a ghastly pit in the floor that plunges Clara into a kind of numbed desperation, to a determination that she’s owed. Watched in hindsight, the markers are all there of what should have been a deeply affecting scene, and could have been, and on some levels was, when we transpose any other human being alive into Danny Pink’s place. The death of Danny Pink? Barely a flicker on damn-givenometer. As characters go, he was a symphony in beige, who worked with Clara only inasmuch as she has a martyr complex and is determined to save people. He wanted her to be less than she could be, and it’s actually still hard a year on to forgive him for that, so while a death – and especially a pointless death – is a horrible thing to wish on any human, it’s actually still difficult to be especially sad that he dies here.
The scene of Clara’s betrayal after the credits is effective though – showing how grief can affect us all to want to pull the universe down, change it, not let it get away with the pain it inflicts on us. The following scene, where the Doctor tells her that betraying him and letting him down makes no difference to him is actually one of the relatively rare moments in Series 8 when Capaldi feels like the Doctor of old, the one who rises above the immediate reaction of pain, and does the good thing.
Once they arrive in 3W though, there feels like a lot of padding. It’s high quality padding, to be sure – the water tombs giving the game away to even those not paying attention to the doors and paintings, MISI that droid is fairly hilarious, and the Doctor gives appropriately short shrift to the peddlers of bunkum. There’s fun and games with Danny and Seb – the idea of there being an afterlife is one thing; the idea of it being full of smarmy little pen-pushers is gloriously satirical, and the idea that the ‘spirit’ is connected to the body even after death is delivered with such eye-opening clarity we confidently expect it to surface as the basis of a real life belief-system any day now. Missy, to give her her proper spelling, is clearly barking mad, but she plays with the Doctor’s peace of mind with a confidence that gives us an early idea who she might be. The phone call between Clara and Danny is vexing because he seems unable to do the simple thing she’s asking of him, seeming to prove once again that there’s nothing special or unique about their relationship, nothing that only he would know about her – seriously? They’re supposed to have been lovers for a long time. Just sayin’ – and it continues to be hard to like him, even in this moment when he should be most sympathetic to us.
To be honest, it’s difficult to invest in the Danny-Clara storyline as it has been all along. We can see that with a more involved, passionate or even warm relationship, this would be a heartbreaking story in its own right, irrespective of who Missy is or the fact that there are Cybermen untombing all around. But the chronic lack of chemistry or logic between these two makes us tempted to fast-forward through their scenes and get to the good bits.
The bits with Michelle Gomez in, since you ask. With apologies to all the “The Master can’t be a woman, it’s political correctness gone maddddd!” wailers, you’re just wrong, and it’s a year on. Get over yourselves and dare to watch Gomez play here – she brings a brand new snarl-eyed bonkersness to the role of the Master, proving herself the inheritor of at least Simm’s laughing mad Master crown, though she brings her own casual chatting take on the character that feeds the central conceit of these final two episodes, and more to come – that she and the Doctor were once, and could again be, friends. Her reveal as the Master at the end of the episode is delicious, though just for the record, the failure of the latest design of Cybermen to be even remotely intimidating is never better highlighted than when they recreate the Invasion scene of marching down the steps of St Pauls. They look like metal-plated ballerinas by comparison to the Sixties stompers, and having them march right up to camera does little if anything to make them more scary.
What makes the cliff-hanger even less effective is that it’s not where it should be – if you’re going to have the Cybermen march right up to camera, you cut and go to credits there, with the advance of the menace. You do not, under any circumstances, add in one final shot of a sniveling Danny Pink preparing to delete his own pain by iPad, because as cliff-hangers go, that sucks on almost every conceivable level.
Dark Water, with hindsight, kills Danny Pink, then gives us quite a lot of banter. It’s banter to a purpose, certainly – the thrilling cello-thrum of what might be going down does saw away at our nerves as the episode progresses – Missy and the Cybermen! Gallifreyan technology! Cybermen from Cyberspace! All the graves of planet Earth! But the banter does feel like padding in an episode that could more productively have touched on other things, to increase the sense of body horror at which it hints through the Dark Water and the seated skeletons. It does leave us panting for the final episode, but watched with hindsight, it’s remarkable how much not-very-much fills out the mid-section of this opening gambit in the Twelfth Doctor’s first year finale.
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
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