Dark Water is the first of the two part finale for this series of Doctor Who and it's a pretty barnstorming episode to kick it all off with questions and revelations in just about equal measure. The shocks come quickly with Danny tragically run over in the episode's moments. A grief stricken Clara to demand the Doctor to help him, threatening him with the loss of the TARDIS if he doesn't do so. The Doctor of course agrees to help and via Clara's strong psychic link with Danny's timeline, they end up at the mysterious 3W with Missy pretending to be a customer service droid. Meanwhile, Danny finds himself in the afterlife with Seb, toying with the decision to delete his consciousness and get rid of his memories forever. However, there hides something much more sinister within Missy's plan and it's not long before Cybermen start walking the streets of London. Again.
Whether or not you saw the twist coming, the Missy reveal introduces a whole bucketload of implications into the Whoniverse as well as bringing back one of the Doctor's most infamous nemeses. Chief amongst which is the idea of gender and regeneration. If Missy can come back as a woman, so too can the Doctor. I can't quite get rid of the nagging feeling that this is merely tokenism, however good Michelle Gomez is, (which is very - extremely - phenomenally good), a way to shut up those calling for more dynamic female characters or, whisper it, a female Doctor. After all, Missy's another classically Moffat mystery woman who just happens to be a Time Lord this time. Forgive me if I don't hold my breath for new and improved female characters.
That being said, I am loving the Clara that we've had this season. Much more interesting than simpering, without a mystery within her to be solved, she's simply just trying to get by as the Doctor's companion as well as navigating her relationship with Danny. The two contrasting scenes with the Doctor at the opening of the episode, first in the volcano and then back in the TARDIS were both expertly constructed. The volcano one in particular was masterfully done with the switching of power dynamics as the Doctor repeatedly called Clara's bluff and the quiet rage with which she dealt with him was solid work from Jenna Coleman.
The second scene, in which the Doctor revealed he'd simply allowed Clara to act out that scenario, could have come across as another classic manipulation of her. Instead, it's much more emotional; he uses her fantasy to allow her to vocalise her grief before revealing that he'd do just about anything to help her. Given the disconnect and uneasy tension that there has been in the episodes leading up to this, it's a strong resolution for the pair and one which will clearly be tested in the second part of this finale.
The rest of the episode focused on the set up for the second part as we slowly learnt of Missy's plans. Some excellent comedy moments peppered the dialogue, particularly from the Doctor reacting to Missy or Seb's bureaucratic simpering, but the slow sinister reveal of the Cybermen was the strongest point. From creepy, gooey skeletons slowly turning their heads to that incredibly good shot of Clara sat in front of a standing Cyberman, completely oblivious to its existence, the episode utilised the inherent menace in its villains without playing its hand too easily. They've been a little guilty of overexposure recently, especially in the RTD years, but Moffat has been a bit more inventive, literally using an arm at one point to convey enough suspense without trotting out another clunking costume.
The greatest aspect of this episode though had to be the pace. We've often commented in these reviews that many an episode of Doctor Who would be improved if they had a little more time to set everything up or allow for a solid payoff. Too often, these things are rush and as a result, the quality of the episode diminishes. In Dark Water though, the pacing is spot on, the necessity of splitting the story into two parts allowing for everything to breathe a little and for the atmosphere to be carefully established. The emotional opening scenes soon give way to a mystery thriller and the episode felt much stronger as a result. When that cliffhanger comes around, it feels earned, not hurried.
Next week sees the finale play out and Jen will be with you to see these reviews through to the end of the series. My two cents on the finale as a whole is that it's been a frustrating mix of highs and lows. It started exceptionally well with the uniform excellence of the first four episodes, but since then, it's been a little wobbly. When it hits the scary highs that it did with Listen, the thrills of Into the Dalek or the riotous fun of Robot of Sherwood, the series is fantastic and brilliantly entertaining. Dark Water harks back to that run and I hope it continues next week.
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