Friday, 23 January 2015

Review: Doctor Who 8.11: Dark Water

The Doctor and Missy witness the latter's plan unfold...
(More on her next time, I promise.)
From The BBC
I was going to write this as a double-review with next week's episode, seeing as the two form the show's first two-parter since Series 6, and the plot and theme elements are quite closely connected. I decided to split it up because Dark Water negates its own premise in a reveal near the cliffhanger, and I wanted to examine the genuinely good sci-fi ideas and character drama that this episode managed to develop without it being bogged down by discussions about the return of certain classic villains. If you ignore that reveal, Dark Water is one of the most intriguing and well-written build-up stories that Moffat's ever produced. Oh, and spoiler warning from the off.
     Clara is in the middle of trying to tell Danny how she feels about him over the phone when he's rather rudely hit by a car and literally sent to the land of the dead, waking up in a bureaucratic afterlife handled by Seb (Chris Addison). Emotionally hollowed, Clara reaches out to The Doctor and tries to blackmail him into changing history, going so far as to try to destroy all of the TARDIS keys should he say no. After The Doctor discovers how far Clara is willing to go, he uses the TARDIS' memory-guidance thing from Listen to try and find an afterlife. This takes the two to 3W industries, a company who claim to have contacted the afterlife that Danny is now in. As Clara contacts Danny on the other side, The Doctor discovers that the operation is in fact a cover-up for the building of a new race of Cybermen, using the captured minds and bodies of the dead. Running the operation? A flirty Time-Lady previously introduced as Missy, who now reveals what she was once called - The Master.
     Okay, so I've mentioned before that I'm not big on the Clara/Danny relationship. It's forced, it's unnecessary and at every step it contains unhealthy elements which in reality would be a cause for concern. This episode seems to satiate people who like the relationship and those who don't, giving Clara a grand act of love but also highlighting the level of mistrust between them in life, and in death. Because of the lack of chemistry, I don't sense love from these two, but rather a friendship between two people who think that the relationship deal is what you have to do to be close to someone - it's a trap I've fallen into myself, and makes a lot more sense than the romance the episode is trying to portray. That in mind, this episode was fab for characterisations - Clara's reliance on deceit and stable elements to simply function, Danny's internal conflict which makes him demand the truth from others and yet hole up the truth behind his actions in Afghanistan, and The Doctor, who recognises both of these things and is powerless to do anything about them except try to help them be together.
Clara tries to talk to Danny across the realms.
From the BBC
     And as for that sci-fi idea, my god is that powerful. As miffed as I was about the idea of a real, planar afterlife in the Doctor Who Universe (sudden afterlife revelations rile me a bit), the idea that after death you continue to experience whatever happens to your corpse is a chilling one, even if the script gives it a little too much buildup. The revelation that this afterlife is in fact a Matrix-style supercomputer holding the consciousnesses of the dead still holds in the fridge horror, but I think it dimishes the spiritual side a little and plays into the rest of those final few minutes, which turn the episode from a slow-building suspenseful drama into Moffat's attempt to ape The Army of Ghosts/Doomsday.
     Dark Water's main flaw was that it comes packaged with a finale that only provincially has anything to do with it, and which is far more bombastic in its aims. Comparatively, it's a much slower and tense story with a great deal to say and a decent way of saying it. The character beats are flawed, true, but they're really errors carried forward and in that context they're better than anything else in Moffat's main plotlines. I may not be very highly invested in Clara and Danny's relationship, but for once in this era I recognise them doing things that people actually do - and that is glorious progress right there. Right on.


NEXT TIME: Dodgy gender politics, a plothole the size of Birmingham and an attempted tribute to Nicholas Courtney that doesn't go anywhere. What else, but Death In Heaven?

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