Doctor Who Review: Dark Water

doctor who review dark water steven moffat rachel talalay samuel anderson michelle gomez jenna coleman peter capaldi cybermen

Don’t cremate me.

I haven’t seen the episode yet actually.

I’m writing this at about ten to one on Saturday, so there’s still… uh… 7 and a quarter hours until the episode begins, give or take ten minutes. So, obviously, I’ve not seen any of the episode, bar the odd clip and trailer. I have nothing to go on, but for a few last minute theories and expectations…

Honestly, I have no idea what to expect. Whilst Clara will possibly have some sort of villainous role in proceedings, I’m fairly certain that it won’t be as obvious as portrayed in the trailer – because, you know, it’s the trailer, you wouldn’t put your surprise twist in the trailer. But Steven Moffat would definitely put in a bit of misdirection, and something that might be part of a bigger plot twist. So we’ll see really. I do hope that Clara’s character development across the series isn’t undone, because that’s been my favourite aspect of series 8.

The other big thing to comment on is Missy, I think. I’ve not really said anything about her so far, because there’s been little to say – we don’t actually know much in concrete, after all, and I’m generally unwilling to speculate much. (Mind you, all those corpses in the trailer, and that “Who would go to so much trouble to keep the dead?” line – I’d bet that they’re dead Clara echoes. Or at least some of them anyway.) I did always sort of assume she was going to be a new character, but I have recently been thinking about the possibility that she’s the Master, and… well, I’m coming around to the idea, certainly.

But enough of that. Time to talk about the episode proper! (I wonder what I think of it.)

doctor who dark water review clara oswald jenna coleman crying tears lillies danny pink samuel anderson death steven moffat rachel talalay

Damn.

That was a mighty impressive piece of television right there. If nothing else, I admire Moffat’s gall. And his panache, because he pulled this off… masterfully. 

I was just bowled over by this, to be honest. Really struggled to form any sort of coherent comments for quite a while afterwards – I don’t think I’ve been this impressed by an episode since The Day of the Doctor, and even then I was impressed for different reasons. This was simply astounding.

But I’ve jumped the headline a bit there. Start at the beginning, obviously.

Right from the off, this episode was amazing. Properly, honestly, really dramatic – these are the scenes that would mark Doctor Who out as one of the best dramas on television, not just ‘some science fiction show’. Danny’s death whilst talking to Clara – “I love you. Those three words from me are yours now, forever” – was remarkably poignant. That’s going to stay with people, I think, and it’s going to sit with them for a very long time. In years to come, when we’ve reached the 17th Doctor, the people running the show will point to this moment as what inspired them to be writers. It is honestly that good.

And, of course, just like Moffat of old, once the bar was raised high – it was raised higher. The confrontation between the Doctor and Clara was tense. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a companion fight with the Doctor like that, but this was absolutely note perfect; every beat of that confrontation, and the eventual explanation for it, worked perfectly. (I’m going to run out of synonyms at this rate, honestly.)

The reason it all worked so well, I think, was because of the confidence of the piece. This was a dark subject matter, there’s no two ways about it. Death is a fixture of Doctor Who, that’s true, but it’s rare for the show to deal with it head on like this, and to acknowledge the effects of it. To show Clara grieving, and the way she dealt with it, or Danny meeting the boy he killed, or the dead feeling their own cremation, were all quite mature themes and ideas – but they weren’t avoided, they weren’t hidden with euphemisms, they weren’t obfuscated with metaphors. They were dealt with head on, and done with real panache. That was one of the most impressive things about the episode; not just the strength of the writing, but the confidence of the writing as well.

doctor who dark water review peter capaldi michelle gomez missy the mistress the master twelfth doctor cybermen steven moffat rachel talalay

As per the usual, all the cast were amazing. (I’m probably going to have to invest in a thesaurus actually, that would probably be a useful purchase.)

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman were fantastic throughout; the confrontation scene between them, as I’ve already mentioned, was just electric. The Doctor, taking control, intimidating Clara and trying to talk her down. Clara, not listening, not moving, not losing any ground. One of the best scenes of the series, frankly, because of just how brilliant these two are. Please, please, let them both be around for series 9!

And speaking of series 9, I also want Samuel Anderson to stick around. Join the crew full time, even. He’s not just a replacement Rory, or a replacement Mickey; Danny Pink is a properly established character now, because of just how fantastic Samuel Anderson is. His performance is wonderfully nuanced. The final “I love you” to Clara was excellent, because he was deliberately pushing her away. He didn’t want to say anything else, because he didn’t want her to follow him. Fantastic.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the final revelation (after all, I’ve skipped so many brilliant things – the Cybermen, Chris Addison, Rachel Talalay’s direction) because it really was masterful. Oh, as if you didn’t see it coming.

The actual moment where Michelle Gomez (who is fantastic) said it, where they finally confirmed that, yes, Missy is the Master (not the Mistress, no one will call her that, she’s the Master) was one of the most impressive moments of the episode. I’ve said that about a lot of things. It’s true of them all! But really, I got chills there. I didn’t quite think they’d do it – but no, they did. Amazing.

Obviously, it’s difficult to judge what this Master will be like, because she really only got 15 minutes or so screen time here. The deciding factor is next week, really.

The same goes for the episode as a whole really. Difficult to give it a proper mark, because of course it wasn’t one discrete story, it’s going to be continued. But based on the skill and the confidence on display… I am entirely willing to give this episode 10/10.

Just… damn. It was that good.

Related:

Doctor Who series 8 reviews

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