Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 11: Dark Water
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay
The Doctor: You betrayed me … betrayed my trust. You betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything that I’ve ever stood for. You let me down!
Clara: Then why are you helping me?
The Doctor: Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?
The Doctor is still the Doctor. Despite his cold, pragmatic approach to problems since his regeneration, there’s no mistaking that he is the same Time Lord, and his willingness to help Clara despite her attempts to coerce him shows he loves his traveling companion just as much as his predecessor did.
It’s the first 15 minutes of Dark Water that really make the episode shine, and shows that when show runner Steven Moffat is on his game, he’s an amazing writer and one of the best the series has had.
(This is where the real spoilers begin).
Danny Pink is dead. Struck by a car, digesting Clara’s declaration of love for him over the phone. It’s a boring death, as Clara tells her gran, and ultimately she won’t let it stand. She thinks she’s got the Doctor overall a barrel, TARDIS keys destroyed in lava, but the Doctor saw her coming. And despite her betrayal, he’s still willing to help get Danny back for her – but not by rewriting history and creating a paradox. Let’s go to hell, he says, or the afterlife. He’s been meaning to check it out anyway.
This is where Dark Water slows down a little, as the Doctor and Clara arrive at a strange tomb full of skeletons in water, overseen by the mysterious Missy, who’s obviously not being honest about her role in the whole scheme. Meanwhile, Danny is in bureaucratic limbo, and comes face to face with his past as a soldier, while being told his new form is still connected to his old body, so he will feel what it feels – including cremation!
While creepy, Dark Water drags a little here, in part because we all want to know what the hell is going on, but given this is the first part of two episodes to wrap up the season, the pacing does make sense, and it’s a great buildup to the final few minutes.
Missy, of course, is the Master, now the Mistress, and she’s been plucking dead minds to be put into Cybermen. The Doctor didn’t see this coming, and neither did I. Throughout season eight, the Missy scenes always felt unceremoniously dropped in, and while I toyed with the idea it could be the Rani, it didn’t quite feel right, in part because that character was relatively unmemorable in the grand scheme of Doctor Who.
Making the Master a woman is clearly an acknowledgement of the desire by some fans that the Doctor should at some point regenerate into a Time Lady, and it’s a great twist. I’m a little less excited about the Cybermen, although the final scenes of Dark Water remind me of the Troughton era’s Invasion.
Dark Water certainly addresses a lot of my concerns about where season eight is headed; I love that the Doctor is still the Doctor albeit different, and intrigued by what Missy is up to aside from just unleashing some Cybermen on London.
Clara and Danny are still problematic to me. Although Jenna Coleman’s performance, especially at the beginning of the episode, is heart wrenching, the whole romance has been rushed. And I still wonder why Clara’s story this year had to be about falling in love with a man.
Most of all I hope it doesn’t herald her departure from the series because I love the combination of Peter Capaldi and Coleman and want to see many more episodes of them together. Clara has so much untapped potential as a character – and has had it from the beginning – and Coleman has shown she’s go the acting chops when the writing demands it.
Ultimately, we know the Doctor will defeat the Mistress and the Cybermen. But at what cost to him, Clara and Danny? Dark Water promises a lot, and hopefully the remaining episodes deliver.