Saturday, 1 November 2014

Review: Doctor Who - Dark Water

The future becomes unclear when events take a turn for the existential in 'Dark Water.' Things are going to get very murky, indeed...

'The darkest day. The blackest hour. Chin up, shoulders back. Let's see what we're made of.' 

Before this regenerated series of Doctor Who started, a lot was made of the fact that it would be 'darker.' Upon airing, it could be said this was met with a pinch of salt. Sure, the show had a more serious Doctor and the series had sported episodes about weighty topics such as the nature of fear and tricky moral dilemmas but was it actually any darker than Doctor Who before it? Well, after tonight, we can say they were right to give us that warning as 'Dark Water', the penultimate episode of Series 8, was as bleak as the show's ever got. 

As with the hints scattered throughout preceding episodes, this episode's premise revolved around the age-old question: what happens after death? The answer, it turns out, is not a happy one, to say the least...
A few years ago, Torchwood presented its own, suitably nasty, depiction of the afterlife which was a natural fit for an adult-orientated programme that enjoyed exploring areas that its parent show couldn't. When said parent show did exactly this here, however, it felt unsettling in more than just the obvious way - should the show, that is avidly watched by children everywhere, do something as properly dark as this? Or perhaps this is a distinctly adult fear, one which kids will miss, but will keep us old folks awake at night? Either way, 'Dark Water' is certainly paving new ground. 

In other matters, the episode is on surer ground. The Cybermen's return in this episode was no secret but their actual reveal in the episode is inspired, a macabre twist on the classic image of Cybermen escaping their tombs. Gone are the invincible athletes of 'Nightmare in Silver', these silver soldiers march with menace down the steps of famous London landmarks and even use their old catchphrase 'delete.' Amongst the boundary pushing elsewhere its nice to see something so punch-the-air 100% Doctor Who

But enough of these trifles. There was only one question on our lips going in to this episode; who is Missy? Well, we certainly got the answer to that. In the end, it's the reveal many of us were expecting. The clues were all there. A penchant for pseudonyms. A love for teaming up with other baddies.  A general need to cause trouble for the Doctor. My personal reaction was to cackle for the next ten minutes at the sheer bravura of the move. Here's hoping Michelle Gomez gives the role its due now that the cat is out of the bag (or the Time Lord is out of the Time War...).

It is, of course, impossible to judge the episode fully without seeing its concluding chapter (what is Missy planning next? will everyone get out alive?) but the first forty-five minutes of this show-stopping story contained heartbreak, horror and shocks aplenty. Just like the Cybermen hiding in Dark Water, we've seen the skeleton of this finale, now I can't wait for the rest. 

The Doctor and Clara land in water that is deep as well as dark when the Cybermen arrive...

Next Week: Old friends and old foes surround the Doctor and Clara as the series comes to a blistering end. Will there really be 'Death in Heaven'? 


  1. Well! I couldn't sleep Friday night, and the early hours are the time when things that don't bother me in daytime come out to make me feel a little disturbed. That night, it was Stephen King novels. But compared to some of the ideas in last night's Doctor Who, even King himself takes second place. I too wondered if Doctor Who had crossed a line, if it really was too dark for a family show - and I normally LOVE it when the story takes a darker turn. But there was something about this story that made me very uncomfortable. Those three words. *shudders.* The scariest episodes of Doctor Who have a tendency to come to mind in the real world. The Silence were very unsettling when they first appeared. How do you know you haven't just been staring at one? And this - horrifying. That's going to linger. But, as you suggest, maybe it's an adult fear that kids might not think too deeply about after all.

    Doctor Who has always been a bit squiffy in terms of being science fiction, but the visit to the afterlife is a definite shift in genre towards mythology. (Of course it's always been a kind of mythology.) I thought of Orpheus and Euridice. I'm not sure science fiction has ever successfully shown the afterlife, even if it's brought people back from the dead. And yes, there was an explanation of sorts for this later on, but it made for strange viewing.

    I confess I'd really loathed Missy from the first time I saw her, but a couple of weeks back I saw the "Missy is short for Mistress" theory, and although it seemed ridiculous, I came to think this was a way the character might actually work. And watching with that in mind she played the role so very well, and it seemed so obvious, so for once having guessed the twist did not make it a disappointment. I don't think any other explanation would have been able to live up to that one.

    1. Wow, that is saying something!

      I know what you mean. All the jokes and Chris Addison's rather fun Seb just sort of flew by me because I was thinking 'blimey, this is a bit dark' all the way through. And definitely - this is certainly one of the most haunting ideas the show's ever produced. Even the half-explanation when it comes doesn't really take the edge off it.

      Very much so. I think as Doctor Who grows older its classification as sci-fi gets sketchier, especially considering recent things like In the Forest... with its magic trees. Personally, I don't necessarily mind that but it did, as you say, make this one feel like it was 'breaking the rules' of genre as well, perhaps, suitability for its audience.

      I also came across that theory some time ago and have been half-expecting it since. Still, I did enjoy the reveal - although it wasn't quite as awesome as Derek Jacobi's from Utopia (which was seven years ago now, I've just realised!).
      Because it was rather obvious, a teeny part of me thinks there might be another twist coming but I don't think that's particularly likely. And I think I'd also feel cheated if it turned out to be another one of her fake identities (like the droid bit). I suppose we'll have to wait and see how Moffat's Masterplan ends...


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