Sunday, 9 November 2014

Dark Water

"Its the end of the world as we know it. To paraphrase a popular Bangles song"

More than any other, I have felt that Series 8 has all been leading up to the two-part (at last!) finale. Usually this would be a criticism but in the case of Dark Water, it's more of an emotional build up. Almost all of the Series 8 has been working around the issue of Clara's lies, questioned what kind of man the Twelfth Doctor is, how their relationship affects each other and the people around them. Dark Water and Death in Heaven looked set to conclude those emotional arcs in a big way.

Plus we get to find out who Missy is!

The opening scenes stand out as being the greatest height of the episode. Clara has finally decided to be totally honest with Danny (though why now?) about The Doctor and her travels. Post-it notes at the ready, she makes the call. We are then interrupted by an episode of Casualty, and Danny Pink promptly meets an untimely end by failing to pay attention to the road!

It's left unclear just how much Danny heard of Clara declaring her sincere love for him before getting bumped off, and that she doesn't initially realise makes the sequence near painful to watch. But... You know, in the good dramatic way. Danny's death works because, as Clara says, it's "boring". For once, there isn't a fantastic reason for a death: It's grim, realistic, and surprisingly touching.

One thing I did wonder... Is she standing in the middle of the road for the reason I think she is?!

But not as touching as it could be. This is my first problem with Dark Water. The emotional impact it has on Clara is done flawlessly: Jenna Coleman is perfect in delivering Clara's grief, her anger, and her despair. But it's still difficult to invest in the death of a character who has been so inadequately developed. I don't feel like we as an audience have ever been given an opportunity to build a connection with Danny, limiting the direct effect his death has. His relationship with Clara is also somewhat patchy, with most of their scenes making them seem poorly suited to each other, so feeling back for Clara is tougher than it ought to be.

Again, one wonders what Clara was planning on doing if she threw all of the keys...

Now almost every companion in NuWho has had a wobble where their personal losses that puts them at odds with The Doctor. Rose had Father's Day, Amy had Amy's Choice. The scenes which follow blow all of them out of the (dark) water (lol). Clara demonstrates quite clearly that she would choose Danny over The Doctor by threatening to throw all of his TARDIS keys into lava, unless The Doctor agrees to help. In one of the most intense dramatic scenes the series has ever had, The Doctor attempts to take control, but control freak Clara is taking none of it. One by one, another key is tossed in.

There are subtle pay-offs from previous stories here: Clara knows how The Doctor plays for power from Flatline; The Doctor plays off Clara's "never start with your final sanction" line from Deep Breath. It's a very clever and insightful way of furthering the two's development, not to mention in gives the series a greater feeling of cohesion. The twist that "it was all a dream!" (TROPE KLAXON) does surprisingly little to dampen the effect as the physical ramifications were an aside we knew wouldn't last anyway. 

Got to love how passive aggressive The Doctor's "Go to hell" line is. It may well have been meant literally, but his choice of words were surely intentional. While again powerful (and nonetheless well executed) I do think his forgiveness of Clara came a little too easy - I certainly would have told her where she could go. To make up for his own misdeeds in Kill The Moon, perhaps?

“Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference”
"Stop it with the eyes!"
The remainder of the episode is good, but not outstanding; most of it setting up Death in Heaven than a plot of it's own standing. Screen time is divided down the middle between Danny - who has found himself in the Nethersphere - and team TARDIS, who have followed Danny's timeline or something to an organisation known as 3W. There is the atmosphere of a gradually unfolding mystery about the scenes in 3W,but many of the twists are highly telegraphed. Anyone who has seen any pre-publicity hype, for example, will have worked out what the titular Dark Water is hiding in seconds. As a result, many scenes are left feeling like padding to fill out the 45 minutes and hit the right cliffhanger.

Through scenes in the Nethersphere, we find out more about Danny's past life as a solider, and why he doesn't like talking about it. But it's a case of too little, too late. Fortunately, he's supported by Seb, played by Chris Addison. Detached and nonchalant, Seb brings a wonderfully dark and morbid humour to his every line and he single handedly revived my waning faith in Moffat to do comedy without sacrificing plot or tone. The revelations regarding the Nethersphere are no shock, but fit snugly into the narrative nonetheless.

Meanwhile The Doctor and Clara investigate 3W and- OMG, how have I written so much without mentioning Missy?!

In Dark Water, Missy finally comes face to face with The Doctor and it is... startling. Gleefully evil and refreshingly barmy, Missy is the calibre of villain that Capaldi has needed to meet for some time. Sadly he doesn't get much to do other than glare in shock at her, which is a massive shame.

Might seem like a odd thing to draw attention to, but special mention to Michelle Gomez's delivery of "I am in change!" and "DOCTOR CHANG!"

The reveal of Missy's identity forms part of the cliffhanger of the story and, while I've not always been a fan of that character, Missy has put in a stunning performance and I'm willing to put the past behind me. The reveal itself does come out a bit suddenly, but it's a chilling moment regardless. This is helped by Gomez's very scary eyeliner! You'll surely see some twats dismiss her as "one of Moffat's interchangeable women" but you can safely ignore them and all the sexist implications of their claim: Missy is a keeper.

Dark Water shows a lot of promise for Death in Heaven and while it has a number of stand-out scenes - among the best since the show returned - it does slightly struggle to fill its running time with a mystery which can be a bit predictable and a few revelations I never particularly cared about. In order to reach greatness, Death in Heaven will need to bolster the episode in a rather specific way.

Why has the portrayal of the Nethersphere shifted from the idyllic paradise in Deep Breath to the more clinical, blade-runner esque city? What, exactly, is the Nethersphere for? What are Missy's plans and why do they involve working with the Cybermen? How does Clara factor in to her plan? There are lots of questions I'm looking forward to being answered in Death In Heaven, so bring on the finale!