In the mysterious world of the Nethersphere, plans have been drawn up.
Missy is about to come face to face with the Doctor, and an impossible choice is looming.
“Death is not an end” promises the sinister organisation known only as 3W – but, as the Doctor and Clara discover, you might wish it was.
The end of Series 8 is possibly the darkest the show has gone to date. With the ongoing plot arc revolving around various unfortunate characters who have died during the course of the Twelfth Doctor’s adventures, it could scarcely be anything else. What this story does really well is build steadily towards it’s two twists, which ultimately are really predictable but this episode does well in keeping the tension rising up until the reveal of the Cybermen and Missy.
This story has a lot to deal with moving things towards the concluding episode of the series and it mostly lands its punches. Moffat manages to take yet another everyday concept – that of television static – and apply something creepy to it yet again. This one is perhaps not as effective, as I can’t remember the last time I saw static on a television set but the underlying story beat that this contains messages from dead people imploring their relatives not to cremate them is one of the darkest ideas we’ve possibly ever had in Doctor Who. It feels ever so slightly more Torchwood than Doctor Who but pulls it off by tying it into the Master and the Cybermen. I think that the story does do its best to conceal the two big reveals of the story, even if it does realise that some of the more dedicated fans in the audience will have got there before the Doctor does. Personally, when I saw this in 2014 on first broadcast, I was aware that the Cybermen were returning but possibly less in the dark about the identity of Missy though there was a part of me thinking about which other Gallifreyans she might be before the eventual reveal. I really like the moment where the Doctor still can’t figure out who is behind the 3W Institute, exiting Doctor Chang’s room only for the shot to linger on the closing doors, forming the familiar eyes of the Cybermen, with a blast of Murray Gold’s Cybermen theme. The episode has a few of these nods to acknowledge that fans will most likely recognise that the likely foe is the Cybermen, such as the windows of Seb’s office also resembling Cyber eyepieces. Rachel Talalay does a great job of making this story feel atmospheric and manages to make shots like the Cybermen coming out of St Paul’s Cathedral feel like a loving tribute rather than derivative, which they may well have done in the hands of a lesser director. I really enjoy that when Clara enters the TARDIS to gather up all the TARDIS keys, it makes full use of the 360° set, going under main console and up to the balcony bordering it.
That’s not to say that this a perfect story. Moments like the scenes of Clara throwing away TARDIS keys in the volcano feel like they are only there for trailer bait, and also the threat that the Doctor will never step inside his TARDIS again feels a bit hollow when Moffat himself is the one who has previously established that the Doctor can enter by clicking his fingers. Then there is the Clara and Danny relationship, which I felt worked well to begin with, giving Clara a life outside the TARDIS that the show was rather reticent to give her during the Impossible Girl arc of Series 7. However, after the events of Mummy on the Orient Express when Clara starting lying to Danny about travelling with the Doctor, it was almost inevitable that the relationship was going to end badly – albeit perhaps not with Danny dying though. That being said, the cold open is great with Clara on the phone to Danny ready to confess, and the fact that Danny dies without much fanfare. This time I noticed that the score underneath stops at a certain point when Clara was talking, but it allows us to sympathise with Clara when she says how ordinary his death was. The shot of Clara standing in the middle of the road as cars drive past her, consumed by her grief, is fantastic and it is notable that it is nearly five minutes into this story that we even hear the Doctor’s voice for the first time.
Who are you?
Oh you know who I am. I’m Missy.
Please. Try to keep up. Short for “Mistress”. Well, I couldn’t very well keep calling myself the Master, now could I?The Twelfth Doctor and Missy
Of course, the headline news from this episode is that the Master is back and is female! This was at the time seen as a stepping stone to an eventual female Doctor, and writing this in 2021 it almost gives a clear narrative view of how we got to Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor. Gomez is utterly bonkers and obviously having a whale of a time in this role. She takes great glee in completely confounding this Doctor, whether pretending to be a robot and giving the Doctor the full 3W welcome package – complete with a kiss on the nose – leaves him completely reeling. I may be wrong but I believe this is the only time the Twelfth Doctor gets kissed. I love the scenes of her walking around the tanks of dark water, listening into the conversation between Chang, the Doctor and Clara and taking great glee in the Doctor’s bafflement at what is going on. The Cybermen are essentially window dressing here, so I’m not going to really talk about them in this review although they are particularly effective as skeletons when they start to move.
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman have a lot to do here and do it so well. They are both fantastic in the dream scape scene, despite my problems with the writing of it, and after this series it does feel like the Doctor and Clara have a proper relationship rather than her just being another mystery to solve. This Doctor, despite all his fronts, does care for Clara and is willing to try and help her get her boyfriend back. Of course, he does get some good lines to delivery – threatening to hit Chang with shoe if he doesn’t hurry up is one that especially always makes me chuckle. He also manages to sell his bewilderment, especially over the identity of Missy – the moments where the Doctor holds his hand out to feel Missy’s heart(s) and keeps his hand out for a moment after she moves away is one where you can almost see the cogs turning. This story is strongly centred on Clara and her grief at losing Danny, which was interesting to watch in the wake of WandaVision, which also features somebody trying to take whatever steps necessary to bring a loved one back to life and processing grief. As I’ve stated, the relationship between Danny and Clara hasn’t always felt believable but I think that Coleman’s performance is top notch, even if we don’t really care too much about their relationship by this point. Both she and Samuel Anderson do well in the conversation they have at 3W, and Anderson is good when confronted by the boy that he accidentally killed when he was a soldier. It is good to have a resolution to this element that was alluded to earlier in the series and I think he is good in these scenes. It is far more powerful to have the boy not speak than for them to sit down and have a conversation.
Verdict: Dark Water is perhaps one of the darkest episodes of Doctor Who to date. It is bolstered by good direction and particularly powerful performances, especially from Capaldi and Coleman and introduces us to the force of nature that is Missy. 8/10
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Samuel Anderson (Danny), Michelle Gomez (Missy), Joan Blackham (Woman), Sheila Reid (Gran), Chris Addison (Seb), Andrew Leung (Chang), Bradley Ford (Fleming), Antonio Bourouphael (Boy), Cyberman (Jeremiah Krage) & Nigel Betts (Mr Armitage).
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Rachel Talalay
Behind the Scenes
- The first on-screen instance of a Time Lord changing gender through regeneration, something that had been alluded to in The End of Time, The Doctor’s Wife and The Night of the Doctor. The story features the first use of the term Time Lady in the revived series.
- Due to the reveal of Missy’s identity being filmed in public, a decoy reveal was filmed, where Michelle Gomez said “You know who I am. I’m Missy. Or, if you’d prefer, Random Access Neural Integrator. Rani for short.”
- This episode continues the trend of Cybermen appearing in the penultimate episode of Steven Moffat’s series as showrunner.
- The plot point of the dead still being conscious was controversial enough for the BBC to issue a statement defending the episode.
The reveal of Missy’s identity – combined with the line:
I’m sorry everyone. Another ranting Scotsman in the street. I had no idea there was a match on.Missy
You’re going to help me?
Well, why wouldn’t I help you?
Because what I just did. I —
You betrayed me. You betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything I ever stood for. You let me down!
Then why are you helping me?
Why? Do you think that I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?Clara Oswald and the Twelfth Doctor
Previous Twelfth Doctor story: In The Forest Of The Night