There is a lot going in “Dark Water,” the first part in Doctor Who’s two-part series finale, and although there isn’t much here relating to the progression of the narrative. ` the themes of life and death that have plagued this season come out in full a very deep and sometimes shocking manner. It’s a thrilling adventure that doesn’t have time to mess around but offers a lot of interesting questions by the time the credits roll.
So as most would suspect the shots of Clara menacing a fallen Doctor was a ruse created by Clara in order to trick The Doctor into saving Danny. It built a lot of tension and served as a necessary confrontation between the Doctor and Clara about what their relationship means. The stone cold look on Clara’s face as she throws the TARDIS keys into the volcano was incredibly chilling. It showed a lot about what she’s learned from her travels with The Doctor, but also acknowledges what a desperate person is capable of. Time can be rewritten but there are limits and The Doctor sticks by those convictions — but what this scene is about is who has control. Clara can clearly find The Doctor’s Achilles heel, however but the Timelord knows how this works. And while the scene acknowledges the friction between the two, it’s also a and is a cat and mouse game of who orders who. The scene finally brings this tension, which has been building all season to the surface.
I’ve never not been one to dissect an episode of Who but it’s tough when it’s the beginning of a two-parter. “Dark Water” is incredibly straight to the point, but it leaves a lot to ponder by the time the credits role. However, the central theme of death and the afterlife is a good talking point for this show and a rather British one to discuss. By all accounts death isn’t a funny subject but it is often greeted with some with humor as a coping mechanism or as a way often creating discussion about what happens when we die. Doctor Who isn’t the first show to tackle death from a rather obscure and almost humorous standpoint but in science fiction this is a rather clever idea. As a couple of my friends pointed out this was much in line with C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and it’s hard to argue with that but it takes the imagination of a sci-fi writer to make it its own.
The Nethersphere and its rather industrial, slick and corporate look is an interesting new take on the notion of The Afterlife. What if the dead aren’t truly dead? Their voices, often floating around like chatter through the airwaves, is something only a physicist could dream up. The reveal of the Nethersphere being a slice of Timelord technology, in particular a slice of the Matrix, was a smart move and designed perfectly well. To explain to non- classic series fans the Matrix in Doctor Who is exactly what the Matrix in the Keanu Reeves’ film. It’s a false sense of reality where the unimaginable can come to life. The Timelords used it as a database to store the information and DNA of all Timelords so using that as a means of storing the conscious of the dead is quite a brilliant move.
This also helps assist with Danny’s storyline because in Doctor Who major characters seldom stay dead. While we don’t know where it will go, you would have to been made of stone to not be shocked and somewhat moved by the cold opening that saw Danny cut down in the prime of his life. It was presented as a real shocker. While we thought it might just be the cold open, low and behold we spend a good deal of the episode watching Danny confront both his death and his actions in the military. All while being overseen and menaced by Seb, played with eel like slickness by The Thick of It alum Chris Addison. If I have any issue here it’s that Danny’s back story feels a bit truncated and him being confronted by the boy he killed in the line of duty should have more impact. However, considering the closing moment of the episode it seems we will learn more about that next week.
Then there is Missy. Oh, I’ll admit I tried incredibly hard to put my finger on it and when I did I believed it too obvious a choice. However, her reveal that’s she’s a female incarnation of the Master still sent a tremor of chills through my system. A lot of this comes down to Michelle Gomez’s wonderful and often borderline creepy performance. This quality makes the final reveal have that much more of impact to it if you already had it figured out. Don’t worry I didn’t forget about the presence of the Cybermen but not much was done here just yet. I love the idea of the Cybermen populating the graves of the dead and that may well be one hell of a visual come next week — but we got a ways to go.
“Dark Water” sets up a lot and shocks us with it but like the start of any first part of a two parter it delivers enough questions that the final episode will have to be very good at explaining and wrapping up. It puts a lot of pressure for next week’s finale “Death in Heaven” but for now this is one hell of a start and its already bugging me that we have to wait six more days for the resolution to all of it.
Jason Stives is the resident Anglophile and Pop-Break representative for BBC America conducting weekly reviews of Doctor Who and Orphan Black. He is currently a contributing writer for PropertyofZack.com and a freelance creative consultant for fundraising and marketing campaigns in New Jersey’s various art communities. He is a graduate of Rutgers University’s class of 2010 with a bachelors in Journalism and Media Studies. When he isn’t attending concerts or writing the great American novel he moonlights as lounge crooner J.M Heavyhart turning the works of Dokken and Dio into Sinatra-esque standards (or at least he would like to be). Follow his constant retweets and occasionally witty banter on Twitter at @jaystives.