Reviewed by Eddie McGuigan
Clara needs the Doctor, but the Doctor is busy. When they DO meet, it’s Volcano Day!
Dark Water is a sprawling, epic, head spinning finale episode that starts to pull in all the parts of the series to date and, more than anything takes a Doctor and a companion and gets them adventuring.
It’s very good to see the Doctor and Clara in a situation like this, landing the TARDIS with no control and investigating. It doesn’t happen near enough.
But there is much more to this episode than that. It begins with the most gritty, realistic piece of drama you will ever have seen in Doctor Who and it will jar you as much with its eyewatering reality as any magical forest did with its fairytale nonsense. This realism continues with some crystal clear flashbacks to Danny Pink’s time in the army and the realisation of what exactly he did when he was there. And it continues further with Clara’s reaction to events which are raw, real, desperate and sore.
Peter Capaldi is superb as the Doctor in this episode, he portrays authority, horror, disgust and amazement as events unfold around him so quickly he struggles to get a handle on them, but, as always, you get the feeling that he’s a step ahead. The clarity in his performance – channelling William, Jon, Tom in huge doses and Sylv – is zingingly pitch perfect and his reaction to Clara’s “appeal” is so Doctor it will make you punch the air.
There has been some criticism this season about the reliance on the soap opera of Clara and Danny, and the way episodes revolve around Clara more than the Doctor, but this can now be seen as the groundwork for the heart of this episode, the reason it works and the way the characters act. I defy you not to care.
And of course, we visit the Nethersphere, and we get a chance to spend some time with Seb, Doctor Chang and Missy, and, at last, Missy and the Doctor meet. And of course, in the course of the story we get Moffat’s eventual – and hardly unique – take on the Cybermen. It’s no spoiler that they return, but their reveal and Capaldi’s reaction is as good as Earthshock or Tomb of the Cybermen. It’s very, very Tomb.
Chris Addison is great as Seb, and spends a lot of time with… well, that would be a spoiler, but he goes from prissy proficient to sinister in the blink of an eye and his use of the iPad is terrifying.
But it’s Michelle Gomez’s Missy everyone wants to see here, and her performance, when she drops the charade, is chillingly insane. Who she is, however, IS revealed, as is the technology behind the Nethersphere, and the look on the Doctor’s face is priceless. She’s much less arch than she is in her cameos, and benefits from it. The cliffhanger ending has been much missed and works brilliantly.
Three names help make this episode fantastic. Steven Moffat gets his own interpretation of the Cybermen, at last, and creates a bodyshock horror vision of them only hinted at in the past but here realised properly for the first time. This is the best Cyberman story since Earthshock. His layering at least in this episode, doesn’t rely on timey wimeyness and is a straight forward mystery adventure, which works a treat, and it’s nice to see him get his teeth into things, despite a little clever visual trickery at the start.
Director Rachel Talalay has a fantastic pedigree in complete fantasy narrative and does well here with different strands, wringing the best out of all the players – of whom there are six principals – and each plays a concise and clear role.
And special credit must go to Murray Gold and his new take on the incidental music. It’s a lot less motif lead this season, and as such may be difficult to pin down, as gone is the likes of I Am The Doctor, and now we get Hans Zimmer type operatic nuances which work superbly with Capaldi’s Doctor. But when the Cybertheme from Rise of the Cybermen is (fittingly) played it’s a shiver down the spine moment.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the themes in this story though. It deals with death and the afterlife, it deals with where we go when we die and it deals with the concepts of Heaven. There are lots of black jokes about cremations, organ donations and bodies wasting away, and I can imagine for someone recently bereaved it might be heavy going. I’d imagine too it could offend certain religions. For me as an atheist it makes no odds, and is a fascinating take on the questions of immortality. I suspect however, given the episode’s denouement, things might not be exactly as they seem.
This episode is everything you’ll want for the (first half) of a season finale. It’s exciting, thrilling, scary, thought provoking, moving and funny. It scratches the itches we all have about this season and answers (some) questions with a satisfyingly big clunk.
Roll on Saturday, because I cannot wait for you to see it.