Doctor Who: Dark Water

Doctor Who: Dark Water November 1, 2014

What an amazing episode of Doctor Who “Dark Water” is. It starts with Clara speaking intensely with Danny on the phone, including saying that she loves him, and emphasizing that this isn’t just the casual phrase but something deeper.

And then he stops responding, and we soon learn that Danny had been hit by a car while Clara was talking to him on the phone, and has been killed.

Clara calls the Doctor, and we get the sense that it takes a long time for him to answer his phone. When he arrives, we see Clara ask the Doctor to take her to see a volcano. She takes all seven of the Doctor’s keys to the TARDIS from his pocket as well as various hiding places. She had previously learned that lava can destroy TARDIS keys. She also takes what she believes is a sleeping patch, to put the Doctor to sleep. When they are at the volcano, Clara starts throwing the keys into the lava, telling the Doctor that he must help her save Danny, and that she won’t accept no for an answer, and won’t let talk of paradoxes stop her. She throws every last key into the lava, and is astonished at herself, but says she would do the same again.

doctor-who-season-8-episode-11-dark-water-s08e11-clara-tardis-keyHowever, it turns out that the thing Clara tried to use on the Doctor was not a sleep patch – it induces a dream state. And so the Doctor now knows what Clara was planning to do.

When Clara says “I love him,” the Doctor responds by saying, “Yeah, you’re quite the mess of chemicals, aren’t you?” This is a striking side of the Doctor to see, in a season that will end with him confronting the Cybermen. When did the Doctor become so callous about emotions, and can he keep it up?

Having seen Clara betray him, the Doctor tells her to “go to hell.” She says “fair enough.” But then the Doctor explains that he meant it literally. They will go find Danny and bring him back.

The Doctor mentions that every culture has a concept of an afterlife, and that he always meant to look around for it.

Clara is astonished that the Doctor still wants to help her even though she let him down and betray him. The Doctor asks her, “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make any difference?” This is arguably one of the most powerful lines in the history of the show. And it relates directly to the theme of emotion in this episode. Later, we’ll see Danny Pink in the nethersphere, contemplating pushing a “delete” button that will get rid of those annoying emotions that seem too powerful to cope with.

The Doctor’s care is one that is deeper than chemicals. Indeed, as this season has often shown, the Doctor makes a point of not letting the chemicals, the natural emotional response to danger and death, interfere with his efforts to save lives. He cares too much to allow rampant emotions the possibility of costing more lives.

The Doctor gets Clara to make a telepathic link with the TARDIS once again, and with the safeties off, ask where Danny Pink is now.

Doctor Who (series 8) ep 11The place they arrive is quite remarkable – a building with human remains sitting on chairs in tanks of liquid. It includes a monument that says “Rest In Peace: We Promise.” The Doctor tries to teach Clara his approach, saying at one point, “We’re here to get your boyfriend back from the dead – so buck up and give me some attitude.” Fans of the classic show might recall the Doctor’s dealings with Ace as his companion – especially if they know that the plan for the next season, had a hiatus not interfered, included plans to have Ace train to become a Time Lady herself. In this season, Clara as the Doctor’s apprentice has been a major theme.

Meanwhile, we have also been seeing Danny in the Nethersphere, where Seb checks him in, indicating that there are forms to be filled in. Seb asks if Danny is being cremated, since that is the default these days, adding ominously, “If they only knew.” We also get the phrase, “Welcome to the underworld.”

Back at the company known as 3W. We learn that its founder discovered that the white noise on televisions was the voice of the recently deceased. Having found out the truth about the afterlife, he created the company that offers aftercare. 3W stands for the three words the company founder heard from the dead: “Don’t cremate me.” It turns out that the dead still experience what their bodies experience – and so the pain of cremation, for instance, or of having donated their body to science. The Doctor thinks this is idiotic, and insists that the dead are dead.

They meet Missy there. She introduces herself as an android: Mobile Intelligent Systems Interface – MISI. And she kisses the Doctor. She also gets the Doctor to ask “Doctor Who?” in a way that becomes even funnier when we find out who she really is.

7310719-high_res-.jpgBack in the Nethersphere, Danny quips about there being wi-fi in the afterlife, and iPads, to which Seb replies, “We have Steve Jobs.” He goes on to say, “This isn’t really an afterlife – just more life than you were expecting.” He uses the analogy of what it would be like if babies in the womb could communicate with one another. They would think that life lasts for roughly nine months, and then you leave, never to return again.

In the nethersphere, Danny meets the boy he killed, when he was a soldier and fired into a building without looking, having been ordered to secure it.

The X-ray water that only shows organic material – “dark water” – is a stroke of genius, even if it doesn’t make much logical sense. It allows for the current state of the bodies to be revealed only later – they have been turned into Cybermen!

Towards the end of the episode (which is the first of two parts of the story) the Doctor learns that the nethersphere is in fact a Gallifreyan Hard Drive, with the people whose minds are in it thinking that they are in heaven.

MissyAnd we learn that Missy is short for Mistress – and when it doesn’t click for the Doctor, she says that she couldn’t very well still call herself the Master. That reveal was brilliantly set up – the previous references to a time lord he left behind, and to her being called “Mistress,” will have had fans of the classic show wondering whether she could possibly be Romana – although having Romana turn to evil would have been unlikely to be persuasive. Having only had a little while to think about it, my impression is that Michelle Gomez plays the character of the Master/Mistress fantastically well, and so I hope hers will be a recurring role. And I’d love to see the Mistress end up encountering River Song!

The episode takes us only to a fake afterlife. But the very fact that the show goes even there is interesting. Torchwood adopted the stance that the dead may not be unrecoverable, but unless they are brought back, they are in darkness. Here it seems that someone with the desire can actually catch “souls” before they go wherever they go naturally, and put them someplace better – or perhaps worse. And so this episode brings a lot of interesting questions into focus. What happens naturally when one dies? Can scientific methods be used to make something else happen? And if the answer to the latter question is yes, then isn’t it likely that some beings will do that? And if they do, how will someone know who ends up there – unless the Doctor intervenes?

Did you enjoy “Dark Water”?

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  • Jonathan Bernier

    Michelle Gomez’s “Missy” is perfect. You get the distinct sense that she has no higher purpose than seeing the look of shock and horror on the Doctor’s face when he realizes that he’s been out-smarted by his old arch-nemesis. I also wonder if there is something to the rumours that the BBC is batting around a female incarnation of the Doctor after Capaldi and if this female incarnation of the Master is a way of easing the audience into that idea.

  • Josh Man

    Love, love, loved it.

    1: Missy being the Master brings us one step closer (very possibly the last step closer before it happens) to a female Doctor. I am very excited by that possibility.
    2: I was really hoping that Missy would be the Rani (and capturing the souls/memories/whatever of the dead in order to improve them reeks of the Rani, although involving Cybermen is totally a Master move), but this is better because of setting up for a female Doctor.
    3: The other thing that I really loved about this episode was that Danny has to actively choose to delete his emotions. The idea that even after death, we would have to actively make that choice in order for the Master’s plan to work. Granted, the Master has set things up where that seems like an ideal choice, forcing the dead to believe they still feel what they’re bodies were going through (like the Doctor, I’m not sure that’s actually true, but all part of the rouse to make them choose to rid themselves of emotions making them uploadable as Cybermen), but the choice remains ours. We can only become emotionless monsters of we make that choice ourselves. That’ll preach.

    Can’t wait for next week!

    • Jonathan Bernier

      I love that the choice is to “Delete.” Classic Cybermen vocab.

  • Jonathan Bernier

    I really like that they didn’t bring back John Simm for the Master. Not that I don’t love John Simm’s Master. Quite the opposite: he was brilliant. But part of what makes the Master so awesome is that he (now she) is a mirror of the Doctor, and mirror Simm was a perfect mirror to Tennant’s Doctor I’m not sure if he would play off Capaldi’s anywhere near as well. Michelle Gomez is just perfect in that regard. Their chemistry is spot on.

  • Carl Beck Sachs

    Personally I was desperately hoping that Missy would turn out to be either Romana (preferably — driven mad by the Time War) or the Rani. The Master is too obvious. Also, it would have been nice to have postponed the reveal till the next episode.

    One thing I didn’t understand is why the Cybermen still had their skeletons. I thought a Cyberman was entirely mechanical with a meat-brain. What’s all the bone doing in there?

    • I thought the reveal at the end of part 1 worked well. I assume the bone in the Cybermen, like the dark water itself, was there just because it made a cool way to delay the reveal of the Cybermen. Like many things on Doctor Who, there is a coolness about them, combined with a lack of rational sense-making! 🙂

  • James Walker

    Loved this episode and was on the edge of my seat during the confrontation between Clara and The Doctor. That was one of the possibilities I was hoping for and a great follow-up to the previous line about Clara being an excellent Doctor but “Goodness” having nothing to do with it. She is a good protege for him because she is beginning to understand when to delve into the “Darkness” and push from there, from that place where simply wanting an outcome and having the fire in the belly not to listen to logic or reason and allow other possibilities to unfold but to birth that desired outcome into being. The Doctor hasn’t spent 2,000 years destroying (or allowing to destroy themselves) the Daleks and the Cybermen because he’s “Good”. He’s been doing that because he doesn’t want the alternative, where they win out over humanity and the “softer” races. He doesn’t want it badly enough that he’s been willing to stand in the breach and fight for it. That kind of steadfastness comes not from a “good” place, but from a dark place and it leads sometimes to very harsh decisions being made that disregard emotion.

    I also loved the “Missy” interplay. I don’t know if she’s a female incarnation of The Master or a re-incarnation of The Rani. This whole fake underworld motif has had me thinking of The Rani since her introduction.