November 2, ‘All Soul’s Day’, is celebrated in some cultures as a day of prayer for those who have gone to heaven. To write a review of ‘Dark Water’, an episode in which the Doctor and Clara make a visit to the afterlife, seems eerily appropriate today.
As fans, we know that ‘Doctor Who’ has to stay fresh and innovative just to survive, so we are grateful for original content such as “Flatline” or “Mummy on the Orient Express”. Yet deep down, what we are all really longing for are those stories about the myths and lore of our beloved show. Last night, what on the outside seemed to be an original tale of what befalls us after death, actually contained a triple whammy of the Master, the Matrix and the Mondasians (well, except they weren’t from Mondas!)
‘Dark Water’ was an event episode. 2013 was full of them – the Series 7 opener and finale, the anniversary and regeneration tale. We had the wait, the build-up and the speculation, all of which contributed to our excitement. Whereas, this year, we have enjoyed weekly instalments of our show, which have all been enormously satisfying in themselves. Yet it is not the same as being starved of Who and then driven into a wild feeding frenzy, as Moffat dangles a bone and then throws it to us.
However, right at the beginning of Series 8 in “Deep Breath’, the bone he dangled above us was “Missy” and, ever since, we have been getting quite worked up over who she is. Last night he threw us that bone, but along with it, he lobbed a few grenades.
Danny died. BOOM! Clara betrayed the Doctor. BOOM! The Cybermen finally returned to St Paul’s Cathedral (dutiful church-goers they are not!) BOOM! The Master is a woman! BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! Come to think of it, ‘Dark Water’ contained more ‘booms’ than Basil Brush on steroids!
Doctor Who is Steven Moffat’s plaything, the fan-boy within must be jumping for joy at what his elder self is doing with the show. What’s more, he has successfully introduced a grumpy Doctor, something that JNT completely failed to do with the Sixth. Along the same lines, ‘Dark Water’ felt like Moffat’s attempt to do a modern take on Colin Baker’s ‘Attack of the Cyberman’, that enjoyable 1985 hotpotch of Cyberlore and mythology, whose heavy continuity ultimately weighed down the plot. ‘Dark Water’, on the other hand, paid homage to ‘The Tomb of the Cybermen’ and ‘The Invasion’, without sacrificing any of the story.
Missy’s revelation that she was a Time Lady shook fandom to the core. “WHICH ONE?!” Panicking, I racked my brains for the Gallifreyan gals of yesteryear. A few seconds later, Missy turned out to be the Master and that made perfect sense. Missy’s persona perfectly channels the charm and lunacy of John Simm’s version. Is Missy as she spins around her heavenly garden in ‘Deep Breath’ so very different from the Master dancing around the Valiant to the ‘Scissor Sisters’ in “Last of the Time Lords”?
But how did the Master become Missy? Did he, perhaps, unfortuitiously point the tissue compression eliminator the wrong way round, at his own nethersphere? Whatever happened, the Master obviously loves being a woman. When you have lived for thousands of years, your existence must be a grind. You have seen it all and done it all and would do anything just to experience new thrills – so why not go the whole hog, turn into a woman and canoodle Capaldi? Frenching the Doctor, like changing gender, is just a game for the Master. All very much tongue in cheek!
Were he to assume a new guise, many fans had been building up their hopes for a more traditional ‘masterly’ look from the Doctor’s arch enemy. A wise man with curly hair once said, when it comes to physiognomy, you have to take the rough with the smooth. This time, the latter is seemingly the case, as the Master’s beard is no more. Which is probably a blessing, if Missy is intent on forcing snogs onto innocent folk.
What about Missy’s companion, Seb? His friendliness and impeccable manners are funny but, given the context, also quite disturbing. Chris Addison plays the part perfectly. In my mind’s eye, however, I can see the late, great Kenneth Williams positively shining in this role.
Seb’s scenes with Danny felt pleasantly odd. Danny is such a believable character, right out of real life, quite literally straight off the high street, whereas Seb is cartoonish and immersed in fantasy. As their two worlds collided, we enjoyed some of the most witty, dramatic and enthralling scenes of the episode.
Standout moments were aplenty. Gran made a welcome surprise return. Clara’s melting the Tardis keys in the lava reminded me of Frodo and Mount Doom from “Lord of the Rings”. Missy’s “I’m in charge!” was a delight and I simply “adored” the Cyberdoors and their oh-so-revealing musical score.
So where do we go from here? What will the Cybermen do now? Is Danny really dead and what fate will befall Clara? But perhaps what fans really want to know is this:
Will Missy find a joke shop and put on a novelty beard?
That really would be heaven!