OK, that's not the first time anyone has ever said that but after Dark Water, the latest episode of Doctor Who that aired last night, I think we can all agree that Moffat has earned that distinction for real this time.
Steven Moffat is EVIL!
For years, the Moff has been making us scared of things that we may not otherwise be scared off like statues and cracks in the wall. And he's played on the fears we already have. Yes, a lot of people are scared of the dark but usually it's because what we fear is hiding in the dark; Moffat tells us the dark itself is going to eat us!
It's that latter approach that's on tap for this latest episode as Doctor Who explores the question of what happens after you die. Fear of death holds sway over us because of the unknown; the concept of the afterlife is depending more on faith and less on any definitive answer.
Steven Moffat provides a definitive answer and in doing so, actually makes death even scarier.
Let me repeat: Steven Moffat makes death even scarier!
Oh, and one more time: STEVEN MOFFAT IS EVIL!
The review of the latest new episode of Doctor Who begins after the spoiler warning.
Hey, what happened to Peter Capaldi's angry eyes?!
You know what, it's probably for the best to not have the usual scary spoiler warning because I imagine this episode has left us Whovians even more shaky and jumpy than-
OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! CUT THAT OUT!!
The episode begins with Clara Oswald on the phone with Danny Pink. Clara is trying to get something out, guided by a variety of Post-It notes on her shelves, notes that reference her adventures with the Doctor. However, her call with Danny becomes disturbingly one-sided. It seems that Danny has been hit by a car.
Clara does not cope with this well. Boy, is that an understatement! Clara summons the Doctor and then (get a load of this!) traps the Doctor inside of a volcano outside the TARDIS with all of the TARDIS keys in her possession. And Clara threatens to destroy every last key if the Doctor doesn't agree to save Danny Pink. Each time the Doctor says no, Clara throws a key into the lava. But when the last key falls into the lava, Clara realizes the enormity of what she has done.
Then she wakes up.
The Doctor knew all along what Clara was up to and reversed the trap back on her to see how far she would go. Clara thinks she has permanently screwed up and the Doctor seemingly confirms that when he tells her to go to hell. Except he means that literally for both of them: he and Clara are going on a quest to find and, if possible, save Danny Pink, even if it takes them to hell itself.
Using the telepathic interface from the episode Listen, the Doctor and Clara are transported by the TARDIS to...somewhere. It is a strange place, a mausoleum with fish tanks containing humanoid skeletons. (And that is probably the most unlikely sentence I have ever written.)
This is the Nethersphere.
Meanwhile and elsewhere, Danny Pink has arrived in the Nethersphere. It's all a bit disconcerting for Danny. Particularly all of the...paperwork? There's paperwork in the afterlife?
Meanwhile, the Doctor and Clara encounter Missy who is a self-described welcome droid for new arrivals in the Nethersphere. Then she (ahem!) "welcomes" the Doctor. (Our first kissing scene with the 12th Doctor. Oh yeah, that's still some of that going on.) Clara kindly declines being welcomed the same way. (Damn!)
Missy turns the Doctor and Clara over to Dr. Chang who briefs them a bit on what this place is. It turns a sciency type discovered voices of the dead saying really disturbing things like "Don't cremate me!" and yeah, if your skin didn't crawl with that little bit of info, you're one cold bastard, I'll tell you that.
Back to Danny who has a visitor: a young Afghan boy that he killed while on duty as a soldier. So that's the tragic secret of Danny Pink. And the foundation of his commitment that children in his care should never come to harm.
The meeting does not go well. Nor does the next thing that happens: a phone call from Clara Oswald.
Dr. Chang has patched Clara through to Danny. Meanwhile the Doctor is determined that there is something he is missing about all this. He tells Clara to ask Danny questions to determine if it's really him, even if it breaks her heart. Then with Dr. Chang in tow, the Doctor goes off to explore the mysteries of the Nethersphere.
Danny can only implore Clara that he loves her but his memories of things like the name of the restaurant where they had their first date seems to be eluding his memory. This makes Clara rather suspicious and in a replay of the brinkmanship she had with the Doctor earlier, she cuts of her connection with Danny. Except this time this was no dream scenario and the Doctor isn't there to make it right.
Meanwhile between the guilt over the dead Afghan child and his despair over Clara, Danny is given an option to completely remove the pain. He can delete Danny Pink.
The Doctor encounters Missy again. The Doctor discovers that Missy is a Time Lord...excuse me, Time Lady. After all, Missy is a bit old-fashioned about these things. Missy also straight up murders Dr. Chang while the Doctor can only watch horrified as the skeletons in the tanks turn into...
Back to Clara who has made the same discovery. She knows from Cybermen (see Series 7, Nightmare in Silver) and realizes that the stuff just took a major turn for the worst.
The Doctor escapes from the Nethersphere only to find himself on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral. Behind him Cybermen are swarming out into the streets of London and Missy tells the Doctor that it is too late to stop them. The Doctor demands to know WHO she is. And she replies once more her name is Missy.
As in Mistress.
Well, she very well couldn't keep calling herself....the Master.
To be continued.
What the what?!?!?!?
What we get in Dark Water is an episode that varies from intense to really super intense. Even the quiet moments do nothing to alleviate the stress and pressure that comes from fear, pain, confusion, loss, heartbreak and more.
So what do we get?
Clara's journey towards becoming more like the Doctor
- Like the Doctor with his blackboard, Clara tries to make sense of her life with random notes on Post-Its stuck to her bookshelf.
- Like the Doctor, Clara tries to keep her companion at a distance, in this case, the companion being Danny and the distance being a phone call.
- Like the Doctor, Clara assembles all the tools and parts she needs to take complete control of a situation, in this case gathering all the TARDIS keys, knocking the Doctor out and then placing the Doctor in a situation where he has no choice to acquiesce to her demand that the Doctor save Danny Pink.
But for all that, Clara cannot out-Doctor the Doctor. The whole "threaten the Doctor to make him do something he would not normally do" scenario that Clara assembles is quickly upended by the Doctor to his advantage. And then we see another difference between the Doctor and Clara. At the end of Kill the Moon, Clara felt betrayed by the Doctor and stormed out of the TARDIS, convinced their time together was at an end. Here, Clara has in a very real way (even it was a dream state) betrayed the Doctor but he nonetheless stands by her. The Doctor ask if Clara thought he regarded her so little that he would let this stand in the way of their friendship.
Danny Pink steps up
OK, so Danny has to die to make this happen and I'm the sure the more genre savvy among the Whovians saw this coming a mile away. Still, at the start of the episode and as a result of being hit by a car? Really? But in the Nethersphere, Danny is put through an emotional gamut as he tries to cope with the fantastic circumstances of his current state. We learn the secret tragedy that drives our ex-soldier turned math teacher. And we see Danny's love from Clara as he maneuvers her to break the phone connection because he wants to spare her further pain. (Which is the 2nd time this episode Clara tries to take control only to have the person she's trying to control turn that back on her.)
But his sacrifice has left him in a place of utter despair and faced with an option to delete who Danny Pink really is. It's interesting to me that the last scene before the close of the episode is not of the Doctor and Missy, the Cybermen or Clara but of Danny with the iPad in his hand faced with a great and terrible decision. And look close: the image of the Afghan boy is reflected on the pad surface.
Missy cuts loose
Since her bizarre appearance at the end of Deep Breath, fans have speculated on who exactly is this strange Mary Poppins-ish woman with the propensity of collecting "dead" people. My theory was Missy was short for Mistress which is the feminine version of Master.
AND I WAS RIGHT! Oh yeah! Who da man, huh?!?!
Her wickedly funny greeting of the Doctor was hilarious, made even more awkward with the end of episode revelation of her true identity. But Missy is a nasty piece of work who murders Dr. Chang after insisting he say something nice about her first and rather nonchalantly unleashing Cybermen hell on an unsuspecting Earth.
Ah, the Doctor really cares
The Doctor's pulls a Batman gambit on Clara at the beginning and it's really cool to see the Doctor in control like that. But the really enlightening thing about that sequence was how much of that was motivated by the Doctor's concern and affection for Clara Oswald. He sees how far she was prepared to go to save Danny Pink, even to the point of betraying the Doctor. But the Doctor stands by Clara and we see why only the Doctor can truly be the Doctor. The normal, perhaps even rational response to such a betrayal is to tell the offender to go to hell. But the Doctor is about the hard choices but in this case, it's only a hard choice for humans. For the Doctor, the choice is easy: Clara is his friend and she needs his help.
As gripping as Steven Moffat's story is, it's propelled to a higher level with outstanding performances.
- Michelle Gomez as Missy gets to tear up lots of scenery. The little snippets we've been getting here and there over the series are fully realized in a performance that is loaded with humor and menace. Missy is a full on psychotic and Gomez has a ball with it.
- Samuel Anderson effectively underscores Danny's confusion and anguish at his plight. Sam has room to explore Danny's secrets and background as Danny confronts the reality of this "life after death".
- And week after week I gush about how wonderful Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman so forgive me if I keep this part of the review short: Capaldi. Coleman. Still awesome!
Dark Water sets up the series 8 finale in spectacular fashion. Next week has a LOT to live up to.
Next week on Doctor Who Weekend:
Saturday: What's the story of the Doctor's nemesis from Gallifrey? Take a Master Class on the Master.
Sunday: The end of Series 8 will have arrived and it is here on Sunday I will post my review of part 2 of the finale, Death In Heaven.
Until then, be good to one another.
I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You