New Who Review – “Dark Water”
Some will say they knew all along, and some are still scraping their jaws off the floor A big surprise, a BIG surprise.
By Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay
Deciding to come clean with her boyfriend Danny, Clara begins to bear all to him over the phone, only to have the call, and his life, cut short as Danny is struck fatally by a passing car. Clara passes through the five stages of grief off camera, and advances to step six – Plan To Get Him Back. She attempts to threaten The Doctor into saving him, but learns quickly that it’s not necessary. As they arrive in a bizarre mausoleum, Danny awakens on the other side of the equation, in the same office where we’ve seen several people arrive, having it explained to him that he’s dead. The Doctor and Clara are told a wild story – a discovery about the afterlife that has caused a change in the mortuary industry. But in fact, the bodies are not being protected from harm, but harvested for organic base materials by the Cybermen. But it turns out there’s not one old foe to face, there’s two – the enigmatic Missy is in fact The Doctor’s old foe The Master, back again, in a new form, and clearly playing the long game.
As thrilling as the reveals were in the episode (especially the final one), not a great deal happens. We finally learn about the background of Danny Pink, in a series of very good scenes, played well by Samuel Anderson. But largely, the episode is set-up for next week’s finale – we learn who the foe is (are), we learn about the plot, and that’s about it. Lots of good acting between Capaldi and Coleman, not to mention a welcome return from Sheila Reid as Clara’s Gran.
Given the nature of this story, we must note the SPOILER ALERT. Proceed with caution.
GUEST STAR REPORT –
Rachel Talalay (Director) started her genre career right at the start, directing the Nightmare on Elm Street sequel Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, a title that managed to lie twice. She directed the…divisive…Tank Girl, and Ghost in the Machine, a film with a story somewhat thematically linked to this one. The majority of her career has been in television, both here in the US and the UK. She directed two episodes of Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), some Ally McBeal, and more recently Kyle XY and the…divisive…Flash Gordon series from Syfy.
THE MONSTER FILES – The Cybermen have had quite a few appearances in the new series, most recently in this new design in Neil Gaiman’s Nightmare in Silver. Our universe’s version of the cyborg monsters came from the planet Mondas, a tenth planet in the solar system that was ripped from orbit. The denizens of the world slowly replaced their body parts to survive, and eventually became a race that saw what we call the Singularity as the logical progression of life. The version of the Cybermen we’ve seen in the new series are from a parallel dimension colloquially known as Pete’s World, after Rose Tyler’s father. Inventor John Lumic created them as a new step in evolution, but as happens, his invention got out of hand. There’s been a question all along of whether the Cybermen we’ve seen in recent years are some amalgamation of the Pete’s World and Mondasian Cybermen. Considering one of the promo shots for this adventure featured The Doctor holding the head of a classic series Cyberman, we may finally see the question at least addressed.
The Master was created simply to be the Moriarty to The Doctor’s Sherlock. Played originally by the late Roger Delgado, The Master remained a threat to the universe through the original and new series, and even the TV movie, played by Eric Roberts. His history kept under wraps, it’s known that he and The Doctor knew each other from the Time Lord Academy, being members of the student think tank The Deca. Rumors have bubbled about that before Delgado’s passing, there was to be an adventure where it would be revealed The Doctor and The Master were brothers – of course, since it was never written, one could claim it never happened. The Master has always had a habit of working in the background, often behind the thin veil of a play on words pseudonym. Even the name used when John Simm played him, “Mister Saxon” was an anagram of “Master No. Six”, as in the sixth actor to play the role.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS –
PLEASING PETER TO PLAY PAUL’S – The scene of the Cybermen streaming out of St. Paul’s is a clear hat-tip to the iconic scene from the lost Troughton adventure The Invasion, which featured among other things, the first appearance of UNIT, who will feature heavily in the next episode.
“Shut up – stay Shut Up” – More examples of Clara becoming more like The Doctor – this is is a reflection of how The Doctor asked everyone for a bit of shush in Time Heist.
“All of the stuff that I did wrong” – The Post-Its all over Clara’s bookshelves have references to adventures from this season, with a couple of interesting unseen references – I don’t recall an adventure with a “Miniature Clara,” and there’s only on Jenny I can recall, and if she’s shown up again off camera, a lot of people are going to demand we go back and get a look.
“The car – it just came out of nowhere” – This is a very good description of how Pete Tyler was killed in Father’s Day. After Rose brashly decides to save him, thus bollixing up the time line the car that was to have hit him keeps passing the same point on the road, giving Pete the chance to put thins right by letting happen what has happened already.
“I am owed” – Clara has literally saved The Doctor’s life an incalculable number of times by stepping into his timeline and fixing the havoc wrought by The Great Intelligence. It’s not clear exactly how much time has passed since the accident, but it can’t be more than a couple days – the flowers are still fresh in her kitchen. It’s hard to know how long she’s been planning this little gambit of hers, or how long she’s been letting that phone ring.
“You told me what it would take to destroy a TARDIS key” – Let the mash-ups between this scene and the end of Lord of the Rings commence.
“All seven” – Between the Pertwee and Baker years, there was a stage play called Doctor Who and the Daleks in Seven Keys to Doomsday, for which the number of keys is surely a hat-tip. And in case you missed it, one of the keys was hidden in a copy of The Time Traveler’s Wife.
“If I change the events that brought you you here, you will never COME here and ask me to change those events” – This is a textbook description of the Grandfather Paradox. As Isaac Asimov explained it once on Cosmos, “If I go back and kill my grandfather, I will never be born, which means I will never go back to kill him, which means he’s not dead, which means I CAN go back and kill him”. While every sci-fi fan can think of dozens of ways to get around that little catch-22, it always seems inviolate in the context of a story…until it isn’t, of course.
A big question might be why Clara saw the need to go straight to threats and chicanery to get this sorted. Likely she’s seen The Doctor go on about the laws of time so many times she knew what he’d say, but as we see, she’s clearly and obviously wrong.
“Remember we did this before” – Clara found Danny accidentally in Listen – here they’re doing it again, but on purpose. And once again, they show up at a moment important to Danny’s life, namely the bit at the end. There’s a question of exactly when they’ve arrived, though. Based on what we’ve seen in past episodes, people’s exit interviews, for lack of a better term, seem to occur immediately after passing. This would mean they are in fact a few days in Clara’s past, immediately after the accident. But if there’s the chance that the process of scanning and encoding of the mind onto the Nethersphere takes some time, they may be in her present, or a bit more.
“White Noise off the telly” – in the world of parapsychology, this is known as Electronic voice phenomenon, the idea that the background noise on broadcasts and recording are supernatural in nature. The movement also sparked a horror film starring Michael Keaton. The idea of voices coming out of the TV was also touched on in modern Clara’s first adventure, The Bells of St. John.
“I feel like I’m missing something…obvious” – Well, yes, but it’s hardly the first time. He failed utterly to recall the Madame DePompadour in Deep Breath (although in fairness, he didn’t actually learn the name of the ship) and he completely forgot the existence of the Great Intelligence a year before that. Well, you have a couple thousand years of memories, a few are going to slip through the cracks. That’s surely why he keeps a diary. And BTW, as fun as the moment was then the penny dropped, I can only imagine how great it would have been if we hadn’t all already known the Cybermen were in the episode.
“My Birthday, when is it?” – November 23 is not only Clara Oswald’s Birthday, it’s the birthday of Clara Oswin Oswald from The Snowmen, and presumably that of Oswin Oswald in Asylum of the Daleks. And yes, it’s the date that Doctor Who was first broadcast in 1963.
That’s a Matrix dataslice – a Gallifreyan hard drive” – The Matrix, also referred to as the APC net, was a massive repository of the memories and personalities of past and passed Time Lords. The Doctor entered the Net in The Deadly Assassin, and experienced it as a virtual world. So yes, there was a computer-based virtual world called The Matrix several decades before those two fellows decided to put Keanu Reeves in one.
“Imagine you could upload dying minds into that – edit them, re-arrange them” – Oh, you mean like The Library did for CAL in Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead? A computer that houses the mind of River Song? A story written by Steven Moffat? Odd that there’s a similarity there, eh?
“We can help with all these difficult feelings” – Have you caught the similarity for all the people who’ve appeared in the Nethersphere? They’re all military – The half-faced man was in charge of his ship, Gretchen was a soldier, the policeman had at least regimental police training, and Danny served in the Middle East. Perfect fodder for warriors, once you get rid of the emotions. The goal for the minds in the Nethersphere is to be downloaded into Cybermen. In the past, an emotional inhibitor would prevent the human portions of the system from going mad from the experience. Similarly, the trauma of having the emotions forcibly erased would likely damage the psyche, rendering them unusable. But if you could get the person to delete the emotions willingly, a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, that would result in a clean slate to build on the trained military base mind. Chilling and efficient.
“I’m Missy…short for Mistress” – As in his appearance in The Sound of Drums, The Master has clearly been setting up this plan for a long time, enough to set up the fake “white noise” discovery, get the multiple 3W institutes built, no to mention harvest the dying minds. Indeed, considering the first ones we saw collected were from the Victorian era and centuries in the future, one wonders if she’s been grabbing minds for centuries, or somehow able to pluck them from across time. And if you want to have one more recurring idea, The master is once again taking the human race, putting them in metal casings, and using them as an army. Last time he was doing it to living humans and calling them the Toclafane, and now it’s with dead ones and making them Cybermen, but largely it’s a very similar plan.
“You know the key strategic weakness of the Human Race…the dead outnumber the living” – So yeah, basically this is a zombie movie with sci-fi trappings. We got a mummy a few weeks back, we’ve had vampires and werewolves, so why not?
BIG BAD WOLF REPORT –
LORDS AND LADIES – People have clamored for a female Doctor for years; surely a female Master is progress? After a few teasing mentions that it was possible for a Time Lord to switch gender during regeneration, this is the first time we’ve seen it on screen.
The last time we saw The Master was at the end of The End of Time, being sent back into the time lock with the rest of Gallifrey and the high council of the Time Lords. Since then we have learned that the entire planet Gallifrey was spun sideways out of the universe entirely, giving the impression that it had been destroyed in the Time War with the Daleks (who of course have not been seen since). The Time Lords were able to slip enough energy to reset The Doctor’s regeneration cycle, so one must presume that there might have been enough space to let one Time Lord pass through as well. One must hope we’ll here more about how he came back, and became a she, in the coming week.
“Clearly you have not received the official 3W greetings package” – Theories about the exact relationship between The Doctor and The Master are manifold. But considering Missy described The Doctor as “my boyfriend” at the beginning of the season, and the fervor of the Louisiana Lip Lock she slaps on him here, one could be forgiven for suggesting that this new gender permutation affords The Master some latitude in her attitude.
“Have you ever killed anybody?” – One of Danny’s students asks him this in the first scene we meet him, and here the question is at the end of the series getting answered. The event is clearly something that affected him seriously – it’s likely the event that made him leave the military.
“Be strong, even if it breaks your heart” – Surely the latest lesson in How To Be The Doctor.
“I love you” – Some are claiming that this is a clue that this isn’t really Danny, or an incomplete simulation of him. I think it’s more obvious than that – Danny is sacrificing himself for Clara. It’s not that he can’t remember the little details about their life, he just can’t believe she’s testing him at this very stressful moment. So when she threatens to end the call if all he can say is “I love you”, he’s pushing her away so she won’t come to this horrific place and risk getting trapped there.
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – UNIT fights the Cybermen again, and The Doctor has a great fall. Death in Heaven is a week away.