Friday, November 7, 2014

Doctor Who, "Dark Water"

“Dark Water” is the first part of the season-ending two-part story, and, as such, reviewing it without having seen the remainder would be silly. Instead, I’ll put down a few reactions. We’ll see if they need to be revised come this Saturday.

Lengthy Plot Summary, Filled with Spoilers

When the episode opens, Clara is on the phone with Danny, telling him that there are things she needs to say, not all of them good, but that she loves him - all the while looking at a series of Post-It notes affixed to bookshelves in her apartment. (Most of the notes deal with her adventures with the Doctor. Others, such as “Three months,” are more obscure.*) Suddenly, his end goes silent. A woman picks up and tells Clara that Danny has been hit by a car and killed. As openers go, that one was a doozy.

In her grief-stricken state, Clara hatches a plan that we see unfold: she enters the TARDIS, asks the Doctor to take her to see a volcano, steals all his TARDIS keys,** then, when he wakes up outside the TARDIS, she demands he bring Danny back, throwing one key after another into the lava, which apparently destroys TARDIS keys, every time he says no.*** He won’t budge, she goes through with her threat… only to find that the Doctor had outwitted her and the scene is her dream state. What follows is one of my favorite scenes of the season:
Clara: "What now? Doctor, what do we do now, you and me?"
The Doctor: "Go to Hell."
Clara, after a lengthy pause: "Fair enough. Absolutely fair enough.” She turns to leave the TARDIS.
The Doctor: “Clara? You asked me what we’re going to do. We’re going to Hell. Or wherever it is people go when they die…. Wherever it is, we’re going there and find Danny. And, if there’s any way possible, we’re going to bring him home."
Clara: “You’re going to help me?"
The Doctor: “Well, why wouldn’t I help you?"
Clara: “‘Cause of what I just did."
The Doctor: “You betrayed me. Betrayed my trust, betrayed our friendship, betrayed everything I stand for. You let me down!"
Clara: “Then why are you helping me?"
The Doctor: “Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?"
Despite the Doctor’s apparent indifferent to Clara, occasionally bordering on outright cruelty, over the course of the season, this exchange lays bare his true relationship with her.

The Doctor insists Clara use the telepathic circuits in the TARDIS again, as she did in “Listen,” to take the ship wherever the pair is most likely to find Danny. They land in a mausoleum, filled with skeletons sitting in water - the “dark water” of the title, able to show only organic matter. They meet Missy, who tells them that the bodies have “exoskeletons” that are invisible.

Meanwhile, Danny awakes in the Nethersphere, being processed by Seb, who tells him that he’s dead but that he still maintains a connection with his body. He feels cold because his body is being stored in a cold place, but once he’s cremated… Seb asks Danny if he ever killed anyone as a soldier, then tells Danny he has a visitor. We see a flashback in which Danny’s unit is under fire in Afghanistan, and Danny clears a house using his automatic weapon. Danny’s visitor is a young Afghani boy, whom Danny presumably shot, and Danny apologizes to the boy. Seb provides Danny with an iPad (“You have iPads here?” Seb replies, “We have Steve Jobs.”) and they receive a call from Clara. The Doctor insists that Clara be skeptical, “even if it breaks your heart,” and determine whether it’s really Danny to whom she is talking.

Having missed all the signs - the logo for the 3W Corporation bears more than a passing resemblance to the Cyberman eye-with-tear-drop, and the reference to an “exoskeleton” on the corpses in the dark water might have given up the game - the Doctor only belatedly sees the Cybermen for what they are. And despite having had his hand on Missy’s heart - or, in this case, hearts - he apparently doesn’t make the connection that she is a Time Lady (“I’m old-fashioned.”). As he exits the mausoleum, he finds himself on the steps to St. Paul’s church, in the middle of London, as the Cybermen start marching out (hearkening back to the classic Doctor Who story, “The Invasion”). Missy then gives her Big Reveal to the Doctor: Missy is short for Mistress which is the female version of the Master.

Random Thoughts

From our first scene with Missy, in “Deep Breath,” people speculated that she was the Master, regenerated into female form. Others dismissed that as preposterous. Well, we see who’s laughing now.

That said, did we really need to bring back the Master? And the Cybermen? The whole idea of the Nethersphere was intriguing on its own. Surely someone could have stumbled across Gallifreyan technology, the way the Master used the Matrix, to construct the Nethersphere. The concept of an afterlife (of a sort) in which the mind is still connected to what the physical body feels is very creepy. The Master seems unnecessary.

I’ve seen some commentary suggesting difficulty accepting a female Master. The concept of Time Lords switching genders in regeneration doesn’t bother me particularly, though one has to wonder how the Doctor managed thirteen blokes in a row, and the Master even more than that (as he had run through his regenerations back in the classic series) without a single female regeneration. The new series has dropped a few hints that this is possible, but it still seems… unusual.

Because some people can’t be satisfied, though, the ladies on the Verity! podcast took the opportunity of the Master’s new body both to reiterate their belief that a female Doctor is inevitable at some point and to carp that we haven’t seen a “Doctor of color.” Come on, ladies, Gallifrey seems to be a pretty pasty society. What would produce black Time Lords? Fine, be politically correct about it if you wish, it seems to me you’re retconning the whole idea of changing genders and introducing the whole idea of different Gallifreyan races just to fit some modern conception of what a television show should look like.

Changing topics entirely, it was pretty brave to kill off Danny before the credits, and in such a banal way. Of course, Doctor Who being what it is, we’ll have to wait until the end credits roll next week to see if he stays dead. Nonetheless, this season has really been about two people, the Doctor and Clara, both discovering things about themselves, and to me it’s made for a number of top-notch episodes.


* Someone on Twitter advanced the hypothesis that this means Clara is pregnant. If so, it would be yet another example of how television people apparently have no concept of birth control. They turn up unexpectedly pregnant whenever the plot so demands. Please, TV characters in the 21st century, act as though it is the 21st century and take care of this problem.

** Eagle-eyed Twitter user Sean Blythe (@OmitWords) noted that the book in which the Doctor keeps one of his TARDIS keys is The Time-Traveler’s Wife. Hilarious.

*** We’ve apparently completely forgotten about the Doctor’s ability to open the TARDIS with a snap of his fingers. Also, given the powers the TARDIS has an her proprietary interest in the Doctor, do we really think he needs a key? But read on.

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