TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S8, E11: Dark Water

And so, we approach the end of another year of Doctor Who and the beginning of a two-part finale. The season so far has been a mixed bag, but Capaldi and Coleman have generally shone above the flaws. Will this continue into Dark Water and is this a good beginning to the end of Capaldi’s first year? Find out in this review.

 

 

In the mysterious world of the Nethersphere, plans have been drawn. Missy is about to come face to face with the Doctor, and an impossible choice is looming… ‘Death is not an end’, promises the sinister organisation known only as 3W – but, as the Doctor and Clara discover, they might wish it was.

First of all, I must make it clear that towards the end of this episode were some scenes which were omitted from the review copy. As such, I am still in the dark about a core mystery (well, let’s say in the twilight since I have a brain capable of putting things together) of this season. I can also say at this point that I am more than looking forward to seeing the finished episode, which will have just ended before these words from the past are published on the internet!

The episode sets some very personal stakes early on – the pre-titles sequence being a truly heart-wrenching experience to watch. Every respect must go to Steven Moffat’s writing, Rachel Talalay’s direction and the performances of the actors involved. In true Moffat style, this first half of the finale begins on a very small-scale level before escalating into something more in the final act, setting the scene for a major finale. Personally, I rather liked the more personal approach and would have been more than happy with a very character-based finale. This is mainly due to the strength of the performances on show in the episode.

I’ve mentioned how the initial scenes really drew me in and how this was (partly) due to the performances of the regulars involved and Capaldi and Coleman are superb throughout this episode. Michelle Gomez is absolutely terrific as Missy (or MISI, depending on the scene!) and while there were a couple of moments that frankly I could do without, they were in one scene and given later developments was a bit of an insight into her character’s sense of mischief. Andrew Leung portrays the intelligent but perhaps a bit naïve Doctor Chang with a likable charm. We’ve seen Chris Addison’s officiously smarmy Seb briefly before and I have to admit a strange fondness for the man, despite his company man attitude and put on customer-facing charm. There was only one character I didn’t get on with.

As usual, it was Danny Pink. I still haven’t warmed to the character and find Clara’s attachment to him bizarre. The character plays a key role in the episode and so is difficult to ignore. Some insight into his soldiering life and the possible reasons he left the army. Unfortunately, I just didn’t care and wanted to get on with the thrust of the episode.

It’s no secret that the Cybermen are involved in the finale and I absolutely loved the manner in which they are introduced. The small clues early in the episode – the company logo, the effect of the Dark Water (a strange but compelling concept) and so on – and the Doctor’s surety that there is something obvious he is missing … I love the Cybermen and as such am keen to get to the final episode and see things unfold.

There is much to love and not much to dislike in this episode and it’s probably my favourite of the season so far (certainly it’s up there with Listen). There is a continued sense of the unreal continuing throughout this season (from fictional characters to mythological creatures and fairy-tale plots) and there is certainly an element of this here. However, I do think Steven Moffat manages to strike a balance between “Who Science” and the absurd much better than the episodes that have come before. There is an inner logic here that stands up to – at least cursory – scrutiny. Moffat manages his usual trick of finding something ordinary (admittedly in this case, morbidly so) and twisting it into something more sinister. I truly worry about the effect the plot device may have on any suggestible folk with funerals to attend on the horizon.

I usually find the music to be a bit overbearing, but that was not the case this week at all. In fact, I can’t really remember any music which is a good sign as it means it was there helping the mood rather than overshadowing the action or dialogue.  I also thought this episode was superbly directed. I noted earlier how I liked the opening and the directorial choices seemed very sound all the way through the episode. This was also helped by the design – both actual and computer-generated which all stood up rather well. The offices and facilities at 3W were a suitable contrast between the old and the new. I loved the Water Tombs and their contents. Doctor Chang’s office space offered a suitably creepy location for one of the three-cliffhanger moments at the end of the episode. A hearty round of applause to the crew on this one.

To summarise – I loved this episode. OK, it wasn’t perfect (but what is?) but my gosh was it a superb start to a finale. Moving from personal to epic at a steady pace and both answering and asking questions. Questions that will surely be wrapped up in the finale itself. Excellent job, all involved.

Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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One comment

  1. I loved the episode too, though it is a shame the Cybermen were revealed in the trailer last week as the skeletons encased in dark water was a great mystery….for about five seconds. Regardless, the clues were subtle – the logo especially – and clever.

    As for the reveal of Missy’s identity. Well, I do not want to brag, but listen again to my (Brett’s) theory in episode 228 of the Geek Syndicate podcast…….

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