Doctor Who (8.11): Dark doesn’t begin to cover it

dw missyI like dark. I also like tongue-in-cheek, and I’m a sucker for a in-joke. Wallop me with a lot of heart (insert your own Time Lord joke here) and I’ll leap aboard your show’s fandom like it’s the last bus out of Spalding on a Saturday night. You can see why Doctor Who has me firmly in its clutches…

I really want to be able to sing the praises of Dark Water – there was so much that was right about it – but it touched a horribly raw nerve for me, and I’m betting I’m not the only person thinking that for a little while it went just a shade too dark for a family show.

[Spoilers below the line…]

It was all going so well; the so-far-so-annoying series story arc was being brought to a satisfying conclusion with some touching observations and a funny joke (“You have iPads in the afterlife…” “iPads? We have Steve Jobs.”) and then Steven Moffat decided to poke an adult neurosis instead of a childish one. The big problem being that you can prove (even if it takes a while) to a child that mannequins don’t come alive or that wheelie bins won’t eat you, by demonstrating that they don’t do these things in the real world, but you can’t prove that your soul won’t experience the anguish of cremation because death is a one-way door with no internet, text or mobile reception allowing you to report back.

I’m a firm believer in death being the absolute end, but my father was cremated less than two months ago and the rising horror I felt as Seb outlined Danny’s position to him was very real, no matter how much science and logic I threw at it. That, by the end it was clearly a ploy to encourage him to sign away his emotions and join the cyber-ranks by the end was cold comfort. It was unnecessary when there was so much emotional pain that Danny wanted to be rid off anyway.

It rankles not only on its own merits, but because without it this would have been a full-blooded hurrah (and I haven’t been able to write as many of those I wanted to this series). I can only hope that it’s only adults who come away unsettled by it.

There was so much that was good, though. I thought the pre-title sequence very nicely done, especially considering what a dark start it was. All that silence on the phone and the apologetic passerby crying as she tries to explain the accident were horribly effective in conveying the shock of a sudden death.

With the volcano scene Peter Capaldi really felt like he’d got hold of the Doctor at last (although, I’m not convinced the Doctor needs a key to the Tardis – he’s been clicking his fingers to open the door since meeting the Vashta Nerada…) and I’m always pleased when I catch the hidden meaning in opaque dialogue (the Doctor dismissing Clara’s claim of wanting to see lava as ‘rubbish’ – I was sure he knew she was lying (she has form for it, after all) – and on the rewatch I’m sure the Tardis makes a little warning sound just before he says it too). I can’t say I’m any closer to liking Clara after watching her try, yet again, to get one over on the Doctor. I could understand her desperation, but her method was utterly rubbish and indicates that in spite of everything, she really doesn’t know the man at all. Something underlined by her surprise that he’d travel to hell (or wherever) to try and get Danny back for her after her bad behaviour. The scene also has two lovely lines of dialogue. First when the Doctor asks her “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” and then, when he finally tells her to stop whining (silent cheering on the Hat Towers sofa for that, I can tell you).

It was also a pleasure to get so much more of Chris Addison’s Seb at last, his professional sympathy pitch-perfect as he coaxes Danny towards disaster.

I loved the creepiness of the fish tank mausoleum and the slow dropping of breadcrumbs that led us to realise, long before the Doctor, exactly what sort of exoskeleton was holding those underwater bones together. And while I was annoyed at (yet another) woman snogging the Doctor at the time, now I know who Missy really is I have to applaud (though I’d still rather have seen David Tennant and John Simm snog out the homoerotic tension they had going on, obviously). I enjoyed the drawn out teasing of the long-term Whovians too – I have to admit that once it was clear Missy was a Time Lady I leapt to the obvious (and wrong) conclusion that this must be the long-awaited return of Romana the Rani (thank you Tim!). Michelle Gomez was delicious as she was given proper room to stretch herself, not to mention some decent lines (and a joke about the Daleks too). I’m still not sure if there’s a good reason that she’s dressed like Mary Poppins though…

I’m pleased too that they’ve waited until the end of the series to slip a joke about Malcolm Tucker’s swearing in. And I will award bonus points if the Dr Scorosa who supposedly unscrambled TV static has really been named for a homeopathic remedy for cold hands and feet (thank you again, Google).

Overall, Dark Water really delivered, and working on the assumption that we don’t need to address the lie about a soul feeling its body’s pain again, I’m really looking forward to the conclusion next week. Be there, or be square…

 

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Doctor Who (8.11): Dark doesn’t begin to cover it

  1. Tim

    I can only sympathise – I thought there were a couple of places where people who have been recently bereaved or those with strong religious convictions would have been staring at their TVs in disbelief.

    Having said that, I thought overall this was a lovely episode (other than the revelation of Danny’s past trauma, which I thought was a bit obvious). There are two or three lines of dialogue that rank right up there with anything modern Who has produced (I too loved the Doctor’s rsponse to Clara’s betrayal), and this was very much a case of Moffat setting aside the crutches of big action and timey-wimey to tell a simple, linear character piece that I thought really worked.

    Even the Missy = Master revelation worked for me. A splendid double bluff, and so much better than it being the bloody Rani.

    Now please, please, please, Moff, give us a second part that delivers on the promise of this first one …

  2. jen

    Have to agree, the line about cremation was quite horrible if you’ve lost someone recently (as if there isn’t already enough to deal with when you’re grieving). I’m not a big believer in censorship just because it’s a family show, or OTT warnings, but it just felt like unnecessary bad taste in context. And it’s not like the episode had anything particularly significant to say regarding death or grieving – which has usually been a strength of the show before – it just felt like something nasty carelessly shoved in amongst a half-cooked plot (although at least she didn’t turn out to be River. Small mercies).

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