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Doctor Who: Series 8 Revisited – Dark Water

In eager anticipation of brand new Doctor Who, the Gallifrey Times team is revisiting Peter Capaldi’s debut season as the Doctor. We’ll be covering an episode a day from Deep Breath to Last Christmas, the perfect build up to The Magician’s Apprentice on September 19th. 

Dark Water, the first half of the Series 8 two-part finale, deals with the very serious topic of death and the afterlife, quite a bold move for a Saturday evening family drama, but it turned out to be a dramatic and interesting piece of television.

Don’t cremate me.

Possibly the three most disturbing words ever uttered in Doctor Who. The show has prided itself on making many everyday things scary over the years, but suggesting the notion that the dead can still feel is quite horrific. I’ll admit that I’ve never been very scared by Doctor Who, but this idea did send a shiver down my spine. Although it is later revealed to be a fiction, with the Doctor’s scepticism proved right, it is still heavy stuff.

Despite there having been plenty of death in the show over the years, the afterlife is something that has never really been touched on before. As with the depiction of the ‘Devil’ in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, this is a tricky topic to cover and Dark Water manages to do it impeccably, making absurd ideas seem genuinely plausible, with lines like ‘This isn’t really an afterlife. It’s just more life than you were expecting.’

Dark Water is full of shocks and surprises. The story kicks of by killing off Danny Pink, an unexpected and worryingly mundane exit for a regular character. By now we are used to the male sidekicks being bumped off – most notably Rory and Captain Jack in… well, pretty much every episode they’re in – but because of the recent fad of reviving dead characters, it doesn’t really worry us too much. We know that Danny is still there somewhere.

We then have Clara’s breakdown, which shows how much Clara has evolved as a character, to the point where she believes she can control the Doctor and threaten him into doing anything. Obviously grief is playing a big part in her actions, so it is not the real Clara we’re seeing, but still the tension is high and we feel like we’re seeing a different side of Clara, one which even the Doctor appears to fear. However, for me, the threat of losing his keys is never really that big. He can open the doors with a click of his fingers and he’s always giving keys to his companions, so he must have a Gallifreyan locksmith on speed dial.

Sadly, the Cybermen were revealed many weeks before their on screen appearance, so what could’ve been one of the best reveals in the show’s history turned out to be a predictable anticlimax. It really is a shame that they spoilt their appearance, as it would have made for an incredible and iconic reveal, with the cyber-eyes door – which was a bit of genius right there – and the dark water descending. Obviously it would have been near impossible to film the finale without anyone seeing a Cyberman, so it is understandable why they made their appearance public, but it just goes to show that it’s rare for Doctor Who to properly surprise us these days.

Then we have the revelation of Missy, as we find out, once and for all, who the character was. I’ll admit that I didn’t guess it was the Master, but it seemed so obvious afterwards. Throughout Dark Water, Michelle Gomez plays this insane character with a number of different angles to confuse and bemuse us.

One character I didn’t really enjoy – and I fear this will be a rather unpopular opinion – was the character of Seb. Whilst I do not dispute that Chris Addison is a fine comedian, the character, for me, felt too silly. Whilst it’s good to have comedy in the show to balance out the drama, characters like Seb and Donna (I’m fending off the angry mobs now) just seem to have too many jokes. Comedians can appear in Doctor Who without making silly jokes all the time, like Frank Skinner or Lee Evans. A fine example of a character used for comic relief is Strax the Sontaran, whose humour mainly comes from him not understanding Earth culture. But anyway, this ranting about comedy characters is for another time. Let’s focus on the main character.

“Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”

Over the course of Series 8, the Twelfth Doctor and Clara have had a bit of a bumpy ride on their emotional rollercoaster, with Clara coming and going and the Doctor constantly questioning himself. However, this one line cuts through all that and really shows how the Doctor feels towards Clara. He really does care for her and that line kind of says ‘I know I’m a grumpy old man most of the time, but I really do care about you y’know’.

Overall, Dark Water is a triumphant return to two-parters, with some interesting concepts and great scenes. While it would’ve been nice to watch the episode without the foreknowledge of the Cybermen being in it, there are still plenty of surprises in the episode to keep you interested.

Coming up, things get messy with Missy as Landon reviews Death in Heaven.