Doctor Who - "Dark Water" (Season 8, Episode 11) Recap/Analysis | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Doctor Who - “Dark Water” (Season 8, Episode 11) Recap/Analysis

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Nov 03, 2014 Web Exclusive
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[Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen the latest episode of Doctor Who, then read no further.]

The season finale began in this week's Doctor Who, and if part two next week can keep up with "Dark Water's" spectacular setup, then we are in for a big finish.

A lot of the threads that made their way through this whole season came together this week, as they were bound to do. Admittedly, how next week's episode unfolds could retroactively flip some of "Dark Water's" best moments, but for the time being it looks like the character work between The Doctor and Clara has really paid off. There were a few scenes that felt drawn out in order to postpone the episode's big reveals for its final act, but its best scene was in the first few minutes anyway.

To recap: Clara makes a very important phone call to Danny to declare her commitment, just as a car accident claims Danny's life. In her griefor rather, her expressed disappointment with the dullness of Danny's demiseClara hijacks the TARDIS and threatens to throw all seven of The Doctor's TARDIS keys into a volcanic pit (TARDIS keys were forged in the fires of Mount Doom, apparently). The Doctor calls her bluff, but she follows through. Fortunately, The Doctor was two steps ahead of his companion the whole time, and the volcanic pit was nothing more than a dream state. The Doctor takes Clara's betrayal as a sign of her commitment to Danny, and promises to find out where exactly the dead go after life. Using the same method that allowed Clara to follow Danny's timeline in "Listen," the TARDIS arrives in a sort of mausoleum of skeletons kept in liquid-filled tanks.

Meanwhile, Danny is given a rundown of his new home, the Nethersphere, where Seb (played by Chris Addison, Peter Capaldi's co-star from The Thick of It) explains Danny's current situation, and also reintroduces him to a ghost from his past. Seb also explains that Danny still feels sensations connected to his physical body.

In the physical world, The Doctor and Clara find out that the Nethersphere is actually a Gallifreyan hard drive, where deceased consciousness' are saved. The Doctor also finally meets Missy (Michelle Gomez), who reveals that she is in fact his archenemy The Masteror rather, The Mistress. The bodies in the tanks are in fact Cybermen, and the episode closes with another Cybermen invasion of London (with an image that references the 1968 Second Doctor story "The Invasion," with the Cybermen marching down the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral).

A lot of fans speculated that Missy was in fact the latest incarnation of the evil Time Lord, but the confirmation at the end was still undoubtedly surprising. The combined threat of The Master and Cybermen already raises the intensity of next week's second part of the finale, but we'll deal with that after the conclusion.

For me, this week's episode was all about Clara's "betrayal." No other companion in recent memory could have concocted such a dire plan to manipulate The Doctor, and the tension throughout the whole scene was built on this season's power struggle between the two. It would not have played nearly as dramatic had The Doctor not applauded Clara's role as Doctor in "Flatline." It also illustrated the depths Clara was willing to go to retrieve Danny, pairing up with The Doctor's brilliantly delivered "go to hell" line to set up the rest of the story as sort of cyber-punk version of Orpheus in the Underworld. "Dark Water" raised the stakes of this adventure so high so early on that the relatively slow pacing of the rest of the episode did not actually weigh it down. In fact, Clara's emotional focus shifted the roles of the two once again. She is much more driven and determined throughout the adventurepartly thanks to The Doctor's pleas to remain sowhile The Doctor himself is uncharacteristically impatient and perhaps too skeptical.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions going into next week, which is good. Finale two-parters have a tendency of dragging under the weight of a bigger mythology, but "Dark Water" keeps itself fresh and engaging, even while resting on two of The Doctor's oldest foes.

We'll have to wait until next week to see how it all plays out, but from here it looks pretty promising. (www.bbcamerica.com/doctor-who/)

Next week on Doctor Who:

 

Author rating: 8.5/10

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