“Dark Water” is the first part of the Season Eight finale of Doctor Who. The twelfth Doctor has had some great performances this season and has brought interesting complexity to the relationship with companion Clara Oswald. When Peter Capaldi was announced as the new Doctor, we were pretty excited because it seemed like an older actor was about due for the role. He has surpassed our expectations so far, and a big two-part finale, written by Steven Moffat, creates a lot of anticipation.
Clara and Danny
In the previous episode, “In the Forest of the Night,” we saw progress in Clara and Danny’s relationship. We learned that Danny is not easily fooled by Clara’s clumsy dishonesty, and that as a result of his life experiences, he values contentment, love, and family. Clara showed us how invested she is in Danny, and that though she loves the excitement of traveling with the Doctor, she can also find joy in other parts of her life.
Therefore it is fitting that we start the episode with Clara on the phone with Danny, revealing that she has something she needs to tell him. She has a wall full of sticky notes to help guide and prompt her in what appears to be a difficult conversation. Perhaps these crib sheets are the grounds for having this conversation on the phone, versus in person.
Danny: “Wouldn’t it be better if I was actually there?”
Clara: “Oh Danny, everything is better when you’re here, but maybe, maybe not this.”
The plethora of notes on her wall would lead us to believe that she wants to tell Danny all about her travels with the Doctor.
But before she does that, she must tell him something else first. She is finally able to get out what she wants to say—that she loves him. Danny responds that he loves her too. She nervously chatters on, finally saying:
“Danny, I will never say those words again, not to anybody else, ever. Those words from me are yours now.”
Clara waits for a response, hears nothing, and adds,
“Danny I love you, and you’re the last person who’s ever going to hear me say that.”
Then someone else gets on Danny’s phone. We discover that Danny has been killed.
Clara runs towards the scene to find that Danny has been hit by a car at a pedestrian crossing. It was shocking to find that Danny had died, for us as well as for Clara.
We have been very moved over the loss of companions, but found ourselves surprised how heartbreaking losing Danny was and how unexpectedly brutal it was that he would actually die.
We see Clara moving through the motions of life in the fog experienced after losing a loved one. She appears to be either in a state of denial or slightly delusional. As her grandmother tries to comfort her, saying she deserved better, Clara dazedly responds:
“I don’t deserve anything. Nobody deserves anything. I am owed, better. I am owed.”
Just as her grandmother asks who owes her, the Doctor answers Clara’s long-ringing phone call. It seems that she has been trying to reach the Doctor for some time. When she does get in touch with the Doctor, Clara acts very excited about taking a trip with him, which leaves us not knowing what to think.
When Clara arrives in the TARDIS, the Doctor also seems a bit surprised by her enthusiasm.
Doctor: “Well normally you say, ‘Work or kids or dishes or dullness.’”
We see Clara walking around the TARDIS furtively collecting keys. One key is in a round container on a work desk, another is in the pocket of the Doctor’s hanging coat, and another one is in a copy of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Clara tells the Doctor she hasn’t been sleeping and asks if the Doctor can give her a sleep patch.
He says no, but she finds them in drawer, along with a yo-yo, and takes them anyway. Clara asks the Doctor to take her to a volcano, then she walks up behind him and puts the sleep patch on his neck.
The Doctor wakes up outside the TARDIS with Clara standing before a magma chamber. Clara explains:
“You told me once what it would take to destroy a TARDIS key—that’s what so good about lava. All seven, from all of your hiding places.”
She tells the Doctor that Danny has died and that she wants the doctor to “fix it, change it, change what happened, save him, bring him back.” She proceeds to threaten the Doctor by throwing his TARDIS keys into the magma (which she incorrectly refers to as lava), one at a time—each time he says “no” to her. We are not sure what happened to the Doctor being able to snap his fingers to open the TARDIS doors. If he could still do this trick it would seem like the loss of TARDIS keys would be less of a threat. There is a great exchange between the Doctor and Clara in which it becomes clear that the Doctor’s mentoring has helped Clara to understand how he takes control of situations, and she attempts to subvert his control. She eventually throws all seven keys into the volcano.
Clara breaks down in response to the failure of her endeavor and what has happened to Danny. The Doctor tells Clara to look at her hand, and when she does she sees a sleep patch on her palm. She wakes up in the TARDIS. Despite the tutoring she has received, Clara cannot outwit the Doctor. Since the Doctor was not susceptible to the patch, which puts a person in a suggestible dream state, he had used it on Clara in order to see how far she would go with her plan—which was pretty far.
When Clara asks what they will do now, the Doctor responds, “Go to Hell.” Clara accepts this much too easily for someone who came up with an elaborate scheme to deceive a Time Lord in order to save the person she loves the most in the world. When she begins to leave the TARDIS the Doctor stops her and explains he means it literally—that they are going to go wherever it is that people go when they die and save Danny.
Doctor: “Were going to go there and were going to find Danny. And if it’s in any way possible, we’re going to bring him home.”
Any longtime viewer of Doctor Who was probably taken aback by this idea. It seems to go against everything we have learned from Doctor Who, even if time can be rewritten. Couldn’t it cause another Reapers attack like we saw in “Father’s Day” (S01E08)? There have been many others, including close companions, whom the Doctor has not chased into the afterlife to rescue. So what has changed? Perhaps Steven Moffat will eventually provide a better explanation than the Doctor’s comment, “I’ve always meant to have a look around.” Moffat is very good at developing ways to modify Doctor Who conventions (e.g. the regeneration cycle).
Clara is overwhelmed by the Doctor’s willingness to help her, particularly after her deception. The Doctor tells her, “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” Peter Capaldi’s delivery of this line was remarkable. He is clearly a Master Thespian. It was how the Doctor said this that made us almost believe that he would violate the laws of space and time to resolve Clara’s pain.
The Doctor turns off the TARDIS safeguards and has Clara manually connect to the TARDIS telepathic interface, as she had done in “Listen” (S08E04). Since Clara’s timeline is strongly linked with Danny’s, the Doctor uses that connection to guide the TARDIS to wherever Danny is now.
Danny in the Nethersphere
Danny finds himself in an office with someone, who is clearly not an angel, named Seb (short for Sebastian?). We first met Seb in “The Caretaker” (S08E06), where we first learned that the place the dead were going was called the Nethersphere. Seb’s nameplate tells us he works for Nethersphere in the After Death Department. We love this concept of administrative bureaucracy in the afterlife, which we have often seen on Supernatural. Like anything else, death requires the completion of forms. Seb asks him if he had chosen cremation, and when he doesn’t know, Seb says, “I’m going to put that down as a yes; that’s pretty much the default these day. If people only knew.” Danny seems reluctant to believe he is dead. He looks out the window and sees he is inside a highly developed sphere. Danny asks where he is.
Seb: “You’re dead and this is what’s next. Welcome to the underworld, otherwise known as the Nethersphere or the Promised Land. It’s where you go when you die.”
Despite the humorous undertones, this whole interaction is far more disturbing than expected. The idea of being led into such a place in the afterlife, for potentially nefarious purposes, is much more frightening than a monstrous alien.
Clara and the Doctor land somewhere, wherever it is the TARDIS thinks Danny is. The Doctor warns Clara, “We’re here to get your boyfriend back from the dead. So buck up.” Once they go outside the see a series of rooms filled with water, somewhat like Area 52 from “The Wedding of River Song” (S06E13). They are in a giant mausoleum with a series of water tombs, one water tomb holding a skeleton sitting in a chair.
The skeletons make us think of the Dead Men of Dunharrow from The Lord of the Rings. After examining the tombs, the Doctor asks,
“Why would anyone go to so much trouble just to keep watch on the dead?”
Maybe it’s because the creepy skeletons can move, but the Doctor hasn’t realized this yet.
The Mysteries of Missy
The Doctor opens a registration book, and a cube emerges that provides holographic information:
“3W. Death is not an end, but we can help with that. Even since 3W encountered the truth about the death experience we’ve been working hard to find a better life for the deceased. At 3W, afterlife means aftercare.”
After being spotted by the Doctor, Missy emerges from behind the hologram. The Doctor begins questioning her, and Missy responds, “Clearly you’ve not received the official 3W greetings package.”Then she kisses him—with quite a kiss. The entire interaction between Missy and The Doctor has a lot of gravity, with the Doctor appearing thrown off-center when interacting with her. Missy introduces herself as a Mobile Intelligent Systems Interface (MISI) welcome droid. The Doctor asks her who repairs her, and Missy states that she is maintained by her heart.
Doctor: “Who maintains your heart?”
Missy: “My heart is maintained by the doctor.”
Doctor: “Doctor who?”
Missy: “Dr. Chang!” [yells to him]
Dr. Chang arrives, all smiles and helpfulness, asking, “Is there a particular dead person you want to talk to?” When Clara affirms that there is, Dr. Chang takes the Doctor and Clara away to another part of the facility. After they leave, we see a skeleton move again, then Missy smirks and looks up at a floating metallic sphere. It seems like we have seen these types of floating spheres before in Doctor Who.
Back in the Nethersphere, Seb takes Danny to a balcony area for some “fresh air,” where we hear sirens and car horns in the distance. Seb comments that the wifi works much better out there.
Danny: “You have iPads in the afterlife?”
Seb: “IPads. We have Steve Jobs.”
Continuing with his bureaucratic interview, Seb asks Danny if he has ever killed anyone and Danny flashes back to his time as a soldier in active combat in Afghanistan. Seb asks him if he has any regrets from that time. Danny asks him if he thinks it’s any of his business, to which Seb answers affirmatively. Apparently someone has requested to meet with Danny. Seb asks Danny if he knows who it might be, while Danny continues to have flashbacks to clearing a building in Afghanistan while gunfire sounds in the background. In the Nethersphere, a door opens, and a boy is shyly standing therei. Danny continues to remember his time in Afghanistan, remembering the radio call, “Danny, repeat, is the building secure?” What will we be learning about Danny in this season finale? There might be things we would rather not know, but pretty much everything in this episode so far has been something we would rather not know.
Dr. Chang takes Clara and the Doctor to his laboratory. As Missy listens to their conversation from the mausoleum, Dr. Chang tells them about how the skeletons are encased in an exoskeleton that is invisible in the “dark water” the skeletons are housed in. Only organic material can be seen in the dark water. Clara asks what the name “3W” means. Dr. Chang says it stands for “the three words,” and he is surprised that the Doctor and Clara, who he believes are officials of some sort, don’t know what it stands for. He warns them it will be very disturbing. It’s hard to imagine it could be more disturbing that what we have heard so far.
Sins of War
Danny meets with the mysterious boy. They sit at a table on the Nethersphere balcony. Danny asks him, “So, you okay? I’m sorry. I just…” and the boy runs away when Danny reaches out to touch his hand. Seb, who is sitting nearby, suggests that Danny let him go. Danny asks Seb why the boy wanted to see him, but before Seb can answer, a horrible scream comes from behind them and Seb says, “Sounds like someone left their body to science.” Horrifying and funny all at the same time.
The Technology of Death
Dr. Chang tells Clara and the Doctor that 3W’s founder, Dr. Skarosa, played the white noise heard on TVs through a translation device and heard voices. Dr. Skarosa believed they were voices of the recently dead, and set up institutes around the world to protect the dead. The three words most often heard were, “Don’t cremate me,” indicating that the dead remain conscious and fully aware of what is happening to their bodies even after they are dead. Earlier, when we said we didn’t think what Dr. Chang would tell Clara and the Doctor would be any more disturbing that what we have already seen? Well we were wrong. Seb is explaining the same concept to Danny, illuminating why he has been feeling so cold (because his body is being stored in a cold place). Even though this is television show, half of the Western world has now just decided against cremation. The Doctor angrily says its all a con:
“The dead are dead. They’re not—they’re not talking to you out of their television sets. They’re just gone. And all these poor souls down there in these tanks, I’m sorry, but they’re just dead and they’re not coming back.”
The Doctor has to strongly dispute this idea, for the audience if nothing else. The idea, even a fictional one, that we could feel what was happening to our bodies after our death is such a primal and alarming fear, it may be that Steven Moffat doesn’t want us to sit in it for too long.
There’s Something about Missy
Meanwhile, down in the mausoleum, Missy claps and the dead skeletons stand up. How can we get a clapper like that?
Clara and Danny Redux
Clara hears Danny’s voice calling to her through the computer. The Nethersphere had been telepathically scanning her due to her request to speak with one of the dead and finally connected her to Danny. They speak for a moment, but the wifi dies out.
Doctor: “This isn’t possible. The dead don’t come back.”
As Clara gets reconnected to Danny, the Doctor tells Clara to be skeptical and ask him questions only Danny would know the answers to. The Doctor takes Dr. Chang and heads back to the mausoleum, commenting, “Who would harvest dead bodies? I feel like I’m missing something obvious.”
Missy’s Mysteries Revealed
Missy is standing among the standing skeletons in their tanks. She commands, “Humankind, bring out your dead,” and the skeletons activate their tanks. The dark water starts draining from the tanks. You would have thought that someone would have caught on to that seeming design flaw – that the tank drainage systems is turned on from the inside.
Dr. Chang and the Doctor arrive in the mausoleum.
Dr. Chang: “Oh my God! The tanks… the tanks are activiating! They’re not supposed to do that.”
Doctor: “And all your dead people are standing. Don’t you think you’ve skipped the headline?”
Missy faces Dr. Chang and the Doctor. It turns out that Missy told a “teensy, little fibette” because she is actually Dr. Chang’s boss. She tortures Dr. Chang for a bit before murdering him, forcing him to say something nice about her. In this scene, Missy’s true nature starts to become apparent. As the water leaves the tanks, we see that the dark water, which obscures non-organic material, has been hiding the fact that the skeletons are Cybermen. We haven’t seen the Cybermen since Handles in “The Time of the Doctor,” but haven’t seen the Cybermen in full evil force since “Nightmare in Silver.” We love a Doctor Who classic.
The Doctor says, “They’re Cybermen. All of them. We have to stop them from getting out.” Missy tells the Doctor, “Now who’s missing the headline?” Missy points up at the red glowing sphere we saw earlier and tells the Doctor that it’s the Nethersphere; “The people that live inside that think they’ve gone to Heaven.” The Doctor realizes Missy is using Time Lord technology.
Missy: “Imagine you could upload dying minds to that, edit them, rearrange them, get rid of all those boring emotions, ready to be redownloaded. Meanwhile, you upgrade the bodies. Upload the mind, upgrade the body. Cybermen from cyberspace. Now why has no one ever thought of that before?”
Doctor: “You’re a Time Lord.”
Missy: “Time Lady, please. I’m old fashioned.”
Doctor: “Which Time Lady?
Missy: “The one you abandoned, Doctor, the one you left for dead. Didn’t you ever think I’d find my way back?”
The Doctor runs out of the room to try to find Clara and discovers that they are in the middle of London in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
We realize that Missy’s disclosure means that Danny’s consciousness has been uploaded to the nethersphere. Clara, who is still talking to Danny through the computer, is still not sure if it’s really him. She is trying to elicit proof by asking him to share something no one else would know. She says that as soon as she knows it’s him there is nothing that will stop her from coming to him. Danny does not want her to come after him, but wants her to live her life. Rather than giving her the “proof” she is looking for, Danny keeps telling Clara that he loves her so that she will follow through on her threat to turn their link off without proof. We feel a little sad that Clara is wasting what could be the last of the time she has with Danny interrogating him just because the Doctor has convinced her to be suspicious. We have come to appreciate Danny, and his seeming sacrifice only makes us love him more. Which makes it all the more heartbreaking when Seb offers Danny a chance to delete himself in order to stop his pain.
Clara realizes that a Cyberman is behind her, in the display tomb labeled “Dr. Skarosa.” She has the good sense to run away, but the door is locked and the Cybermen are emerging from their enclosures.
The Doctor tries to warn people on the streets to run, but they ignore him when Missy refers to him as “another ranting Scotsman in the street.” They would probably ignore him anyway, at least until a Cyberman actually fired on them.
Missy: “All the graves of planet Earth are about to give birth. You know the key strategic weakness of the human race? The dead outnumber the living.”
When the Doctors asks her again who she is, she says Missy is short for Mistress. Missy says she couldn’t very well keep calling herself the Master. Missy is the Master! Suddenly she is much more interesting.
The episode ends with Danny crying as he considers whether or not to press the delete button to end his consciousness. Suddenly we see the reflection of the boy he spoke to earlier in the iPad he’s holding.
Death in Heaven
Once we know that Missy is the Master, we feel almost foolish for not realizing it earlier. Though she is nothing like the Master in the old series, who was always so serious, she does seem a lot like the Master as played by John Simm. Missy is much like John Simm’s depiction of the Master from “Utopia” (S03E11) “The Sound of Drums” (S03E12) and “The Last of the Time Lords” (S03E13), as well as The Master in “The End of Time.” She is snarky, humorous, cruel, megalomaniacal, and has an unhealthy obsession with the Doctor.
“Dark Water” has given us both the Master and Cybermen—it’s chock-full of classic Doctor Who villains. Considering we had a Dalek episode earlier in “Into the Dalek” (S08E02), we have really touched the cornerstones of Doctor Who this season. The episode provided excitement and mystery, but also kept us emotionally invested with the Danny and Clara storyline. The first part of the season opener has left us on the edge of our seats and we can’t wait to see how it ends in the final episode, “Death in Heaven.”