Doctor Who episode 827: Dark Water (1/11/2014)

‘Don’t cremate me.’ It’s another one of what a wise man once called Moffat’s three-room stories, as the Doctor and Clara visit the 3W facility searching for the late Danny Pink while the dear departed himself adjusts to life in the Nethersphere. We finally learn the secret of Missy: a regenerated Master harvesting the minds of the dead into a Time Lord Matrix to download them into upgraded Cyberman bodies. And we’re told the dead remain conscious all the way through this, and faced with the horrifying prospect of experiencing their own cremations are offered the choice of deleting their feelings.

This takes a disturbing enough topic and makes it even worse – the dead begging not to be burned through the white noise on TV. Deep Breath set up a new, Hinchcliffe-inspired version of the show pitched at an older audience, with a less heroic Doctor and much greater emphasis on body horror.

Dark Water is the pay-off: Clara listening to the man she loves plead with her from beyond the grave, having been brought face to face with the child he killed on his worst day (or, I guess, second worst now) while his body is cannibalised for spare parts. YMMV: I think this goes beyond what’s legitimately horrible in Doctor Who. If Mary Whitehouse wasn’t already dead (and begging not to be cremated), this would have killed her.

Despite that massive caveat, there are many good bits. Notably, it’s the arrival of Rachel Talalay and her eye for striking visuals and brilliant performances. I love the way she frames Clara, surrounded by hellfire, on the edge of a volcano. I love the performance she gets from Capaldi (his little turn away from Clara, as if he has to summon the attack eyebrows, before he tells her ‘buck up and give me some attitude’ is exactly how his grumpiness should have been done from the start). I love the cut from Clara standing looking at the ambulance’s working on Danny, to the tributes laid for him, and the scenes she has with Sheila Reid. I love the way Missy is introduced as eyes peering through the 3W logo, like the wolf peering from the trees in In the Forest of the Night.

And beyond Talalay’s direction, the design is great (the teardrop logos forming a Cyber-face), and there are kisses to past glories (the ‘tombs’ of the Cybermen in water rather than ice; the Cyberman marching outside St Pauls). The Missy reveal is neat.

But I don’t much like Dark Water: it’s nasty, and too slow burn, too many scenes of chat and not enough incident. This adult psychological horror follows on from a kiddy fantasy about magic trees pitched at an entirely different demographic, like a double bill of The Little Mermaid and Gerald’s Game. There’s a Third Man reference when Danny’s death in a car accident is described as ‘ordinary’, just as Harry Lime’s was. Clara’s TARDIS key plan is garbage when Moffat has established both she and the Doctor can open the doors with a finger click.

Next Time: Death in Heaven

One comment

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 826: In the Forest of the Night (25/10/2014) | Next Time...

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