Season 8, Episode 11—“Dark Water”
Wow. Guys, that episode was better than anything I could have imagined. I can’t even remember how long it’s been since I’ve seen an episode of Doctor Who without once pausing my television to do something seemingly more important like opening a Snapchat of my friend’s cat or getting up to eat a dairy product. “Dark Water” reached into my chest, grabbed my heart, sucker-punched it, then cradled it while whispering, “shhhhh babycakes, it’s going to be okay”. Of course I’m being hyperbolic, but an hour of television that stirs me emotionally warrants this type of reaction. So why did I love this episode so much?
To the recap!
As you may remember, during “In the Forest of the Night”, Danny had asked for “the truth” from his girlfriend. While on the surface the “truth” involves the extent of Clara’s adventuring with the Doctor, it’s important to understand that Danny’s underlying request is asking Clara to decide on the significance of their relationship. The two clearly care for one another, but Clara must choose to de-compartmentalize her life if their relationship is to be anything more than transient. And so, “Dark Water” picks up with our heroine’s decision regarding the couple’s fate.
After what looks like extensive deliberation, Clara intently tells Danny, “I love you… Not like it’s automatic… I’ll never say those words again. Not to anybody else. Those words, from me, are yours now.” This is a very significant statement. Clara isn’t just saying “oh hey, we’re a year into this and I guess I more than like you and also that thing you do to me in bed is fantastic.” Clara is going all in and expressing a very deep type of love. “I want us to die holding hands like that couple from The Notebook and I hope you’ll love me even if I’m barren like the lady from Up” type of love. Clara has decided that Danny is IT. He’s the one. This makes complete sense, especially in light of how intertwined the two characters’ fates were shown to be in “Listen”.
In an extremely cruel twist of fate, Clara doesn’t get to hear Danny’s response to her confession, as he’s killed off screen while crossing the road. After so many near-death moments this season, Danny dies not in the line of battle for the Earth’s fate, but in the course of a wholly mundane human activity. This is the point in the episode where I start muttering in denial like a crazy person while my roommate walks by giving me “who hurt you?” stares. God, this was brutal. Although we didn’t have much time to get to know Danny, his relationship with Clara was so endearingly awkward and sweet that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it.
Pictured: me on my couch on Saturday
Some time after the accident we find Clara in a disturbingly calm, almost catatonic state. When her gran tries to tell her how to grieve the ‘proper’ way (what a dick), Clara replies in a deadpan manner that she is owed better than having the love of her life be ripped from her side in such an ordinary manner. Drained of energy, it’s clear our companion has reached the bargaining stage of grief. This phase of loss usually involves mentally negotiating a ‘deal’ with a higher power that has some control over the situation. On Who, this higher power is not God, but the Doctor.
When the Doctor finally checks in with Clara, the companion lays a dastardly trap. After seemingly drugging her mentor, Clara nicks all seven keys to the TARDIS and gives the Doctor an ultimatum: “help me bring Danny back or I will destroy the TARDIS keys and forever disconnect you from the ship”. By the end of the episode, of course, we know that Clara only went through with her threat in a dream state. Although some of you may have figured out the trick upon your first viewing, my bet is that most of you, like myself, couldn’t tear yourselves away from the tense scene long enough to realize that it was all a ruse.
While I’ve harped on Steven Moffat’s writing and vision this season, I commend the showrunner for laying extensive groundwork for this pivotal standoff. This scene could have easily veered off into the melodramatic, with Clara coming across as an unhinged loon who would risk dying in a volcano just to get what she wanted. This season, however, was filled with instances of the companion throwing herself into dangerous situations with little regard for her own life; this hinted that she’s more than a bit reckless. Therefore it’s no shock to the audience for a grief-stricken Clara to push her relationship with the Doctor to unfathomable limits as a last-ditch effort to save the man she loves.
I also commend Moffat for turning the damsel in distress trope on its head. I’m sure a few critics will grumble about Clara risking her life for a boyfriend instead of the greater good, but I think this type of argument sells the character’s bravery and storyline extremely short. If Danny were in Clara’s position you bet your ass he’d pull the same stunt to save her. I loved that Moffat allowed us to see a woman rescue her lover out of physical danger on a major TV show. Just think about it: how many instances can you think of where a male love interest dies in order to give a female character motivation to kick ass?
I apologize for triggering PTSD (Post Traumatic Serenity Disorder)
I also applaud Rachel Talalay’s brilliant direction and the actors’ strength for giving the subsequent sequence particular weight and pathos. That TARDIS scene just destroyed me. I fell hard for the “go to hell” trick and was immediately flooded with a wave of empathy for the characters once it became clear Clara was being forgiven and helped.
I hate you.
While the Doctor’s affection for Amy Pond was obvious, Eleven and Twelve always gave the impression that they saw Clara as nothing more than a chatty little moppet they could have fun space adventures with. Though Twelve acted possessive towards Clara and fought for her attention, his actions could easily have been driven by narcissism. It isn’t until this episode that we finally understand how deeply the Doctor loves Clara. To forgive someone who was ready to strip you of your last connection to your own race in a moment of desperation takes an incredible amount of compassion that I didn’t know the Doctor had. Seems like the show is hinting that the Doctor is a good man after all.
As if our hero’s vulnerability in that scene didn’t rob me of enough tears, the Doctor then briskly tells Clara to buck up, ending his encouragement with the line “Let’s see what we’re made of, you and I.” Not only is that the perfect way to embark on one of his last adventures with Clara, but the Doctor’s tough guy routine only makes me believe that he’s hiding his own pain in order to give the person he loves strength.
“You betrayed me. You betrayed our trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything that I’ve ever stood for. You let me down… [but] do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”
In order to see if Danny is somewhere in the known universe, the Doctor has Clara once again tap into the TARDIS telepathic circuits. After some groaning, the ship lands its crew on 3W, a death-services themed branch of the W Hotel (but with fewer bidets) and the location where Clara and Danny’s timelines cross again. Despite it being plastered all over the institution, the Doctor and Clara fail to notice that 3W’s logo looks suspiciously like the eyehole of a cyberman (cyberperson?). Fail, guys. So much fail.
When the duo starts exploring the building, they notice that they’re surrounded by countless skeletons sitting in tanks of liquid. Sadly, it looks like these tanks have been cleaned about as often as the tank of that childhood goldfish you thought you’d grow to love. Shortly after the Doctor and Clara arrive, the long-built-up villain Missy encounters our heroes pretending to be a droid. Under the cover of her robotic persona, Missy toys with the pair and takes this opportunity to make out with an unwilling Doctor. Seeing as Eleven spent a significant portion of his time kissing women without their permission as a funny little “prank” (sexual assault is hilarious!), I’m glad the Doctor finally understood how gross it is to have a stranger’s tongue shoved down your throat.
Before Missy can feel up more of the Doctor, our heroes are taken to exposition-ville (five miles down the road from cable’s sexposition-ville) by a Dr. Chang. From him we learn that the skeletons are submerged in dark water, a substance in which only organic material is visible; and so, with one short explanation my hopes of having a TV revival of Pirates of Dark Water is dashed (side note: if you watched this show as a kid, hit me up so we can fangirl over it).
Dr. Chang also reveals that “3W” stands for the three words “don’t cremate me”. The founder of 3W apparently discovered that white noise contains telepathic communications from the dead. The oft-uttered phrase “don’t cremate me” caused the founder to believe that dead souls remain forever connected to their physical bodies, meaning they can feel whatever happens to their lifeless bodies. The Doctor finds the whole concept ridiculous, stating that 3W is a con and that the dead are gone forever. That statement might imply that the Doctor agreed to help Clara even though he believes that it’s impossible to get Danny back.
While the others carry on their rescue mission, Danny finds himself in a stylized version of the after-life offices from Beetlejuice, this time with fewer shrunken head victims. Strangely, the decorators in the Nethersphere found it appropriate to allot three miles of drapery to a fairly small, round window.
Paging the version of HGTV that villains watch
Soon after Danny is introduced to the whole “hey, you’re stuck in the city from Blade Runner forever” concept, his death-counselor suspiciously states that one of his wartime civilian casualties wants to meet with him. Danny is further distraught when he’s informed of his impending cremation. Tripling down on the emotional trauma, he then receives a Skype call from Clara.
At this point Clara is told that 3W’s telepathic scanners have found a Nethersphere match for her to speak with. Skeptical, the Doctor tells his companion to grill the caller harder than she would a strip mall witch offering $5 Tarot card readings. When Clara pushes Danny to say something only he could say (a seemingly pointless exercise seeing as telepathic scanners would know exactly what Clara wants to hear), Danny comes up short.
OR DOES HE?
My bet is that Danny purposefully failed Clara’s test after hearing that she’d do everything she could to come after him. Oh Danny. You chivalrous, romantic boob.
Having her bluff called once again by a man she loves, Clara proves her seriousness by shutting off the Nethersphere connection.
Back in the main hall, the tanks start to drain, revealing Cybermen shells that were obscured by the dark water. Missy then reveals she’s been uploading the consciousnesses of dying humans to a Matrix Data Slice, a piece of Time Lord technology. While minds are scrubbed of emotion, their corresponding bodies are upgraded to new Cybermen models. After the consciousnesses are edited, they are downloaded into the mechanized bodies. This means that Danny’s consciousness is actually in a space designed to tempt people into deleting their own emotions, meaning that whole “burned alive” and “let’s revisit that child you murdered” business is likely a trick to get a traumatized Danny to willingly give up his humanity.
Pictured: a sneak peak of Missy from next week’s episode
We then find out that Missy is short for Mistress, which is the lady version of the Master! For those not in the know, the Master is a long-standing Who arch-nemesis. A fellow Time Lord, the Master has a taste for world domination (main course) and the annihilation of the Doctor (the unnecessary but delicious dessert his thighs will never forgive him for). With the help of the zombie cybermen, Missy plans to take over the world (or something like that; this is all a bit unclear).
Tune in next week for the one hour finale! Judging from how emotional I was this episode, expect me to be a sentient bucket of water by the time I have to say goodbye to Clara and Danny.
Overall opinion: Damn this was good. Like really really good. Heartbreakingly sad, brilliantly acted, beautifully directed and smartly written, “Dark Water” is bound to become an iconic installment of Doctor Who if next week’s “Death in Heaven” doesn’t screw the pooch.
Although I’m interested to find out more answers like “who was the woman in the shop who gave Clara the Doctor’s number?”, I’m very anxious about the finale. While Clara bored me last season (despite Coleman’s incredible charm), I’ve grown to care for her over the course of the past eleven episodes in a way I never thought I would. I know this girl. She’s no longer a mystery, but a person who is funny, flawed, brave, and above all, intelligent. I never thought I’d say this, but I don’t want to see her go.
I know this sounds blasphemous, but *gasp* I think I might like Clara Oswald as much as (if not more than) Amy Pond.
Doctor, regarding Missy the ‘robot’: “Very realistic.” / Clara: “Tongue?” / Doctor: “Shut up.”
Danny: “You have wifi here? You have iPads in the afterlife?” / Counselor: “iPads? We have Steve Jobs.”
Dr. Chang: “I keep saying they should use [dark water] in swimming pools.” / Doctor: “Why?” / Dr. Chang: “Think about it.” / Doctor: “I am thinking about it. Why?”
Doctor: “She’ll be fine.” / Clara: “Speak for me again, I’ll detach something from you.”
Dr. Chang: “Over time, Dr. Skarosa became convinced these were the voices of the recently departed. He believed it was a telepathic communication from the dead.” / Doctor: “Why? Was he an idiot?”
Doctor, to Clara: “Be skeptical and critical. Be strong even if it breaks your heart.”
Doctor: “Who would harvest dead bodies? I feel like I’m missing something obvious… [cut to elevator doors shutting and revealing Cybermen eyes]”
Doctor: “You betrayed me. You betrayed our trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything that I’ve ever stood for. You let me down… [but] Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”