Doctor Who can officially add ‘scared a generation of kids out of becoming organ donors’ to its long list of fear factors. Not to mention the chilling, piteous sob of a “burner” certain to mean a sharp decline in cremations over the next half-century. But scaring the viewer is what Doctor Who is meant to do and Dark Water succeeds with a superb blend of psychological and visual horror that hasn’t been done quite so effectively in years.
Danny Pink died the way he lived: on the phone and pointlessly. Looking back at every episode since The Caretaker, all but one of his previous appearances involved him calling Clara for no other reason than to remind the audience that he’s there. Giving him a tragic backstory was a nice change, considering most recent companions have barely left school let alone seen conflict, but we didn’t see him develop enough as a character to care what happens to him now. Cutting back to Danny repeatedly while building up to the final reveal was irritating. He certainly didn’t deserve the final shot of the episode, which should have stayed on the Doctor’s reaction. Hopefully Danny will press the in-joke button before the next episode and we won’t have to waste any more time with him.
Whilst Clara throwing the TARDIS keys into a volcano was an effective way to show how Danny’s death affected her, the whole thing fell flat for anyone who’s been paying attention. Since the Doctor has repeatedly demonstrated his ability to open the TARDIS doors by snapping his fingers – which even Clara can do for some reason – it was obvious this would turn out to be a ruse. Though, given how fractured their relationship has been since the regeneration, it was a nice moment when the Doctor continued to help her regardless of what just happened. Sure it was obvious trailer-bait, but it led to a very strong character moment that rounded off a plot thread from this series so neatly it was justified.
Since their presence was spoilt both in the trailers and set photos, the meta-humour made up for the weak Cyberman reveal. But, other than allowing the BBC to reuse costumes under the pretence of paying the billionth homage to The Invasion, there was no real reason for them to be there. They were mere foot soldiers of the Master and could’ve been replaced with any other monster – or, heaven forfend, some newly designed creature – without changing the story. The skeletons in tanks were creepy and just macabre enough to be scary without using gore, so they could have served this role exactly as they were. If the BBC wanted suit actors instead of CGI, put the skeletons in shrouds and have Death personified marching across London. Don’t just reference the past, outdo it!
Considering the push for a female Doctor this time around, having a female Master was inevitable at some point. It’s an interesting direction considering how hard it would be to find new takes on a character that has ranged from Delgado’s sinister gentleman to Simm’s cackling anarchist. While this could easily blow up in Steven Moffat’s face given his dubious reputation for writing female characters, it may actually play to his strengths. That kiss, which has provoked a depressingly predictable amount of gay panic on Twitter, was the manifestation of many previous hints about the Master and a very in-character way to gain dominance over her old nemesis. It may even be used as a commentary on the fluidity of sexuality, especially within the Doctor Who universe. Following the Master’s characterisation under Russell T Davies, the Missy incarnation may actually be a good fit for the otherwise tedious ‘feisty, flirty female character’ stencil Moffat used to create River Song, Tasha Lem and Sherlock’s Irene Adler.
Besides, Michelle Gomez will never out-camp Eric Roberts.