Doctor Who: Dark Water (Review)

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.

Dark WaterDo it. Do it. Do it. 

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!

Dark WaterSo…about that whole repopulating the species thing… 

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.

Doctor Who – Series 7B Review

In the mid-Eighties, when the popularity of Doctor Who was waning and the show was awkwardly spluttering towards its eventual cancellation, new script editor Andrew Cartmel put together a plan to restore life to the show and mystery to the titular character: the eponymous Cartmel Masterplan. Whilst hints were dropped towards it, the “indefinite” hiatus of Who in 1989 meant that it was never fully realised on-screen.

The revival of the show in 2005 meant that they could start again, with references to an unseen war and a main character radically altered from the cravat-sporting fopp who’d last graced our screens. However, with ever-more candid references to the Time War, this enigma has also been gradually unwrapped to the point of becoming stale and the conclusion of Doctor Who’s seventh series seems to be the beginning of a shake-up. However, before we discuss that let’s look at the series as a whole.

the new tardis
I can’t help it, I bloody love this new TARDIS console!

The previous series saw Smith’s portrayal of the titular Doctor solidify, but it’s only now that the Ponds have been jettisoned that the differences between the Eleventh Doctor and his predecessor come into focus. This is probably helped by the gorgeous new look TARDIS console and the wider variations in what this Doctor wears (anchored by the bow-tie, naturally), but the latter half of this series definitely felt the most like Smith had finally become comfortable in the role. Hopefully, he will stick around for a long time to come so that this incarnation can gain the distinctness that Troughton, Baker (the bescarfed one) and Tennant enjoyed before him.

Though Moffat is often criticised for his cookie-cutter approach to writing female characters, the modern show has always established that a certain “type” of person is suitable for The Doctor to choose them as a companion. This leads to the erroneous claim that each companion is simply a rehash of the same character with a different backstory, but I think this is given the lie in the contrast between Amy and Clara. Whereas Amy wanted to constantly run away from her boring Leadworth life, leaving with the Doctor so quickly she didn’t even bother to get dressed and put off dealing with the consequences until her experiences with the Doctor gave her new focus and enabled her to get over the Raggedy Man and mature. Clara, on the other hand, is torn between her desire to travel (as seen in her book with her age crossed out) and the need to cling on to the memory of her mother, holding on to the leaf and inhabiting a maternal role as a nanny to similarly bereaved children. The fact that she doesn’t live in the TARDIS indicates that travelling with The Doctor allows her to fulfill both needs – going on adventures and back in time for tea.

clara's leaf
Page One

‘Asylum of the Daleks’ notwithstanding, the story arcs over the course of series seven can be nicely compartmentalised into their two parts: the long goodbye to the Ponds for the former half and the mystery of Clara for the latter. As in the Russell T Davies era, the story arc for the series is back to being a background feature of the run, bookended by its introduction at the start of the series and its payoff at the end. Personally, I liked that The Doctor didn’t spend all eight episodes constantly obsessing over Clara’s identity, but you could see it was on his mind enough to influence his choice of locations (such as seeking out the clairvoyant Emma Grayling in ‘Hide’) and never seemed entirely forgotten. The payoff was clever but not exactly hard to figure out, though I definitely didn’t think they’d have the stones to integrate JLC into archive footage in the way they did. Kudos to them on a brave but worthwhile (if somewhat ropey) attempt.

I suggested in my speculation on what would be seen in the anniversary special that it was unlikely we’d get full appearances from past Doctors and some form of trickery would be use to reference them. The finale of series seven has met the fan service obligation of showing past Doctors, and now the event itself is a little more free to call-back to the show’s history as part of its story, rather than for its own sake. Having seen John Hurt in set photos, it appears that the ending of the series is setting the stage for the anniversary special and I suspect that, rather than simply reference the show’s past, Moffat will use this episode to reveal hitherto unseen parts of the Doctor’s history. Other than the fact that he is (in some manner) The Doctor, the real identity of Hurt’s character in the pantheon remains to be seen.

time war book
So that’s Who…

I doubt it will be as clear-cut as Hurt is playing the true but disowned Ninth Doctor, shifting everyone after him down the line, as this will affect a lot of established continuity and Moffat even had Clara affirm Smith’s status as the Eleventh Doctor before the reveal. My prediction is that he’ll be some intermediate form between Eight and Nine – artificially forced into partially-regenerating by the Time Lords and manipulated into fighting a genocidal Time War, against his own nature – “without choice”. The Doctor has freely admitted his actions in ending the Time War already, so perhaps this incarnation broke free of the control of the corrupted Time Lords and ended it – “in the name of peace and sanity” – likely causing the completion of his regeneration. In doing so, he reclaimed the mantle of The Doctor and renewed his promise to help people. In all likelihood, this will come to be mere fanon when the truth comes out in November but I like the idea all the same.

When Cartmel conceived of his plan to renew the mystery around The Doctor, he aimed to retcon large parts of established canon by revealing that The Doctor was actually the reincarnation of one of the founding figures of Time Lord society. The Moffat Masterplan (as I’m calling it) seems to be doing much the same: overturning seemingly entrenched continuity to reveal more about the character, but deepening the mystery by the nature of what we learn and its implications. Of course, it won’t affect the overall premise of the show or the nature of the series going forward, but it will add new depth to the character and reinvigorate the mythos.