Doctor Who - Series 8, Episode 11: Dark Water

Doctor Who

We look back at Series 8 ahead of series 9 premiere with our Who guru, Steve Hendry. Today WG delivers his verdict on part one of the Series 8 (34) finale of Doctor Who, Dark Water...

So, The Master finally chose the perfect disguise, keep your fingers crossed for Charles Dance as The Rani next year. In an outstanding series that has delivered so consistently well, there had to be a killer twist like that to ramp up the stakes for its finale. The biggest clue The Doctor’s nemesis would be coming back wasn’t even the Missy/Mistress/Master connection, but Steven Moffat’s clear assertion he had no intention whatsoever of bringing him (or her) back. Michelle Gomez was superb throughout, she and Peter Capaldi fizzed in their scenes together. She’s already the most disturbing incarnation of the character since Geoffrey Beevers; The Master in league with the Cybermen, harvesting the freshly-deceased for conversion, is simply brilliant, by the way. And there’s still a showdown with UNIT to come next week.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing guff written about this episode in less enlightened corners of the internet than /G-f this week, by people who, to paraphrase the great Malcolm Tucker, are so dense that light bends around them. Let’s have it right, shall we? If you’re “offended” by the plot of a television fantasy drama, you are a very strange individual indeed, and probably ought to be banned from owning a television, and certainly from using the internet. Like the disclaimer says at the end of movies - any similarity to actual persons, living or dead (ha!), is purely coincidental. And yes, that includes you, Great Healer. And you, Cybercontroller, get back in your cling film.

Which leads me neatly into this episode’s frankly delicious visual references to previous Cybermen stories; Tomb of the Cybermen, Attack of the Cybermen and The Invasion are referenced here with the Cyber-eye motifs on the walls, stacked towers of tombs and their march onto the streets of London. You have to hand it to Steven Moffat, he gives the perfect balance of fan-pleasing joys like those, while continually striving to deliver something fresh and vibrant. A casual viewer could easily have dipped into the series this week and still been able to follow what was going on, yet there was no shortage of treats for the likes of me and thee.

After the arm-long cast list of last week, we saw a welcome return to the Series 34 standard of a streamlined one. There were some platinum-grade lines in a terrific script, “iPads? We’ve got Steve Jobs”, “I had no idea there was a match on” and, best of all for an episode with The Thick of It’s Chris Addison co-starring - “Why is there all this swearing?” Unusually for a Moffat season finale, the story is laid out in a straightforward, linear way, though let’s not discount that changing by next Saturday. Rachel Talalay, whose services can’t have come cheap, adds to this series’ extraordinary roster of directing talent with a paving-slab-on-the-chest approach. The tension barely breaks for the opening titles.

With no next time trailer, we’re left to speculate about next week’s details, just like the old days. The Cybermen haven’t uttered a word yet, they didn’t start flying yet, and there was no Lethbridge-Stewart this week, so there’s all that and more still to come. Of course, the last time The Master colluded with the Cybermen, he led them across some booby-trapped kitchen lino in the Death Zone. It’s fairly safe to predict then, that this alliance is going to end with one betraying the other. Or is it? There seems no obvious reason for that to happen by the end of this episode at all, and UNIT’s largest operation since the ATMOS affair will surely be The Doctor’s best route to victory.

Dark Water is a stunning episode in its own right, but I’ll be back soon to give my final verdict on the conclusion to Series 34. Stay tuned!

Images - BBC.