Sunday, 2 November 2014

Doctor Who 'Dark Water' Review

Ok, there is no way to talk about ‘Dark Water’ without completely spoiling it, so bear that in mind. The fact that spoilers entirely ruin it says a lot about the script. ‘Dark Water’ is entirely reliant on attempting to shock the audience, that’s it. Due to this, the episode has very little actual depth or story to it really.

Steven Moffat has a terrible habit of creating dramatic scenes that don’t hold up to scrutiny of any kind. An idea, however interesting, needs to make sense for it to work, for it to hold your interest. Moffat’s ideas are like the jump scares in horror films/games. They get you attention briefly but they leave no further impression.

Now with ‘Dark Water’ being the first of a two-parter I appreciate that it is only providing half of the story. Therefore I am reviewing ‘Dark Water’ based on its own merits but allowing a certain amount of leeway for the next episode to fix any complaints I have.

Shock #1 DANNY DIES!
So yeah, in the opening Danny is hit by a car. How was Danny hit by a car? We could have been shown a speeding car. We could have shown Danny bump into someone to show he wasn’t paying attention. We don’t get these shots because they would ruin the surprise. Now I would argue that sacrificing your narrative and emotional story for the sake of cheap shocks isn’t good writing. I shouldn’t have to make that argument but based on how many times it happens in this episode, I feel compelled to.

So Danny is dead and stuck in the afterlife with Seb, as played by Chris Addison. I like to think that the rest of the panellists from ‘Mock the Week’ are in the adjacent rooms. Imagine the people who arrive and have to deal with Frankie Boyle, maybe that’s a deleted scene on the DVD? So yeah, Danny is dead and Clara can’t accept it. So being the wonderfully progressive female character that she is; does she:

A: Accept it as a terrible loss and try to move on.

B: Threaten the Doctor and try to force him to bring Danny back to life.

Now I appreciate that grief drives people to do strange things, occasionally bad things. Even allowing for that, Clara’s actions are far too unpleasant and premeditated to be acceptable behaviour.

How long has Danny been dead? This is an important question because we need to know how disturbed and mixed up Clara is feeling. She has flowers in her house but he may have been dead for a month, we don’t know. I’m not saying that she should be over his death in a month, obviously. All I’m saying is that for Clara to selfishly choose to ruin the life of her best friend, we need to feel that she is thinking completely irrationally.

We don’t get that feeling however for several reasons. Firstly, the relationship between Clara and Danny has been written as a foil for her juggling time with the Doctor. Having the relationship primarily used as a narrative device has left it undeveloped. It is hard to care about a couple that say they love each other but who spend the majority of their time arguing over the phone.

Secondly, Clara’s plan to trick the Doctor involves so many steps that it has clearly been heavily planned. I find it hard to believe that someone can be completely irrational and still create such a scheme. We are meant to believe that Clara is so lost that she is willing to threaten the Doctor and his Tardis, which happens to be his home and the last link to his people?

At no point when she was stealing the Tardis keys, knocking him out or threatening to destroy the keys did she stop to consider she was being unreasonable? Now ‘Love’ is obviously meant to conquer all and explain this behaviour but what about the love for her friend? The same love for her friend that led to her splitting herself across time to save him, dying thousands of times in the process? The actual idea of Clara going mad and threatening the Doctor isn’t terrible but it was handled awfully. Anyway, with Clara having destroyed all the Tardis keys, the Doctor informs her that…

So Clara destroying the Tardis keys was a dream that the Doctor let her enact, curious of how far she’d go. Now understandably the Doctor is quite angry but he forgives her and offers to help her find Danny in the afterlife, assuming it exists.

Now I actually don’t have an issue with the Doctor forgiving her. He forgave his companion Turlough, who spent several episodes trying to kill him, so why not Clara? I think that the Doctor would be able to understand her feelings to some extent, particularly as someone who is the last of his kind. That being said I can’t understand the way he forgave her. He cares so much about her that he doesn’t care if she betrays him? What the hell is he talking about? This is really dumb and makes the Doctor seem weak, not compassionate.

Speaking of dumb, I need to raise a logical gripe here. Why does destroying the Tardis keys stop the Doctor from entering the Tardis? We’ve previously seen that he can open the doors by clicking his fingers? In ‘Utopia’, he attempts to open the locked door using his sonic screwdriver. I appreciate that Clara could have taken away his screwdriver but why isn’t that subject addressed? Why wouldn’t he look for it if the screwdriver would negate the need for keys?

The Doctor and Clara arrive at a futuristic mausoleum, one that places skeletons upright in chairs underwater. They meet Missy who directs them towards Dr Chang to answer any questions they have. Dr Chang explains that the skeletons are sitting in a liquid called Dark Water, one that only shows organic material within it.

The skeletons are being supported by a now invisible exoskeleton that allows them to sit upright. Now they don’t answer why you’d want to display skeletons sitting on underwater chairs. I assume it’s for decoration or something? I get that people want their bodies to be preserved but why display them in public?

Anyway, so Dr Chang explains that messages have come from the afterlife, showing that people remain conscious of what is happening to their body. Therefore if you are cremated, or have your body donated to science, you feel it being destroyed. Now ignoring for a second just how stupid this concept is within the world of science fiction lets instead look at the ethical ramifications.

The vast majority of people are scared of what happens to them when they die. Even the most rational person has a certain amount of doubt as to what will be waiting for them upon death, even if it is was always assumed to be nothing. Therefore this is an easy fear to prey on but one that stops people donating their organs every day. Being buried intact was considered a requirement for getting to heaven for centuries; it still is for many people. Should ‘Doctor Who’ be taking advantage of this cheap fear when it has such negative real world connotations?

Clara gets the opportunity to talk to Danny in the afterlife; she reveals that she is willing to die to be with him. This completely ruins any attempt to make Clara a rounded character. Her attempts to jump on his funeral pyre make her pathetic. Why has this season made such a point of showing how stubborn and strong she is if you’re going to undo that in the finale. I guess she’s the kind of woman who pretends to be tough but needs her man? Moffat really needs some female writers, or good male writers. Good writers of any gender would be pretty handy really.

The Doctor becomes suspicious of the living dead situation and goes to confront Missy. Missy has been using Timelord technology to capture the dead humans. She activates the skeletons and reveals her true colours.


So Missy being a Timelady was a decent reveal but it’s weird that the Doctor didn’t recognise her as one. Timelords seem to have the ability to recognise each other instantly, regardless of previously having known each other or not.

As for the Cybermen, yeah this isn’t really a shock. Even if you hadn’t seen the trailers this reveal was pretty predictable. I wonder why the converted Cybermen need rotting skeletons inside their suits? I appreciate that it makes them look creepy when they’re sitting in underwater chairs but that’s about the only reason I can think of.

So the Doctor runs outside from the Cybermen/Missy and discovers that the mystery mausoleum is actually.

So the Cybermen march towards the oblivious onlookers who ignore the Doctor’s warnings. At a loss the Doctor demands to know who Missy really is!

So yeah, this was a genuine surprise. Some fans had predicted this but most had no idea. The Master was on the fan theory list but quite far down. If people assume an idea will never happen, primarily due to it being really stupid, I don’t know if you can take credit for using it to surprise them.

The Master being a woman is not in itself a bad idea but it needs a good explanation. It needs to be explored because the Master has previously shown a lot of contempt for women “Killed by an insect, a GIRL, how inappropriate.” So why is he now a woman? I find it hard to believe he would have changed gender by choice? I also find it weird that the Master isn’t the Rani. I appreciate that most new ‘Doctor Who’ fans won’t know who the Rani is but it would have made far more sense for her to be working with the Cybermen and experimenting on human brains.

I think that Moffat knew the Rani reveal would make more sense, so he purposefully suggested and hinted that it might be her to distract us. Why else would you make the Master an evil Timelady? Having a character change sex shouldn’t really be a twisted and perverted character trait in this day and age.

Anyway I shall leave that to be criticised until after next week’s resolution. It is a social minefield having a psychopathic character become transgendered and it would require an open minded writer like Neil Gaiman to even attempt to write it well.

So I’ve left out the subplot of this episode from my criticism so far. I’ve done that because it actually works, for the most part. Danny’s Dead Adventures ™ actually work from a narrative standpoint.

During these afterlife sequences we discover that Danny shot a child in the war. We also have the brilliant idea of him having to meet that child in the afterlife and explain himself. His conversation with Clara is also well handled, from his side at least. Danny having to pretend that he isn’t himself to save Clara is a sad idea and works pretty well. I notice that he doesn’t try and threaten Seb, ordering him to bring him back to life. I guess Danny being a man helps him to be more rational or something.

I quite like the idea of him being given the option of deleting himself and his emotions, even if I do hate the word. The idea that people would escape the pain of the afterlife to be Cybermen is brilliant. The new series has had a really big problem with knowing what to do with the Cybermen. Linking them thematically with the fear of death is a nice idea and it is reasonably well handled.
(Pun very much intended)

There are a lot of ideas in this episode, ideas with varying degrees of quality. ‘Doctor Who’ is always at its best when it is filled with a lot of ideas. I wish that the many ideas in ‘Dark Water’ had actually held water and worked, the majority didn’t. In addition to wonky ideas, the characters also had a lot of issues. Clara in particular was very difficult to sympathise with this week. Peter Capaldi gave a great performance yet again but that doesn’t really need to be said at this point; Capaldi is a talented man.

‘Dark Water’ had some nice visuals and some decent ideas hidden amongst the bad ones. Next week’s ‘Death in Heaven’ will be an interesting episode as it could either resurrect ‘Dark Water’ to some extent or drive the last nail into its coffin.

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