After much deliberation (and delay), I finally decided to write about each episode of the finale separately because I have a very different opinion of each half. “Dark Water,” the first part of the Steven Moffat penned finale, was a promising beginning. It did exactly what a finale should do: leave you eagerly awaiting the second part. It sets up a trajectory for each of the four major characters (Danny, Clara, the Doctor, and Missy) that left me wanting to see how everything would be resolved.
It is the pre-credits death of Danny Pink that sets everything in motion. He becomes so distracted by Clara’s declaration that the words “I love you” will never be said by her to anyone else, that he steps into the road without looking and gets hit by a speeding car. While I was never a big fan of the character, I didn’t wish him dead. However, due to my lack of connection for the character, I found his death surprising, maybe even shocking, but it didn’t make me feel terribly sad. I felt badly for Clara, but I’ll get into that in a moment.
For the rest of the episode, we see Danny’s progress through the Nethersphere, as Seb takes him through the process of getting settled. I can say that this was the episode in which I liked Danny Pink the best. I guess it’s largely the way he relates to Clara that makes me dislike the character. I felt for him in his confusion, and the rush of emotions that he felt upon being confronted with the boy for whose death he was responsible. I was, however, a bit disappointed at the big revelation (finally!) of Danny’s trauma. While it is something for which I could see him having to bear guilt, I didn’t feel that it really explained his dislike for the Doctor (and officers in general). We leave him on the cusp of deleting his personality (to get rid of those troublesome emotions).
It was Clara’s storyline, however, that really made this episode work for me. This episode contains a powerhouse performance by Jenna Coleman. She conveyed Clara’s grief at the loss of Danny perfectly (I felt more for her loss than I did for Danny himself). The scene in which she is throwing the TARDIS keys into the volcano is one of the most memorable of the season. Aside from it being extremely well-written, the anger and despair that she clearly feels perfectly displays Clara’s grief, as the control freak tries to find a way to take back control of the situation and find a way to save Danny.
It is Clara’s desire to see Danny again that brings her and the Doctor to the 3W tombs. In their interactions with both Missy (when they think she is a welcome droid) and Dr. Chang, you can see a Clara who is still grieving, but starting to act a bit more like herself. The way that she alternately leans on the Doctor for support and gets upset when he takes too much control (“Speak for me again, I’ll detach something from you.”) was true to the character. She also gradually realizes that the Doctor is right, and she needs to be clever and on her guard. Both she and the Doctor are so distracted that they don’t notice the danger that surrounds them until it is upon them.
I can’t really discuss Clara without talking about the Doctor, since their story lines are completely intertwined for most of the episode. I feel that this episode really showed the fact that this Doctor isn’t as detached as he likes to pretend. I felt the Doctor’s response to Clara’s plan to throw all the TARDIS keys in to the volcano sums him up well, “Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” This Doctor actually cares so much about his companion that nothing she could do would ever make him care less for her. He just isn’t going to show that he cares in a traditional, more affectionate way.
There were many other nice touches that further showed the Doctor’s concern, such as when he takes Clara’s hand after saying there would be something wrong with her if she felt okay. However, Peter Capaldi does a great job of conveying the Doctor’s feelings without making him seem as if he is acting out of character. As I stated before, this Doctor doesn’t go all gooey and emotional just because he cares about Clara. He approaches the problem in a very logical way; he proposes an investigation to see if their really is an afterlife. He also doesn’t like Clara to get too emotional, but not only because displays of emotion can make him uncomfortable. He knows that he needs Clara sharp, since they are journeying into the unknown. He has no patience for weepiness; it will only make things more dangerous.
Only in the final section of the story does the Doctor’s story line separate from Clara’s, and that is in his interactions with Missy. His reactions to her during her charade as the welcome droid provided some much-needed humor to the episode. His reaction to both her kiss and her placing his hand on her chest displayed Capaldi’s great comedic talents, something that he hasn’t always been able to demonstrate this season.
Which, of course, leads me to the final major character, that of Missy. While I can’t say her reveal as the Master was a huge surprise, I was pleasantly surprised to learn how much I enjoyed her character, now that we saw more than just a fleeting glimpse of her. Previously, I had seen her as a bit too similar to Madam Kovarian. However, this episode allowed her to finally develop some really personality. I loved the way that her relationship with the Doctor just oozed familiarity. Once she revealed her true identity, her decision to “get physical” with the Doctor earlier made perfect sense; she knew that he would be caught completely off guard, enabling her to put her plan in motion without detection from him (and we know the Doctor and the Master always had a bit of a love/hate relationship, so she probably couldn’t resist the opportunity). She gave him the chance to notice her two hearts, but was probably banking on the fact that he would be so thrown by her placing his hand on her breast that he wouldn’t notice.
Her plan, or as much as we learn of it in this episode, is the typical convoluted plan of the Master. She is once again working with another alien race, in this case the Cybermen. Although it is not clear, Missy either led Dr. Skarosa to believe that the dead were speaking through television static (leading to Dr. Skarosa hearing the 3 words for which 3W is names, “Don’t cremate me”) or Missy took advantage of Dr. Skarosa’s preexisting belief, but either way, she has used the idea that the dead are still connected to their bodies to get people to have their bodies in the 3W tanks of dark water (water which only shows organic material, allowing other structures to remain hidden).
In reality, she has been using the bodies, and the cover of the dark water, to build herself an army of Cybermen. She has been uploading their minds to a bit of Galifreyan technology: “Upload the mind, upgrade the body.” I also wondered if the connection between mind and body was how she managed to convince the people of the Nethersphere to “disconnect” themselves. Was it just emotional pain that Seb used to convince them, like he did on Danny, or would it help protect them for the physical pain of what their body was going through as well?
Michelle Gomez’s Missy seems just crazy enough to have hatched a complicated plan like this, and her Master is wonderfully imbalanced. The ending scene in which she finally reveals her identity to the Doctor is perfectly played. Her delight in revealing her true identity and the Doctor’s horror upon realizing that his old adversary has returned, while Cybermen march out of St. Paul’s Cathedral, was a perfect cliffhanger.
Overall, I enjoyed this episode. I have some issues with the Cybermen, which I’ll come to in part two of the finale, but they were suitably creepy and atmospheric. The way that they would turn their heads when the Doctor and Clara passed by was a nice, unsettling touch. I’ll also admit that I had completely forgotten that the Cybermen were in the finale (I know, it’s hard to believe that I could’ve been that forgetful), so the reveal that the skeletons were, in fact, cybermen with the metallic covering hidden by the dark water did pack a bit of a punch for me. I know I should have put it all together much sooner, but I just didn’t. So score one for a bad memory; if only I could forget a few things about “A Death in Heaven”…