Written by: Steven Moffat
Directed by: Rachel Talalay
This review contains more spoilers than capital letters! You have been warned.
This new reincarnated series of Doctor Who has been a pleasant surprise. I think most of us knew that Capaldi had the ability and range to become a successful Doctor for the new age but a solid run of filler episode but notably above average filler episodes that have laid a strong foundation. Clara has also been a revelation as an actual character now as oppose to a simmering plot mechanic or story prop.
This latest episode lead to what many people have been predicting as the end in regards to the relationship between Danny and Clara. With very few and largely uninteresting teasers alluding to the identity of ‘Missy’ (Michelle Gomez) the emphasis through the episodes has been placed on the young couple and their future. This instalment throws you in and proves that simple, dark drama is king as Danny (Samuel Anderson) is killed by a car while on the phone to Clara. Wow. Ballsy and fantastic. Clara even nails the points home by saying “It wasn’t terrible, it was boring. It was ordinary”. In a sci-fi series where the plot and events strive to be memorable and escalating, it’s refreshing and poignant to be reminded that real life is impacting enough.
The story proceeds that Clara and the Doctor use the TARDIS’s physic link to find Danny and emerge in a building containing seated skeletons. After meeting Missy who turns out be an android named M.I.S.I and Dr Chang they find that they use ‘Dark Water which shows only organic matter. Chang shares the founders belief that the dead communicate with us through white noise. In the ‘Afterlife’ or the ‘Nethersphere’ Danny is broken down and finds a way to communicate with Clara, he forces her to end the call as he doesn’t want her to follow him into his perception of hell. M.I.S.I activates the skeletons who drain the cells of dark water and are shown to actually be Cybermen. Oddly the drain of dark water is also refreshingly slow and ominous.
The Doctor leaves Clara in the room where the skeleton of the founder is encased and finds a Timelord hard drive, as Missy is uncovered to not be an android and kills Chang. Missy reveals she prepares the minds in the hard drive disguised as the Nethersphere and turns the bodies into Cybermen, then combining the two. The Cybermen step out into London as they were inside St Paul’s cathedral all along and Missy is unveiled as the new reincarnation of Master.
Now this is a brave episode on a number of ways and needed to be dramatic to make you care as there has been little build up throughout the season with minimal teasers, this was no ‘Bad Wolf’. The start however has great shock value in the simplicity of Danny’s death and the brutal, well acted mourning of Clara. As much as we love to hate dream sequences the scene where Clara discards the TARDIS’s keys was excellent. The Clara we know is stripped away and desperate while also showing how their close relationship is as she knows where he “hides” the keys. Ok so I don’t believe for a second that the sentient TARDIS would keep the Doctor out because he’s without a key. However the point of the scene is watching the belief and conviction of the Doctor collide in fire with the passion and pain of Clara.
The script is also incredibly tight this episode moving from hilarious to the emotional. Capaldi in particular showcases his amazing range and why he could be the best thing from a blue box in possibly forever. When he tears apart Clara’s betrayal before saying he will help her “Go to hell” it is beautiful. Especially with his impacting line of “Do you think I care so little for you that your betrayal would make a difference”, this isn’t cheesey but just a solid fact. This is the same Doctor who counters a deceased scientists belief with “Why? Was he an idiot?”, he uses with the same face value, no nonsense attitude to achieve the polarising effects of both endearment and scorn.
There’s a nice transition in character too as the wreck of Clara is forced to push through her bereavement by the Doctor, for her to be “cynical” and “give me some attitude”. He is often shown to be calculating and cold but also emotionally effected by Clara as he knows this is what she needs to succeed. He continues well with this odd, unique mix of affection and as he would say cynicism. In this season Moffat has maybe responded to criticism of his female characters by Clara very often taking the lead, but this episode shows how much they really need each other to balance and prevail.
The effects and the sets look great, this episode has a classic Who feel. The 3 W’s facility looks like the concept is taken from an original series story but executed with a modern day budget. It’s very creep and cemented by the three words you never want to hear the Doctor say, “I don’t know”.
The special effects are used sparingly but well with the volcano mirroring the drama of conflict and St Paul’s holographic book providing a neat way to access information as the Doctor uses his environment. As well as showing his craftiness to uncover the “backwards” reading Missy. The white noise scene is low key but horrible, and the concept of death itself as our greatest fear is an ambitious topic to tackle. Danny may be the most bland and unlikable substance since polystyrene but the gradual breaking down of him by Chris Addison’s clinically disturbing character is obvious but effective enough.
The ending promises a new and hopefully different take on the Cybermen, and by different I mean good. This a unique and more twisted way of taking the ones we have loved and lost, and making them into something we fear. The strategy element makes it fresh and harrowing with Missy’s line of humanity’s weakness being “their dead outnumber the living” highlights the cold and soulless disregard for the human race.
However I really didn’t enjoy the reveal of Missy as the Master. This seems lazy and leans heavily upon the credibility the title of the Master carries, lending it to a minimally developed event. This is meant to be a new era and according to Moffat setting the groundwork for the next 50 years, but every time a story has no build up we fall back to the same old villains instead of creating new mythology. Michelle Gomez is fine and the only person with cheekbones to rival Capaldi but early on she still seems stuck in Green Wing mode being overly kooky and quirky to the point of cringeworthy. I like how it’s a female after the campaigning for a female doctor, but some scenes are too laboured as she is very clearly meant to be a counter part for the Doctor’s larger than life, quirky style. Her impression of an android is flimsy, hammy and instantly transparent, which makes it ridiculous that our heroes would believe this for just the sake of a delayed reveal and some cheap comedy.
A minority of the lines are a little unnecessary too such as the Steve Jobs reference and also it’s annoying how Clara never considers the children of hers and Danny’s, she found out about in ‘Listen’. This is the first place my mind went and especially after meeting Orson already it would seem a natural and tragic train of thought in grieving.
Jenna Coleman is fantastic though and Capaldi shows the entire spectrum of his Doctor as he snaps, manipulates, dissects and ultimately cares with snappy one liners and heartfelt insights. The references backwards in time also continue but in a gloriously underlying fashion, as the Cybermen marching down the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral mirrors Troughton’s 1968 classic ‘The Invasion’.
The verdict: This episode is enjoyable and complex in its characters while simple but effective in its story. The kind of Doctor Who episode that have been few and far between but hopefully Capaldi’s new style and Moffat’s outlook can make it a regular occurrence. Time is ticking down for the Doctor and this encouraging series, let’s hope the emergence of the Master is worthwhile and this conclusion matches this satisfying set up.