Doctor Who: Dark Water
Doctor Who: Death in Heaven
(2 episodes, s08e11-12, 2014)
A long-lost friend returns.
Clara is ready to confess her travels with the Doctor to Danny. She’s left Post-It notes around to remind her of everything she wants to say, but she starts with “I love you.” She continues with how he’s the last person she’ll ever say that to, but the line goes silent.
A woman picks up the line and tearfully apologizes.
Danny Pink was hit by a car. He died in the accident.
Clara mourns. She’s numb from the experience. She’s visited by her grandmother, but consolation does nothing. She claims that Danny was ordinary and boring, though she obviously doesn’t believe it. She claims that the universe owes her better. So she calls the Doctor.
The Doctor picks her up and she asks him to take her to an active volcano. While she asks, she gathers all seven of the TARDIS keys and hits the Doctor with a sleep patch before navigating the TARDIS to a volcano. She remembered when the Doctor explained what could destroy a TARDIS key and systematically throws them in the lava while demanding that the Doctor fixes Danny’s death.
The Doctor refuses to create the paradox, and after Clara throws the final key into the lava, the enormity of what she has done hits her. The Doctor asks her to look at her hand, revealing that he reversed the patch in order to see how far she would go. The pair are still in the console room. The Doctor gathers the keys as Clara asks about the state of their friendship. He suggests that she should go to Hell, and when she takes that as the end of their relationship, he clarifies that he meant it literally. He’s going to take them to the afterlife to find Danny and bring him home. Almost every culture in the universe has a concept of the afterlife. The Doctor sees the extremity of her desire to see Danny and, despite his fury at her betrayal, he agrees to do everything he can. The generosity of forgiveness is overwhelming.
He wires Clara into the TARDIS’s telepathic circuits and she pilots the craft to Danny. Meanwhile, Danny wakes up in the Nethersphere. Seb offers him a cup of coffee as Danny realizes that he is dead.
The TARDIS takes Clara and the Doctor to the 3W Institute. The place is dark and filled with tanks of water. Each tank contains a skeleton seated in a chair, placed in tombs after death. They are eventually greeted by Missy who pretends to be a Mobile Intelligence Systems Interface as she kisses the Doctor. The Doctor is displeased. The Doctor is also mildly surprised when Missy takes his hand and presses it to her chest to feel her heart.
The subtext in this meeting is amazing. It’s also foreshadowing that is easy to miss if the viewer isn’t paying attention.
Missy calls for Doctor Chang. Chang continues the tour as Missy smirks and the skeletons look on. Meanwhile, in the Nethersphere, Seb introduces the afterlife to Danny while asking if he has ever killed anyone. This is due to Danny’s time in the army which forces him to relive the “bad day” when he killed a child. This child has apparently requested to meet Danny and appears before him. The kid runs away when Danny tries to reach out.
Chang takes the Doctor and Clara to learn about Dark Water. Only organic matter can be seen through the substance, and each skeleton is encased in a protective shell. (More foreshadowing!) The Doctor poses as a government inspector and interrogates Chang.
Together in separate places, Danny, the Doctor, and Clara learn that 3W’s founder, Dr. Skarosa, found telepathic communications from the dead in white radio noise. The dead are conscious and aware of everything happening to their bodies. Danny feels cold because his body is being stored in a cold place while his soul is in the Nethersphere.
While the Doctor mocks this idea, Chang establishes a connection between Danny and Clara. The Doctor tells her to ask questions to which only Danny would know the answer.
Meanwhile, Missy activates the tanks. The skeletons all stand.
Chang takes the Doctor to investigate the skeletons. Missy reveals that she was pretending to be an android and then kills Chang. The Doctor is shocked as the tanks drain to reveal an army of Cybermen, and he’s more shocked to see the Nethersphere floating in the air near him and Missy.
The Nethersphere is a Matrix data slice, a Gallifreyan hard drive, and it holds the minds of the dead while they are transferred into upgraded bodies. Missy reveals that she is a Time Lord – Time Lady, please – who the Doctor left for dead. The Doctor runs out of the building, which is really St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Clara is unconvinced that she’s talking to Danny, and he tells her that she needs to move on. That she cannot find him where he is now. He forces her to disconnect the call, and Seb offers him a chance to delete himself to avoid feeling the immense sorrow of leaving Clara behind.
In 3W, Clara looks behind her to see a Cyberman in a tank. She tries to run, but the door is locked. Outside, the tanks all open and the Cybermen march. The Doctor tries to scare the onlookers away, but Missy only mocks him. The Doctor demands to know who she is, and she tells him that she’s Missy. Short for Mistress.
She couldn’t keep calling herself the Master, after all.
In the Nethersphere, Danny almost presses the delete button. Then he sees the kid he killed in the screen’s reflection.
Death in Heaven
Clara takes refuge behind a desk until a Cyberman finds her. To save her own life, she poses as the Doctor. Outside the cathedral, the Doctor is astounded to see the people of London posing with the Cyberman as if they were a carnival attraction. When Kate Stewart and Osgood show up, the bystanders are revealed as UNIT operatives. They take Missy into custody, but the Cybermen open up the cathedral dome and the cyborg army lifts off into the sky.
The same repeats around the world, leaving one Cyberman per major metropolitan area. Each of those Cybermen explodes and pollinates the air. Inside the Nethersphere, Danny and the kid look on as the lights start going out and the dead are transplanted into new bodies. The Doctor is unable to get the answers he needs when both he and Missy are shot with tranquilizer darts and taken away. Before the Doctor succumbs, he tells Osgood to focus on the graveyards.
Sure enough, that is where the new cyber-storms empty their rain, eventually flooding cemeteries and funeral homes with the contaminated water. In no time at all, the dead rise in upgraded Cyberman bodies. One of them is Danny Pink, who was previously laying in rest at the Chaplet Funeral Home.
The Doctor is awakened as the TARDIS is loaded into a UNIT plane. Kate has yet to find Clara, and explains that his cooperation is to be ensured since UNIT assumes that he won’t automatically do so. The Doctor has also been elected as the President of Earth, much to his chagrin.
Clara is still within St. John’s Cathedral and trying to negotiate with three Cybermen. They don’t buy her ruse, but it doesn’t need to last long since a single Cyberman approaches from behind. That unit concurs that Clara is an incredible liar, knocks her out, then destroys the three Cybermen holding her hostage.
Missy wakes up to see the Doctor hovering over her, asking why she’s still alive. Her presence is due to the Doctor saving Gallifrey, and Missy seems to know where Gallifrey is located. She refuses to tell the Doctor, and their discussion leads Osgood to deduce that Missy is the Master. As the Doctor is summoned to the conference room, Osgood tells him that the storm clouds have expanded to cover the landmasses. The Doctor offers her a spot as his companion, which pretty much seals her fate.
All around the world, the dead have risen as the new Cyberman army. Clara awakens in a graveyard as more start to rise, but these models wander aimlessly. On the UNIT plane, the Doctor realizes that the Cyber-pollen contains the data to convert the dead. The Cybermen are newborns, unable to attack since they haven’t yet linked to the Cyberiad.
Kate tells the Doctor that they were previously investigating 3W before getting a call from a Scottish woman. He presumes that the caller was Missy because the Master loves to show off his/her diabolical plans. Down in the cargo hold, Missy goads Osgood, revealing that she will kill the scientist soon. Missy distracts her with a countdown before displaying that she is free and vaporizing Osgood. Soon after, she summons the Cybermen to attack the plane. The Doctor returns to the cargo hold to find Missy.
In the graveyard, Clara confronts the Cyberman who saved her. After she refuses to admit where the Doctor is, the Cyberman removes its faceplate to reveal Danny Pink’s face. Danny asks for help, begging to have his emotion inhibitor turned on to eliminate his grief.
Missy admits that she’s been traveling up and down his timeline, salvaging the people who died saving him. When the TARDIS phone rings, she further reveals that she was the woman who gave the Doctor’s phone number to Clara. She was also the person who placed the newspaper ad in Deep Breath. When he picks up the phone, he hears Clara on the other end. She tells him about Danny’s fate and tells him to home in on her phone. He’ll either show up or he won’t, but Clara is set on helping Danny.
When Kate comes below, Missy blows out the hull before transmatting back to the Nethersphere, sending Kate into free fall. The Doctor plummets after Kate, falling into the TARDIS on the way. When Seb celebrates, Missy vaporizes him.
The TARDIS materializes in the graveyard and the Doctor warns Clara that if she removes Danny’s emotions, Danny will kill her. Danny denies it, but the Doctor tells him that pain is a gift. Without the capacity for pain, we can’t feel the hurt we inflict. The catch is that Danny cannot tell the Doctor what the plan is unless the emotions are removed.
The Doctor is left in a quandary. Clara relieves him of that by taking the sonic screwdriver and activating the inhibitor. Before she does, she says goodbye and apologizes to Danny for not being better. Danny reveals the plan to kill off humanity and resurrect the dead as Cybermen, thus eliminating the human race.
Missy transmats into the graveyard and offers to take away Clara’s pain by killing her. The Doctor swats the device away and Clara picks it up before returning to Danny. Missy activates the army with her bracelet, then offers command of the forces to the Doctor. With this army, the Doctor would have the final say in every great battle in the history of the universe. He can even save the people suffering in the Dalek camps. The universe would be at peace forever.
The Doctor rejects the notion, but Missy tells him that she needs her friend back. The Doctor ponders again if he is a good man but then has an epiphany. He declares that he is not a good man, nor a bad man, nor a hero, nor a president, nor an officer, as Danny had described him. He is an idiot, with a box and a screwdriver, passing through, helping out, learning. He has companions and knows that love is a promise, not an emotion.
This is why Danny won’t hurt Clara.
The Doctor passes the bracelet to Danny. The new commander of the Cyberman army orders all of the drones to lift off worldwide, destroying themselves in the clouds to burn away the threat.
Missy – the Master – is defeated. She recites the galactic coordinates of Gallifrey, claiming that the planet returned to its normal place. Clara considers killing Missy but relents at the Doctor’s bequest. The Doctor then tells Missy that she won before turning the device on her, but a blue blast comes from behind, seemingly disintegrating her.
The Doctor looks behind to see a single Cyberman. It gestures to Kate’s prone but alive form on the ground nearby. She was saved by this Cyberman, who in the Earth’s darkest hour still served the side of right. The Doctor offers the Brigadier a salute before he flies away.
Two weeks later, Clara is awakened by Danny’s voice. The bracelet that Missy used offers the chance to bring one person from the Nethersphere to the living world. Danny uses it to restore the kid he killed, asking Clara to find his parents and send him home. Later on, the Doctor finds Clara in a coffee shop and spots the bracelet. He wrongly assumes that Danny returned home, and further assumes that Clara will no longer be traveling with him. He also tells her that he found Gallifrey…
…except he didn’t. Space at those coordinates was empty. Missy lied, and the Doctor wept in rage and sorrow.
The Doctor tells Clara that he plans to go home, eager to reform Gallifrey into a good place. Clara continues the lie about Danny’s return and offers to say goodbye with a hug. The Doctor agrees, remarking that he doesn’t trust hugs because they are a way to hide your face.
The Doctor departs with a thank you from Clara. Traveling with him made her feel special, and he returns the thanks for the same reason. Clara walks away and doesn’t look back.
Later, the Doctor is brooding alone in his TARDIS when he hears someone knocking at the door. From behind the door, presumably in deep space, a voice says that the story cannot end like this because neither Clara nor the Doctor is okay. The voice belongs to Santa Claus, and in a swirl of snowflakes, he asks a puzzled Doctor what the Time Lord wants for Christmas.
Let’s take care of the elephant in the room. The first sin of this story is a typical sci-fi trope: They killed the only black main character.
The second sin: They fridged him.
Danny Pink’s death was an effort by Missy to engage Clara and the Doctor in her master plot. I cannot praise this story without first acknowledging how it played into two major tropes that exploit minorities, both of which Steven Moffat should have avoided in this story’s development. It also highlights the rather unhealthy relationship between the Doctor and Clara, particularly in the need for sneaking around and manipulating each other to get something done. Clara’s relationship with the Eleventh Doctor was far more healthy, and that one was based on his obsession with her.
A big mythological step from this story is the Missy revelation. While the show has previously acknowledged the concept of Time Lords changing genders – the examples are all from the revival era, specifically The End of Time, The Doctor’s Wife, and The Night of the Doctor – this firmly establishes it with the regeneration of the Master (who we haven’t seen since The End of Time, which aired four years prior to this set). Notably, the term “Time Lady” has not been used in a revival-era televised story before this point. It was previously used in City of Death in reference to Romana.
The same holds for the term Prydonian, one of the most powerful chapters (think colleges or houses) on Gallifrey. It was introduced in The Deadly Assassin and explored in the novels.
Not counting the big gaps between Survival, the TV movie, and the 2005 revival, this hiatus for the Master is on par with the breaks between Frontier in Space, The Deadly Assassin, and The Keeper of Traken. The Master’s plan is diabolical – the planet Earth has no shortage of corpses given a worldwide death rate of 1.8 people per second – but also really, really squicky. It’s no wonder that the BBC had to release a statement defending the story’s points after receiving complaints from viewers.
Part of that unease comes from the “cameo” by the Brigadier at the end. I’ll defend the Master’s plan and I get what Steven Moffat was going for, but personally, the Cyber-Master was a step too far. Sure, Missy could travel through time and space to secure the Brig’s consciousness at the moment of his death, but why would she open that weakness in her own plan? It doesn’t make sense.
It’s also notable that this is not the first time that the Cybermen have converted the dead. We saw the practice before in The Pandorica Opens. (Spoilers: We’ll also see it again in a few years within the franchise.)
The return of the Cybermen marks another point in the Steven Moffat trend of ending a series with the menace. To this point, every penultimate episode of every series under his reign as executive producer – The Pandorica Opens, Closing Time, and Nightmare in Silver – has featured the Cybermen. This was one of the best features in that list, especially with the visual callback to The Invasion and the iconic march near St. Paul’s Cathedral. This story also calls back to a similar awakening from The Tomb of the Cybermen.
The return of UNIT in the second half really throws a wrinkle in the story. It’s nice to see Kate and Osgood again, though Osgood’s death was meaningless. The story pretty much threw her away for shock value, continuing a revival-era tradition of killing potential companions after being invited to travel. You know, like Lynda Moss, Madame de Pompadour, Astrid Peth, Jenny, Rita, and Clara Oswin Oswald.
The plot point of making the Doctor into the President of Earth – some sort of UNIT contingency plan for a worldwide catastrophe – seemingly comes from thin air and really drags on the story’s tempo. It only serves to set the stage for a less than exciting dive-into-the-free-falling-TARDIS moment as the presidential jetliner is torn apart. It further boggles the mind that the Doctor did not even try to save Kate, leaving her fate (ahem) up in the air until the deus ex machina Cyber-Brig revelation.
Otherwise, the Cyber-Danny elements provide a good exercise in exploring the meaning of Doctor Who, and close the loop on the good man/bad man theme that has served as the backbone for this series. It’s evident that this was the moment that Steve Moffat wanted in this story, leaving the rest of the spectacle to meander to this point.
The story continues to meander right up to the credits, providing a meaningful moment as the Doctor fails to find Gallifrey but another exercise in toxic relationships as the Doctor and Clara say their prevaricating farewells.
But, hey, at least we got Missy playing Mary Poppins. Because Mary Poppins is a Time Lord, y’all.
Rating: 3/5 – “Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow.”
UP NEXT – Doctor Who: Last Christmas
The Timestamps Project is an adventure through the televised universe of Doctor Who, story by story, from the beginning of the franchise. For more reviews like this one, please visit the project’s page at Creative Criticality.