"Was he ... an idiot?"
"Can you just hurry up please, or I'll hit you with my shoe."
— The Doctor reviews Steven Moffat's latest script
Seven keys to lock them all ...
|Gollum cowers before Frodo moments before the Ring of Power hits the lava. Or something like that. Screenshot from "Dark Water." Doctor Who copyright © 2014 BBC.|
Dark Water's best moment comes early and succeeds despite the fact it caps a dramatic cheat. (Spoilers galore below!)
Following Danny Pink's death (or rather, "death"), a distraught Clara Oswald calls the Doctor and begs for a trip to a volcano planet. Once aboard the Tardis, she palms all seven of his keys and, when they land, sneaks up behind him to slap a Sleep Patch on his neck.
When the Doctor comes to on the rim of a bubbling caldera, Clara demands he go back in time to change the past and save Danny — paradoxes be damned — or else she'll drop each and every one of those purloined keys in to the lava below (apparently the Time Lords licenced their lock-and-key technology from Sauron the Great rather than use open-source technology; let that be a lesson to us all!). The Doctor refuses and Clara commences to playing Melt-the-Tardis-Keys.
After a couple of will you?/No! sequences, Steven Moffat realizes that a six-minute dream sequence is already more than long enough. Clara flings four of the last five keys into the pit at once, then dangles the last one over the edge in order to give the Doctor one last chance to change his mind. He doesn't. After a brief struggle, the last key falls into the roiling magma, trapping them both outside the old blue box.
Do we hear the swift beat of giant eagle wings soaring to the rescue? We do not! Nor does the Doctor have an extra key secreted in his boot, or even remember that nowadays he can unlock the Tardis' door with a click of his fingers.
No, Clara's black-mail didn't actually happen! Hurrah!
That's right. As Clara sinks to her knees in despair, the Doctor reveals the whole thing was an illusion. The Sleep Patch was actually a Hypnotic Trance Patch! Which the Doctor had turned on Clara in order to let the "whole scenario" play out because, "I was curious about how far you would go."
After that charade, Clara asks, "So what now? What do we do now you and me, what happens now? Doctor?"
"Go to Hell," quoth the Time Lord, piling plot cheat upon cheat. Clara turns, defeated. "Fair enough. Absolutely. Fair enough."
But — ho! ho! ho! — the Doctor meant it literally, not as a dismissal.
Y'see, for Reasons, the Doctor suddenly believes in life after death. "Almost every culture in the universe has the concept of an afterlife. I always meant to have a look around, to see if I could find one." Let's go find your boyfriend, he says, and bring him back if we can!
Tearful Clara wonders how it is he is willing to help her.
Yes, the Doctor replies. "You betrayed me. You betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything that I've ever stood for. You let me down!"
"Then why are you helping me?"
"Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?"
Peter Capaldi delivers the Doctor's reply with an understated passion that nearly brought tears to my eyes despite the false drama on which it rested. Imagine how much more powerful the words would have been had Clara's betrayal been real, had she and the Doctor had been in actual peril!
But Steven Moffat doesn't care enough about his stories to bother making them real. So it seems appropriate that Dark Water undermines its own best scene through its own slipshod plotting.
A Potemkin corporate HQ
|The Doctor sees through a corporate holobrochure. Screenshot from "Dark Water", Doctor Who copyright © 2014 by the BBC.|
As the story begins, Clara is finally trying to have that long-promised honest talk with Danny Pink. Over the telephone. Because she daren't say her piece face-to-face. For Reasons. Main reason being the plot requires Danny's death. Or "death".
Which death, due to Rachel Talalay's clumsy direction, comes as no surprise to anyone but Dull Danny who, distracted by Clara's babbling, steps in front of a moving car.
After a memorial service at the Coal Hill School (and so, presumably, also after Danny's actual funeral and cremation — which will directly contradict an "important" plot point later on), Clara calls the Doctor and proceeds to sin in her heart, thus completing the waste of 15 minutes out of a 45 minute episode.
After that volcanic sham, the Tardis (nearly) locates Danny at a mysterious location that resembles nothing so much as a posh office building cum museum, complete with creepy glass cabinets in the corridor walls displaying human skeletons. Human skeletons seated on chairs. For Reasons.
There follows another 15 minutes of drawn-out false introductions and irrelevant (also: unbelievable) explanations. So drawn out that the Doctor will be forced to bark at an underling: "Can you just hurry up please, or I'll hit you with my shoe." If only a member of the BBC's brain-trust would say as much to Steven Moffat.
On the one hand, we are told that 3W (whose building they have landed in) is (somehow) secretly harvesting the souls/spirits/essences/whatever of the recently departed. Yet on the other, it is a business complete with promotional pamphlets, salesmen and not too infrequent government inspections, as if London is awash in soul-harvesting outfits.
Possibly this is some kind of commentary on late-era corporatism, but if so, it rather soars over my head. More likely it just reflects Steven Moffat's lack of interest in thinking his stories through.
Meanwhile, as the Doctor and Clara wander 3W's hallowed halls (without so much as a hint of the sonic screw-driver; did the Doctor just forget about his best forensic instrument?), the shade of Danny Pink gets an orientation session on his "extra" life (after death). Even though (everybody!) it makes no sense.
As we will soon learn (though it feels like forever), the harvested soul/spirit/essence/whatevers of the recently deceased are only going to be implanted into the waiting metal bodies of Cybermen. (How Cybermen can function without actual, physical, brains is a question left entirely undiscussed; as is the question of why 3W bothers with the fake orientation sessions.)
O! Danny, we (still) hardly know ye!
|Danny gets a corporate talking to prior to being Assimilated by the Cybermen. Screenshot from "Dark Water", Doctor Who copyright © 2014 by the BBC.|
Speaking of the fake orientation, it seems the only real reason for it is to let Mr. Moffat give us an answer to why Danny cried when asked in this year's first episode if he'd killed anyone while he was a soldier. Yes, Danny killed somebody in the war, and it was a teenage boy, a civilian. The shade of whom pops into the orientation session to lay a guilt trip on Danny and then (presumably) to finally end up in the skull of a Cyberman, leaving Danny sputtering angsty nothings in his wake.
Back to the actual story, Danny then gets a call from Clara by Magic. And for Reasons, they still can't manage to give one another a straight answer. Nor can they interest the viewer in their relationship's tedious travails.
It comes as a relief to all concerned when Danny hangs up the phone so that Clara can't (I guess) kill herself in order to join him on the Other Side. Have I mentioned that nothing Steven Moffat writes makes sense any more?
Still, the question remains: if Danny's soul/spirit/essence/whatever is fated to power a Cyberman, why bother with all the foreplay? Why permit phone calls, war-victim visitations, any of it?
Oh! Because he needs to sign a waiver! The whole ordeal was meant to made him Sad, so he would agree to having his emotions stripped away. I guess everything makes sense after all. Because like a gang of metallic Mephistopheleses, the Cyberman have always needed signed consent forms before "upgrading" people.
The Mistress kisseth
|Yet another sexual assault played for laughs in Steven Moffat's Doctor Who. Screenshot from "Dark Water", Doctor Who copyright © 2014 by the BBC.|
Speaking of an ersatz Mephistopheles, Dark Water's real main purpose, is to reveal the identity of the woman whose irritating gloating has interrupted the narrative flow of every previous episode this year.
Those of you who guessed she was the latest incarnation of the Master had it right. Missy is none other than one of the dullest of the Doctor's age-old antagonists, now in skirts.
I admit, I've never been a fan of the Master and his obsession with getting the best of the Doctor rather than getting on with his evil plans. One thing you can say about Daleks is that they care about the Doctor only in that he is a problem for them. They don't want to impress him, or kiss him or any other god damned thing, they just want to conquer the universe.
Nevertheless, the part has often been played with considerable panache. And let the record show that Michelle Gomez takes to the hitherto male role with — dare I say it? — perfect mastery. Part camp, part seething menace, Gomez's Mistress is neither masculine nor feminine, but purely Galifreyan psychopath. The part is stupid, but Gomez nearly makes me forget that fact.
Gomez's star-turn though, isn't enough to distract us from the fact that Dark Water exists merely as prelude to next week's episode. There is no actual story here, or part of a story, to make Dark Water even a satisfying chapter in a larger piece. At least when Russel T Davies did it with The Sound of Drums, the episode was actually a pretty good entertainment in its own right. (Ironically, it was the follow-ups that fell upon their own inanity).
With the exception of a few good lines for Peter Capaldi, Dark Water is 45 minutes of wasted television that, like the White Queen's promised jam, promises stories yesterday and stories tomorrow, but gives us no story today.