Monday, November 3, 2014

Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 11: Dark Water

This week we get the first half of the big two part season finale, not to mention the return of a couple of old school villains.

BIG HONKIN' MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, INCLUDING THE DEATH OF A CHARACTER AND THE IDENTITY OF MISSY! TURN BACK NOW UNLESS YOU'VE SEEN THE EPISODE! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

The Plot:
Sit back, it's complicated. Clara calls Danny Pink to finally confess all the lies she's been telling him over the past months. She tells him she loves him first, which distracts him so much he walks into traffic like an idiot and is killed instantly, in the world's quietest traffic accident.

Out of her mind with grief, Clara calls the Doctor and enters the TARDIS. She goes into extreme badass mode as she steals all seven of the TARDIS keys from the Doctor's various hiding places, then knocks him out with a sleep-inducing device. The Doctor wakes outside the TARDIS on a volcano planet to see Clara threatening to throw all seven keys into the lava if he doesn't restore Danny.

The Doctor refuses, saying that against the rules, and Clara tosses all the keys into the fires of Mount Doom, effectively locking him out of the TARDIS forever. But wait! The Doctor saw right through her ruthless little scheme and surreptitiously drugged her, and this whole volcano scenario was all in her head.

The Doctor, impressed with Clara's determination, agrees to help retrieve Danny if possible. He technobabbles the TARDIS to Danny's location, which turns out to be a strange mausoleum. The mausoleum, called the 3W institute, is filled with thousands of tanks containing skeletons sitting in chairs. Gosh, that's not the least bit strange, unsettling or suspicious...

Missy appears so we can finally find out who or what she is. She claims to be a "welcome android," and pins the Doctor against the wall as she lustily rams her tongue down his throat. She then places his hand over her heart, and the Doctor appears stunned. Not because of Missy's forwardness, but of something else.

Meanwhile, Danny finds himself in the afterlife. Or rather the Nethersphere, a giant CGI city built on the inside surface of a vast ball. He's tended to by Seb, Missy's fussy assistant, who gives him a quick rundown on the ins and outs of life after death. There's a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork, and I can't imagine a worse hell.

Missy's other assistant, Dr. Chan, tells the Doctor and Clara that the dead remain conscious after death, and their spirits or something can "feel" what's happening to their bodies. This is why they set up this mausoleum, so the bodies of the dead can remain unharmed for eternity, instead of being cremated. The Doctor, not to mention the audience, is skeptical of this.

The Doctor eventually discovers that the Nethersphere belongs to Missy, and it's really a large hi-tech ball that houses the minds of the dead in a virtual world inside it. But a Nethersphere is Time Lord technology. So how did Missy get ahold of one? Why, because she's a Time Lord, that's how. But which one? Missy, sort for Mistress, which is the feminine form of... the Master! Whaaa?

Yes, the Doctor's arch enemy is now a woman, and she's collecting the souls of the dead in the Nethersphere, and then downloading them into the bodies of Cybermen, which are really what are sitting in all the tanks in the 3W mausoleum. She's amassing an army of Cybermen, no doubt in another attempt at taking over the world. The episode ends with the Doctor looking stunned, but whether it's because of Earth's impending doom or because he realized the Master had his tongue down his throat earlier is unclear.

Thoughts:
• When Clara first calls Danny, she barks "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" The Doctor said something very much like this earlier in the season.

• Clara writes out all her lies on Post-It Notes so she can confess everything to Danny. We get some clear shots of a few of the numerous Post-Its. Some are more obvious than others. I confess I had no idea who "Maisie" was and had to look her up (she was in Mummy On The Orient Express). And "Miniature Clara?" I guess that's from Into The Dalek?

• One of Clara's Post-Its says "Courtney Becomes President?" WTF? Surely that doesn't mean the Courtney Woods from Kill The Moon? And surely it doesn't mean THE President. As in "Of The United States Of America." Because that would be even more fanciful and nonsensical than the idea of a space dragon living inside the moon. 

The Courtney Woods we saw earlier in the season didn't seem like she could boil water without help, much less run a a goddamned country. Not to mention the fact that you have to be a natural born citizen to become the President.

Was this president thing mentioned or even hinted at in Kill The Moon? I honestly can't remember and I'd have to watch the episode again, and that ain't happening.

• Danny Pink's dead! And he goes out in the stupidest way possible– hit by a car while talking on his goddamned cell phone like an idiot.

That was a pretty quiet accident too. No screeching tires, no screams from Danny or any bystanders. I will admit the silence with the occasional weird pops was pretty eerie.

• Clara, knowing the Doctor won't want to break the laws of time and space to save Danny (even though he's done such things before), decides to coerce him into doing so by stealing all seven of the TARDIS keys. 

Although I admire her cleverness, I have to wonder how the hell she knew about all seven of the Doctor's key hiding places. Apparently she's been doing some heavy duty snooping while the Doctor wasn't looking! I bet she's one of those people who peeks inside the medicine cabinet when she visits a friend's house.

• The "Destroying The TARDIS Keys" dream sequence was very well done. It was like a reversal of the ending of The Return Of The King. I half expected the Doctor to jump after one of the keys and clutch it to his chest as he fell into the lava.

• Before the Doctor revealed that the lava scene wasn't really happening, I wondered why he cared so much if the keys were destroyed. Hasn't he demonstrated on many occasions that he can snap his fingers and the TARDIS door will open? Did he deactivate that feature or did the writers forget about it?

• I'm betting that when Clara blackmails the Doctor into helping her save Danny, she probably meant something more like "going back in time a week and preventing him from being run over," not "let's try and find the afterlife so we can rescue him."

• Sigh... after a long absence, the "Doctor who?" joke rears its unwelcome head. You owe me another $100, Moffat.

• When Clara asks Dr. Chan what 3W stands for, he says she won't like the answer. When she hears that minuscule clue her face blanches, as she somehow correctly guesses that it means "Don't cremate me!" That would not have been my first guess. In fact it would not have been by ten millionth guess.

• Dr. Chan explains that the mausoleum tanks are filled with "dark water" (we have a title!), which makes everything that's not organic– like Cyberman armor– invisible. That's why the tanks all appear to contain human skeletons.

So I guess that means there's a human skeleton inside every Cyberman? Huh. I always thought they were robots with human brains. I seem to remember more than one Cybermen losing an arm and there were visible wires and metal rods sticking out of the end.

On the other hand, when Amy was attacked by a severed Cyberman head near the Pandorica, it appeared there was a skull inside, so I guess maybe this episode has it right after all.

• So how long has the 3W company been in existence? Every body we see in the mausoleum has deteriorated into a skeleton. That had to take a while. Probably many years. Is this episode set in the future then? Presumably after the discovery that the dead can still "feel?" If it's set in the present day, then 3W had to have been founded years ago.

• So it looks like I now live in a world in which the Master has stuck his tongue down the Doctor's throat. Did not see that one coming.

• Inside the Nethersphere, Danny relives the moment when, as a soldier, he accidentally killed a young boy. Seb tells Danny that the boy wants to meet him. This confrontation scene could have been something really special, but it was given so little attention it makes me wonder why they bothered to include it at all.

• Danny marvels that the afterlife has iPads and wifi. Seb boasts that why not, they have Steve Jobs there. Too soon?

• Just in case you didn't know this was a Cybermen episode, their trademark "teardrop eye" kept popping up all through the show. As a graphic designer I appreciated all the eye logo designs and thought it was a fun little gag.

• So the worst thing that can happen to a dead person is for their body to be cremated, because they can apparently "feel" it somehow. Would that really be any worse than "feeling" your body slowly rot away into dust over the years?

• When the Cybermen are activated, they all stand and dramatically exit their cells at the same time. They really like busting out of cells. They did it in their very first appearance, and they've been doing it ever since.

• So Missy is really the Master! I have to admit they totally fooled me here. I had no idea of her true identity. Not even a clue.

Kudos to the creators for somehow keeping Missy's identity a secret all season. That's nearly impossible in this day and age. 

The Master's appearance bears a bit of scrutiny though. Last time we saw him, he was stuck in some time-locked bubble realm along with the rest of the Time Lords, or something. So how'd he escape? Obviously his escape necessitated a regeneration. And does the fact that he escaped from the time lock mean the rest of the Time Lords have as well? Time (heh) will tell, I suppose.

• The shot of the Cybermen marching in front of St. Paul's Cathedral is an homage to the Second Doctor story The Invasion, in which they did the exact same thing. Cool!

• Let me see if I understand the Master's plan. At some point a scientist discovers that the dead can still "feel." To that end, he starts the 3W company that will house the bodies of the dead in comfort so their spirits won't feel pain. The Master either had a hand in establishing this company, or at some point took it over. She then somehow encases every dead body inside Cyberman armor, which is submerged in "dark water" that makes it invisible. She also possesses a Nethersphere, which contains the souls of everyone who's died since... some indeterminate time. She then plans to download these spirits into the bodies of the Cybermen in the 3W company, giving her an army she can control. Is that it? Did I get it right?

She also mentions that she has an advantage here because according to her, "The dead outnumber the living." Presumably she means she can download the minds of everyone who's ever died into a Cyberman body. But how's she going to grab the souls of people who died centuries (or more) before she brought the Nethersphere to Earth?

• Welp, the faction of fans out there who are demanding a female Doctor is one step closer to their goal. We've now got a female Master, so I suppose a girl Doctor is inevitable at some point.

But is a female Doctor a good idea?

Whenever the Doctor regenerates, he gets a new body, but he's still the same person. Sure, certain aspects of his personality may change a bit with each new face, but inside he's still the same Time Lord we all know and love. Same memories, same everything. Presumably this goes for all Time Lords, including the Master. 

But now that the Master has switched genders, it's not just his body that changed. He appears to actually BE a woman. His actions, reactions and mannerisms are all feminine. 

He very enthusiastically jams his tongue down the Doctor's throat, and seems to thoroughly enjoy the experience. If there was any aspect of the male Master left, he'd have been repulsed at the thought of snogging his old enemy. He's now a woman in mind as well as in body. In other words, he's no longer the same person. There's very little that's Master-y about him now. He's a completely different character.

The same thing will happen the day the Doctor becomes a woman. She'll no longer be the same character. She'll be the Doctor, but she won't be THE Doctor. She can't be, otherwise it'd be no different than slapping a dress on the male Doctor and calling it a day.

I'm not outright condemning the idea, I'm just asking: How elastic is the character? How much can you change him before he's no longer the Doctor? And will fans embrace or reject this new character? It's something I don't think the pro Girl Doctor crowd is taking into consideration.

Let the hate mail begin!

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