I’m going to keep this as brief as I can, because it’s tricky to judge a ‘part one’ in isolation without having seen the second episode. As it was, we got a couple of answers to two questions which have run the length of the series (one we were actualy interested in and the other one to do with Danny Pink). There was a bunch of cool visuals, a couple of teases and more than a few new mysteries to (hopefully) be resolved next week.
When Danny Pink is run over and killed mid-telephone conversation with Clara, she immediately puts her newly-honed manipulation skills to use to strong arm the Doctor into helping her change his fate. Their quest brings them to 3W, a high-tech mausoleum while, to his ‘eternal’ surprise, Danny finds himself inside the bureaucratic afterlife of The Nethersphere, coming face to face with a literal ghost from his past. Both the metaphysical and physical worlds lead to the mysterious Missy, who’s finally about to come face to face with the Doctor.
Usually I’ve enjoyed the first part of “Doctor Who” two part finales more than the resolution which may not bode well for this series because “Dark Water” felt a little unfocussed to me, and like it was concentrating on the wrong things. The catacombs containing row after row of Cybermen was a lovely nod back to their classic adventures, especially with the Second Doctor, but I can’t be the only one who was disappointed that they didn’t smash out of their enclosures, letting the water gush out around them rather than wait patiently for the rinse cycle to finish then opening the door. The concept of ‘dark water’ was a neat bit of science fiction flimflam and a cunning way to hid them in plain grisly sight but I find it unlikely that Cybermen continue to have full skeletons after the conversion process. Seems very inefficient, not to mention unhygienic.
It was also nice to see, after all the bigging up of Clara as being as clever and manipulative as the Doctor, just how easily she got her metaphorical ass handed to her by the man himself before he decided to help her anyway. Also, how big a threat was destroying the keys anyway? We know the Doctor can open the doors by clicking his fingers. The bits with Danny in the Nethersphere dragged for me and Chris Addison’s tiptoeing along the edge of jolly and sinister started to wear thin very quickly but I guess important stuff is being established there that’ll be used when the Doctor saves the day in part two. After all, the little boy’s face is reflected in Danny’s iPad in the end shot of the clumsily edited cliffhanger moment. Not for the first time in Nu-Who they’ve botched the drama of the cliffhanger but this seemed particularly poor.
The Missy revelation was simultaneously the most exciting and disappointing one it could have been. I think pretty much everyone had figured she was a Time Lady (she’s old fashioned – love it) but which one would she be? Oh, there was clever dialogue indicating that – oh my god, it’s her (you know, the E-Space one) or maybe even her, you know – that one – but in the end it was the one you were least/ most expecting. A change of dynamic is a certainty here and I’m not talking about the kiss that was as predictable as it was pointless fanbait. At the very least, it will increase the frenzy around the Doctor’s next regeneration massively.
On its own, a curiously unsatisfying episode despite the reveals (I’m surprised it shot its Missy bolt this early, which makes me wonder if there’s more twists to come) but it may just be setting up for “Death In Heaven”. For me, though, the most compelling mystery and the one they’d better resolve before the series ends is: just what was Clara doing at the start of the episode with all the Post-Its, when she called Danny? That’s what I really want to know…
Not so brief after all.