Doctor Who, S8 Ep11 — Dark Water

“Dark Water,” part one in Doctor Who‘s big two-part 8th series finale, takes us to the mysterious “Promised Land” we’ve had glimpses of all season — and it’s not what you might have expected. It’s the afterlife, yes. Missy, who has been making appearances since episode one, takes center stage. This is Stephen Moffat’s big finish to the series, and it’s actually quite restrained; neither is it overly complicated nor does it feel rushed like the Ponds/River Song story often did.

The episode starts with the sudden, unexpected death of Danny Pink. Killing off a major character in the prime of their life is far from Moffat’s MO. He generally doesn’t kill characters. Despite his reputation as a ruthless character killer, he almost always finds a way to make his favorite characters live out long lives — Hell, the 11th Doctor died of old age. So did Amy and Rory after being sent back in time by the Weeping Angels. River lived on indefinitely inside a computer after her death. Rita died, but she was a Toby Whithouse character.

Anyway. Now that Moffat has added an afterworld (or “Nethersphere”) to the Doctor Who universe (interesting, especially since The Doctor has been a serious skeptic of the concept of human life after death as recently as the 7th series), characters are dying with greater frequency. And since it doesn’t mean the end of them, even major characters can die now.

Throughout the season, the glimpses of the afterlife were assuring. The dead were taken to a strange, sometimes idyllic place. There was something off about it, but it seemed like a safe place. “Dark Water” debunks any such perception — and that’s a departure for Moffatt.

After Danny is killed, Clara returns to The Doctor after a period of mourning as if nothing has happened, requesting a trip to an active volcano, while calmly stealing all seven of the TARDIS keys. She attacks The Doctor with a knock-out patch, and when he awakens, Clara tells him of Danny’s death and threatens to destroy all seven keys if he doesn’t help her undo it. The Doctor refuses repeatedly, and Clara destroys the keys. As she realizes the magnitude of what she’s done, The Doctor reveals that she never knocked him out — he knew what she was planning and stuck the patch to her hand, putting her in a dream state. They never left the TARDIS, and the keys were all there on the floor.

Despite her betrayal, The Doctor agrees to help Clara. Actually, he tells her to “go to hell,” and when she starts to leave with her tail between her legs, he’s like “What? We’re going to Hell or wherever to find Danny.”



Danny is in hell. Not the flaming, biblical Hell, but a stark meeting room of the sort that reminds me why I don’t work in an office. He’s greeted by Seb, who breaks it to him in a routine manner that he’s dead. Outside, a sprawling cityscape goes on for as far as the eye can see, curving up into the sky, as if they’re on the inside of a sphere. They have wifi (spotty), iPads, and police sirens wail in the distance.

The TARDIS lands, steered by Clara’s thought of Danny. It appears they’ve arrived in the afterworld,  which makes you wonder why The Doctor hasn’t explored the afterlife before. Or why The Doctor has repeatedly snubbed the idea of life after death. Maybe because the possibility is more horrifying than most Earthly myths of the afterlife. Like, why are there big tanks with skeletons sitting in them?

It’s not long before they’re greeted by Missy, who welcomes The Doctor with an over-the-top kiss. She claims to be an android, maintained by a Dr. Chang, who takes them to a posh office and explains that the skeletons are submerged in Dark Water, sort of a liquid x-ray that obscures inorganic material. Chang dips his arms into a vat of it to demonstrate, and his watch and sleeve disappear — but not his skin. So we can figure the skeletons have no skin. I can’t say I would have guessed they were Cybermen at that point if they hadn’t been in the preview, but it seemed pretty obvious at this point that they were Cybermen.

So how do Cybermen get made in the Netherworld? It seems that some dead people are easy to “upgrade.” Missy’s corporation, housing the submerged skeletons, is called 3W, short for 3 Words. The Doctor demands Chang tell him the three words, but Chang is hesitant. The words are very disturbing, especially if someone’s recently suffered a loss. Clara insists she can take it. Finally, Chang agrees, and plays the three words:

“Don’t cremate me.”

Danny, meanwhile, is told by Seb that’s he’s cold because his body is in refrigeration. The spirit, which is a physical and possibly mortal being in the Netherworld, can feel everything that happens to their corpse. Cremation is the dead’s biggest nightmare (though if this were so, I would imagine embalming and being buried in an airtight box would be no picnic either). He’s then told he has a caller, but it’s not Clara. It’s a little boy who was killed by Danny in the war. Danny sits with him, but the boy doesn’t speak. He appears frightened of Danny and runs away. It’s clear that no matter how many people Danny killed in the war, this boy haunted him the most. I would have liked to have seen more of this, but the boy was gone almost as quickly as he appeared.

Finally, Clara manages to get into contact with Danny, via wifi, which of course goes dead. When they reconnect, Clara, not trusting anything in the Nethersphere, asks Danny to say something to prove it’s him. All he can say is “I love you.” Angry that he won’t give a more specific answer, she tells him she’ll disconnect if he says it again. Knowing that the only way they can be together now is if she kills herself, he says it again. She disconnects and turns to see a drained tank with a rising Cyberman inside.

Missy prepares for her reveal.

Missy prepares for her reveal.

The Doctor, in another part of the facility, has learned from Chang that Missy is the head of the “corporation,” not just a greeter (really, did anyone think she wasn’t the boss here?). Missy kills Chang, which brings up all kinds of questions. Then Missy points out a small glowing sphere — the actual Netheresphere, inside which the dead, including Danny, are prepared for insertion into the Cyberman bodies. Which also brings up a lot of questions, like why do the nether souls have skeletons, and why are the dead so darn mortal?

In any event, The Doctor flees the facility to find himself outside of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Not some Netherworld London – the actual, real-life, earthly city of the living. As the Cybermen stream out into the streets, The Doctor demands to know Missy’s identity. Missy’s short for “Mistress,” she explains. And, in case you still don’t get it, she adds: “Well, I couldn’t keep calling myself The Master, could I?”

So yeah, Missy is The Master, which is a more satisfying, if not totally unpredictable, turn of events than if she were River Song or someone equally Moffatt-centric. The reveal ends part 1 if the 2-part finale, with Clara still face-to-face with a Cyberman in the office and Danny hovering his finger over the “Delete” button, which will erase his emotions, making him Cyberman-ready.