Doctor Who: Dark Water

“Death is not a checkmate…it is more like a carnival trick. You cannot win, no matter how you move your Queen.”

Catherynne Valente

Hmmm…an interesting episode to begin this year’s Doctor Who season finale, I think.

Actually, given the fact that it’s a Moffat effort, Dark Water is quite impressive. It begins, rather startlingly, with a death: Danny is hit by a car on his way to visit Clara. “It’s too ordinary,” says Griefstruck Clara, who is rather scary. “I am owed more.” (That was rather good writing, I thought.)

Anyway, after a good bit of frankly dull and unnecessary hoo-ha-ing, the Doctor agrees to help Clara go looking for an afterlife. “I always meant to have a look around,” he adds, as if referring to a vaguely mysterious disappearing city rather than, you know, mankind’s most burning question.

I also feel that if the Doctor had meant to go find the land of the dead he would have done it before for others whom he loved more. Susan? Jenny? All the Gallifreyan dead? My point is that Clara should not be the first and only person to convince him to do so.

Anyway, the next thing we know, Danny the Allegedly Dead wakes up in an admittedly rather cool city called the Nethersphere, a hollow sphere which contains what I can only assume is supposed to be billions upon billions of the dead. (Is it only humans who go there? Or might you stumble upon a Slitheen or Sontaran or even, gods forbid, an angry Dalek? Who knows? Not Moffat, that’s for sure; or if he does, he’s not telling.) He manages to contact Clara, who’s found her way to a weird skeleton-infested fishtank mausoleum called 3W, where there appear to be some people who have answers.

AND THEN IT ALL KICKS OFF and we’re in proper Finale territory.

Leaving aside the fact that Danny and Clara have perhaps the most utterly unconvincing romantic relationship in all of science fiction, Dark Water is promising. Sadly, the enigmatic and deeply strange Missy does not turn out to be Awesome Romana (and, in fact, her true identity is disappointingly predictable), but there’s something very creepy about the concept of the Nethersphere (you could really do something interesting with that, I think) as well as the “three words” broadcast by the dead to the living. And if the Big Twist feels a little silly, a little hackneyed, well, it’s silly and hackneyed in the way that only Doctor Who can be. That sounds like an insult, but it isn’t, really. You expect certain things from the show, is all.

I’m not sure what introducing the idea of an afterlife to the Whoniverse will do to the show as a whole (most likely Moffat will simply forget about it after this series) – it doesn’t sit particularly well with the generally gently humanist philosophy of Doctor Who. But something might just happen in the next episode to change my opinion on that point. It might, after all, turn out to be no more than a dream.

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