Doctor Who Recap: Dark Water
By Edwin Davies
November 12, 2014
Basically, that shocking opening was just the start of a roller coaster of revelations that the show has been building to slowly over the course of the last ten episodes, and the experience of watching the characters discover what many already suspected - that Missy was actually a regeneration of The Master - was tremendous fun. At his best, Steven Moffat can create a kind of avalanche of storytelling, in which event follows event, with each new discovery increasing the speed and intensity of the whole until you wonder how the episode is going to keep from falling over and being buried. With its myriad twists and turns, "Dark Water" was a great example of Moffat keeping just ahead of the snow.
It's probably worth taking a moment at this point to discuss how monumentally (and delightfully) messed up this episode was. Killing Danny in the first five minutes, even if he resurfaces soon after in the afterlife accompanied by Seb (Chris Addison), gives the episode carte blanche to discuss the afterlife and mortality in a way that is initially quite frank, but very quickly takes a left turn into disturbing. Clara and The Doctor learn from Doctor Chang (Andrew Leung), that the afterlife (or 3W as it's actually known) is a kind of storage facility for the consciousnesses of those who have died, and that their bodies are stored in a fluid known as dark water, which preserves them while also acting as an X-ray that only shows the skeletons of the dead, but not the exoskeletons used to contain them.
The episode also fleshes out the details of the Nethersphere by showing that there is a psychic connection between the consciousnesses contained in it and their corporeal bodies. To illustrate that point, one man off-screen screams in agony as doctors remove his organs, while Danny, Clara and The Doctor all learn at the same time that those who are cremated basically feel like they are burning alive. Oh, and they force Danny to reveal that he killed a kid when he was in the Army and then have him sit opposite that same child, and experience his fear and rejection. So, yeah, it's a pretty messed up episode all around, particularly when contrasted against the very cheery way that Missy, Seb and Dr. Chang act towards their visitors. Doctor Who has produced scarier episodes, but I can't think of any that produced the same skin crawling effect.
The images of skeletons sitting in what are essentially large fish tanks is an immensely creepy image in and of itself, even before the skeletons start moving around when no one is looking. It's the sort of simple yet scary effect that the show has become renowned for, and it also serves as a nice misdirect for the hint that the dark water is hiding the fact that the skeletons are contained within - DUN DUN DUN - Cyberman armour. I've never found the Cybermen to be particularly scary - a skepticism that was reinforced by the shot of them strutting and walking through London like they're about to break in to a Daft Punk tribute - but the slow reveal of them as the water drained from their tank was very well done. (Peter Capaldi, for his part, seemed to be working very hard to keep the glee out of his voice when he shouted "Cybermen!")