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Let’s adjust those Intimacy Settings. Doctor Who: “Dark Water”

The first part of Doctor Who’s season finale is here, and… I’m sorry, I’m about to all-caps vomit all over the keyboard, so I’ll just stop there. Go below the cut for thoughts. And shouting.

I’m a very happy Whovian today.


Clara is going to confess everything about her adventures with the Doctor to Danny over the phone. He is walking to her flat, and as they’re speaking, she begins by telling him that she loves him completely. Unfortunately, Danny walks out into traffic and dies. Clara is destroyed, and calls for the Doctor. She slaps him with a sleeping patch and takes him to an active volcano—the only thing that can destroy TARDIS keys. She tells him that she’ll destroy them all if he doesn’t save Danny. He tells her no. She proceeds to drop all of the keys into lava. The Doctor reveals that he made a switch on her; the sleeping patch actually induces a dream state, and he wanted to see how far she’d go to get what she wanted. Clara assumes it’s all over, but the Doctor wants to help; she may have betrayed him, but her friendship will always mean more to him. They turn off all the safeties use the TARDIS telepathic circuits to find Danny wherever he is now.

They end up in a place called the Nethersphere where they see skeletons in tanks. They are greeted by a woman named Missy, who claims to be a robot of the facility maintained by a Doctor there. She kisses the Doctor (who promptly panics), then asks if she should adjust her intimacy setting before doing the same to Clara. They stop her, but Missy has the Doctor check her heart. The Doctor seems confounded by this, but they go to speak with a Doctor Chang of the facility—called 3W—to find out what it’s all about. It turns out to be a place where the dead go after dying, a city contained within a sphere. Their consciousnesses move to this place, but they still maintain a connection to their physical bodies; this means they can feel the pain of whatever is done to their body after death, such as cremation. 3W exists to eliminate such discomfort. The skeletons in the tanks are actually surrounded by exoskeletons that do not appear in the water.

Danny is in the Nethersphere, being handled by a man named Seb. He has a visitor, who turns out to be the boy he accidentally killed while on duty as a solider. Then he gets a call from Clara and the Doctor. The Doctor tells Clara to be skeptical about this place, and only believe that the voice on the end of the line is Danny if he can answer tough questions. She begins to grill him, but Danny realizes that if he proves he is himself, Clara will want to come and find him, potentially ending her life. He refuses to continue their conversation, simply saying that he loves her. Seb tells him that he can stop feeling all this pain is he chooses to delete his emotions. His finger hovers over a delete button just as the little boy he killed appears behind him.

Doctor Who, Dark Water

Clara turns around in the 3W office to find that the tank nearby has drained its water, revealing the exoskeleton encasing the corpse—it’s a Cyberman. The Doctor makes this discovery at the same time while he’s with Missy. He begins to question who she is, revealing that he noticed earlier that she has two hearts. She admits to being a Time Lady, and points to the sphere at the center of her facility—a piece of Time Lord technology where the Nethersphere is located. She’s been collecting the dead to power a Cybermen army. The Doctor desperately tries to figure out who she is, and tries to escape; he opens the doors to find that he’s in modern day London, at St. Paul’s Cathedral. Missy sets the Cybermen loose, while the Doctor tries to shoo everyone away. He asks Missy again who she is, and she scolds him for not seeing the obvious; Missy is short for Mistress, a name that seemed more appropriate to her current form than the one she had before—the Master.





I’m sorry. It’s just. My favorite is back.

I know that Missy being the Master had been a guess from the beginning, and while some fans may be upset to have seen it coming, I feel pretty much the opposite way. One of the biggest problems the Moffat era has had (especially with season finales) is in trying to keep us guessing to the point where nothing really makes sense. I would much rather have guessed Missy’s identity correctly because it felt less forced than any other possibility. The cues were all there, and to not have them pan out would have been a pity. The point is not the surprise—it’s the excitement. I spent the last ten minutes of the episode shouting at the television “Say it! Say it. I KNOW IT’S YOU, SAY IT.” That was most of the fun. The Doctor’s inability to deal makes it more enjoyable—it’s not hard to guess that he feels two hearts when she insists that he check, but he literally cannot go there. It’s too much.

Doctor Who, Dark Water

It seems likely that this just happened to fall together exactly as it needed to. John Simm said a long while back that he didn’t want to give up the character, but he has been working on BBC’s The Intruders. My guess is that they offered him the opportunity and he simply didn’t have the time. With that in mind, they needed to cast someone new. Though Moffat was unwilling to make the Doctor female this time around, the fan community being so vocal on the subject likely led to the consideration of trying a Time Lord gender switch with a different character. The Master is pretty much the perfect candidate for that in every aspect. Part of me is a little miffed that she feels the need to change her title to the Mistress, but it is the exact sort of misdirect you’d expect from the character, designed more for confusion than anything.

(I do take issue with the idea that the Master is only comfortable making out with the Doctor when she’s a woman, but provided that a male incarnation of the Master eventually goes there, I’d rescind that. Yes, I appreciate the desire to amp up the flirting between these two—they’ve always done it and, heck, I’ve always shipped it—but it’s distressing that it’s only acceptable for these sorts of rivalry pairings to make out when they appear to be a heterosexual duo. See: Elementary.)

Writing this move off is a mistake, because it has major portends for the future of Doctor Who, all of which are incredibly promising. For one, women who identify with the Master now have an avatar that’s aligned to them. For two, this perfectly sets up the possibility of a female Doctor. Now that we’ve had a prevalent Time Lord make the switch (the reference to the Corsair in “The Doctor’s Wife” was nice, but not really enough), there’s precedent. So in effect, this decision is monumental. It has opened the door wide to these changes without bluster. The Master is a woman now. The Doctor can be, too.

Did I mention that I love her? Michelle Gomez has a clear take on the character that still plays well with previous incarnations. Her comic beats were on point, her glee was infectious. And her playfulness works so well alongside Capaldi’s grumpier take on the Doctor. It is essential for these two to bounce well off one another, and it seems we have another winning match from what we’ve received so far. What we don’t know is precisely where this version of the Master comes from or how she got there. It seems as though she’s alluding to bringing this tech over from the locked-off Time War, which is the most likely, since we know that getting back to Gallifrey is something that Capaldi’s Doctor is probably heading toward. Knowledge of how the Master wriggled out of there could help him find his way home. (If that is indeed where she came from, who is surprised that the Master figured out how to cross that barrier first? Very not me.)

Doctor Who, Dark Water

There are plenty of things in this episode that clearly appear for shock value and don’t quite make sense. For example, Clara’s move with the TARDIS keys and the lava seems silly because we’ve never been told that the keys are particularly difficult to make, and we know that the doors can be opened with a snap of the fingers (for some time) now. Clara even did this a few episodes back, so how are the keys this relevant? The Nethersphere hasn’t quite come clear, but I assume that’s for the next episode to flesh out. The idea that a human retains a tie to their body in that realm is one of the more insidious bits of psychological horror that the show has pulled in a long time, and I honestly don’t feel capable of dwelling on the idea for that long.

The real question is, will they save Danny? You’d assume they have to because Clara met their ostensible great-greaty-great grandson in the future. It’s a bit of a tired move on Doctor Who of late, bringing back dead boyfriends, but the idea of Danny dying because Clara chose the wrong moment to say ‘I love you’ might be too much to bear. With that in mind, perhaps retreading the material should be allowed. At least the way back to Danny seems a little more cut and dry than usual. His choice to prevent Clara from coming after him was a beautiful piece of drama that sets the stage for the second act with all the tension required.

The dynamic between the Doctor and Clara is stronger than ever, and his choice to attempt the impossible with her, even after her “betrayal,” was easily the most touching moment Capaldi has ever been written. We’ve seen the Doctor act cruel in moments of disappointment before; it makes this choice seem even kinder by comparison. We know he has been concerned over what he’s taught Clara in her journey as “the Doctor” in the past few episodes. What he’s neglected to recognize is the compassion he seems to have absorbed from her company.

Doctor Who, Dark Water

So far the Cybermen twist is actually quite interesting, particularly since they are not acting of their own hive-mind volition. Having the Master in control of them is smart while also being a little familiar—the Master has aligned with the Daleks before, so taking over the Cybermen seems exactly the sort of thing she might do. (Yay, I get to write ‘she’ now, this is awesome.) The next episode will decide if their use was a good move, but so far I’m impressed.

Fingers crossed for an excellent part two. And Missy better survive this—I want a lot more of her in the future.

Emmet Asher-Perrin wonders what her neighbors must think of all that shouting she did at the television. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.


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