Every week Tor Books UK rounds up the thoughts of author and Whovian Paul Cornell on this week’s episode of Doctor Who. This week: 5 brilliant things about “Dark Water,” the first half of the series finale.
Major spoilers for the episode ahead. This one contained quite a revelation at the end!
1.) “Dark Water” was a lavish-looking episode that made both the afterlife and reality feel like lived-in, many-faceted worlds. It also had a great emotional depth, earned by the whole season having led up to it. Who wouldn’t believe in Clara’s choices, given all we’ve seen her and Danny go through? Jenna Coleman knocking it out of this park and out of the next three parks after this park helped (her cold grief and her acceptance of the Doctor’s judgment of her were wondrous to behold), but the episode was already pre-loaded for feels.
2.) “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” is one of the most moving lines ever to be put into the mouth of a Doctor. It shows that he really is the same man underneath, his decision to immediately forgive Clara being the answer to his question about whether or not he’s a good man. It’s also wonderful that this big moment is a private act of forgiveness, not some heroic rescue or sacrifice.
3.) As in “Listen,” we’re now in a universe where the Doctor is interested in, and seeks to encounter, the numinous, the beyond, as this time he chases not just the origins of fear, but life after death. There’s something about that vaguely Grant Morrison vision of an ur-rational multiverse that gives Capaldi’s adventures an epic scale. What other Doctor would have considered a journey to Hell?
4.) Missy is both written and played as a brilliant continuation of the Master, Michelle Gomez channeling John Simm and even a little Anthony Ainley at one point, getting immediately under the Doctor’s skin by noticing and exploiting his new, pathological level of asexuality. Her stepping right through the scrolling words and straight into Capaldi’s personal space is very Simm. I just want to see more of her being the Master. She’s as wonderfully unhinged as any of them were. Maybe even better.
5.) This was, above all, an episode of ideas. “What if embryos had telephones?” Steven often employs a very SF way of making excitement out of building revolutionary concept on revolutionary concept. Some of it here is about stacking three items from Doctor Who’s past: the Master; the Cybermen and the Matrix, to produce something new. Some of it is about new thoughts concerning the nature of the afterlife. There’s also a touch of Fortean reading: the idea that the dead show up in white noise as EVP, “electronic voice phenomena” is a “real” thing. What makes it sing is the emotional dimension: a new way to present the everyday horror of a car accident; Danny genuinely, actually, meeting the boy he killed. The whole thing, like all of this season, is presented with confidence and clarity, to such a degree that “what can I do for you, Clara?”, because the show is confident we know the stakes, works utterly as a pre-credits cliffhanger. They know we know about the Cybermen, so they do the bit with the double doors and make us see the image that’s been in front of us the whole time.
I’m calling it now, by the way: best season since the show returned. It’d be that even if next week was 43 minutes of white noise.
This post originally appeared on Tor UK.