Showrunner Steven Moffat once again takes the writing reins for a two-part Doctor Who finale, and its first part certainly knows how to kick things off.
Dark Water is the first in this dual-episode finale for Series 8, and from the first scene it’s already quite the mindbend. Needless to say, this episode is one fraught with spoilers, right from the word go that’s the case. By the first few minutes you’re hooked and confused, which is textbook Steven Moffat, and the episode goes along on its way like that for quite a while.
Directed by Rachel Talalay, Dark Water shows us a broken Clara (Jenna Coleman) on the edge, one desperate and ready to make a lot of choices that go against type and come into conflict with her relationship with The Doctor (Peter Capaldi). But of course, it’s all in the name of love, for Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) is in serious peril.
The episode is full of very strong performances, and despite some scenes playing out a bit oddly in terms of character behaviour and general Doctor Who-logic, both Capaldi and Coleman shine in their respective roles.
It’s the construction of the episode that’s a bit of a miss here. Dark Water is one of those Doctor Who episodes that probably would have worked better without the trailers and promotional material being released beforehand. It being a part one of a two-part series finale, there are plenty of eyerolls and a watch gazes on the way to reaching a plot point that was obvious and heavily telegraphed. It’s clear enough to reveal it here without fear of spoiling much: this week’s episode includes Cybermen.
Dark Water falls down on this point, because while a lot of the concepts thrown out there in the episode are rather curious and interesting for the Doctor Who world, there’s always that anvil everyone knows is about to drop: the fact that Cybermen are really the big baddies here.
Or are they?
In some ways, Steven Moffat does a good job with the story construction, as well as with all the twists and turns. A heck of a lot of it is predictable, yes, and if it wasn’t for the Cybermen issue, other scenes could have had an even bigger impact. And boy, are there some great scenes in this episode.
Not amazing scenes, mind you. A seasoned Whovian will appreciate but not be entirely shocked by Dark Water. Interest will be piqued for the next week, but as a first part, it’s not the best. Capaldi’s Doctor certainly knows how to respond to the sticky situation presented in this episode, and as he finally comes face-to-face with the enigmatic Missy (Michelle Gomez, who is wonderful in her eccentric role), a battle of wits is sure to unfold.
Overall then, this week’s episode wasn’t a complete disappointment, but rather, a predictable, signposted calm before the storm. Moffat still has another episode to knock it out of the park from what he’s set up, and hopefully he won’t slip up there.
It’s gonna be interesting how this story plays out.