‘Doctor Who’ spoiler-free review: ‘Dark Water’

“I am the spirit of dark and lonely water,” the spooky, black-robed ghoul in a notorious public information film of the 1970s once intoned. “Ready to trap the unwary, the show-off, the fool…”

The Twelfth Doctor should have listened. In his short life so far, he’s been careless, conceited and crass. Yes, there’s been heroism, wit and all manner of other Doctor-ish qualities as well, but he’s made mistakes. Some were understandable; others were down to a certainty in his own righteousness.

Now hubris is coming to bite him on the arse – and on the collective posteriors of Clara and Danny. In Heaven, all hell is breaking loose.

Doctor Who Dark Water Cybermen

If you’ve seen the trailers for Season 8’s two-part finale, you’ll know which autonetic metal bastards are returning to wreak havoc. Happily, the twists that Steven Moffat weaves for a Doctor Who monster that is usually tedious beyond belief are creative and creepy: a mixture of The Tommyknockers and Aliens (again!) that will linger long into Saturday night.

The story’s bloody good, too: taut, claustrophobic and brimming with gruesome ingenuity. It’s not Moffat’s best, but it might be his most unsettling. It isn’t just the horrors lurking in the quietly ominous 3W Institute; there’s a flashback to an awful moment in Danny Pink’s past that pays dreadful dividends later on.

‘Dark Water’ is Samuel Anderson’s finest performance in the show so far, but to explain why would also mean explaining why this is Jenna Coleman’s finest performance in the show so far, which would be too spoilerific by half. Both actors take their characters to new and deeply unhappy places – particularly Coleman, whose Clara is so grimly determined to get what she wants she’s prepared to blackmail the Doctor, threatening to take away the thing he holds most dear.

Then there’s Missy.

Doctor Who Dark Water

Michelle Gomez makes her a monstrous, cackling harridan, lording it over the Doctor with a demented confidence that matches his own. “Another ranting Scotsman in the street,” she explains to passers-by as he tries to warn them of impending Armageddon. “I had no idea there was a match on.”

Her fey acolytes, Dr Chang (Andrew Leung as Harry Potter in an electric blue mod suit) and Seb (a prissy, iPad-wielding Mark Gatiss tribute by Chris Addison), fade into the furniture compared with the Wicked Witch of West Lothian.

Missy’s machinations leave things looking bleak for humanity and sparks will definitely fly in the following week’s ‘Death in Heaven’, which looks gloomier than any season finale that has preceded it … but no less compelling.

“This is it, Clara,” the Doctor says. “The darkest day, the blackest hour. Chin up, shoulders back, let’s see what we’re made of.”

On this evidence, solid gold.

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Airs at 8.15pm on Saturday 1 November 2014 on BBC One.

> Order Season 8 on DVD on Amazon.

> Order Season 8 on Blu-ray on Amazon.

What are your hopes for the episode? Let us know below…

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  • Kevin1960

    Finally! A Cult Box reviewer who gets to the point without auditioning for a stand-up career or concerns themselves with what ‘fandom’ might think of it. Dark Water sounds great. Looking forward to it.

  • Judith_990

    Another euphoric preview. Haven’t seen anything even slightly negative about this one including from reviewers who are sometimes quite harsh in their opinions. Looks as though Moffat has completely pulled off a magnificent two parter finale, made the cybermen scary again and delivered a story full of heart, thrills and excitement. Bravo!

  • CatherineGee

    Glad the finale is so good. Suitable ending to the best series in modern Who with the best ever Doctor, best new Who companion, best story telling, best direction, best supporting actors, best showrunner and well, possibly the best thing on television at the moment. Capaldi in particular has allowed those viewers who have only seen the boyband doctors in action to realise that the true Doctor is a slightly befuddled, somewhat grumpy, authorative scientist who doesn’t give a fig about pudding headed humans. If nothing else, restoring Doctor Who after the wilderness RTD years and the entertaining but misjudged Matt Smith era should earn Steven Moffat universal thanks from fans. Series 9 with greater input from Capaldi should deliver even more goodies with an ending which Moffat has already stated will blow everyone’s mind and nobody will guess where it is going. Sensationally good all around.

  • John

    Golly! One of the best written reviews I’ve read in a long time.