On one hand, Doctor Who’s Series 8 final two-part episode (entitled Dark Water and Death In Heaven) is the culmination of this season’s exploration of both the Doctor’s identity and his role in the relationship between Clara and Danny. On the other, it’s a compelling and ambitious Who adventure that perfectly realised everything that has made Capaldi’s first run on the show so refreshing.
That the episode does both of these things is impressive enough – but it also manages harken back to the Davies-era (like Doomsday and Last of the Timelords) by throwing the long-awaited return of The Master (or Missy, as she calls herself now) and an army of Cybermen into the mix.
So yeah, I liked this episode.
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD
Dark Water throws audiences right in the deep end with Danny Pink’s untimely death. In a move echoing Series 1’s Father’s Day, this sudden (though deliberately so) turn-of-events throws Clara and Doctor against each other – with the former distraught and determined to bring Danny back from the dead. Though it’d be easy to dismiss the fake-out sequence that sets the episode into motion as overdramatic in all the worst ways of the Moffat-era, Dark Water cleverly sidesteps this problem by taking the time to show and explore the added-emotional strain left by the encounter throughout the episode.
From there, it’s straight into Dark Water’s deliciously juicy premise – the afterlife. It’s interesting to watch events on the Netherspehere unfold and watch the show tackle something that it hasn’t really looked at in its revived run (though spin-off Torchwood did!). The titular dark water was a cool sci-fi touch here and alongside the impossibility of the whole scenario worked well to keep you guessing – not to mention overlooking the far more crucial mystery surrounding the identity of Missy.
The Master has always been my favorite Who villain and while I loved John Simm’s time in the role (in spite of its occasional ludicrousness), Michelle Gomez kills it as the infamous renegade. She brings out a darkly comic edge to the character – not to mention does a great job playing the misdirection game in Dark Water. Whilst Simm’s Master was a dark reflection of The Doctor gone wrong, Missy tries to play up the more anarchic side of things – and it works to great effect here
So much so that her final reveal of only wanting to show the Doctor how similar they are actually comes off with the correct amount of gravity and plausibility. In fact, Death in Heaven ends up being all about payoff. Everyone has a big moment here – Danny gets both his tragic-end and redemption (in that order), Clara manages to take up the role of the Doctor (albeit briefly) and The Doctor himself has to come to terms with his identity – at least partially.
It all comes together magnificently and in a remarkable poignant way, ends in a refreshingly sorrowful note. Both The Doctor and Clara choose to embrace their impossible, false happy-ever-afters and while Jenna Coleman has an episode or so left in her, Death in Heaven left it pretty clear that her time with The Doctor has come to an end.
It’s refreshing to have a proper two-part episode after so long without and the show is all the better for it. Dark Water is nothing but build-up but still manages to be nothing short of one of this series’ strongest entries. Consequently, Death in Heaven follows on from this groundwork to become a rollercoaster of excitement and emotional payoffs that’s nothing short of one of the best finales the show has seen in years.