Review: Doctor Who S8.E11 - Dark Water

You know the saying "love will find a way?"  Well, I've discovered that an equally powerful force of nature is Steven Moffat, who will also find a way: a way piss me off even during his best season as showrunner. Ok, so it's not as if the crap that he just pulled in this episode retroactively ruins the quality of Capaldi Who so far, because this is my favorite Series of New Who since Tennant's departure.  I'll have more to say about this when I review the entire Series, but Clara has come into her own as a companion, and episodes like "Kill the Moon" and "Flatline" have appealed to philosophy and physics nerds alike while containing interesting characters of color.

Let's talk about a few of the big problems I had with this episode.  Obviously spoilers follow.

The first one is Danny's encounter with his victim.  I might change my mind about this, but this interaction really didn't sit right with me.  My problem is that I knew something like this was coming.  Whenever Moffat gets heavy-handed and hints at something twenty times, he always makes sure to reveal every single detail about the secret at which he gestures.  Yeah, I know: Danny Pink killed someone innocent.  And, if he's this busted up about it, it was probably a woman or a child.

Doctor Who S8E11 Dark Water Clara

By being so heavy-handed, when there's this big reveal of it being a kid, I already expect it.  And anyway, what's the payoff going to be for me here?  I feel like Moffat is just picking at a scab to try to be profound, but it's just making everybody watching uncomfortable.  I appreciate ethically challenging material, but this served no purpose.

Second, though i appreciate the fact that every finale Moffat has done using characters that weren't used by his predecessor has been a boring disaster, it seems like the one time he might be able to get by without Cybermen or Daleks is when he's employing the other major villain employed by his predecessor: the Master.  Shrinking and going inside of a rogue Dalek is a novel re-use of Daleks, but Cybermen are hardly as interesting, and have been played with so much that I don't know what's left to get out of them.

Third.   *Deep Breath.*  The original send-off of the Master was a soul-crushingly perfect scene that really epitomized the heart of New Who:  The Master, refusing to regenerate, dying in Ten's arms, leaving him to be the lonely god.  It is a finale that I will never forget.  Even Ten and Davies’ final send-off which invoked the resurrection of the Master was blasphemy.  Still, it was a fun ride, using the madness of the Master to represent and ultimately undo the arrogance of the Time Lords, whose morality was twisted from years of war.

Often, criticisms of Moffat are rejected because they appeal to some notion of a status quo, and don't allow for growth or change beyond the years of Tennant or Davies.  But unless artistic progress actually follows guidelines set forth by Matthew McConaughey in a car commercial (going forward by going backward),  Moffat's use of the Master in these circumstances is indefensible and shits all over the character's powerful departure.

If progress is the name of the game-- which certainly it has been this season, with a new Doctor, a new Clara, a bevy of new, challenging episodes and a crop of youngsters and supporting characters who look like most of the planet rather than just the most privileged parts-- why not give us the Rani like so many of us have been clamoring for?  With all the bloated crap that happened regarding Gallifrey in the 50th anniversary special, why are we limited to a Time Lord whose sacrifice is already a dear part of our experience of this show?

Doctor Who S8E11 Dark Water Master

It at least seems to me like such a significant character making a comeback after all of what happened would warrant more than fifteen seconds at the end of the episode just to say "MISSY.  MISTRESS.  MASTER.  #CYBERLOL."  Take a minute to remember when you first found out who Dr. Yana was.  I still feel like I'm getting punched in the gut when I remember that reveal.  The Master deserves nothing less than that, especially after all that's happened.  If anything, he deserves to be allowed to stay dead.

... it does make the kiss at the beginning of the episode a lot funnier, though.

Just to end on a good note, because this was just the first episode of the finale and there is still plenty of time to go somewhere interesting or ruin it even more, the beginning of this episode was legitimately fantastic.  Not that I wanted to see Danny die (and not that the hardrive-soul-cybermen-body thing actually makes much sense if you think too hard about it), but Clara and the Doctor's relationship has been a highlight of this season, and seeing things coming to a head the way they did because of Danny's death perfectly underscored the development of both Clara's character and her love for Danny.

Additionally, the showdown with Clara really put a flourish on the development of Twelve as his own Doctor.  Just imagine if any companion had pulled that shit with our previous Doctors in New Who.  Nine, Ten, and Eleven all would have exhibited varying degrees of angst before shouting, crying, and inevitably parting ways with Clara.  But Twelve knows that as the man who stops the monsters, he doesn’t have time for angst.

This wasn’t the worst episode ever, but Moffat still found a way to get under my skin.  That said, I’m excited for the rest of this finale, because I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to Twelve and Clara in action every week.  And that’s damn cool.

Score: 3/5

Writer: Steven Moffat Saturday's 9:00pm ET/PT on BBC America