Review: DOCTOR WHO S8E11, DARK WATER (Or, Meet Missy)
It was always going to be the case that Steven Moffat would only answer the question of time lords regenerating as any gender other than male on his own terms. He's made it clear he doesn't want a woman playing the Doctor right now, but bringing his nemesis the Master back as Missy (Michelle Gomez) is a stroke of genius from the Doctor Who head honcho. And it makes the second part of this finale something to really look forward to.
The concluding reveal of "Dark Water" is what's certain to get tongues wagging in the aftermath of the episode, but to only focus on what is a surprising, earned and exciting twist would be to ignore that it is preceded by a confident episode that shows off what's great about Moffat's writing style. This episode is patient, considered and challenging, taking Clara to an incredibly dark place and proving that the Doctor has developed a level of humanity and forgiveness as he's grown over the course of this series. It's not necessarily typical Moffat plotting, but it's got his attention to character detail and mystery all over it.
It begins with a jolt, some rambling half-developed thoughts from Clara over the phone to Danny are suddenly cut short when oncoming traffic spells the end for the former soldier. He's off to the "Nethersphere", a place we've glimpsed in a series of irritating but ultimately useful scenes scattered throughout the series. Clara, appropriately, is not the same in the wake of Danny's demise. Anger drives her to threaten the Doctor, and in a series highlight for both Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi, they face off as she betrays him by flinging his keys to the Tardis into a volcano.
That her defiant act is revealed to be an illusion doesn't lessen the fact that she was prepared to lock the Doctor out of his home and destroy her friendship with him. He is remarkably able to forgive her and he promises to discover the secrets of the afterlife and save Danny in the process. Their journey was never going to be as simple as that though. While Danny appears to still be around, as Chris Addison explains the finer details of being dead to him, it's not like changing what's already happened is ever something that is easily achieved on the show.
The reveal that the Nethersphere is essentially an environment in which the deceased are turned into an army of Cybermen is almost as good as the truth about who Missy really is. We're in for a big final episode in which the characters are sure to be pushed to their limits, you only need remember what happened the last time the Doctor and the Master clashed to know that this won't be a fight that is easy to win.
There are things about this episode that are slightly more ropey and a little uneven, but it's got a lot going for it as it constructs a mystery that is really gripping and character drama feels real and shocking. The relationships have been at the core of this series and it's no surprise to see the various dynamics within the show under the spotlight again. The addition of the devious and psychotic Missy is excellently handled, and should make next week's second part of the finale something not to be missed.