In the age of the Internet, it’s tough to pull off a legitimately surprising plot twist. Everything that writers try to hide from audiences will eventually get revealed, whether it’s through leaked scripts or photos from the set. That’s why it’s too bad that the big reveal at the end of the latest Doctor Who episode, Dark Water, isn’t all that surprising. Fortunately enough, this doesn’t detract from what is a fantastic episode and a brilliant set up for next week’s series finale.
The episode starts off with a bit of a shock: Danny Pink dies. His trip to the Nethersphere, which is finally explained after hints and teases throughout the series from showrunner Stephen Moffat, is what kicks the rest of the episode into action. Moffat, who wrote this episode and next week’s finale, actually does a sufficient job of letting the emotions of the characters shine through. Much of what happens in this episode is a result of themes and character tropes that have recurred throughout the series, and they come to fruition here.
One of the best moments of the series comes early in the episode, and is beautifully understated by Capaldi’s performance (can we name him the best Doctor yet?). After Clara attempts to force the Doctor to go back in time and save Danny, she prepares to leave him after her betrayal. He responds, “Do you think that I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” It’s a line that perfectly encapsulates the Doctor’s character arc to this point in the series. He’s not as warm or loveable as Matt Smith or David Tennant were, but deep down, he really does care about those around him.
The rest of the episode is chock full of Moffat-esque misdirections and red herrings, as he does everything in his power to fool the viewer. Some of it, like the reveal of the location of the Nethersphere, works, and some of it, like the return of the Cybermen, doesn’t really come as much of a surprise. Still, the episode is one of the best of the series. Moffat is smart to let the emotional arcs of the characters play out, and one exchange between Danny and Clara is particularly heart-breaking. I wasn’t too big a fan of Danny prior to this episode, particularly in last week’s dreadful In the Forest of the Night, but his character is given a great sacrificial moment and some depth.
Many of the questions that were raised throughout the series about the nature of Missy and the Nethersphere are answered, while many more remain hanging in the air for next week’s episode to answer. Missy is certainly an exciting villain, and the dynamic between Capaldi and her seems to be growing. The scene with the Doctor running through the streets trying to tell people to flee from the Cybermen was a treat, as was Missy’s reaction. The visual of the Cybermen invading London is a nice callback to classic Who, and it creates quite the cliffhanger. It’s going to be interesting to see how exactly Moffat manages to pull all of these loose threads together, if he even can. I, for one, am excited for the end of Capaldi’s first round as the Doctor, as next week promises to be an emotional and intense ending to what has been a stellar series of Who.