Every little quibble I’ve had about this series is mostly forgotten. Boring story lines, weak characterization, lazy scripts and a weak story arc are all moot. Why? Because The Master is back, except now he is a she and she is kind of awesome. I was extremely disappointed when Capaldi was announced as the next Doctor because I feel it is past time for a woman to play The Doctor. A female Master is the next best thing, however, and when she’s as cool as Michelle Gomez I’ll take it.
I was expecting very little from this series finale. The lead up to the explanation of Missy and the Nethersphere hasn’t exactly peaked my interest. If anything, I’ve found the heaven sequences shoehorned into various episodes to be quite annoying, but “Dark Water” kind of makes up for that. It’s not a perfect episode by any stretch, but after a disappointing season, it will do. It was not a good start. Clara calls Danny to tell him emphatically just how much she loves him, causing him to walk into traffic. His death was a surprise, but it wasn’t at all shocking. Instead it left the “meh” feeling that has run throughout this series, although it did send Clara off the deep end. Distraught she holds the Tardis keys ransom in a volcano as she tries to coerce The Doctor into changing time and saving Danny, although it turns out The Doctor was in control of everything, having placed Clara in a dream state to see how far she would go to save Danny. By this point I was cringing so hard, I think that I pulled something. It was so contrived and so poorly written. I just kept asking what is the point to all of this? Then the Tardis takes Clara and The Doctor to a giant mausoleum and things start to get interesting.
The Doctor and Clara find the tombs full of skeletons sitting in giant water tanks. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it is creepy and gives the episode the first bit of mystery. It is also where we meet Missy and, apart from the kiss between her and The Doctor which seems to stem only from the need for every Doctor of this era to be snogged by someone, she steals the show. Gomez’s Master (or Mistress as she now prefers to be called) is everything you could ask for in a villain. Smart, resourceful and just a little bit mad, she is absolutely electric on screen. I liked John Simm, but Michelle Gomez is so much better. She has an authority and aura around her that demands attention. She is every bit The Doctor’s equal and Gomez seems to be having so much fun with it that it’s hard not to enjoy it with her.
We also have her minion Seb, who appears to run the HR department of the Nethersphere. He gets some of the best dialogue of the series as he complains about the wifi, and exuberantly explains the situation to Danny when he turns up. There is some dark and twisted stuff in Steven Moffat’s mind, but Seb handles the nature of death (life?) in the Nethersphere without blinking an eye making it very amusing. (Just remember that you don’t want to leave your body to science. That would be unpleasant.) The whole thing could have suffered from the weightiness of trying to quantify the afterlife, but Seb turns it into just another temp job.
There is also the small matter of the Cybermen, whose appearance shocked me more than Danny’s death, even though I knew they were coming. There are subtle hints of them all throughout the episode, with the windows in the doors shaped like Cybermen eyes, and the stoic skeletons whose heads swivel as Clara and The Doctor pass. It’s just basic enough that when they are revealed, it doesn’t feel like a cheat, which is always a plus.
“Dark Water” was largely setup, but there’s definitely the feel of big things to come next week, and for the first time all series, I’m looking forward to it.