Sunday, 14 December 2014

"Dark Water"/"Death in Heaven"

There are a fair few things that are a bit dodgy about the two part finale to Capaldi’s first series. Some of the explanations for certain concepts are a bit woolly, the motivations for pivotal characters in relation to the events depicted require something of an imaginative leap on the part of the viewer. However, "Dark Water"/"Death in Heaven" is so engrossing that these observations are totally blown away when one is watching it and the real impact of the ideas and emotion of the story ensure that they cannot even come close to ruining it. Rachel Talalay brings her considerable experience to bear in a very assured production with epic action scenes working hand in hand with more intimate sections, combined with some stunning visuals, especially the technological vault of the firmament that features early in the story.

The Cybermen of 21st century Doctor Who may physically revamp themselves less than their 20th Century forbears, but conceptually, it is another matter. They started out (as did their predecessors) as humans who took spare part surgery a step too far. In "Nightmare in Silver", they were a cyborg collective controlled by a central intelligence. Now, they are nothing short of being a cybernetic undead plague controlled by a hive mind – for the first time ever, the Cybermen seem genuinely unstoppable. Conceptually, the Cybermen’s effectiveness has always been driven by the fact that they are based on the fear of death and nowhere has this been more chillingly explored than in this story. The afterlife that we have been teased with (or 'NetherSphere' as it is dubbed) is simply a reservoir of minds that have been harvested throughout human history, to be installed into Cybermen. The existential horror of the Three Words would be arguably going too far for a programme made for children, if it were not part of the story’s aim of death and how we can deal with it.

However, although the Cybermen are central to the plot, the heart(s) of the story are the characters in it. The key event in the story is the totally unexpected death of Danny in the opening scene of the story. It occurs in an all too common way, making the loss seem more real than others have been. Clara’s reaction to Danny’s death is as unexpected as it is believable and the scene where Clara tries to blackmail the Doctor is completely convincing thanks to Jenna Coleman's astonishing performance. She is complemented by great work from Samuel Anderson as Danny, showing real grit combined with vulnerability. UNIT make a very welcome return with Jemma Redgrave’s brilliant Kate Stewart and the sad demise of Ingrid Oliver’s Osgood. Sanjeev Bhaskar’s Colonel Ahmed isn’t as lucky as his wife’s character was four years ago, but it is always good to see him, as is Chris Addison. However there is another very important returnee. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had guessed that Missy was the Master. Michelle Gomez’s is, physically, as close as one can get to a female Roger Delgado - both possessing 'demonic' good looks – and her unhinged, yet controlled performance makes her great fun to watch – yet we do not forget the sheer wanton sadism of her murders. It proves, without a shadow of a doubt, that changing the sex of a regular character can work perfectly well, if the right actor is found...

This series of Doctor Who has been seen by some as being darker in mood and having the Doctor himself as a darker character. The Doctor has less time for fools in this incarnation and certainly less time for tears. However, it is clear that this is still the man we love; if there were any doubts, his unconditional forgiveness of Clara silenced them forever. The Doctor has wondered whether he was a good man, has been called a good Dalek, but here, he embraces what he truly is – an idiot. His anger is still real, as his enraged frustration over Gallifrey show, but he is still that madman with a box. I never doubted Peter Capaldi for a second and his performance in this story caps an astonishing run.

Peter Capaldi’s triumphant first season makes me look forward all the more to a very Frosty Christmas...

NEXT: "Last Christmas"