I’m trying to figure out what series 8 was about. Before “Dark Water” I had this list: Clara, trust, lies, understanding who you are, and the definition of goodness. Early into part one of the series 8 Doctor Who finale we see Clara betray the Doctor for Danny, and hear so many lies and partial truths that their difference almost doesn’t matter. It’s bizarre.
Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) dies while talking to Clara (Jenna Coleman) on the phone. We watch Clara drift through time in a way that doesn’t require the TARDIS: she goes from Danny’s death, to his memorial, to standing in her kitchen with her grandma. Grandma says what we expect when a loved one dies; Clara refutes the normal platitudes and says that Danny’s death was mundane, simple, and stupid, not tragic. She says she doesn’t deserve better, but she is owed.
Then she looks at her phone, which rings over and over as it tries to contact the TARDIS.
We’ve seen what Clara plans to do before, though not so deliberate. When the Doctor collects her, Clara asks for a volcano. While the Doctor argues with her, Clara collects all of the seven TARDIS keys, and a “sleep patch.” When the Doctor agrees to take her to a volcano, she slaps the patch on him.
I try not to write “good reviews” because the internet is full of those by smarter people. I want to write something you like, and that matters to me. My favorite moments of Doctor Who aren’t the over-the-top cool moments (though I do like them), but the personal in the middle of the grandiose. I love the Doctor when he promises Rose Tyler, “I’m coming to get you,” and for the look on his face after he loses her.
Clara’s personal moment, as the volcano… acts like a volcano around her, is my favorite personal moment in the past four series. It’s strong, it’s striking, and despite not being real I think it still holds power. After she destroys the last key, the Doctor reveals the patches actually induce hallucinations, and they don’t effect him. After Clara tried to knock him out, the Doctor put the patch on her and let the fantasy play out.
At first I thought this was terrible. I still dislike flashbacks, dreams, flash-forwards, and other forms of narrative “lying”, but I tried to see this moment as a concrete example of the new Doctor. It’s easy for him to turn his back on people like Journey Blue. But, although Clara betrayed him, although he knows she’d do it again, he says:
You betrayed me. You betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything that I’ve ever stood for. You let me down!… Do you think that I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?
Series 8 is about truth in the middle of lies, I think, and whether the distinction even matters. Is the Doctor good? I don’t know, but does it matter? He’s mean, rude, insulting, and kind of a jackass, but he saves the world every other day. And he forgives.
This idea becomes even more important when the Doctor and Clara meet Missy (Michelle Gomez). While Danny talks with Seb (Chris Addison) inside the Nethersphere, the Doctor and Clara explore 3w, a strange funeral home that houses skeletons in water tanks. Misi introduces Dr. Chang, who explains that the dead suffer horribly, and 3w is based on the three words: “Don’t cremate me!”
Clara and Danny connect via IPad, while the Doctor and Dr. Chang explore more of 3w. Clara promises to commit suicide if Danny proves he’s real, so of course Danny convinces her of the opposite. I had little use for Danny throughout series 8, but this moment felt real and sad. Again, I think it ties into the idea of lies used for truth: Danny wants Clara to live and move on, so he has to lie and pretend he’s a fake by telling Clara “I love you.” He lies by telling her the truth.
The Doctor and Dr. Chang find Missy. Earlier, she pretended to be a robot helper named MISI, and made out with the Doctor. There’s some strange stuff going on here, so I’ll explain how I thought through this. When she put the Doctor’s hand over her heart, I thought ‘Of course, she’s a Time Lord.’ This lead me to the Master, but I reasoned my way out of this. ‘She can’t be a Time Lord, and definitely can’t be the Master. They’re all trapped in the Time War, and I’m pretty sure the Master exploded from lightning magic anyway.’
She’s not the Master; she’s the Mistress! And as crazy as ever.
Maybe not that crazy.
Missy kills Dr. Chang and unleashes the Cybermen on London. The Nethersphere, the Promised Land, the afterlife are actually a piece of Time Lord technology that can capture or absorb dying minds and place them in a virtual reality. The minds inside remain connected to their newly-upgraded bodies. Each mind is also given the chance to purge their emotions, and then probably deposited back into their body to act as a Cyberman.
Where the other Time Lords are, Gallifrey’s fate, and how the Mistress is even still alive are all important, as-yet unanswered questions, and I have no real speculation. I didn’t see the Master coming. At all. But we can be sure the last episode will go off the rails. With the Mistress/Master involved it always does.
Conspiracy theory: Is there a 4-beat rhythm in the Doctor Who theme that matches the beat the Master hears in her head all the time? I’ve been listening to it… too much, but I can’t confirm it. Anyone else notice it?