New Series

Dark Water: Don’t Fuck This Up

Doctor Who needs a tonal shift, not a reskin. Dark Water hints at this, but there are also suggestions of something much more predictable and familiar.

capaldi gomez

Buck up, and give me some attitude

All season I have cried out for this. Do something different. Change the record. Rewrite the rules. And I don’t mean create female Doctor. That’s the most boring thing you could do, in desperate search of something interesting. Do something new: don’t bring someone back to life; don’t have love save the day; don’t rely on a tired revelation.

I’ll overlook the female Master thing because, frankly, that isn’t very interesting. In fact it’s the most obvious thing you could have done. Do something people didn’t expect and can’t figure out. Do The Power of the Daleks; Spearhead From Space; Genesis of the Daleks; City of Death; Warrior’s Gate; Enlightenment; Revelation of the Daleks; The Happiness Patrol; Ghost Light; The End of the World; Waters of Mars; The Eleventh Hour; Deep Breath. The New Adventures.

Something different.

Right now, I don’t know what’s going on. Neither does the Doctor; neither does Clara. That’s how I want things to stay. I don’t want a reset button that sets up a cosy Christmas special. I want ramifications; causality. I want this to mean something. No death cheats. No bait-and-switch. No tricksiness. None of that Sherlock bullshit. Dark Water has to be the moment that everything changes. A break from RTD and Moffat when people die and come back to life, the universe is rebooted, the baddies consigned to some ethereal netherworld that didn’t previously exist.

Don’t cheat me. Don’t lie to me.

In the same way that Clara is frustrated with the Doctor, I’m frustrated with the Doctor. He has lied to me again and again – and tried to pass it off with a cheeky line, a self-reflexive remark.

Dark Water has promised me all of these things. A great Doctor in Capaldi. An intriguing set-up in Heaven and Hell. Cybermen. The Master. Death and the lack of it. Frankly, I’m not sure whether this is suitable for Doctor Who’s viewership, but I asked for it, so I can’t complain that I’m getting it.

An interlude. Here are the things that are boring, predictable and crap about Dark Water:

• Missy being The Master. This was the least interesting and most predictable of the ‘who is Missy?’ options.

• Missy kissing the Doctor and being flirtatious. Like every Timelord thing since the reboot. To not have a Timelord behave in this manner would frankly be much more interesting.

• The Cybermen. They haven’t been any good since The Tenth Planet. 48 years ago. Nothing about Dark Water thus far suggests that will change.

• The Cybermen stomping around. This has never been good and the prospect of the Cybermen stepping noiselessly from their tanks is the most interesting thing Moffat could have done with them. Not recognising that is frankly embarrassing.

• Murray Gold’s Cyberman leitmotif. Appalling for fully eight years. Using it here is as insane as using Space Adventure from Tomb of the Cybermen in Revenge of the Cybermen or the Dudley Simpson’s wobbly synthesiser Master motif in Keeper of Traken. Stop it, for God’s sake. Boring, unimaginative, idiotic and not any good whatsoever.

• I suspect Moffat is buying time on the ‘female Doctor’ debate with this move. I find it instructive that Moffat is making all the right noises on this without actually doing anything about it. And the fact that we now have Capaldi as a Doctor and a definite shift in the character’s, well, character without the series changing one whit suggests to me that changing the Doctor’s gender would be as meaningless in terms of what it did for the series as I always suspected. I’ve seen RTD putting a tick next to the female Doctor thing recently. Again, I’d note that not only did he not do it, he dismissed the idea when he was in charge. The actions of both showrunners indicate that they can’t square the idea themselves but don’t have the courage to elucidate why. My suggestion is that they recognise as a fundamentally naff idea; not only is it superficially popular but it’s an idea that’s been around for decades. Doctor Who needs a tonal shift, not a reskin.

• Danny Pink. I still don’t care. And if he comes back to life – regardless of what is explained in this episode – it’s an automatic five points off in whatever mark I give it on Gallifrey Base.

Virtually every series of Doctor Who has promised change in this way since it returned. It’s OK Corral time; the series’ very own Trenzalore. It cannot bear any more dishonesty. If this is where we’re going, this is where we’re going.

Moffat has dangled the biggest bait we’ve ever seen in Doctor Who. And I’m not sure I like the direction it appears to be going. But it’s too late to have regrets. A bold new future, an afterlife, a path we’d never considered has been opened up. It’s frightening, new, possibly inappropriate.

But it’s new. And new is what Doctor Who needs. Seize the day, Steven.