DVD Extras for this story on the 12-episode box sets include:
Poor Aim with Season ArcsA certain focus seems to develop this season around a few ideas, none of which were particularly compelling. As we go through story after story, it seems the question of the Doctor's character keeps cropping up, and he keeps on examining his own navel to find out what he's really like, and whether or not it's good. I've often said that "regeneration trauma" is not a good idea for a Doctor's first story, and in this case it feels like it's been partially extended into the rest of the season, half-disguised as a mid-life identity crisis. Although this is far more tastefully done here than in the disastrous attempt back when Colin Baker first debuted as the sixth Doctor, the idea really hasn't gotten any more interesting. Most Doctors since then have already flirted with the idea as well, and by now it just seems quite tired, as though the answers should already be obvious. "Dark Water" brings the concept to a climax, both with the Doctor's foot-soldier-vs.-officer confrontations with Danny Pink, and with the very Earthy notion of him being a jet-setting commander-in-chief. I feel like I tuned in for Doctor Who and wound up in a poor Tom Clancy thriller rip-off.
But most of the actual story ideas seem to have sprouted from an entirely different character focus. The concept of Clara working as an English teacher at Coal Hill School just seemed to be a quick tossed-off idea when it debuted in "The Day of the Doctor" (story no. 245), but the idea mushrooms later on until it has just about taken over season 34. Arguably the biggest arc of the season concerns Clara's budding relationship with fellow teacher Danny Pink, played by Samuel Anderson. Although Anderson and Jenna Coleman have an endearing chemistry between them that survives many ultra-awkward moments for their characters, they don't really make all that compelling a couple. I never felt myself rooting for them, or against them. For the most part, this seemed to be a bland bit of fluff, returning often throughout the season and trying to be much more important than it naturally should be. The relationship felt like a fifth wheel to the series, preventing it from launching off to focus on something good. The dynamics here weren't really new or different enough from what had gone on before in previous New Millennium seasons to be worth all that screentime.
Of course, "Dark Water" takes the Danny-Clara relationship and goes somewhere really strange with it.... but then again, it's not really all that different to "The Pandorica Opens" (the season 31 finale) now, is it? Except perhaps in where it leaves off....
And somehow, the freshness of having children go on an outing in the TARDIS from last year seems to have fallen flat and been overdone this year. I don't think it was a great thing to aim for, it certainly wasn't executed as well this time, and then it simply got overdone as well. Blah.
Villains of Non-Fatal DeathThis year's season long intrigue essentially comes from completely extraneous scenes of a mysterious woman tacked on near the end of most stories, usually consisting of her welcoming some recently deceased character to "heaven". These scenes do get quite repetitive and tiring after some time, and I have to say, they don't seem to be a particularly good idea with hindsight.
The season finale promises to unveil the truth about all of this, and delivers a number of revelations to the audiences. They seem designed to stir up controversy in Doctor Who fandom. For my money, I simply want to say that the finale's revelations considerably squash my desire to watch further instalments of these particular story threads. I don't think the franchise is traveling down a route that inspires my interest.
Michelle Gomez puts a lot into her performance, doing a lot to make some sort of sense out of what must often have seemed like nonsense on the page. She would probably be great as the Rani. However, I really found the overbearingly flirtatious interaction with the Doctor quite over-the-top and simply nauseating. It's really inappropriate for these characters as I have known and grown to love them, but then Moffat habitually writes this kind of thing for all his characters come to think of it, doesn't he? I think I'd have been quite happy had the lead villain turned out to be a completely new character that Moffat had created, like Madame Kovarian was two years ago.
My favourite current choice for the Master would still be Ben Miller, based on his bearing in "Robot of Sherwood" (story no. 249). And a decent New Millennium script for the Master has yet to materialize. It's also a real crime that his TARDIS still has not been seen since 1986, nor has there been any real mention of what has happened to it during the Master's intervening appearances.
I'd also say that the Cybermen's presence in this story feels like a complete waste of time. Considering which scenes of them Moffat pours his creative energy into, they only seem to be functioning as stand-ins for mummies here. Once revealed, they almost don't need to be in the story at all. Indeed, the only power that this story has all exists in the relationships between the Doctor, Clara, and Danny. The entire set of distractions from a worldwide cyber-invasion are ultimately ignored by the plot, and ideally could have been replaced with a smaller scale threat - in other words, something more believable and unpredictable.
And it is a disappointing rip-off to watch the Cybermen all pour out of St. Paul's Cathedral AGAIN, demonstrating lack of scope and imagination for the show and its lead writer. Earth again, eh? Hmmm. Let me guess how this invasion will turn out for them... They'll be not only defeated and repelled, but also forgotten by all as the Earth is reset for the next backyard-alien-of-the-week plot next year.
Plot InactivityThe final moves of this season finale pretty much all suck, as each character goes through some kind of disastrous transformation, all come out in a worse place, and I'm left feeling no inspiration to continue following them from where this story has left off. I don't think Doctor Who has ever produced a worse or more depressing finale... certainly not since the New Millennium resurrection. Although the Doctor didn't get trapped in the prisoner dynamic for too long, nor waste too much critical time setting up a device he would never have used, it seems he didn't really do much of anything in this story anyway.
From the moment he lands the TARDIS in the mausoleum until the very final moves of the climax, he really never gets into a proactive problem-solving mode. In fact, the bulk of this story has pretty much all of our protagonists idling their time away, doing nothing, watching the villains' plans slowly mature. Despite having the lead villain in custody, and the Doctor supposedly in command of the entire world from his executive airplane, none of his time there is spent formulating a single ounce of counter strategy. I feel like I tuned in for an exciting chess match, only to watch the home-team champion not only neglect to play a single move, but to helplessly watch his opponent make ridiculous moves while she also poured molasses all over the board and the pieces, until no one else could bear to touch them.
My lasting memory from this story is of the Doctor standing around cluelessly, bouncing from one shocking twist to another like a pawn in a pinball machine, while others took care of all the action and resolved the situation in spite of him. It really only is in his scenes with Clara and Danny that the Doctor is remotely on-the-ball at all. A decent stand-alone two-part story would have been better.
The story's final fixes are totally out of the Doctor's hands as well. Basically, Missy has to hand him today's reset-button on a silver platter, because apparently her real plan was just to create some evidence about his bad character and nag the hell out of him for it. As if that's something the audience should tune in for. So then the Doctor hands the button over to Danny, who is far more emotional about it than should be possible at that point. And with that, the Doctor has supposedly proven the moot point of the season, with really badly written dialogue that seems designed to pay homage to common Moffat-era phrases. Clara has an idea for a final move of her own, which the Doctor takes away from her, only to have a very sloppily clad Cyberman take it away from him. The Doctor then undoes his new understanding of himself by saluting the military. Pretty limp all around.
Is love a promise, instead of an emotion? I'm not going to latch onto that too tightly, because the label of a promise is often what we human beings use to justify our bad habits of demanding things out of each other, laying blame, fixating on debt and other monetary judgments, and just generally being unable to stay in the moment. Love can be many things, including emotions, promises, or actions. A cleaner way to express what takes place at the end of this story might be to say that certain actions demonstrate love more powerfully than heaps of emotion. "Let me help" often says way more than "I love you", and is often followed by action with cleaner intentions, no promises required. But of course, action is the thing that is most sorely missing from the bulk of this story's screen time, so I'm not at all surprised it goes unrecognized in the final sentiments as well.
The credits begin at a point of absolute hopelessness regarding the future of this show, but then a short scene interrupts, giving a brief plug for "Christmas" and introducing a glimmer of an upcoming improvement in the lead characters' spirits. Oh bloody hell. Canned Christmas cheer is gonna make up for this?? Will Moffat reach for yet another reset-button to fix the remaining mess? I'll not be holding my breath.
Season 34 Rankings:
This story is available on DVD and Blu-ray:
Bonus features (which end up in next year's full-season box sets) include:
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