Tuesday, January 27, 2015

"Dark Water"

After the next round of budget cuts, post-its will replace episodes.
Right. If it doesn't happen now it isn't happening. I've been watching The Thick of It lately and I'm keen to compare it to Peter Capaldi in arguably a less confronting role, admittedly at the expense of The Thick of It's actually good writing. We begin with, naturally, not the Doctor, TARDIS or adventure but Clara as usual calling Danny on the phone. Thus is revealed, after all this waiting, the great expected secret about Danny: he can't cross roads safely and talk on the phone at the same time. In all honesty, we don't need to hear six "shoot oops" from Clara at the start of any screenplay after hearing this phrase done to absolute death in this series. She's embarking on some kind of post-it-note-driven confession about lying, but it's never made clear why: didn't Danny already figure out that she was still travelling with the Doctor last episode? Not sure what else there is to be done with that. She has a big self-referential ramble about saying the deadly phrase "I love you" and Danny gets hit by a car, which apparently makes no noise whatsoever on the phone. Clara nonetheless says "that's a thing" - was someone paying Moffat to insert the phrase "a thing" into every episode? - and says that he's the "last person who's ever gonna hear me say that." Why? This never gets resolved either.
Auditioning for one of the water tomb bodies.
Of course the whole point of this is that Danny dies as he lives: in a humdrum sort of way, killed offscreen by a speeding car, not aliens or something. Now I know he notionally had an exciting life in the army and what not but I mean as a character he was humdrum. Later Clara's mourning, standing in the middle of the street where it happened - clearly not learning from Danny there. She phones the Doctor, who's mucking around on what looks a bit like a gloomier version of that planet from Revenge of the Sith where Obi-Wan hunts down General Grievous. She's all dead inside, having a stilted conversation with her weird grandmother from "The Time of the Doctor," and complains about Danny's death being boring and ordinary. Much like himself, then. I'm trying to wrestle the subtext out of this but it's still drama with the blunt end of the wedge. Clara thinks she's "owed better." Then the Doctor answers the phone, Peter Capaldi giving an adrenalin shot to the episode. That being said, I realise Buffy-style the representation of death as silent and dull is something which can have a purpose, although I wonder given the Buffy precedent if really now its only purpose is to remind of shows that have done it before. Suddenly the Doctor wakes up on Lanzarote or rather some lava planet which is intercut with flashbacks of Clara nicking all the TARDIS keys, one of which is in The Time Traveller's Wife. Remember how in the TV Movie he was reading H.G. Wells' The Time Traveller? Well, pomo Who, pomo intertextuality I guess. Clara's used some kind of "sleep patch" on the Doctor and is chucking all the keys into a volcano to force him to help her prevent the death of Danny. Apparently lava is the only thing that can destroy a TARDIS key. Seems a bit ordinary for sci-fi. Why not dropping them into a blue giant star or a black hole or something? Anyway, hearing Jenna Coleman trying to fill the name "Danny Pink" with emotional gravitas is a pretty awful moment.
"I do not choose now to do what I came to do."
The Doctor's having none of it of course, refusing to be involved with a paradox, and dismissively suggesting Clara make good on her threats which she claims is him trying to seize control. His response, "I am in control," is very Malcolm Tucker. Her remark that "You will never step inside your TARDIS again" is pure trailer bait, and in any event she tosses all the keys into the Fire of Doom. Then she has a big cry while saying she'd do it again. Can't the Doctor just click his fingers? I think I heard a cut line addressed that. It is, however, very conveniently, all a dream. The Doctor turned the tables on Clara in the first place. This is exploitative writing at its finest, the Doctor claiming it was a test to see how much she meant it. Instead of telling her to "piss off" however he tells her to "go to hell." How droll, he was making a pun about how they'd go find the dead. Presumably the Doctor believes that the TARDIS might be capable of accessing the "afterlife." How does that work? Maybe if he believed living consciousnesses went to another dimension or something, but otherwise "heaven" is a pretty metaphysical concept. What are we going to get next, an episode where the TARDIS lands inside an idea or something? It's odd. Anyway, we get some overplayed drama shite about how the Doctor cares for Clara so much that betrayal wouldn't matter and pure trailer speak about "the darkest day, the blackest hour." Why do characters in New Who always saying "a thing" or spout vaguely poetic-sounding crap all the time instead of actually commenting on events like real people?
That's right, it stinks.
Anyway Clara sticks her hands back in the TARDIS's dubious "interface" from "Listen" and off they go. Meanwhile Danny is being shown the ropes by Chris Addison who's concerned about him being cremated and reveals that they're all on the inside of a Hollow Earth kind of deal. Obviously the bureaucratic office space heaven type imagery is hardly something new either. The TARDIS lands in a spooky building with teardrop logos everywhere and skeletons in tanks, which of course move when the Doctor's not looking. I'm surprised at one point they didn't go past a painting where the eyes slid away and someone peeped through. The Doctor checks out a hologram book about the place rather pointlessly and they finally, after a whole series, meet Missy. Knowing who the character is it's of course completely predictable that Moffat gets his kiss in here as the Doctor gets orally accosted. I'm so worn down by this stuff after ten years of New Who, but the thing is this: the Doctor never kissed anyone in the old show, did he? No, not like that. Why? Because he just didn't. That wasn't in the nature of the character, and no one seems to have cared. Now it seems like one is mandated once a year, and if it isn't outwardly, boringly romantic - making the Doctor seem like any other screen hero - it's like this, just pointlessly cheeky and the writers doing it because they can. I think the thing that bothers me is that, regardless of whether it's done sincerely or as a joke, it's basically the writers saying "Old Who's characterisation and tone was wrong," because it was conspicuous that in Old Who this never ever happened. The thing is, Old Who wasn't always terrific on the characterisation front, but the way they treated the Doctor, and the way they treated romance most of the time (except for weak crap like marrying off female companions), wasn't conformist to regular drama or what have you. So whenever they do stuff like this, even as a joke, I feel like it's saying "it's better that Doctor Who be more conformist to the norms of modern TV" which to me is emblematic of the way that New Who so often seems to spectacularly miss the point of the show's original premise, which was to stand out and be different. That's not to say the Old show wasn't as unashamedly populist as the New, but I feel like it more often did so on its own terms (although I'm sure tedious gasbaggers on some of the bigger, more "uber"-populated forums could lecture me on how every single Old Who episode is a worthless rip off of a pre-existing narrative and New Who is better in every way). It is of course also a problem because it's just Moffat going "Wouldn't it be funny if the Master and the Doctor kissed on screen?" and making it happen. It has nothing to do with the story really, it's just an old fan mucking around, which like so much of New Who's self-awareness, makes it virtually impossible to suspend disbelief about anything because the narrative doesn't function as if it is a representation of actual (albeit fictional and fantastical) events happening to people and instead feels more like playing with toys. But hey, it's a kid's show, right, so maybe that works in its favour (or maybe kids deserve to be taken seriously too).
"Why don't they fall off the ceiling?"
Anyway Missy pretends to be a robot, they meet someone named Doctor Chang, and Clara and the Doctor have an exchange where Clara says she's not okay and the Doctor responds "there would be something very wrong if you were." Typical Moffat "Look at me, aren't I clever" dialogue. No offence to the guy (I know no one says that in good faith) but why does he write these days so much as if he's got something to prove? If he's as good as his biggest fans claim that his winning of awards proves him to be, he shouldn't need to. In the Nethersphere Chris Addison makes a naff reference to the death of Steve Jobs explaining the proliferation of iPads in heaven, which is clearly not all it's cracked up to be, being cold, dark and apparently involving crime if the police siren is to be believed. Chris Addison makes an analogy to babies which serves in no way to explain or bear any relevance to the idea that the Nethersphere is an extension of existing consciousness rather than a "true" spiritual afterlife. Then a visitor turns up and we discover that the person Danny killed in Afghanistan (or Iraq I suppose) was a young boy upon whom he recklessly opened fire when checking a house in a battle zone.
No skeletons in his water closet.
In the real world, such as it is, the Cyberman imagery is extremely obvious with the benefit of hindsight. Doctor Chang reveals that the dead bodies have a "support exoskeleton" which Clara immediately deduces must be invisible. Why is Doctor Chang so accepting of all this? Is he from the future? I think it's kind of implied that he is, but it's really not clear. I guess "Into the Dalek" showed people from the future being uploaded so I suppose it's possible. Chang shows off "Dark Water" in which only "organic material" is visible. Pedantry time! Why does his suit disappear? Even if he was being a dreadful cad and wearing a polyester suit, that's still organic. He also makes a pervy joke about swimming pools 'cause obviously as a scientist he's a big old nerd and of course for Moffat that means he wants to trick people into exposing themselves as his only way of seeing anything arousing. Anyway, the only purpose of the Dark Water is to hide the presence of the Cybermen. Its invisibility qualities serve no other purpose whatsoever. There's a possible Malcolm Tucker reference when the psychic paper is alleged to show swearing. Back in the Nethersphere, Danny tries to be nice to the kid he shot. Does he expect that to work? Why does the kid want to see him anyway? Chris Addison dodges the question, so Moffat does too. Outside, Chang reveals that the company's founder discovered that TV white noise is actually a psychic message from the dead. Capaldi has to deliver the atrocious line "Can you just hurry up please or I'll hit you with my shoe." Chang reveals that the dead remain conscious in their bodies (somehow - New Who implying souls as usual), saying that this "never occurred" to anyone before. What? People have imagined that forever. I know I have. Moffat trying to seem clever again.
Says it all.
So it turns out everyone's begging not to be cremated to spare their bodies, which still have feeling. If they're dead, wouldn't the nervous system have stopped working? How can an uploaded mind, even if somehow still connected to a body, feel anything from the body if the body's dead? So dead people have more physical sensation than, say, paralysed people? It's bizarre. The Doctor appropriately enough declares it all a sham, arguing that "the dead are dead," that they're "just gone." Suddenly Danny's getting a call from Clara, but Clara's getting a call from Danny. How did that happen? "We've been scanning you telepathically since you came in." That's convenient. The skeletons all start standing up and the Doctor and Chang piss off leaving Clara alone. The Doctor's wondering what he's missing, asking "who would harvest dead bodies?" It's the Cybermen, as we see when the doors close, but it's still a valid question, or at least: why would the Cybermen need dead bodies? They're just old bones and stuff, what use would they be to the Cybermen? Isn't the point that they combine cybernetics with living organics? Surely an empty skeleton with no muscles or organs or brain would have no use whatsoever to them. Well, that wouldn't fit the spooky idea of the Cybermen turning skeletons into more Cybermen would it, so the issue is avoided. Missy stands around gloating and Chang reveals she's not a robot. He accepts the existence of robots then, so is he from the future? Missy says she'll not kill him until he says something nice, so in fear for his life he says something nice and she kills him. So long, Doctor Chang. What an odd character. I wonder what she would have done if he'd slagged her off.
"Can I have something to eat?"
Missy's claim that she's "feeling a bit emotional" is of course jutaxposed against the Cybermen, I suppose suggesting that cold reason is most dangerous in the hands of irrational people. The Doctor exclaims "Cybermen!" possibly surprised at their presence given that they would have no use for a bunch of old dead parts. Meanwhile Danny can't prove to Clara who he is, while Missy reveals that people in the Nethersphere only think they've gone to heaven. It's actually a "matrix data slice" which is a "Gallifreyan hard drive," evoking the weird dimensional computer storage of the Time Lords as seen in "The Deadly Assassin," "The Ultimate Foe" and so forth. Supposedly the dying minds are uploaded, edited and put back into their "upgraded" bodies. Again, wouldn't the Cybermen need living people? In fact why do they need minds? I guess that's the problem with the Cybermen, really: if they're so advanced and don't want emotions, why don't they just go full robot? The Doctor wonders "which Time Lady" she is and Missy says she's "the one you abandoned," presumably a last minute effort by Moffat to get people thinking it's going to be Romana or Susan or something. People had already been saying the Rani for months, as if Moffat would bring back an unpopular and little known character from the Eighties. It's like people who every year seem convinced Omega is going to come back. The Doctor heads through a tiny door and discovers himself bursting out of St Paul's Cathedral, Missy wondering if he didn't realise where he was. He shouldn't be too surprised, most of the time they can't escape from the middle of London.
"Simm? Bit rich for our blood now."
Back inside Danny keeps telling Clara that he loovs her, and she gets pissed off. Now the point here right is that Clara said those words were super special and unique from him right, at the beginning of the episode, right? Danny's trying to show how it's him that way? But it never pays off, Clara never acknowledges what he's doing, and we're left to assume that she's either too distraught or too dense to see it. Maybe Moffat's just playing with our expectations again or maybe he didn't even realise what he'd done. Either way she claims she wants to be with him, having to unleash the dreadful line "I have to be with Danny Pink." Unfortunately, no sentence involving the name "Danny Pink" is ever going to sound profound or genuinely emotional. Chris Addison encourages Danny to delete his emotions and the Cybermen emerge as Murray Gold bombast crashes in the background. The Doctor runs around yelling, Missy says it's too late and the human race is basically buggered with a bargepole because the dead outnumber the living. What use do the Cybermen have for dead bodies??? Then of course she reveals she's the Master. Holy shit! We only predicted that in the first episode! Much like River Song being Amy's daughter, I initially thought this would be too obvious to be true, but lo and behold here we are. The Master's back.
"But I thought all Time Lords were now
to be Seventies fan club members!"
I seem to remember finding "Dark Water" pretty intriguing at first broadcast but the plot's got more holes than the Seventh Doctor after he landed in San Francisco in 1999. We never find out what use the Cybermen actually have for dead bodies, there's no explanation for how or why the mind is somehow still connected to the dead body in the Nethersphere (apart from it being an elaborate trick to encourage people not to cremate anyone so they Cybermen can use their bodies for whatever reason) and we don't discover why Danny's accidental victim visited him. By this I mean that we don't find out in the next episode either. Danny just isn't interesting enough for me to care much about Clara's plight - I'm not a monster, they're fictional characters: if one dies, I have to be pretty bloody fond of the character to mind. The problem is, not enough happens: Danny dies and then talks to Chris Addison on the set of Blade Runner, the Doctor and Clara visit an imaginary volcano, and then they stand around in a building being fed plot exposition that isn't even true. Obviously as part one of two "Dark Water" has to set things up, but it's all either set up or pointless time wasting. The "drama" side of things is okay as they go, but its delight in constantly spelling itself out is tedious. The Master's reveal is incredibly obvious and the Doctor doesn't have nearly enough to do. I think the main thing that needed to be ditched here is the presence of the Cybermen, and they needed to spend less time over-emphasising the Doctor's, Clara's and Danny's feelings and more time establishing rules for the plot. It was interesting at first broadcast, but looking back what I can see are very murky waters indeed.

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