I wasn’t sure whether to post my thoughts on this now, with the story only half told. It’s been so long since we’ve had a two-parter (over three years) I’d forgotten the drill. But I want to make a note of how much I enjoyed this, just in case part 2 fails to meet the standard set, as often happens with 2 parters. Spoiler warning; don’t read this until you’ve watched Dark Water. I’m not going to hide the big reveal(s).
There is so much in this story; Moffat’s economy is incredible. He squeezes bereavement, betrayal, a wartime horror, two parallel mysteries and two old enemies into just this first part. There are no weak scenes: the details are beautiful. Clara’s post-its of lies, grief-stricken tea-making, a volcanic confrontation. I loved the fact that the Doctor hides one of his keys in The Time Traveller’s Wife. Clara fails to force the Doctor to do what she wants because he out-manipulates her manipulation.
The more that is revealed about the netherworld, the more disturbing it becomes. Conscious after death – it’s a kind of perpetual Miracle Day. But at this point, whilst part of me was enjoying the intrigue and the beautiful design and photography, the nagging plot-conscious corner of my brain was furiously trying cope with death itself being redefined. It’s an incredible idea, but it plays merry hell with the show’s continuity. Why did The Doctor agree to ‘go to hell’ now – why not, say, when Adric ((Actually, is Adric in the Nethersphere along with Danny and Steve Jobs? Matthew Waterhouse cameo in the next episode?)) died? Moffat’s resolution, for those familiar with the C20 Doctor Who stories featuring The Matrix on Gallifrey, was clever and satisfying, as was the reveal of the identity of Missy. I suppose those who saw these things coming were hoping for something more contrived, but I was surprised and delighted to have such clever explanations hidden so well in plain sight.
I did see the fan speculation that Missy was The Master but I dismissed it. Why? Partly because there’s always speculation that any mystery character is The Master. Also because of some beautiful misdirection from Moffat: at the premiere of Deep Breath he was asked about The Master and said “no, the Doctor doesn’t really need an arch-enemy”. I immediately assumed he had plans to bring The Master back, but I didn’t believe even Moffat would say that immediately after the new incarnation of The Master had just made her screen debut! But mostly I must admit I was defected by gender. I didn’t really believe Moffat would regenderate a major character. I’m delighted to be wrong! It seems so obvious now, Missy’s name, her behaviour, her confidence, arrogance and scheming. Delgado was fantastic, and I adored Jacobi’s few moments as The Master, but Michelle Gomez is already a strong third favourite. It’s a wonderful performance.
I hadn’t had high hopes for this episode – from the clips it looked derivative of Cybermen classics The Invasion and Tomb. But these were just respectful flourishes; this was an unpredictable and thought-provoking new story. Beautiful, disturbing, thrilling, astonishing. It has overtaken Listen and Mummy as my favourite this season. I’m now really looking forward to part 2 – just as well I won’t have to wait long!