Let's start off with something that may disappoint you, dear readers. I have nothing to say at this time about the revelation of Missy's identity and what it means to the show at large. There's still another episode for this all to resolve and I'm not entirely convinced that everything has been said on the subject that will be said. Until "Death in Heaven" airs next week all bets are still off on Missy.
What can be said is that the failure of the show to properly follow Big Bad format this season has really robbed an all-around brilliant episode of the acclaim that it truly does deserve. "Dark Water" was amazing, but in many ways it was too little too late.
Let's start with what's great. Clara experiences a personal tragedy that leads to one of tensest stand-offs between The Doctor and a companion ever seen in any medium, It was Shakespearean in scope, emotionally damaging, and The Doctor's ultimate forgiveness for Clara's betrayal is very moving.
Next we come to the Nethersphere, where our Big Bad Missy rules. Michelle Gomez is probably the best essentially human villain The Doctor has faced besides Richard E. Grant as the Great Intelligence's Simeon form. She is both utterly mad and completely captivating. She switches gears between menace and comedy so fast that you'd think she was Loki in one of his gender-switch moments. She's also completely one step ahead of The Doctor from beginning to end, and that seems to happen so rarely these days.
It's almost a shame that the Cybermen's involvement in the plot has been so widely spoken about because the reveal of them is masterfully done. It was a chance to be really shocking, and here's where some of the problems with the season come into play.
I make no bones about the fact that I think the writing has been very weak for the season. A lot of it seems to have been phoned in because we could have this marvelous twist at the end of it and everything would be forgiven. We'd forget that Missy hadn't actually done anything all season long and was really just dropped in out of nowhere without any development between her and The Doctor. We'd forget that the triangle between The Doctor, Clara, and Danny Pink had been rather rickety in construction and often leaned precariously without solid foundation.
It honestly felt like a deadbeat dad that screws up all year and comes through at Christmas. Come through it certainly did! "Dark Water" felt like the old two part finales of the Davies era. And Capaldi is made for two-parters and the room they give him to move about in. There was terror and menace and love and joy and loss and adventure all around. There were lines Michelle Gomez uttered that will go down as famous for years to come, and the larger questions of life and death are epic without being boorishly apocalyptic. Truly it was a great mixture.
It's just that it would be so much easier to love if this had happened about five episodes back. These last three or four episodes should have been among Capaldi's first. They bind him and Jenna Coleman together the way they always needed and pump much needed new ideas and directions into the show when it's already suffering from creative direction fatigue.
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Imagine the confrontation between Missy and The Doctor happening around the halfway mark. Now we have a formidable presence pulling the Doctor towards his fate. We have a huge common enemy to unite Clara and him, and to give Danny something to play off of besides the whole "I'm a soldier that doesn't want to ever be one again" attitude.
I like Capaldi as The Doctor a lot. On top of that "Dark Water" proves that Steven Moffat can still turn in a good script, and the addition of Rachel Talalay to the director team was a genius move. This was a great episode. So was "Flatline" and "Mummy on the Orient Express".
In the end, though, they feel like the high points in Sylvester McCoy's first season. What's great is definitely there, but someone needs to do some cutting away of the old brambles and sticker bushes. I am of the opinion that the show and the Twelfth Doctor will rise beyond this to new and greater things.