And there it is. Beyond the quick "I called it!" response, my first reaction was one of "Oh, this could be interesting…"
And, it's fair to say, it already has been, if only for the reactions of my fellow Whovians. There have been a series of responses, from Philip Sandifer's nuanced appreciation to my good friend Nick Kaufman's equally nuanced claim that "Dark Water is a triumph of style over substance. It’s also a big, honking mess. It’s an interesting mess — it plays with some compelling concepts — but a mess nonetheless."
I am more with Sandifer (whose Tardis Eruditorum I admire enough that I backed it on Kickstarter) than I am with Nick (whose fiction I admire very much). Let me explain why.
1. The TARDIS Key Volcano Scene
The scene in which Clara blackmails the Doctor into rescuing Danny from death is one which I think is completely in character. Clara firmly believes that the Doctor will not use the TARDIS to go back and prevent the accident (experience says she's right), and so she decides to force the Time Lord's hand. It's well in keeping with the Clara who has been, throughout the season, becoming more Doctor-ish, and enjoying the making of the "hard decisions" (which the Doctor himself, at least in this incarnation, does not enjoy. Think of how Twelve had to work himself up to dispelling the "Boneless" in Flatline:
The Doctor: [emerging from the TARDIS to confront the monsters] I tried to talk. I want you to remember that. I tried to reach out. I tried to understand you, but I think you understand us perfectly — I think that you just don't care. And I don't know whether you're here to invade, infiltrate or just replace us — I don't suppose it really matters now. You are monsters! That is the role you seem determined to play! So it seems that I must play mine: the man that stops the monsters. I'm sending you back to your own dimension. Who knows, some of you may even survive the trip. And if you do, remember this: you are not welcome here! This plane is protected! I AM THE DOCTOR! … And I name you: the Boneless!)Clara's error is that the power and the rush are starting to go to her head, corrupting her a bit.
Her idea is a bit crap, though--as Nick quite rightly points out, the Doctor, and even Clara, can get the TARDIS to let them in with a snap of their fingers. You can hand wave away this inconsistency (if you have a key, and the TARDIS loves you, you can get in…), but it's there. Where I disagree with Nick is his statement that the incident "was a psychic test of her resolve, which she apparently passed and now the Doctor will help her." I don't think that's a correct read of the sequence. I think that the Doctor saw that Clara was desperate, and diverted her into a bid to force his hand that he could control. She didn't pass a test, he diverted a real attempt, and, in fact, was livid with her:
Clara: What do we do now? What happens now, you and me? Doctor?My emphasis; the Doctor here is showing us that beneath all of the sarcasm, glumness, and irritability, he remains the Doctor--he loves his friends, even when they fail. Also note that, even when he is prepared to risk himself, the TARDIS, and Clara to save Danny--he still won't go back and prevent the accident.
The Doctor: Go to hell.
Clara: Fair enough. Absolutely fair enough. [walks towards the TARDIS doors]
The Doctor: Clara? You asked me what we're going to do. I told you: we're going to Hell. Or wherever it is where people die. If there is anywhere. Wherever it is, we're going to find Danny, and if it is in any way possible, we're going to bring him home. [smiles] Almost every culture in the universe has some concept of an afterlife. I always meant to have a look around, see if I could find one.
Clara: You're going to help me?
The Doctor: Well, why wouldn't I help you?
Clara: Because of what I just did. I–
The Doctor: You betrayed me. You betrayed my trust, you betrayed our friendship, you betrayed everything I ever stood for. You let me down!
Clara: Then why are you helping me?
The Doctor: Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make any difference?
2. Death to Danny!
I should add that Danny's death worked for me; yes, it was senseless, quotidian in the extreme. That's what made it work for me. Life is that way. When I was in high school, a classmate of mine died of an aneurysm right there in class (no, I wasn't in the room, thank God.) Life is that way. Danny survived war, aliens, frickin' tigers, only to lose his concentration and walk into an oncoming car? I have no problem buying that.
3. The Mistress?
Several Whovians have questioned whether the Master, even if regenerating into a female form, would stop referring to herself as the Master. A fair question. The Master has always been a bit camp, especially in his Ainley and Eric Roberts personae (no, really:
As portrayed by Michelle Gomez, the Mistress is enjoying herself mightily; preening, commanding, a little lubricious, too--she is enjoying herself in an arch way not seen since the Ainley days, say in The Five Doctors. And what she's enjoying in Dark Water is messing with the Doctor's head, with an old Ainley-style alias. Does she really mean to go on being known as "Missy" or the Mistress in future? Maybe; she certainly seems to enjoy her femininity, what with the Poppins-styling, and the accents from later eras. But it's an alias, like the Portreve, Sir Gilles Estram (Master, geddit?), allowing her to spring the good news on the Doctor with a theatrical flourish.
Now, why does the Doctor not sense her telepathically? We don't know yet--we've just had the bare reveal--but I'd imagine it's simple; either a perception filter, or the fact that the Master always was more in control of his psychic powers than the Doctor.
4. "Moffat Evil Woman " No. X in a Series?
Some viewers have caviled that the Mistress "is sexually obsessed with The Doctor–as Moffat’s “Evil Women” seem to be with the titular heroes. (See also: Adler, Irene)." Wa-aal, as Ten might point out, the master has been obsessed with the Doctor since the classic series, and while it was less pronounced with Delgado in the role, by the time Ainley donned the penguin suit, the FoeYay was canon. Gender-swapping did not make the Mistress more obsessed with the Doctor than was the Master. (Mind you, the critique is considerably more salient as applied to Irene Adler, who is quite indifferent to Holmes in "A Scandal in Bohemia.")
Much depends, I suppose, on whether one enjoys the character of the Master; I do. Delgado especially, but Ainley also made great theatrical, affably evil villains vis a vis Pertwee and especially Davison, respectively. I enjoyed the weird chemistry of the Doctor and the Master--half enmity, half affection. When we got five minutes of Derek Jacobi I wanted more, and Simm versus Tennant worked for me. And I could have let the Master rest there; Davies gave the story a good ending in The End of Time. So I hope Moffat has more to do with the character than just a reboot. But so far, I like the chemistry between Capaldi and Gomez, and Gomez's relish for the part is just what the Doctor ordered, despite himself.
5. Update, 11/4: On a second viewing, the Doctor's first meeting with Missy is even funnier than at first view. She is clearly waiting for the penny to drop--after the kiss, she looks at him to see if he gets it, then she puts his hand over her hearts--no, still nothing; this Doctor's social awkwardness and shock at being touched have flummoxed him. She drops a leaden compliment, getting the Doctor to (as other characters used to routinely do in the old series) ask "Doctor Who?" and finally moves on, calling Dr, Chang in a moment of pure frustration. It's a great slow burn--he gets none of the hints, and she's bursting with excitement. A nice piece of character building from the Moff, deftly handled by Gomez and Capaldi.