The Day of the Dead | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 11

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Part I: The Rise of the Time Lady

Anyone else a bit shaken up by that very first scene of “Dark Water”? I should think so. Because Doctor Who tackled something we very rarely see on this show: mundane, inexplicable death. I imagine the average Who fan espouses some degree of BBC Sherlock’s wish for everything to be clever—but life is rarely like that, and Danny’s tragic accident gave us a brief glimpse into that reality. What comes after, however, is pure sci-fi romp.

Before diving into where Danny ends up, let’s focus on Clara. I haven’t really been a fan of Clara’s character or Jenna Coleman’s acting chops, but if her emotional performance in this episode appeared forced, it actually served to heighten the visceral reality of the situation, since no one really knows how they’re “supposed to” behave when tragedy strikes. So in a very meta way, Coleman’s detached performance actually helped me identify even more with her character. “It wasn’t terrible,” Clara says, referring to Danny’s death. “It was boring.” Boring being code for inexplicable, unglamorous, existentially nihilistic; take your pick.

I’m referring, in that last paragraph, to Clara’s cringe-worth conversation with her gran. Meanwhile, her conversation with the Doctor took on a whole different tinge, and Coleman plays the “emotional wreck” version of Clara heartbreakingly well. When she flounces into the TARDIS, all faux-cheerful, we immediately sense that in her grief, Clara has become unhinged. As she meanders purposefully around the belly of the TARDIS, I noticed (and koimizu pointed out with a helpful screenshot) that Clara grabs one of the TARDIS keys from the pages of The Time Traveler’s Wife. That book is known to be one of Moffat’s favorites, and he has cited it as the inspiration to his first Tennant-era episode, “The Girl in the Fireplace.”

If The Time Traveler’s Wife is a reference to “The Girl in the Fireplace,” then it is also a reference to the season 8 premiere, “Deep Breath,” which re-introduced us to the Clockwork Droids and provided us with a silent meditation on the Twelfth Doctor’s new identity.

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The meaning behind the Doctor’s new face (as seen in a previous Doctor’s time in “The Fires of Pompeii”) has been hinted at and overtly referenced throughout the season. “Dark Water” chooses to take the (slightly) more subtle route by having the duo discuss and then end up in a rumbling, fiery volcano. Though Twelve professes his lack of interest in mere “leaky mountains,” I suspect he’ll be inclined to reassess his gut reaction sometime very soon.

In the dream-induced volcano, Clara loses it completely, threatening to throw away the keys to the Doctor’s one true soulmate unless he helps Clara revive hers. “Fix it,” she demands, sounding like a petulant child and looking for all the world like a woman undone. When she tosses away the final key and crumples in a pit of total despair, it’s impossible not to ache for her, and the setting of the volcano feels like the perfect metaphor for her inner emotional chaos spilling out into the open.

The volcano is also an apt symbol of the Doctor-Clara relationship, which has been bubbling with tension ever since his regeneration. I maintain that Twelve and Clara are a terrible pair—but perhaps their lack of chemistry is compelling in its own way, because it serves to emphasize each one’s snobbish irascibility even more. How many times per episode does one tell the other to “shut up” or “do as you’re told,” or threaten to physically assault the other? How often does one betray the other, and yet the other comes crawling back? Healthy relationship dynamics this is not. But that doesn’t mean it’s not fascinating to watch.

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Their dysfunctionality continues even after the dream-state is revealed as such, and the Doctor confesses that he was “curious” to see how far Clara would go to blackmail him. “Curious”? Like she’s a cute little science experiment? Ehhh. Rubbed me the wrong way. But after that, the Doctor morphed into an Inspirational One-Liner Machine:

  • In response to Clara’s “I love him,” the Doctor says: “Yeah, you’re quite the mess of chemicals, aren’t you?” Like cosmic soup, eh? Even though this could be interpreted as a cheeky nod to the scientific notion that the brain is only made up of chemicals (and not, say, “consciousness” of the mind), it sounded like the Doctor’s tone was gently appreciative.
  • “The darkest day, the blackest hour. Chin up, shoulders back, let’s see what we’re made of. You, and I.” Damn straight!
  • And of course…the Doctor’s answer to Clara’s question of why he would help her if she just betrayed him. In that brief pause before the Doctor delivered his response, I expected him to say: “Because I’m the Doctor.” And that would have been just fine, don’t you think? Because that’s what the Doctor does. It would have been just the sort of self-righteous thing Ten would have said, or something that Eleven would have answered with blithe insouciance. But Twelve is different. “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” Perhaps this demonstrates that despite his rudeness, this Doctor has less of an ego than his previous two incarnations—he can make the hard choice that no one else wants to make because he doesn’t view it as his choice, the way Ten or Eleven would. Twelve wouldn’t be so bold as to assume that the weight of the world, or the universe (or Gallifrey!) would fall on his shoulders alone. That’s why he doesn’t allow Clara’s betrayal to impact him too deeply, because it would imply that his feelings about her actions are of the utmost importance—and not her feelings.

Now, Danny. Danny, Danny, Danny.

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Before we descend to the Nethersphere, I’d like to point out: This weekend marked the Mexican holiday of The Day of the Dead, and if you’re wondering about the recently released movie on that very topic, then yes, you should go see it. Doctor Who certainly takes a more sinister view of the colloquially termed “afterlife”—I will never stop shuddering over the screaming man followed by Seb’s giddy “someone donated his body to science!”

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But in all honesty, the absolute most horrifying about the “afterlife” is that you apparently still have to deal with paperwork. Yep, sounds like hell to me.

If I had to deal with him in my own life, I’d probably punch a hole in the wall, but as a fictional exaggeration of simpering bureaucracy, this Seb character is an absolute delight. And of course, said simpering bureaucracy utilizes iPads. Danny, speaking for the fandom, scoffs: “So you’ve got iPads in the afterlife?” Seb grins and replies: “We have Steve Jobs.” Well…that’s legit. Meanwhile, his little office space provided our first connection to the Cybermen:

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Will Clara Pay A High Cost For Trying To Be The Doctor On Doctor Who?

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That shape of concentric circles crops up in several places throughout the episode, the other notable appearance being on the “Rest In Peace” (“We promise!”) gravestone that Clara and the Doctor encounter in the creepy skeleton mausoleum. And if you didn’t catch on by the end, the closing shot of this week’s episode makes the connotation very, very clear:

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(Aside: It also looks like a graphic representation of the idea of a bubble universe, like in “The Doctor’s Wife.”)

…But thankfully, Danny’s not there (yet), because he has a few inner demons to face; namely, the child he killed during his stint as a soldier. File this revelation under: Not Shocking, Still Impactful.  See also: this brilliant catch by taiey, who noticed that Danny’s reflection as he hovers over the “delete” button on the iPad is not his own face, but the face of the aforementioned child.

This kind of baggage is undoubtedly reminiscent of the Doctor’s. But while Moffat was able to magic away the Doctor’s guilt over wiping out nearly two entire species (jk he only displaced them in time!!1), I doubt Danny’s can be so easily erased. Unless…apparently, in hell, there’s an app for that. “These emotions, they’re terribly difficult,” says Seb. “But…we can help with all these difficult feelings.” By pressing the “Delete” button, Danny can make all of the pain go away—and ostensibly become a fully integrated Cyberman. And that, of course, is the key difference between a human and a Cyberman. If you’ll forgive the excessive Sherlock references, one of my favorite lines from the show discusses this very topic—a visibly distraught Sherlock asks his foil, Moriarty: “Why did you never feel pain?” and the latter responds: “You always feel pain, Sherlock…but you don’t have to fear it.” Emotional pain is an integral part of being human, whether we like it or not.

Jumping back to Clara and the Doctor, the blue-tinged mausoleum full of skeletons is the stuff of Halloweekend nightmares. We are shown the name of one “corpse” in particular, and the name is certainly peculiar enough to attract our attention: Xylo Jones. Jones, obviously, calls to mind Martha, or Harriet Jones, Prime Minister™, though it’s a common enough name that I’m not willing to put too much emphasis on it. Xylo, though…Who the hell is named Xylo? As it turns out, “xylo” is Ancient Greek for none other than “wood,” which for all intents and purposes is the sonic screwdriver’s kryptonite. And that certainly doesn’t bode well for the Doctor.

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Unless, of course, it’s referring to another Wood…

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The Keeper…of the Gryffindor Quidditch team Nethersphere? SIGN ME THE HELL UP.

Oods and Ends

  • The initial promo featured Clara asserting that “Clara Oswald has never existed.” I’m guessing this will play out in that she will be scattered along Danny’s timeline in an attempt to rescue him, like she did with the Doctor?
  • Books books books! Lots of little Easter eggs in this episode. First: The Time Traveler’s Wife reference, as discussed above. Second: major props to actualproperclara for tirelessly pouring over nearly every single book on Clara’s shelf (as well as the post-its!) while she’s on the phone with Danny. Definitely check that out.
  • I read somewhere that Clara could be pregnant. This would make sense, given all of the hints at maternity w/r/t Clara throughout the season (specifically in “Kill the Moon”), plus the line in this episode about all of the graves on Earth “giving birth.” Also….where does Orson Pink come from if Danny’s dead?
  • The Cyberman in the lab is named Dr. Skarosa, aka the guy who, according to Dr. Chang, started the whole institution. Skarosa…sounds like Skaro. As in, Cult of? I would not be surprised if Missy was scheming with Davros or the like.
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4 thoughts on “The Day of the Dead | Doctor Who Season 8: Episode 11

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