Who is Missy? That has been the overall mystery of Season 8. She’s been greeting the dead in the Nethersphere all season, but all we know about her is that she’s infatuated with the Doctor. Why? Well we finally get to dig into the mystery with the first installment of a two-part season finale, and boy is it a whopper!

Screenshot_6The episode starts with Clara looking over a layout of her recent adventures with the Doctor. A call from Danny leads the conversation in a direction that makes it look like Clara is going to reveal everything to him about her adventures with the Doctor. But an even greater surprise tragically darkens the mood as Danny Pink has died in a car accident.

When she meets up with the Doctor she actually begins thieving keys from around the TARDIS. TARDIS keys! Without warning, she incapacitates the Doctor. The very next scene shows Clara tossing TARDIS keys into lava. She’s extorting the Doctor, demanding he change history so Danny doesn’t die. I never expected that Clara could do something so selfish, and frankly dangerous, as threatening the Doctor and putting the TARDIS in danger. Perhaps we never knew the Impossible Girl  at all. Or is this a beautiful example of how a human traveling in the TARDIS could be so warped by the wonders they see that they resort to betraying the Doctor for personal gain? It’s an exquisite scene that shows the extent of Doctor Who’s maturation this season.

Alas, it was an illusion devised by the Doctor as a fail-safe. Only now he knows Clara’s heart, and even if it didn’t happen, it may as well have.  All season long the Doctor and Clara’s relationship has become frayed and uncertain. But even after her betrayal the Doctor still won’t turn his back on a friend. He has no problem with trying to save Danny, if it’s possible. And so they search for him, for wherever he is. This is how the Doctor again crosses paths with Missy, the mysterious mistress of the Nethersphere.

Screenshot_7Danny, meanwhile, is dead. He’s participating in an entrance interview of sorts. A type of orientation for the newly arrived. The location is something rather breathtaking. The Nethersphere is an endless city blanketed in night, an urbanized dimension of the dead. As expected, Danny is surprised.

Clara and the Doctor arrive somewhere else in the Nethersphere, a tomb in fact. Knowing what to expect from previews and teasers, there’s an underlying tension as the inevitable meeting with Missy finally happens. The way Missy greets the Doctor definitely puts a spin on expectations. The revelation that Missy is an automated public relations robot just throws all pre-conceived notions of where this plot was going out the window. Of course, the truth is even more unexpected. More amazing!

As Danny is walked through is new digs he can’t help but struggle with the reality of his situation. The classic notion of being put on trial over one’s life upon death is explored as we see glimpses of Danny’s past as a soldier. Things get even stranger and more surreal as he is forced to confront someone he killed during his time at war. While Danny really didn’t need any further development these scenes do give the sense of a finality to the rounding out his character.

Screenshot_8The reveal of what the Nethersphere is as strange and surprising as anything ever done on the show. The idea that when people die their consciousness goes to a place where they live on, still aware of what they’re bodies are experiencing, is almost absurd. If it wasn’t for the rather novel way of handling the concept it might ruin the whole season-long mystery. But for some reason it only intrigues and mystifies. Even after the truth of the Nethersphere is made clear, so many more questions remain that the story keeps pushing forward. There’s something still going on that will put everything into a darker perspective.

It’s at this point that everything really hits the fan. Missy isn’t just a cyber-greeter, she’s in league with the Cybermen! Everything becomes clearer as it appears that humanity’s dead are being used to produce a Cybermen army. If it weren’t for teasers and trailers giving away the Cybermen mystery this would have been one of the most surprising reveals in the show’s history. It goes to show that something can be said for secrecy. Still, it’s pretty awesome just the same, and things just keep getting better from here.

The Doctor discerns that the technology of the Nethersphere is of Time Lord origin, and that Missy must be a Time Lord, but who? It seems the Time Lords are starting to return from their suspended animation, and it isn’t one of the good ones who’s made it through first. But it isn’t clear who Missy is, if the Doctor knows her, or if we’ve ever seen this Time Lord before. But wait, there’s more!

Screenshot_11The episode ends with the risen Cybermen marching on London. An invasion has begun, and there’s noting the Doctor can do to stop it. He’s left to watch as Missy, or more accurately, the Master appears to achieve victory.  That’s right, the Master has returned, and she looks to have outsmarted the Doctor once again!

With all the disgruntled chatter that bubbled to the surface over whether or not the Doctor could ever regenerate as a woman, and if that should ever happen, it’s a wonderful twist to try the experiment on the next most enduring Time Lord, the Master. We already saw a change in his classic appearance several times, most recently when John Simm was cast during the 10th Doctors time. We’ve seen that a fundamental re-imagining of the Master was possible. Having the Master return as a woman basically opens the door for a Lady Doctor in the future.

With Danny still dead, and the season-long push towards Clara meeting a grim end, her part of the story is left unresolved.  If this piece of the story doesn’t get resolved in the season finale next week, it most certainly will be addressed in the Christmas Special. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Dark Water was a fantastic episode filled with serious character twists, and momentous reveals, but we still get one more episode to see where it all ends up. How did the Master return? How will the Doctor stop her, and the Cybermen? What will happen with Danny and Clara? And most importantly, are the Time Lords coming home?

image source: [doctorwhotv]