I have three things to say about “Dark Water” related to Doctor Who season 8 in general, and then a few thoughts more specific to the episode. Heavy spoilers.
1) I love the Doctor, and I love Peter Capaldi. I haven’t said that enough in this season. I love him. I love that he’s in control of himself and his surroundings. I love that he’s asexual. I love that I can’t tell when he’s serious. I love that he’s vulnerable and a hardass at the same time — he’s realistically prickly. We know when he’s insecure, but the people around him don’t get close. I love that he’s so energetic, but so experienced and tired at the same time. Nothing I have ever complained about in this season has affected my love for this Doctor! Then I loved him even more in the volcano scene, and his line “Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” was just… ooh. I’m still waiting to see all the fallout from this, because she did betray him and he does take that seriously. Surely he knows by now that he cares about her so much more than she cares about him.
2) I can’t stand Clara. I’m 1000% done. I loved Oswin, and was consistently disappointed after she became Clara. There was a glimmer of hope at the beginning of this season, because she was being treated like a person and actually doing stuff, but she just became an awful person. Completely selfish and narcissistic, with no actual moral base — she just says whatever sounds dramatic, whatever she thinks will hurt or guilt the other person into doing what she wants. I don’t believe for a second that she cared that much about Danny, and that’s a script problem. (Explicitly NOT a Jenna Coleman problem, though! Her line “I’m so sorry but I’d do it again” — oh god.)
The point remains that the Doctor has been a better companion for himself than Clara has been for him. As it stands, there’s no one there to care about him when he’s vulnerable — he has to defend himself from Clara. There’s no one there who knows what the Master being alive means to him. Why couldn’t we have spent this season establishing that, huh? In the relationship of viewer to TV show, I’m forced to feel like no one cares but me, because I have no proxy on this show. The companion is supposed to be the proxy. They’re supposed to love the Doctor for me. I’m supposed to get that rush of having traveled with the Doctor and having carried out an intense friendship with him. At this point, the big payoff for the whole season, Clara is not just not doing that, she’s actively taking that away from me.
3) I’m disappointed with the reveal that Missy is really the Mistress/the Master, for one simple reason: Missy as presented so far does not deserve to be the Master. The Master is awesome. Missy is another clone of Sexy Umbridge, just like a bajillion other Moffat characters. I love the Master and I just really wish he (now she) was awesome. HOWEVER, for the moment, I will look past this and try to be excited, largely because I also hated how John Simm’s version of the Master was portrayed in his last episodes and Missy is similar to that version in general. If I pretend that she’s awesome, all the trappings work just fine. There’s some continuity from her previous incaranation. Her plot is truly gruesome and scary — turn all Earth’s dead into Cybermen! And the Master does traditionally team up with a horde of invading aliens, since one person can only do so much.
I also approve of the cross-gender regeneration (although I have zero hope it’ll actually lead to a nuanced discussion of gender on Doctor Who…) There’s a bit of pandering to the Doctor/Master shippers — okay, a lot of pandering — and I could do without the extremely overt fanservice, but I could’ve predicted it would happen with a female Master. Honestly, I’m kind of offended that she has to be female for it to happen. It’s like all of a sudden she’s female, so it’s okay for her to be sexually interested in the Doctor, but it wasn’t when she was male.
Regarding the episode as an episode, I’m satisfied. It works really well, building tension effectively, as opposed to the badly-plotted stuff we’ve been getting for a few weeks. It was exciting and involving to watch. So far, there hasn’t been a dumb timey-wimey Moffat plot. There are a lot of logistical questions left to answer (Whose idea was this, the Cybermen’s or Missy’s? Why are the minds still connected to the bodies, or is that an illusion — remember that guy who was charred by the Skovox Blitzer and appeared in the Nethersphere anyway, despite having no bones on which to construct a Cyberman? How did the Master survive?), but there’s time for that next episode. I should point out that we haven’t even touched any of the season’s themes, except for there being robots in the episode. And really, we haven’t even done anything… I was legit surprised when the episode was over because it felt like so little time had passed! This isn’t a complaint, I’m just saying… There’s more shit that’s yet to hit the fan!