*This review is cross-posted to the Krewe du Who blog*
As always, DO NOT READ unless you're caught up on Series 8 of Doctor Who! As River would say: *spoilers*
This week death happens, there's another anti-climactic back and forth between The Doctor and Clara, they "go to hell", and we learn who Missy is. Big things happened. Very big things. Things that we've been waiting for all series. Things that should have been shocking and exciting, and yet it was still, somehow, all so very... meh.
So, the episode began with Clara calling Danny to have some big talk (presumably about the ridiculous amount of lying she's been doing lately), and all she's able to get out is a grand 'I'll only ever love you!' gesture, ripe with foreshadowing, before BAM! Danny gets hit by a car and absolutely no one is surprised. Truly, the only surprising thing about that supposed plot-twist was that Clara somehow managed to not hear him being hit by a car, or even the sound of the phone hitting the ground. Now my fears about Danny Pink have been realized as it becomes all but guaranteed that he was created as a cheap plot device rather than an actual character with any semblance of development. Granted, this is Moffat we're talking about, so there is absolutely no guarantee that Danny will remain dead, but I'll get into that later.
With Danny dead, Clara, understandably, goes a bit off the rails. She steals all of The Doctor's TARDIS keys, knocks him out with a sleep patch, and attempts to force him to help her bring Danny back to life by threatening to hurl the keys into a volcano, destroying them. Of course The Doctor starts throwing around words like "paradox" and "rules" and keeps saying that he can't help her while she calmly throws all the keys into the lava. Once she's crumpled to the ground and sobbing, The Doctor reveals that he was much too clever for her to begin with, knew what she was planning, and decided to turn her pain fueled psychotic break into yet another social experiment. No wonder she went straight to direct threats when dealing with him instead of talking to him like a friend. This whole situation is basically glossed over with the explanation that she has horribly "betrayed" him (despite the fact that she is not in her right mind, and ignoring the numerous times she's literally saved his life, often with no regard to her own well-being), but he cares about her so much that he's willing to forgive her and help her anyway (also ignoring all of the awful things he's said and done to her throughout this series). So, they jack Clara directly into the TARDIS again, and off they go to find Danny.
They show up in a mausoleum full of water filled tombs housing skeletons sitting in chairs, and poke around until they finally encounter Missy. She claims to be a robot working in the 3W mausoleums, and introduces them to Dr. Cheng. Meanwhile, Danny wakes up in the Nethersphere being greeted by office worker Seb. It's pointed out to Danny that he's dead and established that his body being cremated is bad news. Back in Dr. Cheng's office, it is revealed that the dead remain conscious of what happens to their former bodies (explaining why cremation would be a very bad thing for Danny), so they are kept in the 3W mausoleum's "dark water" tanks, so named because it renders inorganic objects invisible when submerged (and everyone simultaneously exclaimed: "Oh, the skeletons are the cybermen they kept showing in the previews"). Using the concept of a consciousness after death was atually pretty awesome. That idea, though not a new concept, is truly terrifying and I think has been woefully underused in current fiction. Tip of the hat to Moffat for incorporating that little twist into the story so well.
The biggest reveal of the episode, however, was that Missy is not actually a robot, but is the newest regeneration of The Master. *Insert big 'ole eye roll from me here* This has been a common theory throughout the series, so I'm certain there are scores of vindicated Whovians out there, but I am more than a little disappointed at this revelation. This scheme is just not big enough, or original enough, to be the work of The Master in my opinion. It's clever, sure, but it's not entirely unheard of (check out 'Revelation of the Daleks'), and still feels much more like a Rani experiment than a Master plan. Of course this was just part one of the two part finale, so there is still plenty of time for Moffat to throw in another twist and reveal that she was lying about being The Master just as she did about being a robot.
In the coming finale, we will see The Doctor fight off cybermen, do something or another about Missy, and we will learn the fate of both Clara and Danny. Personally, I'm more interested in how the Clara/Danny situation is resolved than anything else. Will Clara sacrifice herself (literally) in order to reunite with Danny in the Nethersphere, a la The Ponds? Will she attempt to sacrifice herself only to return again in some strange Impossible Girl sort of twist, or have we truly just abandoned that plotline altogether? Will she and The Doctor figure out some miraculous way to once again laugh in the face of paradoxes and bring Danny back from the dead? Is Clara actually some sort of bizarre construct The Master has managed to slip into the TARDIS to keep tabs on The Doctor? I'm still predicting that Clara is going to die at some point this series, but we're just going to have to wait until next week to find out.