Before we begin the recap proper, allow me to express my frustration that BBC thinks it's a great idea to give away Doctor Who spoilers in teasers and trailers. "Dark Water" is clearly meant to be a mystery episode, where the Doctor and Clara finally piece together the secret behind the afterlife we've glimpsed throughout the entire season. But if you happened to see last week's "Next Time" teaser, then you already know the big reveal: Heaven is tied to some kind of Cyberman plot. So halfway through this cleverly structured episode where someone worked very, very hard to hide Cyberman references in plain sight, you've already pieced together how events will unfold. (This isn't a new problem, by the way: Doctor Who did the exact same thing just before the Ninth Doctor's finale.)
That's not a criticism of the episode itself. "Dark Water" does a great job of tying together season 8's plot threads, reintroducing classic Doctor Who enemies, and imagining the afterlife as a chilling science-fiction concept. Even after spoiling the Cyberman connection, this episode is dramatically well-paced, and saves one last shocker reveal till just before the credits roll. It just makes me suspect there's a disconnect between the people writing Doctor Who and the people promoting it. I mean, do they think Whovians won't show up for the finale if it seems like a classic Who villain won't make a comeback? Come on, classic Who villains always show up for the finale.
Okay, that's my rant. Let's get into the episode.
"Dark Water" opens with Clara realizing she should tell Danny Pink the full truth, so she's about to read every single lie aloud from a rather extensive list of post-its. But Clara thinks she'll lose her nerve if she reads it in person, so she calls Danny's cell phone as he's approaching her apartment. She only just read the first item (that she will never love anyone else like him) when tragedy strikes: Danny is hit by a car crossing the street and dies immediately.
Yes, it's a ham-fisted approach to generating emotion, but if you've been watching the season so far, it mostly works. We've watched Clara and Danny develop not just as a couple, but as human beings, each with different outlooks and life experiences. That lends his death no small weight, especially since Clara's glimpse of the future suggested they were supposed to have a family together.
Clara's reaction to Danny's death is also noticeably different from any of the times Amy lost Rory during the Eleventh Doctor's run. Whenever Amy thought Rory had been killed, she became a crying wreck who acted like there was no way she could go on. Clara on the other hand emotionally retreats inside herself, not to grieve, but to come up with a way to bring him back. And certainly not in a way the Doctor would approve of.