Doctor Who and the Master Really Get in Your Face, 3D-Style

The Master and Doctor Who

The BBC's 3D treatment of Doctor Who episodes ‘Dark Water’ and ‘Death in Heaven’ makes the cruel plot twists truly pop.

Doctor Who

Distributor: BBC Home Entertainment
Cast: Peter Capaldi, Michelle Gomez, Jenna Coleman
Network: BBC America
US Release Date: 2015-09-22

Many television shows are not cruel. Watching TV is supposed to be escapist fantasy, after all. Steven Moffat, Doctor Who’s show runner, however, sometimes decides to not let his audiences escape.

“Dark Water” opens the two part Doctor Who Series 8 finalé with an expression of love. We knew that Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman) and Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) were leaning into each other, but with The Doctor in the picture, a love that might have blossomed quickly was stretched out over the timey-whiminess that affects The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and all of his companions.

Clara finally says it: “I love you.” Not a brief love in passing, but deep and abiding love. She tells Danny that those words are always and for ever for Danny only.

And then silence.

A women finds Danny’s phone, tossed free, and relays the news of Danny’s death to Clara.

Danny Pink isn’t killed by an Dalek laser beam. He isn’t abducted and transformed into a Zygon double. He doesn’t die defending Clara. No, Danny Pink dies being hit by a car whilst walking through a British cross walk in broad daylight.

These two episodes are exceedingly cruel for television. Indeed, “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” are two of the most emotionally wrenching episodes ever dropped into the Doctor Who canon. Clara looses Danny not once, but three times.

We also experience the saving of UNIT’s leader, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Kate Lethbridge-Stewart), by her father turned Cyberman, Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. As the Doctor recognizes this final act by a father, he finally salutes The Brigadier, an act he has just recently learned he always wanted from his undisciplined friend.

We also find the Doctor reunited with archenemy, and life-long friend, The Master (Michelle Gomez), in the guise of Missy, the orchestrator of the chaos. At The Master’s hand we loose Osgood (Ingrid Oliver), evaporated by an energy weapon, her glasses crushed beneath The Master’s high-heeled pumps.

The repeated loss of Danny transforms Clara into a much more brazen character, one who seemingly has nothing left to loose. She now goes all in when she finds herself in a precarious position.

But that is not all...

The Master is running a bit of hell or heaven it seems, by employing some Time Lord technology. The minds of all deceased humans, it appears, have been rerouted to a server prepared to download them, we discover, into Cybermen. Cybermen created from the resurrected corpuses of the human dead.

In the end, it is Danny Pink’s dedication to humanity that wins the day. The dead Pink has become a Cyberman in form, if not in mind. After a scuffle and some exposition between The Doctor and The Master, Danny ends up with the Cybermen command bracelet. He takes command of the Cybermen and orders them to create an inferno in the sky that destroys the nanotechnology that threatens to kill of of humanity and convert their corpuses into Cybermen. That is Danny’s second death.

The bracelet it turns out, will permit Danny to move from the Time Lord server and return from the odd deadness imposed by The Master. Just him, and just once. He chooses to bring back a child he killed in combat in the Middle East. We have seen glimpses of Danny’s war guilt before, and now we get to see him redeemed as he lets the boy (Shane Keogh-Grenade) pass through the portal, saying goodbye, and asking forgiveness, of the devastated Clara Oswald one last time. Death number three. I would say this is the final death, but this is Doctor Who and who really dies if the plot calls for their return?

The episodes on this DVD are classics for the gut wrenching emotion, and for their commingling of classic Doctor Who characters the Cybermen and The Master. Of course, viewers discover that in crisis, the world bestows upon The Doctor the title, President of Earth, giving him control of all of Earth’s armies. Of course, we learn he doesn’t need them at all. He just needs one former soldier with feelings for his companion to lead an army of the undead to destroy themselves in service to the living.

For those of you who acquired tickets to the 3D theatrical release of “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” ahead of Series 10, know that the 3D work on these episodes isn’t really necessary and adds nothing to the plot. It's a gimmick used to enhance the episodes on the big screen. Bringing the modern Doctor Who to the big screen is something that occurs too rarely. All of time and space is as vast as vast gets. The modern Doctor Who stories need more room than can be offered on a five-inch phone, a nine-inch tablet or even a 57-inch HD TV. (Bigger than that and you almost end up with theatrical experiences, so get the Blu-ray with 3D and do this episode right!) It is nice to be able to experience theatrical television in a theater setting.

That said, Doctor Who is as personal as is it large. Sure there are great vistas of space, and stars, great glowing interstellar dust clouds and planet of all shapes and sizes—and sure, there's even an occasional space ship. But at its heart Doctor Who is about heart. That most special feature of the spectacular is powerful regardless of format. The character of Doctor Who, like the Tardis he inhabits, is bigger on the inside than he is on the outside.

Perhaps the most personal relationships on the show exists between The Master and The Doctor. Many have played The Master but none as well as Michelle Gomez. She deserves an Emmy and a BAFTA for her perfectly pitched bat-shit crazy portrayal. The episodes are worthy of collection just to study her acting.

The “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” Blu-ray set is a particularly good investment if you have a large, 3D screen. If not, you may want to wait for the inevitable streaming to re-experience these episodes. We re-watch episodes like this not for the special effects, but for the special characters that affect us.

The DVD, however, increases its value with extras, including an extended interview with Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman conducted by Star Trek’s Will Wheaton. The theatrical trailer for Doctor Who Series 9 is also included as an extra enticement.

I leave you with this quote by the Doctor to Danny Pink in his Cyberman suite as he pleads to have his emotions turned off: “Pain is a gift. Without the capacity for pain. We can’t feel the hurt we inflict.”


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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