Doctor Who: Death in Heaven (EPISODE REVIEW)

With Death in Heaven, Steven Moffat closes an excellent two-parter and another solid season of Doctor Who, and it was surprisingly tasteful. I’m positive I’ll get some heat from this, but I really loved the episode. For me it’s been the strongest finale since, at least, The Big Bang. (But I’m sure to others it’s the worst thing since The Ultimate Foe). Ultimately I’ve come to realize that no matter how grand an episode may be, the DW community is its harshest critic. And when Moffat’s name is attached to an episode, ha! The floodgates open. I’m not a Moffat hater, generally. I agree he overuses his own plot elements ad nauseam at times, but as long as he can create compelling stories that move the show forward, I take no issue. As was the case with last week however, Death in Heaven exhibited very few of your typical Moffat tropes, and the episode and story as a whole benefitted magnificently.

Michelle Gomez’ Master is excellent. I wasn’t sure what to make of her by the end of Dark Water, but she is ‘bananas.’ She steals each scene she’s in with maniacal exuberance, and by the end of the day she comes across so nuts she actually seems scary. I’m not sure if I’m in the minority, the majority, or the massively indifferent, but the Master regenerating into a Time Lady really doesn’t shock me in the slightest. I don’t even see it as a nod toward the ever constricting politically correct agenda pervading television these days – it just kind of makes sense. How many rounds do you need to fire in Russian Roulette until a bullet comes out. And we already knew Time Lords are capable of regenerating into Time Ladies. Just a matter of time.

As plans generally go with the Master, you can rarely expect her extreme elaborations to make any actual sense… But no, actually – despite its ridiculously over the top nature, the plans actually seemed realistic. And her motives too. It wasn’t merely to end all life via reanimating the dead – rather, she set it up so that the Doctor could use this army of Cybermen to his own end, whatever that may be. And sick and twisted as her warped mind is, I can actually believe she would think this would be an excellent gift for the Doctor – her old friend.

Osgood. Oh Osgood. You were so close. So close. After her impressive skills of deduction, the Doctor offers her “all of time and space” to add to her bucket list – essentially shortlisting her for the role of future companion. She’s already groomed to that lifestyle, being involved with UNIT and such. But no. Missy got to her first. That was a shame. And was very shocking actually, I really didn’t foresee that happening. Why can’t this happen to the Paternoster Gang?

If I could fault this episode anywhere, I’d have to pick apart the serious lack of Nethersphere action in this episode. Easily one of the most intriguing things about Dark Water was the unique nature of the Nethersphere Danny Pink finds himself in after death. The big cliffhanger in which he is about to delete himself into the iPad was something I really wanted to see resolved. And for the most part the Nethersphere turns out to be nothing more than a big data cloud. The entire “don’t cremate me,” plotline is scrapped as well. We’re just to assume that they wish not to be cremated because they feel it in the Nethersphere (that and Missy plans to use the dead bodies anyway). In this avenue, the episode reeks of a script that’s been cut to fit the allotted hour, which is a shame because there was a lot of missed opportunity there. If we did get more Nethersphere then I might have given Seb permission to squee… Actually no. I still wouldn’t have.

A lot can be said about the lack of actual Cyber-threat in this two parter. But I don’t see that as the point. They were meant to eventually wipe out all life, but at the heed of their master. In this episode we see the Cybermen used as more of a tool than an actual monster. I had no problem buying into their dormant, lumbering states in the graveyard as they awaited further orders. I’ve never been a fan of the NuWho Cybermen, and a lot has to do with the fact I’m not overly keen on the campiness. That being said, despite the supremely campy takes of them emerging from the graves, the fact that they were awaiting orders instead of just beginning their slow death march through town, sat really well on my end.

I really liked Danny. He was a well-written character. Fiercely loyal, and endearingly protective. And he loved Clara. It was really hard not to feel emotions well up at the site of him in that armor. Alongside Jenna Coleman, Samuel Anderson really nails the character down, even in his deathly state. That makeup looked super painful though. Killing him off so soon was a brave way to go, and offered way more in the realm of heart-wrenching empathy than was the case with Osgood’s death. (But wait, where does Orson Pink come into the picture?)

I mentioned above that the episode was overall very tasteful in my opinion. I meant that, it was very… unMoffat. But was it tasteful to bring back the Brigadier? Nicholas Courtney passed away over three years ago now, and it is a sore point for many that he was never allowed the opportunity to make a return appearance in the show. Was putting him in a Cyberman suit of armor to save the life of his daughter just a bit too self-referential? Yeah, probably. This should’ve been an inclusion for the Day of the Doctor, if anything. But I don’t mind completely. The Doctor’s salute was the perfect sign of respect paid, and quite right too.

An argument can be made that the main story arc this season wasn’t truly the Missy arc, but rather the transformation of Clara and the Doctor. In the end it’s something of tragic beauty. It’s asked of the Doctor in this episode if Clara is his associate. He corrects the term “associate” with “friend.” And later Clara is in a similar position, and she refers to the Doctor as her “best friend.” By the time the episode hits its resolution, we find the two in a cafe. The Doctor realizes she’s ready to leave, and assumes it’s because she and Danny are moving on. She lies and plays along. The Doctor similarly claims to have found the long-missing Gallifrey at the coordinates Missy’s given him, albeit that’s a lie too. The two friends care so much for the well-being of each other they don’t wish to disclose the harsh truths they both are dealing with, and instead choose to willingly part with the pretty fronts of prosperous futures. And they solidify this with a hug – a hug that is admittedly an excuse to not show each other their face. It’s horrible. It’s depressing. It’s a high concept character arc in a show meant for all ages. It’s brilliant writing. And it’s one helluva goodbye. I’m not ashamed to admit it had me teary eyed.

Alas. Series 8 is over. But the moment has been prepared for. Thanks for stopping in to read my reviews for Doctor Who this season – be sure to watch out for my review of the upcoming 2014 Christmas Special (title is currently TBA). Of course I do review plenty of other things, so be sure to stick around.

28 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Death in Heaven (EPISODE REVIEW)

  1. You’re a very good writer and I am glad to have discovered your blog, but man I could not disagree more with this review.

    For starters I HATED Osgood’s death. It was hack writing at its very worst. Tossing a great character played by an excellent actress aside just to make a villain seem scary is so lazy its not true!

    Terry Nation in the first Dalek story had them kill one person a no name Thal and they seemed a thousand times scarier than Missy as Terry Nation put the effort into making them seem scary. He didn’t just kill Susan and throw away that character for a cheap thrill.

    Also Missy was pandering to the PC nonsense. After all this fuss about a female Doctor, the first thing we get is a female Master. Coincidence I think not. But that’s not what bothered me about her in actual fact.

    I think a female Doctor is a mistake, and it annoys me the way Moffat just added it in that they could change gender two years ago and acts like its something that has always been part of the shows canon. It bloody hasn’t and you mention Russian Roulette. Good point that should be proof that it can’t happen as we have seen time lords burn out whole regeneration cycles and not change gender!

    Surely it would have happened in the first 26 years of the show!

    However there were far more things wrong with Missy than that. Michelle Gomez was awful. I fail to see why everyone thinks she was so great? She looked drunk half the time, she gurned and screamed her way through every scene.

    Her plan was also the stupidest of all time. It didn’t make any sense whatsoever. She wanted to win him back as a friend so she kills his friends? she wants him back as a friend so she tosses him out of a plane? Also she gives him a Cyberman army with no failsafe? All he had to do was just say “no sorry I don’t want it” and that’s that. She was a moron, a total moron.

    Also I hated the way she lusted after him. FFS that ruined the Master turning him from his archenemy into his ex lover.

    Also its a sexist cliche to have the female villain want to shag the male hero or have to use sex to manipulate him. Missy is IMO an embarrasment in every way.

    As the first gender bending time lord? Yes she is like a parody of a female Master. She calls herself Missy and suddenly fancies her male archenemy!

    As the Master well yes for those same reasons. She is quite frankly an insult to Roger Delgado.

    And as a female villain oh good god yes! Compare her to female villains like Callisto, The Evil Queen, Faith etc and she is a lame, one note cliche of a femme fatale.

    Also Cyberbrig was in horrible taste, the interesting concept of a nethersphere was wasted on another invasion earth cliche. It was IMO the worst season finale of New Who and the single worst episode of Who history, just awful in every way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on this episode. I liked the episode overall…The story was mildly intriguing and the acting was brilliant. The ending, however, was so incredibly depressing that it kind of tainted the whole thing for me. I feel like I gained nothing from the episode other than being thrust into a deep set sadness. No one gained anything, not the Master, not the Doctor, not Clara or Danny…No one really learned anything, the Doctor even compromised his values completely to keep Clara from killing the Master.

    Maybe that’s brilliant writing or something that’s just going over my head, but I feel as though nothing was gained. It wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great, it was just depressing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes it’s the depressing endings that are the most satisfying, the most realistic, and the most devastating. That’s what I got out of that, after it was all said and done.

      Sure, nothing was gained and a lot was lost. But just because something is tragic doesn’t make it necessarily a bad ending.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, that’s definitely a good point. I guess it all depends on what kind of story you enjoy. You mentioned that it was very un-Moffat and for me it was one step further – very unlike Doctor Who. And I think the unexpectedness made it feel worse than it actually was. But I have hope for the Christmas special, Nick Frost is bound to be a laugh!! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Now, about Orson Pink.

    -He implied that Clara is his great-grandmother.
    -He looks just like Danny Pink.
    -Danny Pink is dead.
    -Clara isn’t.

    Orson Pink still exists within that Universe, because Clara is already pregnant. That’s why Strax said she was retaining fluid, and that she clearly had something important to tell Danny when she called him. Plus, just as Clara believed the Doctor had found Gallifrey, which he let her think, Clara let the Doctor think she was going to have a life with Danny. Ergo, Clara’s pregnant with Danny’s child, but would rather let the Doctor think they’ll raise it together.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It was glorious! Death In Heaven was a slice of cosmic pizza served with a side of ultra cake! This has been my favourite season of new-who and I cant wait to see what happens next. Roll on the Christmas special 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Sorry but I absolutely HATED this one. I was already somewhat negative after the first part with the Master reveal but for me this finale had absolutely no redeeming features and just seemed to be an exercise in CGI visuals at the expense of a nonsense story chucking in the odd classic Who reference and picking a villain race out of the hat to act as stooges for another villain who I ended up detesting (not the way the bbc wanted) at the end. The only positive was quickly squashed when Osgood who looked to be a good new companion was Tissue Compression Eliminated. She might return though as she seemed too good to throw away like that. I also hated the Brigadier referenced ending and after Murray Gold had appeared to tone down his bombastic scores in earlier stories he was back on truly annoying form writing his “this is how YOU WILL feel” mood music throughout the story. Which Special Weapons Dalek will rid me of this troublesome excuse for a composer?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm. I’ll admit I find it hard to see where you’re coming from here, but it’s not surprising I guess. I do think Murray Gold’s work is extremely tired at this point. But I doubt they’ll be getting rid of him anytime soon.


      1. I just found this finale awful, infact it was worse than that, it was woeful, such an anti-climax. The season has had without doubt the best Doctor since the new series and dare I say it better than a few of the classic doctors too. But its also had some of the laziest pointless scripts in the new era to rival that Adipose story. Its had its highs too, Flatline and Inside the Dalek being amongst them but the overall theme of the Clara Oswald show with Danny Pink in the end just went beyond irritating and when they tried something new with the Master it really didn’t work. As they say “If it ain’t broke…….” As for Murray Gold, well lets just say I’m not a fan!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I loved how they ended the question of whether the doctor was a good man and the woman who played missy really made the master character her own and im sure we will be seeing more of her later on but all in all I feel that this has been a very mixed series I just hope the next one is stronger story wise

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lot’s of possibilities – Danny’s offspring is already born, Danny is coming back, Clara is already pregnant. Of course, I’d like Danny to come back and for them to have a happy ending. But I also wonder if Clara might be pregnant – she was trying to tell Danny something at the start of the two-parter that she never got to, and she was trying to say something to the Doctor at the end that she never got to either…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Moffat has stated the next companion may not be a girl from earth. Make of that what you will. Could be a guy from earth. Or a girl from another planet/future


  7. I had problems with this episode. I didn’t hate it, but I had problems.

    We don’t really know for sure the Missy/Master thing is true. She could still be another Timelady just lying. They don’t explain how she gets into the universe, and they don’t have to… but there is so much left unknown that we don’t really really know it was a female Master. It could all still be undone… you know… like when we were told the Doctor really died and that it wasn’t a duplicate… except it really was.

    Meanwhile… the Cybermen didn’t do anything. I don’t mean they were used as tools, I mean they literally did nothing… for the whole episode.

    For a longer than normal episode… a lot less happened than the usual episode. In fact, you could condense this into a 25 minute classic-length episode and still have a too-long runtime for the amount of actual plot.

    I didn’t love killing Osgood… but for dramatic effect I buy into it. I like the actress/comedienne playing her and liked the character… but that’s why killing her like that works. Killing unknown characters doesn’t evoke a connection.

    It’s just… a series or two from now… I can’t say to anyone that they really need to watch this episode for any particular reason. You could miss it and not miss much of importance in the scheme of things.

    And as for the female Master. I’m against it for reasons I have gone into before… but ignore that for a moment. Why did this story need the Master at all? What point does the Master of either gender serve in advancing this story that couldn’t have been accomplished by any particular character?

    And further… once you decide to feature the Master… why did it need to be a female Master except for stunt casting?

    Michelle Gomez was brilliant. No problems there… but essentially her whole character arc for the series could be omitted and you could put any random nobody in there for these last two episodes and the story would play out the same.

    That’s my biggest problem with Missy/Master… it was pointless to the plot of the story. One of the key components to writing is to write with purpose… things and characters need to have a reason for being in the story. There was simply no need for the Master… and even less need for this Master to specifically be a woman.

    It’s like gratuitous nudity in the middle of a movie… I’m not angered by it, but it doesn’t belong and doesn’t serve the story.


    1. I actually feel completely the opposite on this one haha. I never felt the Master was an unjustified choice. Rather, she used the Cybermen as a tool to essentially gift the Doctor in the end. Thats why it all worked for me. Because shes so crazy it just works. And at this stage there’s no reason for it to not be the Master. But I’m just reiterating my opinions at this point. I’ll stop lol.


      1. But my point… why the Master? What did “Missy” do that required her to be the Master?

        The Rani would have filled the same role… River Song could have filled the role, frankly, if you used a previously still mind-warped version. It also could have been the female (I forget her name) character from “The Next Doctor” cyber-controller character having evolved from being sent into space with those Cyberman years ago.

        There was nothing that screamed “this has to be the Master” for the story to work… it could have been a completely new villain as well.

        And there was no reason for the Master to be a woman for this episode except to pull a stunt. Again, I’m not against the actress… she served the part well… but John Simm’s Master could have filled the exact same role (even the kissing frankly) and nothing would have been any different.

        It’s like Moffat was writing the script and said “let’s use the Master” and “and make her a woman” without regard to the actual plot or character development.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. But seriously, SJVernon – how many stories featuring the Master in the entire history of the series have actually *required* the use of the Master? A couple, sure, but not most. How many episodes of the show absolutely require any character? I think that’s a bit of a heavy requirement to judge the episode by.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re not wrong… but then I counter with two wrongs don’t make a right.

        Whenever anyone criticizes modern Doctor Who, and Steven Moffat in particular, people come back with “the classic series had problems too”… which isn’t really a defense.

        I mean… if I can’t run and you point out that I’m slow… I counter with “yeah, but there are other slow people” it doesn’t negate my being slow!

        So… yes, there are flaws in old Doctor Who too… and if we were reviewing an episode of classic Doctor Who I’d have something to say on those too. I’m nothing if not fair.

        I just can’t point to a past failure and say it is justification to fail again similarly.

        As for being unfair in requiring characters to serve the story… that’s a basic tenet of writing actually… that characters exist to move the story. Characters should either be effected by or have an effect on what happens. Any character that doesn’t, or could be replaced by a lamp post isn’t necessary for the story.


      2. Fair enough, but there’s a big difference between talking about characters serving the story (as you say, effecting what happens or being effected by it) and saying the story absolutely demands a certain character – as if it couldn’t be re-written to avoid that character.

        You say that there was no point to having the Master. And certainly, it could have be rewritten to not have the Master , but I certainly think his/her presence “served the story”. There were references to their prior relationship, that relationship informed the way they responded to each other, and the Master’s plan and motivations were built upon that history. All of this at least to the degree that you couldn’t just stick the Rani in there instead, not without major re-writes. The Rani’s history / motivations (what we know of it) were quite different than the Master’s.

        Sure, it could have been revealed that MIssy was a different Time Lord that the Doctor had history with, some similar but new character. But then our comments would be centered around why they didn’t just use the Master rather than inventing some new character who is just like him.

        Certainly we’re not saying that either Missy or the Master could just be replaced by a lamp post?

        Now for the Master being female, yeah that is a stunt, but I think a justified one based on the overall success of Michelle Gomez in the part, and the potential surprise of the reveal. For example, I don’t really like the Master, and I hated John Simm in the part, but I still found Gomez interesting in the role.

        Liked by 1 person

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