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.