Doctor Who Review: Death in Heaven

Season: 8 / Episode: 12

That’s it, folks. Season eight of Doctor Who wrapped up on Saturday with what I have to admit was a very depressing and disheartening episode that also left many questions unanswered.

If you recall last week’s episode, “Dark Water,” it broke out the sorrow early on in the episode and took its time setting up all the drama and reveals as a lead-in to this week’s episode, “Death in Heaven.” Sure, last week was just an intro, and sure, you could tell Steven Moffat was milking it just a little, but I still liked it.

“Death in Heaven” started out with Clara trying to outsmart some Cybermen by telling them she was the Doctor. It was a smart move on her part, and it continues what we saw of her in “Flatline,” when she was a bit too convincing in her role as the Doctor. Here, too, we see her whip out an almost encyclopedic knowledge of him (also making us realize just how much Clara knows about the Doctor, especially compared to his other companions) and even mimic his confidence and manner of speaking. I’d believe Clara as the Doctor—but of course I’m just talking hypothetically here, because of course a female Doctor would turn out to be disastrous and totally destroy the show for good (::nudge:: right, Moffat?).

 

To save herself, Clara tries the Doctor method: Talk out of your ass until you come up with a plan

 

In this episode, we finally get a full explanation of 3W and Missy’s evil plan. It’s about as absurd as most of the evil plots in Doctor Who, in that the afterlife is basically this giant Cloud (as in the place where you hide all of your docs and secret pictures, as opposed to the atmospheric kind, which also play strongly in this episode) and Missy plans to harvest Cybermen through the use of Cyber-seeds that fall down in the form of Cyber-rain, which will infect the organic matter of all the dead people in the world and turn them into Cybermen. There are a lot of sketchy holes in this plot, like how do the Cybermen explode and then turn into clouds that turn into rain? Is there even enough organic matter still around from all those dead bodies from centuries ago? There are plenty of problems here, and I’ve been watching the show long enough to know that most episodes of “Doctor Who” are going to have some glaring questions and loopholes and departures from logic—but hey, I still love the show, and plenty of others do too, so sometimes you have to overlook some things. With that being said, this episode had more than a few unanswered questions and troublesome moments, which is pretty upsetting to experience in a finale.

For example, I personally had a lot of trouble believing that after Kate Stewart and UNIT show up to help save the day—knocking out and handcuffing the Doctor in the process—they pull a “Sorry about that, but we don’t always totally trust you. Oh, but bee-tee-dubs, you’re the president of Earth. Because that’s a thing we’re totally doing now.” He’s an alien who, despite saving the Earth pretty much on a daily basis, is mercurial, dangerous and, most importantly, unknown by the general population. Did the president of the United States and prime minister of Britain and every other ruler in the world just let a random guy in a flying blue box become president of the Earth? Because that’s what they’re telling us.

 

UNIT TO THE RESCUE! (…except not really)

 

Despite all this fuss, we don’t really get to see UNIT do anything helpful, which, to be fair, is the case about half of the time the organization appears. But it was nice to have some continuity in Kate Steward and Osgood, who I personally like quite a bit—and not just for her fashion choices. I should’ve known as soon as she made a clever comment, prompting the Doctor to hint at her becoming a future companion, that there was a good chance she’d be a goner. But still, it’s hard to believe that this brilliant girl who knows all about Missy and the evil plot would still be stupid enough to approach Missy and ignore her threats. Also, it’s hard to believe the two soldiers on either side of her would just stand there and do nothing. UNIT couldn’t even afford some decent guards? You just can’t get decent help these days, I suppose.

 

No! You had to kill off Osgood too, Moffat? Why can’t we have nice things?!

 

As for the other big UNIT cameo in this episode, the addition of the Cyber-brigadier was a nice callback to the old days of the brigadier—not really necessary, mind you, but still nice. The only problem with his appearance is the same problem presented throughout the episode—it raises more questions. Because what exactly happens to Cyber-brigadier? How was he also immune to the Cyberman command bracelet? And sure, he flies off all dramatically in the end, but where is he going? Is he coming back? Will he be linked to other Cyberman problems in the future?

Speaking of Cyberman problems, I need to take a moment of silence for Danny Pink. Danny has had it rough from the start, but the last few episodes of the show have been heartbreaking because of the things he’s gone through. I wasn’t too worried when he was killed off in “Dark Water” because I figured they’d just find a way into the Nethersphere/Cloud world and get him back. Or they’d think up some ridiculous rescue plan that doesn’t actually make sense and breaks a number of rules of the show. But no, they had the balls to keep him dead, despite our seeing his descendent in “Listen” (Yeah, what’s that about?). You can’t help but be touched by CyberDanny’s last words with Clara, as he describes the emotional turmoil he’s going through and asks her to end it. Plus, the makeup job on dead CyberDanny was well-done; they didn’t just go the easy route and put a bit too much powder on him to make him look a little pale. They made him grotesque but still recognizable, which made his meeting with Clara even more sad.

 

And then Danny was sad and ugly and alone and dead and all of the love in your heart died as well.

 

But ultimately, Danny, who has been serving in the role of the jaded, traumatized soldier for the entirety of the season, goes out in a fashion befitting this role. He makes his epic “Promise of a Soldier” speech (which, by the way, is irrelevant because normal Cybermen don’t experience emotions and were under his control anyway, so there was no real point to the monologue … but I digress) before valiantly leading the Cybermen up into the giant Cybermen harvesting cloud. Which brings up more questions: How exactly does a bunch of Cybermen flying up into a cloud of would-be Cybermen solve the problem? The episode seemed to suggest that they pulled a self-destruct move or something, but didn’t we establish that the Cybermen that Missy created were special in that each of their parts, down to the tiniest ones, would be used as Cybermen seeds with which to harvest new Cybermen? So it seems to me that throwing more Cybermen into the mix wouldn’t be the best solution.

I think I would’ve have been OK had we left the whole Danny story alone at that, but of course the bracelet can magically bring a person back from the dead—how? No clue. And it’s not super clear. But it’s just the deus ex machina we need to get us all hopeful in anticipation of Danny’s return. Clearly Moffat knows that we’re expecting it at this point, which is why he does a fake-out and has Danny sacrifice his life, yet again, for another person. And then, with Danny’s second sacrifice in one episode, the pope should have declared him a saint, because he’s obviously too good to be real. I have a suspicion that this is why St. Danny couldn’t be kept alive through the end, that he is too good. After all, Clara clearly has this suspicion as well, and even says so at some point. She is much too like the Doctor; in fact, he and her are nearly one in the same. Perhaps Clara, after this recent growth and transformation, has become undeserving. However, she does deserve the Doctor, something he himself says in “Dark Water.” It’s a bit grim to think about, but the essential “goodness” or “badness” of a person has come up again and again this season and both the Doctor and Clara have frequently questioned what they deserve based on their moral compass. Based on that premise, you could argue that the major tragedies that came to pass in the final episode were results of the moral standing of our two protagonists—certainly something that must occur to the Doctor as he questions his goodness while in the cemetery with Missy. The Doctor determines it’s not as easy as “good” or “bad”; in fact, it’s beyond that, but by the end of this whole ordeal we can’t help but feel as though the Doctor and Clara are left in their own personal hells brought about, in part, by their actions.

If we’re talking about hell, we need to take a minute to discuss Missy. I need to give another shout-out to Michelle Gomez for her acting. I enjoyed her as the Master, especially with the bizarre Mary Poppins hat and umbrella. Missy is mad, manic and manipulative and has no trouble toying with people and killing them. But interestingly enough, this version of the Master doesn’t go for the straightforward kill-and-conquer route to world domination. Missy goes for manipulating the Doctor into a position of power, where he is president of the world and has a Cyberman army at his disposal. But her impulse behind the plan fits in with one of the main themes of the season: figuring out whether the Doctor is a good man. But there are still mysteries surrounding the appearance—and, by the end of the episode, disappearance—of Missy. How exactly did Gallifrey return? Once something’s time-locked in another dimension, isn’t that it? The mystery behind Gallifrey and the Time War was interesting until we learned about everything. After that, the writers tried to tease Gallifrey back into the plot, but it doesn’t make sense and the novelty of it is gone. And it looks like we’re just going to get more, because the Doctor thought he was going to finally find Gallifrey but failed, which then still doesn’t explain how Missy managed to escape. And what exactly happened to Missy? I doubt she was killed by Cyber-brigadier, so is she going to return? As far as Missy’s big, evil plan, I get the Cyberman thing, but what about Clara and the Doctor? Such a big deal was made about Missy watching Clara and the Doctor, and Missy being the one who gave Clara the Doctor’s number. So she has been repeatedly drawing them together, but her aim is still unclear.

 

Mary Poppins ain’t got shit on Missy

 

As for the Doctor, he doesn’t actually figure as strongly in the finale as he usually does. He does a dramatic James Bond-style dive through the sky and has the impeccable aim necessary to use the key to get into the Tardis, even if he’s in free fall. And of course, he has a moment of revelation about himself and his essential goodness, which he’s been questioning all season. But this finale is decidedly not about the Doctor. It’s about Clara. It makes sense, but at the same time, the first few episodes of the season appeared to be building to an ultimate reveal about the Doctor’s character. And then there’s the whole Capaldi-showed-up-in-Pompeii issue, which originally appeared as though it was going to be addressed and then has been thrown to the side.

This finale was far from typical. Usually the Doctor Who finales end with a bang—and yes, sometimes that’s a negative bang, like a big, hairy revelation or a sad farewell from the Doctor—but the finales are still usually hopeful in some way. We come out feeling newly enlightened about some recurring issue brought up throughout the series and hopeful for the future. I’m pretty sure this finale drained all hope and love from my heart—or maybe it was like that to begin with, but this surely didn’t help. The last scene with the Doctor and Clara, full of painful dramatic irony, was remarkably sad. We didn’t get any sense of closure between the characters, mostly because their individual problems were not resolved and each lied based on the assumption that the other had found what they were looking for. And as much as I liked Cyber-Danny’s speech and the Doctor’s revealing statement, “Pain is a gift,” my favorite line in the episode may very well have come from this final scene, when the Doctor explains why he dislikes hugs so much: “Never trust a hug. It’s just a way to hide your face.” …Because this Doctor can make even a heartfelt hug emo. As for Clara, we’ve gone through so much with Clara that it seems odd to leave off on such an brief, somber note, but we know she’s going to be in the Christmas special, so hopefully we’ll end on a more savory note then.

 

Writers: “Nope, there wasn’t enough sorrow and heartbreak in this episode, so let’s add in this final scene.”

 

Overall, this season definitely had its good moments (“Listen,” “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Flatline”), but it also suffered from a few instances of lazy, irrelevant writing in the plot (::ahem:: “Robot of Sherwood,” “Kill the Moon,” “In the Forest of the Night” ::ahem::). A lot of elements were too overplayed, like the Doctor’s temperament, for example, and many other elements were introduced and dropped with no resolution. This finale felt lacking, and part of that feels intentional, because surely some threads can be reintroduced in the next season, but some of that feels like the effect of some unfortunate plot holes. Still, even when the writing was a bit weak, Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman still held their own as the Doctor and companion this season. Capaldi, despite the overwhelming Oscar the Grouch vibe, has exhibited a depth that we didn’t quite get in the other new Doctors. Each one had its darker side, but Capaldi’s Doctor was concerned with his own darkness in a way that manifested itself in every element of his character, from his cynical quips to his aggressive eyebrows. As for Coleman, I’ve given her plenty of props throughout the season, so I’m not going to repeat myself, but the woman really knows how to create an engaging, likeable character and show her change and evolve in believable ways.

That’s it until Christmas, so be sure to watch it and check back in for my review. (And in the meantime, check out the teaser trailer here.) Until then, make sure to comment below and share what you thought of season eight of Doctor Who.

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  • Bob Peters

    Frankly, I think it was one of the worst episodes Moffat has written. Apart from the mass of plot holes (see below), I found the ending very unsatisfying.

    Since when can Cyberman use dead bodies? This goes against just about every other Cyberman episode where they were trying to find living bodies to convert. It makes them too powerful, that and being able to fly too! If Danny didn’t take control, they would have been nearly impossible to beat.

    The Master is now a girl? Doesn’t that ruin the definition of Time Lady/Time Lord (with Romana etc)? And ‘Missy’ ? Wouldn’t the Master want to be called ‘The Mistress’ if he did change form or just continue to call herself ‘The Master’ (if you master something you are expert/lord of it) ? It’s not like the Master ran around before telling everyone to call him ‘Max’ or something.It would have made more sense if it was Romana, gone mad or something, which would have fitted in with Missy and her mischievous nature (K9 ‘Mistress’ = Missy).

    In all his previous incarnations,The Master wanted to control the universe, embarrass, and then kill the doctor.Now she wants to make out with and then give him power…. It doesn’t make sense.

    How did Missy get untied? The two guards standing behind her must have been blind and deaf? They should have moved to stop her as soon as she got one hand free ( or before, they should have seen her trying to get free).

    All the other times The Doctor has been helping the Earth they have either tried to lock him up, kill him or ignore him and now all of a sudden they are taking notice? Why has this changed all of a sudden?

    Cybermen that fall in Rain? Since when, and how? Even in sci-fi, there has to be a reason why rain would magically be able to convert dead bodies into cybermen.

    How come the Cybermen are being controlled? What about their hive mind? Would it not resist?

    What is with Missy’s magical Merry Poppins umbrella? Their isn’t enough lift in an umbrella to do that unless there is some sort of explanation ( sci-fi magical, but explanation nonetheless).

    Why would UNIT point guns at the Cybermen? Surely they would know by then that guns would be useless against the cybermen?

    How would UNIT know;
    1. That Capaldi is The Doctor?
    2. Missy is The Master?

    Why would Danny;
    1. Knock out Clara?
    2.TAKE HER TO A GRAVEYARD filled with CYBERMEN if he wanted to keep her safe?

    This isn’t really a plot hole, but it bothers me. I don’t like the concept of ‘uploading’ someone’s entire consciousness to a hard-drive. How would you represent someone’s soul and personality as data?

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