Sunday, 9 November 2014

DOCTOR WHO, 8.12 – 'Death in Heaven' • when it rains, it pours

Sunday, 9 November 2014


After the excellent first part, I perhaps had unreasonably high hopes for the concluding half of Series 8's finale. Sadly, it fell prey to many of the things that commonly prevent epic DOCTOR WHO episodes from achieving greatness. "Death in Heaven" was one of those hours that was, at its best, a briskly enjoyable mess. The core plan of Missy/The Master (Michelle Gomez) to create a billions-strong army of Cybermen from living and dead humans, via a worldwide expanse of nanobot rainclouds that could create Cybermen, held together surprisingly well—but the story quickly got stuck in quagmires and was ultimately suffocated by its own silliness.

A big problem for me was how The Master was almost effortlessly captured by UNIT at the start; led by Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), who made The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) Commander-in-Chief of the entire human race from a British version of Air Force One. Despite the fact there were millions of Cybermen hatching from graves around the world (a brilliantly creepy idea and image), there wasn't much sense of threat because, frankly, Doctor Who has played these global crises cards too often. Why have we never been given a finale where the fate of an alien world's at stake? It would be a lot more interesting to me, frankly.

Once The Master escaped from her shackles—killing sweet fangirl Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) in the process, before blowing up The Doctor's plane, forcing him to free-fall into his TARDIS in a variation of the Moonraker parachute stunt—the episodes felt like it might regain some bite. Unfortunately, it proceeded to turn The Master's plan into something of a ridiculous joke in service of Series 8's vague intention to equate The Doctor with a warmongering wannabe-general only missing an army. And despite some fine efforts making this new Doctor darker and less outwardly benevolent, I never for one second thought he might be persuaded to lead legions of Cyberman across space-time to slaughter his enemies. It was a bridge too far.

And let's not linger too much on the stupid convenience that Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) managed to retain his humanity once his "soul" was downloaded into his newly-Cyberman'd corpse, to stomp around protecting girlfriend Clara (Jenna Coleman) from his fellow 'bots. It was an improvement on the throwaway shot from Series 2's "Doomsday", when the Cyber version of Torchwood's Yvonne Hartman was glimpsed shedding a tear, but the emotional pay-off between Danny and Clara didn't work for me.

Danny started off strongly as a new character, with a fascinating and rare dislike of The Doctor, but this aspect of his personality also made him feel very sanctimonious and controlling of Clara's interests. I wouldn't say I grew to hate Danny, but I didn’t like him very much post-"The Caretaker", which killed the intended reaction I was supposed to have to scenes where Clara grappled with turning Cyber-Dan's emotion chip off, severing the last vestige of his humanity, and turning him into a complete automaton. A silly dilemma anyway, because why would anyone think becoming a soulless killer robot is better than accepting an unexpected "afterlife" as a cyborg who could be of great help to not only the current situation, but future situations?

Considering the delight of this episode was supposed to be the return of The Master, "Death in Heaven" also failed to make any of that soar. Michelle Gomez was occasionally very effective with her haughty attitude and devilish facial gymnastics, but I was disappointed the character was once again written as a vaudeville clown (only this time in Mary Poppins cosplay).

While it was in-keeping with John Simm's impish take on The Master, that version was intended to be a funhouse mirror's reflection of David Tennant's extroverted nerd of a Doctor. Gomez should have been as equally complex as Capaldi's character, and genuinely malicious and frightening… but there were only ever flashes of that. Most notably with Osgood's shock death, which I'm glad wasn't undone as outrageously as Kate surviving falling out of plane and being caught by... um, her dad, the Brigadier, now also a Cyberman with a heart. (How lucky the two people somehow immune to becoming Cybermen were people The Doctor knew, eh?)

What worked with this finale? Well, the sights of flying Cybermen pouring out of St Paul's Cathedral and later attacking UNIT's airborne plane were cool at times. I liked the logical explanation that it was The Master who had guided Clara into meeting The Doctor, as flashbacks revealed she was the person who called the TARDIS phone and manipulated events for them to meet. The last scene, with The Doctor and Clara going their separate ways was also fantastic—as both were lying about being in a happier place, with Clara pretending Danny's back from the dead, and The Doctor claiming to have found his homeworld of Gallifrey.

A messy conclusion to what's been a surprisingly consistent series of Doctor Who, that dialled back the heaviness of the mytharc and put a welcome focus on Clara's character. Peter Capaldi only really had a few outings that entirely clicked with his irascible take on The Doctor, but I trust next series will be a lot stronger now the writers have seen his performance and can write to its strengths.

See you at Christmas, when... um, Nick Frost's playing Santa Claus.


  • I didn't get the scene where Clara was pluckily trying to outsmart the Cybermen by claiming she's a regeneration of The Doctor. Her idea was even used as the sting of the teaser before the opening credits (which featured her eyes and put Jenna Coleman's name first in the credits!), but it made absolutely no sense to me. These high-tech Cybermen couldn't tell she doesn't have two hearts?
  • Did you notice the classic Who version of a decapitated Cyberman head?
  • The coordinates to Gallifrey were the same ones The Doctor gave to Sutekh in "Pyramids of Mars".
  • Danny's body was kept in the Chaplet Funeral Home, which is likely a reference to Dodo Chaplet, a companion of the First Doctor.
written by Steven Moffat • directed by Rachel Talalay • 8 November 2014 • BBC1