Doctor Who: 8.12 Death In Heaven
The biggest issues two-part episodes face are not delivering on the big cliffhangers at the end of part one. You can leave your audience on tender hooks all you want but if there isn’t a satisfying pay off then it’s all for nothing. Doctor Who is the master of cliffhangers but we’ve been starved of them for quite some time now (though introducing John Hurt as The Doctor was pretty spectacular). Last week’s Dark Water left us with multiple cliffhangers. Missy revealed her true identity to a horrified Doctor. Cybermen were marching through the streets of London. Clara was trapped in a room with the enemy and Danny was about to delete his emotions and become a Cyberman himself. The stakes were very high.
Thankfully Death In Heaven lives up to the potential of Dark Water even if it perhaps doesn’t beat it. There are no major revelations this time round, though there are a few surprises I’ll come on to in a moment. The finale didn’t need these though. Nothing was going to top Missy is the Master and Death In Heaven was about letting lose all those plot pieces and having the sparks fly.
There was a lot crammed into those 58 minutes so where to begin? Let’s start with Missy herself. Michelle Gomez was simply wonderful and dare I say it, the best master since Delgado. The episode perfectly captured the love / hate relationship the Doctor and his nemesis share. The reveal that she created this army of Cybermen for him was genuinely heartfelt as was the choice of Clara as a companion for him, even if those ideals were totally misguided. Missy revelled in the shock and horror she unleashed, in fact she was downright psychotic, vaporising everyone left right and centre. I was actually surprised that poor Osgood met her maker in only her second appearance but perhaps we’re a long way from the 1970’s UNIT family of old.
Michelle Gomez was truly having the time of her life as she played the villain unleashed, grinning gleefully at the secrets she knew, teasing poor Osgood with the ominous count down and delighting in the banter with the Doctor. Gomez had amazing chemistry with Peter Capaldi. I truly hope that she found a way to fake her death because I want to see much more of that electricity between this Doctor and Master / Mistress.
This was Capaldi’s episode. Those who have argued that Clara was taking too much of the limelight must have been pleased when he stepped into action, first crowned a reluctant President of Earth by UNIT, but then out-tricking Missy and devising a solution that would defeat the Cybermen, save humanity and restore Danny to Clara.
This was the Doctor at his very best; clever, intuitive and most importantly the hero. The Twelfth Doctor has come a long way from the days of Deep Breath and Into The Dalek (a whole 11-12 weeks ago!) and now it is hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Sure I loved Matt Smith’s Doctor but I don’t miss him anymore. Let’s hope we get Peter Capaldi in the role for many more years to come!
If anything it was Clara who was the most sidelined in the episode but after the amazing material she has had to work with over the last few weeks, Jenna Coleman would be hard pressed to complain. What she did get was still magnificent, though I didn’t like the resolution of the “Clara Oswald never existed” tease from the trailer. I was expecting something massive and it came off as wholly disappointing. That being said, on a much smaller scale, that ’revelation ’ of her actually being The Doctor reincarnated was a clever way for her to stay alive and after the big Missy reveal you did start to wonder ’surely she isn’t a future Doctor? ’.
Her scenes with Danny were excellent though – beautiful and tragic in equal measure – and brought a stunning resolution to their romance that I didn’t expect. We all assumed she would leave the Doctor and walk off into the sunset with him, particularly after the tease of their great grandson Orson Pink in Listen. I actually expected her to stand up in the café at the end visibly pregnant with his child. That would certainly have explained her need to stay on Earth and the reason behind the post-it conversation at the start of Dark Water.
I’ll come to those final scenes at the end in more detail but there’s still quite a lot to talk about before we get there. First Danny and the Cybermen; Moffat certainly continued to deliver the chills with the dead waking up in the morgue and revealing them to be Cybermen certainly upped the ante. The episode became part Doctor Who, part Walking Dead in parts with bodies rising from graves to take over the Earth. Thankfully they were already in their suits; showing what lay within the Cybermen armour would have been a step too far for the show! However there was still enough there to frighten the kiddies again, if not quite at the level of the skeletons in the water tombs from last week.
Making Danny a Cyberman was brutal but it did create a believable way for the Doctor to turn the tide against Missy. His farewell scene with Clara in the raveyard was very bittersweet and tense at the same time. You weren’t quite sure if the Cyber-programming would kick in at end point and he would kill her. Oddly, for the global threat we saw unleashed it all became very personal having the climax set in the English grave yard. It was another Hinchliffe-inspired Gothic horror touch that series eight had employed so well.
Samuel Anderson has been a brilliant addition to the show this year and in Death In Heaven he delivered his very best, conveying the horror of finding himself in his own armour-covered corpse, saying goodbye to Clara, playing the soldier one last time to kill himself and the rest of the invading armour and the final chance to make amends by sending the boy he killed back to Earth at the cost of his own happiness.
There was a hell of a lot of emotion in this episode. Anderson and Coleman were a truly brilliant support act but there was also a lot of pulling at the heart strings for the audience too, not least in the ’return ’ of The Brigadier. The show never got to deliver the reunion with Nicholas Courtney while he was still alive – a massively wasted opportunity – so Moffat did the next best thing by bringing him back from the dead in the Cyberman suit. We had already had his portrait hanging proudly on the UNIT plane but the real tribute was having the Brigadier saving the day. First in rescuing his daughter from the exploding plane, then taking out Missy. There was some lack of logic there; why was the Brigadier not under enemy’s control? But ultimately it didn’t matter and that final salute from the Doctor was very much earned. I’m sure some fans will call it a travesty though by Moffat is nothing but controversial.
There was a grand scale to Death In Heaven too. Missy breaking free, the attack on the plane, the clouds hanging over the major cities of the Earth and the dead rising everywhere. It was all very spectacular, even if the Doctor becoming President Of Earth didn’t really go anywhere. In fact, I find that hard to believe; could we imagine North Korea for example giving up its resources to one man? But cover up those small leaps in logic and we had something truly special.
Series eight all came together in those final scenes. Danny playing the soldier and saving the world. The Doctor outwitting Missy. Her death at the hands of the Brigadier was frustrating but well executed. And then those emotional goodbyes. Danny’s selfless act in saving the boy first but then that final parting between the Doctor and Clara. Interestingly though both left each other believing the other had found their happy ending; the Doctor with Gallifrey and Clara with Danny. But it was all a lie. Clara gave up her life on the TARDIS and the Doctor gave her that option by telling her he had something new in his life. Ultimately they were both alone, making for a somber ending to a darker series.
Is it really the end for them? There have been rumours of Clara appearing in the Christmas special but that may be no more than an extended cameo, like Donna in The End Of Time. Or maybe they will both discover the truth and reunite? Who knows. If this really is the end of Clara then Jenna Coleman has left knowing that she has delivered one of the best companions Doctor Who has ever had.
But for now, it is all over. We have a Christmas special still to come. But giving the amazing storytelling of series eight, series nine is going to feel like a very, very long way away indeed…