12 “Death in Heaven” (Doctor Who series 8) [SPOILERS]


doctor who peter capaldi

Somehow the final episode of Peter Capaldi’s first season as the Doctor is upon us. Already.

It got off to a shaky start, I’ll admit, but I do think it has grown into the new leading man. As a complete break from the previous styles, it was going to take a while for the writing to adjust to a new, brusquer Doctor.

It has, though. Grown into it. There have been some truly outstanding episodes this season, and it has managed to give Clara’s stunted character development some life. Not to mention that the Doctor’s new grumpy seriousness hasn’t, as some suspected it would, robbed the series of its light-hearted fantastical edge.

But it all comes down to this. If the last episode is a dud, then it could well destroy much of what has been built. The set up last episode was good, but then it always is. I am not, though, typically a fan of series resolutions with Doctor Who. But with a different Doctor, maybe we’re in for something new?

After the grand reveal at the end of last episode, that Missy is in fact the Master (Mistress, geddit?), there are Cybermen on the streets of planet Earth. UNIT show up and manage to get the drop on them, but wholly bugger it up and the Cybermen fly off, and explode all around the world forming clouds. The rain, in turn, converts the dead in graveyards to Cybermen, an army to rule the world. And with the Doctor now declared “President of Earth” by UNIT, it is far from clear what can be done to stop them.

So, first off: I have never really found the Cybermen scary. Lumbering metal zombies, they don’t inspire the terror that the Daleks, for instance, have always evoked. Except for some reason, when they are rising out of the ground and already dominating the world, they did send a shiver down my spine.

Scarier, though, is that they are at the beck and call of Missy. Michelle Gomez absolutely delights in the role, and brings a completely different feel to John Simm (who I loved in the role). She is gleefully excited, with a chilling psychopathic streak — when she kills Osgood and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, for instance — and a pretty clear reason for doing it all. She wants the Doctor to accept that they are basically the same, and makes a pretty compelling case for it.

Danny Pink is also central to this story. Reborn as a Cyberman, he somehow retains the emotions he almost deleted in the last episode, and seeks out Clara — who is impersonating the Doctor in an effort to bluff other Cybermen into not killing her. Danny saves her, and pleads for her to turn on his faulty emotion inhibitor so that he doesn’t have to hurt any more.

And of course, Clara asks the Doctor to help. One of Missy’s central points was that the Doctor is a general, whose idea of acceptable losses are the same as her casual slaughter. The idea that the Doctor won’t get his hands dirty, but lets other people do it for him, is not a new theme (for example, the series four finale “Journey’s End”), but it is brutally explored here; precisely because she’s right.

The Doctor is offered serious power twice, but neither time likes it or knows what to do with it. When UNIT declare him “President of Earth”, he mostly just insults people, and when Missy gives him her Cyberman army, he responds that they, Danny and Clara, are all he needs. And he’s right. After all, he gives the sonic screwdriver to Clara to turn on Danny’s inhibitor, and then he gives Danny the cyber-control bracelet so that he can lead the cyber-army into the sky to burn up the clouds.

Even at the end, when he is about to kill Missy in order to prevent Clara having to do it, he is saved from having to do so by the cyber-ified Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who shoots the rogue Time Lord for him (Though that did look an awful lot like a teleport -Ed). The Doctor is a force for good, certainly, but there is no doubt that he has a profound — and not always good — effect on those around him.

But it is the final scene which lifts “Death in Heaven” that little bit higher. Reunited two weeks later, both Clara and the Doctor end up lying to each other, to make the other feel better. Clara lets the Doctor believe that Danny has used the control bracelet to come back from the afterlife, when in fact he sent through the Afghan boy he had killed. Meanwhile, the Doctor tells Clara that the co-ordinates Missy had given him for Gallifrey were real, and that he is going to help rebuild his homeworld. In actual fact, as the audience sees in a particularly tender moment, he finds only empty space, and in his frustration and grief pummels sparks from the TARDIS console.

Considering that I haven’t much cared for the partnership, Clara and the Doctor’s parting is touchingly sad. Each wants the other to believe they are happy, so that they can move on without guilt. After everything that they have been through, everything that they have lost, it seems tragically fitting.

So I was wrong. Moffat, it turns out, can do resolutions. He can do them without them going completely bonkers, or over-the-top saccharine. It did something constructive with Danny Pink, making him relevant and important, at the same time as drawing a line beneath him. And the Clara/Doctor partnership culminated beautifully, with pain and love on both sides. I think this may well have been the finest season-end since the show returned to TV screens. Well done to all.

Closing thoughts:

  • If the bit at the end with Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and the implied-brigadier didn’t hit you in the feels, then you have no heart.
  • Bizarrely, I really want to see Nick Frost as Father Christmas.
  • The Doctor specifically mentions that Missy must have had a TARDIS. Who is betting that that comes up later on? Perhaps her “death” was merely teleporting back there? I do hope she’s back, and played by Michelle Gomez.
  • The Doctor asks why they aren’t using the Valiant — wasn’t the Valiant destroyed by the Daleks in “The Stolen Earth”?
  • What is it with the Master and singing? John Simm did a brilliant rendition of the Scissor Sister’s “I Can’t Decide”, and Missy’s “Hey Missy you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind” was just as much a joy.
  • Peter Capaldi should stick around for a good long stint in this reviewer’s opinion. A good long stint indeed.
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