DOCTOR WHO: “Death in Heaven”

Well folks, sometimes, you get exactly what you ask for. David and Chase join me as we discuss the DW finale, and the season as a whole.

Never trust a hug. It’s just a way to hide your face.

 — The Doctor

First, Rachel’s recap…

Clara stands before a Cyberman, ready to be deleted when she talks herself out of the brain drain (natch) by claiming to be the Doctor. A nifty little dialogue piece that garners a slight eye roll from me; this is Steven Moffat, after all – no way a female companion could escape danger on her own.

Cybermen file out of Saint Paul’s Cathedral as Missy lilts around, throwing verbal zings the Doctor’s way, flirting girlishly with her only equal for countless universes. Humans – being our naturally brilliant selves – think it is some promotion or new reality show, taking selfies with the creatures. Our number one Time Lord is a bit lost in his confusion, but is saved by Kate Stewart and her band of merry UNIT officers. Looks like Osgood has a new favorite Doctor, as she pops up in a bowtie, precocious as ever. Things are not as rosy as they seemed, as the Doctor and the Missy Master are captured and drugged. Before the Doctor passes out, he warns Osgood to guard the graveyards. Uh oh. It’s war! — the human race versus the upgraded dead human race. The Doctor postulates on that topic: how can you win a war when the opponent can weaponize the dead?

Back in the Nethersphere, Danny Pink is over his crying fit (guess we missed that part), hand no longer hovering over the delete button; however, it’s not all fishsticks and custard, as the lights of “the city” are all going out. In a bit of a throwback to “Army of Ghosts,” the Cyberman are pollinating the Earth, over graveyards and mortuaries, raising the dead for harvesting. That’s certainly a way to fix the problems in “The Walking Dead!” I have to admit that the shot design and music here plays glorious homage to Romero – not too shabby, Moffat. The dead are not all skeletons and rotting flesh – this is essentially a children’s program, after all – as they return, but in Cybermen “bodies.” Um…how, exactly? Never mind that plot hole — Look, the Master Missy is saying something clever and flirting with the Doctor (which is apparently okay now because she’s a woman)!

Kate Stewart is uptight about “protocol” during alien invasions, handcuffing the Doctor and wheeling an unconscious Missy around. Where was that protocol the last couple of times UNIT has partnered with Time Lords? However…UNIT must take orders from him…I guess the drugging was to keep him safe? To keep him from running? My confusion made me miss a few lines of unimportant dialogue about Clara still being in lockdown at Saint Paul’s and the TARDIS hanging around somewhere; turns out, humans have voted the Doctor “President of Earth”….for REASONS! And because it’s funny. Go with it. So they board a plane and start flying around London, coming up with a plan to save the human race. After all, it’s Saturday.

Back at Paulie’s, Clara is still trying to convince a horde of Cybermen that she’s the Doctor, running down his history in the frantic way she spits out words. The Cybermen aren’t buying what she’s selling, but no matter: Cyber Danny turns up, knocks her out, and blows the other tin cans away. Apparently. Mr. Pink may be shiny, but he’s not under control. He doesn’t follow orders.

Missy wakes up in time for a lecture from the Doctor, as he reminisces about when all the Master wanted to do was take over the world. She (can’t get used to that) claims to know where Gallifrey is – ‘course, she won’t spill the beans, because it’s more fun that way. Osgood suggests to the Doctor that because the pollinating clouds are expanding, perhaps they’re looking in the wrong place. The danger might not lay in the graveyard. This sure sparks his companion meter, as he hints that Osgood just might have the, forgive me, goods to come aboard the TARDIS one day. He leaves to go handle whos-it’s and whats-its, allowing Missy to be alone with Osgood. (Uh oh. Jealous much?) Missy taunts the young groupie until she escapes and vaporizes her. (Sad face).

Clara wakes (lots of passing out in this episode) in a cemetery just in time to see Night of the Living Robots clawing their way up. Pretty cool imagery, once again. She realizes a Cyberman must have brought her there. And, on cue, she turns to see Cyber-Danny. The poor fellow is in extreme pain, and just wants to have his emotional drive wiped. Who better to do it than the love of his life? He reveals his dying face behind the Cybermask. (Tears.) She rings the Doctor for help.

Back on the plane, Cybermen attack, killing everyone on board save Missy, Kate, and the Doctor. As he tries to get to the TARDIS, the phone begins to ring. Missy allows the Doctor to answer it. It was she who connected Clara and the Doctor, after all (is it supposed to be a surprise that Missy was “the woman in the shop” from “The Bells of St.John?” Didn’t she already say as much?). Even though we knew all this information, however, it’s pretty great to hear Missy explain herself. She then opens a hatch as Kate, the Doctor, and she all fly out, hurtling toward the ground. Missy takes herself to the Nethersphere, Kate to the ground, and the Doctor calls his Home-Girl via beacon, getting himself inside and flying away, towards Clara.

After an argument that “Life is Pain” – I feel I’ve heard that somewhere before – the Doctor says that pain, and feeling it, is a gift. We feel the hurt we inflict to make us better, but the Doctor needs the Cyber-plan, and the only way to get it is to switch off the inhibitor. Danny will get what he wants, to truly die. The thing is, even the Doctor doesn’t really understand the moment. Danny’s greatest fear was to be a soldier again, inflicting pain, and he dies this way, living it, and it’s the Doctor’s fault. It’s always the Doctor’s fault. Clara takes the sonic screwdriver and ends Danny. He’s still willing to help them, however, he just can’t love her. The rain will fall again and the people will rise as Cybermen. Missy drops in on cue, Mary Poppins-style, showing that people are now completely under her control. She’s giving the human race to the Doctor as a birthday present, so they can both be fighters once again. Friends. After all, she is bananas. An army for the President. So now we know what this series has been leading to…it’s all about the armies. All about the suffering.

But the Doctor answers his lingering question: he’s not a good man, or an evil man, a soldier…he’s an idiot, with a box and a screwdriver. He doesn’t need an army. Love is a promise, not an emotion. Danny takes command of the Cyberarmy, and burns them all up in the atmosphere, including himself. Missy, seeing she’s defeated, but more likely realizing the Doctor is as formidable as always (and is therefore turned on by it), offers to go to Gallifrey with him. It is, after all, in exactly the same place it’s always been. But Clara is having none of it; if the Doctor lets Missy go, this will just happen again. Turns out all the women in his life are bananas. He takes the tricorder thingy Missy’s been hanging on to, and offers to kill her himself, to save Clara’s soul. He doesn’t have to, of course — we never get to see the answer to that question, because a Cyberman takes care of that. He burns Missy and brings Kate back. It’s her father, the Brigadier! Aw, shucks. (But really, who didn’t see that coming as it was alluded to earlier in the episode?)

Clara wakes in the middle of the night, believing she hears Danny roaming about her house. He had the bracelet on, the one that allowed Missy to travel between the Nethersphere and Earth…but he doesn’t use it. He gives it to the young boy he killed as a soldier…thereby saving his own soul. Danny asks Clara to take the young boy home; he apologizes…The thing is, Danny knows that he’s no match for the Doctor. Though Clara says she loves him, the Doctor will always be the man in her life. It’s not like an Amy-Rory love. Tears.

Clara meets the Doctor later in a café to tell him Danny is gone, she’s pregnant(!), and she cannot travel with him anymore…but he doesn’t let her. He’s too caught up in his own junk, having found Gallifrey…or so he says. (We see there was nothing there; Missy did lie to him. Although, I think this will be revealed later to be something he missed…like it’s in different dimension, or really tiny, or…invisible…this is your area, Moffat, not mine.) The Doctor believes that Danny is back, and there’s no room for him. Clara is happy to let him believe that, just like he’s happy to let her believe he’s going home.  They’re trying to let each other go by lying. But will it end there?

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

I have to admit that there is possibly no greater foe for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor than Michelle Gomez. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of her, either. I’m probably in the majority when I tell you that it annoyed me greatly to see villains and ideas recycled when Missy was revealed as the Master (not exactly a Rubik’s Cube of secrets, that one), but I should have trusted. She’s the woman of my dreams. And Capaldi? I’d never thought my heart was big enough for three Doctors…but Four, Ten, and Twelve sure feel comfortable in there. Up next, Christmas (and Nick Frost as Santa)!

DAVID: In the end, the first season of the Capaldi Era was an enormous success. He brought a maturity, intelligence, and acidic sense of humor to the role, and Moffat and company rose to meet the challenge. This season finale, for its part, was unusually downbeat; it reminded me (and not in a good way) of Donna getting her memory wiped back in Season 4 — hasn’t, at this point, Clara earned some degree of happiness? Danny’s death was cruel, even if Moffat pulled a great deal of pathos out of it. “Death in Heaven” was much less about the Cybermen and the Master than the trio of the Doctor, Clara, and Danny Pink, which was an unusually character-driven choice that paid off exceptionally well. But it was brutally sad in a way that Doctor Who rarely is (no one gets what they want, especially the Doctor), though Moffat certainly had ample opportunity to fabricate a cheap happy ending, and held himself back for the sake of drama. I have to applaud him for that.

Even my qualms about the ending — which, again, paid off multiple character beats, just not happily — don’t diminish how successful this season was as a whole. Clara’s character was totally redeemed after playing little more than a prop last year, and Michelle Gomez totally came into her own in the finale and served as a batty, energetic foil to Capaldi. What’s more, the plotting throughout the season was atypically coherent, with Moffat choosing to focus on his people, not the narrative pyrotechnics. Week to week this was the most consistent season in quite some time; perhaps ever. Only a couple of episodes (“Robot of Sherwood” and “In the Forest of the Night”) I’d classify as clunkers, and far more “Listen,” “The Caretaker,” “Flatline” were great-to-classic. Can’t wait to wrap up the story in the Christmas Special, and see where the Twelfth Doctor goes next.  Episode and Season Grade: A-

CHASE: I’m going to make a big claim here: Season 8 is the best season of Doctor Who since the revival. Like David said, several of the episodes will go on to be classics, it features one of the best season-long arcs in the show’s history and there were only two bad episodes (“Sherwood” and Forest of the Night”). Perhaps most importantly, the finale paid off what came before it. For all the trouble that Steven Moffat has had with endings in the past, “Death in Heaven” pulls everything together marvelously. One of the keys is that he keeps things simple – by Doctor Who terms, at least. No universe reboots or paradoxical time loops here, just a character-driven story that plays out with an unaccustomed darkness. Even the Cybermen work! The immense Cyber-Army unquestioningly taking orders as a perfect finale focus for a season thematically linked to soldiers? It’s almost more than you could dare to hope for.

But none of this could have worked without Peter Capaldi. After years of young (shall we say sexy?) Doctors, people were ready to rebel against the 56 year-old Scotsman who didn’t fit the mold. They needn’t have worried, though. Capaldi was a breath of fresh air, giving Moffatt a chance to reinvent the Doctor. He doesn’t fit your expectations? Good. This is a pricklier, more-alien Doctor anyway. His pairing with Michelle Gomez as Missy was perfect. I dearly hope we haven’t seen the last of her. This Is Doctor Who, after all, and dead doesn’t always stay dead.

Much love to Jenna Coleman as well, who returned Clara Oswald from the cold netherworld of “plot device” to climb into the upper echelon of companions. I have a feeling we also haven’t seen the last of Miss Clara Oswald. She had something she needed to tell the Doctor, but couldn’t quite get it out, and she mentioned being “on the clock.” What about the series of post-it notes in her apartment she was looking at while on the fatal phone call with Danny (especially the one that said “Three Months”)? Wouldn’t a pregnancy draw that still confusing phone call into focus? We’ll see. Orson Pink remains out there in a possible future, and after everything she’s been through I’d agree that Clara deserves a happy ending. Maybe just a little something to remember Danny by. I hope she gets it.

All of this, together, leads to my contention: Best. Season. Ever. Few people have been as critical of Steven Moffat as I have, but he’s gone a long way to earning my trust back this year. I tip my hat to you, sir. And I can’t wait to see what comes next. Season Grade: A

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.