On the D/L – Doctor Who
Season 8 Episode 12 – “Death In Heaven”
Where do I begin with this? I will say one thing, this episode of Doctor Who wasn’t quite as bad as last week but that’s really not saying much given the quality of that episode. Lots of spoilers will follow here but it’s hard to talk about without spoiling things.
The episode picks up right where the last one left off with Cybermen roaming the streets and causing absolutely no terror whatsoever. I was pretty baffled by seeing people having their photo taken with the Cybermen and not seeming all that terrified. In this show worldwide alien invasions are somewhat common so I think the point where people feel like it’s a marketing stunt has long passed. Not to mention that this isn’t the first time that Cybermen have invaded globally so these people should be absolutely terrified. Some of these turned out to be U.N.I.T sure but not everyone in the world.
U.N.I.T being present does give us the recurring characters of Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) who are a welcome presence as ever. Both characters are incredibly competent and in the case of Kate, don’t put up with The Doctor’s nonsense. Whenever she interacts with him she ensures that he stays on topic and more or less does what he’s told. Osgood is a bit of a fangirl of The Doctor -even wears a bowtie- but she also works hard to resolve get to the bottom of things. She’s the best kind of goofy character.
It is a shame that Missy kills her so quickly but Osgood conducts herself well and meets her end with dignity. She is a character I liked but I suppose that means her death meant something. There was a hint -by hint I mean overt reference- that The Doctor was grooming her for future companion status but it is established that she has a sister so I could see the actress returning as her sister next week.
Given the quantity of alien invasions plaguing Earth U.N.I.T has protocols in place which in this case means that The Doctor becomes president of Earth in times of crisis and has full military control. I’m sorry but…what? Why would this ever become a unanimous decision to put an alien who often attracts trouble to Earth in times of crisis in charge? I’m sure that many world leaders would have an issue with this. On a dramatic level it adds nothing to the plot. Moffat could have not had this and still had The Doctor sitting on a plane saying things. He doesn’t really order anyone to do anything and his authority over the military might of planet Earth is in no way exerted.
Much talk has been thrown around this season about The Doctor being some kind of general. Danny saw him as an officer right from the beginning for instance so this is an attempt to further this plot line. It’s brought up twice here but at no point does it feel like there’s a reason for it being there. More on the second occurrence later.
Missy -for the purposes of this review I’ll refer to her as that- has a plan that seems to make no real sense from any way you want to look at it. From the beginning it seems that she is planning to take over the universe using a new and far stronger army of Cybermen (complete with brand new gruffer Batman style voice). This makes complete sense when you consider that she is The Master. I can fully believe that this character is capable of figuring out a way of weaponising the dead and recruiting them to an endlessly growing and fully obedient army. There’s also something kind of chilling about something creeping into the graves of our loved ones, converting them to Cybermen and then being used for nefarious means. I feel that this episode will be controversial for that very reason in the same way that the stance on cremation caused complaints last week. Controversy is good, it gets people talking and I personally didn’t have an issue with any of it on a conceptual level. I like it when Doctor Who tries to unsettle the viewer as it can be quite effective when horror stories are used.
There are a number of problems with this approach. The first of which is that there’s too much going on to fully address the horrific implications of what is being done to the corpses in and out of the ground. What it boils down to is a few superficial moments where Clara represents the human race’s stance on what is being done to the dead. The implications of this are enough to fill a whole episode but instead they contribute to the white noise that is the rest of the story.
Another issue is that it really makes no sense. The Cyberman essence (?) seeps into the cemeteries and morgues through rain -references to the cloud that all our data is stored on become somewhat literal here- and convert the bodies into Cybermen. Where is all the metal coming from? Surely some of these corpses are practically dust by now and there’s nothing left to turn into metallic armor. I found myself scratching my head throughout wondering if this was some kind of strange joke. There are plenty of outlandish sci fi concepts that I am willing to accept but rain turning corpses into metal is a step too far when it comes to suspension of disbelief.
Logic aside because, let’s face it, logic had been abandoned when this story was written. I couldn’t get to grips with Missy’s plan at all. Once she has what she wants and has the Earth entirely at her mercy with an unstoppable army of Cybermen that will continue to grow the more they kill she gives control of them to The Doctor. Why does she do this? She says in the episode that she wants to prove a point to him, the point being is that they aren’t so different. When this revelation hits we get the standard finale flashbacks of prior episodes that focuses on The Doctor questioning his morality. I’m sure that he must have proven to himself that his hearts are at least in the right place. What I imagine was supposed to happen throughout the season is that The Doctor’s characterisation was supposed to be darker and morally ambiguous but the reality of it is that he was written so inconsistently that this question fails on every level.
I didn’t believe for a second that The Doctor would be tempted to have all of that power at his command. Capaldi does play that the wheels were turning as he imagined the possibilities but it fell flat because the work hadn’t been previously done to establish that he might be tempted by such a proposition. There was even a “light bulb moment” where he suddenly realises what sort of a man he is and can turn this opportunity to his advantage while staying true to himself. Again, this moment doesn’t work because prior characterisation hasn’t been consistent enough.
It was equally unbelievable that Missy would just hand over control of this army to him without having a backup plan in case it didn’t work. She really can’t have been that convinced that he would go for this. Instead his epiphany catches her completely off guard and she’s unable to counter it.
We are given the reason for Missy ensuring The Doctor and Clara were brought together but like almost everything else, it made no sense. It turns out the reason Missy engineered this is because she’s a perfect companion for him. She’s a control freak and he’s a man who can’t be controlled so that means he’ll do anything she asks…according to Missy anyway. Of course this stacks up internally because it has to but it’s not a revelation worthy of the mystery that had been set up. Like everything else, it falls flat.
There isn’t much to say about Michelle Gomez‘ performance other than she was portraying a really annoying character. Her constantly switching accents and irritating sarcasm were really cringeworthy. She took over the top villain to a new level of ridiculous which meant that I could never take her seriously as a credible threat. Her interactions with The Doctor were really awkward and unnatural which was kind of the opposite of what they were going for.
It actually wasn’t all bad though that were moments of real brilliance here. The Danny/Clara relationship is brought to a decent close with some really touching moments performed expertly by Samuel Anderson and Jenna Coleman. I like that his death wasn’t undone despite the fact he had the chance and I was really moved when Danny chose to put things right and save the child that he killed over himself. One thing that has been consistent is that Danny is a good man with strong morals so this made sense for his character. The scene where Clara activated his emotional inhibitor was equally touching. This being undone by the “love conquers all” cliché was irritating but the moment itself was well done.
Cyberdanny was a really obvious twist that I saw coming a mile off but it was used really well. It felt natural to have him return to his soldier background and use that to the benefit of the story. It’s also dramatically interesting that he was a soldier and becomes a general but it was a quick moment that was mostly glossed over. I’m not entirely sure him leading the Cyber army worked either. Sure it solves the problem of the Cyber cloud -in a conclusion ripped straight from The Poison Sky in season 4- but it’s not anything The Doctor couldn’t have ordered them to do. I get the impression it was supposed to be something unique to Danny but it didn’t come across at all.
It’s worth noting that there was a really cool scene involving The Doctor sky diving towards the TARDIS after being thrown out of a plane. It was incredibly cheesy and silly but looked great. Sometimes this show is capable of pulling off some really great visuals. The TARDIS rising triumphantly through the clouds is a bit Star Trek Into Darkness but it was my favourite part of the episode.
As always the characters are robbed of any consequences. There’s a scene where Clara is willing to murder Missy for what she’s done but is stopped by The Doctor who doesn’t want her to have blood on her hands. Part of me thought he would actually do it and provide some kind of dramatic payoff to this relationship but he was saved from having to do this by a convenient Cyberman doing it for him. That Cyberman turns out to be Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart -a recurring character from the old series- who is looking out for his daughter Kate. I didn’t see this coming but in retrospect I suppose I should have given the zombie Cybermen premise and the constant closeups on a painting of him. Missy being dead is pointless because we know that it’ll result in a ham fisted explanation of why she didn’t actually die in the future. Why not leave her alive and spare us that?
The ending didn’t really work for me at all. Missy tells The Doctor where Gallifrey is and when he goes to those coordinates he finds out that it really isn’t there. That scene was pretty effective where he is consumed by rage and takes it out on the TARDIS console. Capaldi does a great job of portraying a man in pain.
I’m a little confused by Clara and The Doctor’s final interaction where they lie to each other. The Doctor says he found his planet and he’s going home and Clara tells him Danny is alive and they will live happily ever after. I did like the symbolism of the hug allowing each of them to hide their face and show their real emotions but I don’t get why they felt the need to lie to each other when the reality of the situation is that Clara is going to live alone and The Doctor is going to travel alone. I really don’t get the reasons for this especially given all they have been through. The final scene with Nick Frost as what seems to be the real Santa Claus is beyond ridiculous too.
A clumsy mess that ultimately makes no sense. An attempt is made to wrap up the season plot lines but in general it all comes off as being more confusing than when it started.
Missy’s plan is bafflingly silly and almost certain to fail. Her defeat is so easy that I couldn’t believe she wouldn’t expect it and have a backup plan instead of the blind acceptance she appears to have here.
The episode did have some good ideas like the death being repurposed into an army of Cybermen but it’s so heavily glossed over that it fades into the background. There’s an entire episode worth of potential to be mined from such a concept but here it’s reduced to a mention that is quickly moved past.
A smattering of good moments between Clara and Danny weren’t enough to salvage the structural mess of the plot. Everything remotely interesting was cast aside almost as quickly as it was raised making it all feel like a convoluted mess.
Inconsistent characterisation on the part of The Doctor throughout the season caused none of the revelations to make sense and the ending to fall flat despite the intentions. I could see what Moffat was going for but the groundwork was so clumsy that it didn’t work. In general I will remember this season as a collection of missed opportunities.