TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S8, E12: Death in Heaven

And now, the end is near and so we face the final curtain. Another year of Doctor Who is over and another invasion of Earth is on the go. Steven Moffat has some Clara based loose ends to tie up as well as the challenge of providing a satisfying conclusion to our new Doctor’s first year. Let’s find out if he managed the task …

 

 

With Cybermen on the streets of London, old friends unite against old enemies and the Doctor takes to the air in a startling new role. Can the mighty UNIT contain Missy?

As the Doctor faces his greatest challenge, sacrifices must be made before the day is won.

This episode struck me as an homage to the first three years of the Pertwee era. Especially the second. Our aloof Time Lord teams up with UNIT to tackle an alien invasion of Earth masterminded by his old friend and nemesis. Comment has been made elsewhere on the inter-web that Capaldi’s costume is reminiscent of the Third Doctor and the actor certainly has a presence on screen like his predecessor. Of course, the parallels aside, this is very much a modern, twenty-first century Doctor Who story. Moffat (again) successfully manages to nod to the past without alienating a new audience.

Off the bat, I’ll say that I enjoyed this story a lot – however, I did think it was a slightly under the standard set by its lead-in episode. Part of this boils down to what I think is a misuse of the two enemies here.

I’ll start with that other renegade Time Lord. The Master. As originally presented, this Time Lord was not mad. He was a ruthless, self-serving genius out for personal gain and the joy of out-witting his opponent where possible. Since Doctor Who has been re-launched, this suave genius has been reduced into a manic, insane and cartoonish opposite of The Doctor. Given the previous appearances this series, I had high-hopes for a return to villainy but unfortunately the insane version prevails. I was also expecting Steven Moffat to pull some kind of double bluff with the character of Missy, but sadly that was not the case.

The Cybermen were not treated so badly. I think my main concern with them is the same as last season: they are being given too many gimmicks. While the super-speed and adaptability was missing this week (fortunately for UNIT!) the Cybermen did become somewhat akin to an army of Iron Man. Flying, sleek suits of armour with glowing blue chest pieces. I can’t say I’m convinced by their ability to convert subjects from any part of them surviving – where do the parts come from? Why not just invade planets by infecting the living inhabitants with these magic cyber-nano-thingies? Why just the dead of Earth?

However, what I did like was their voices, their reliance on logic being played upon by Clara and the fact that “Delete” finally becomes a meaningful addition to the cyber-vocabulary rather than a ridiculous catch phrase. Ok, this last was really a point for last week’s Dark Water cliff-hanger, but the ramifications became clear in this week’s finale.

What I really liked about this story was that it was very much the personal, character led core that was focussed on rather than the large scale invasion. Enough emphasis was placed on the global nature of the events that the danger was constantly in the air yet the focus was very much on our regulars and their personal plights. I think this is evidence of something I’ve been considering for a while. We don’t need an Earth or Universe shattering finale when we have characters we care about.

Unfortunately, part of the emotional impact was lost due to my complete indifference towards Danny Pink and Clara’s falling for him. Throughout the series he has been quite subtly controlling of Clara’s attitudes in a very passive-aggressive manner. While it hasn’t helped that sometimes our heroic Doctor has been somewhat of a sub-standard man himself, I find it difficult to get my head around Clara’s infatuation. Of course, I did spend nine years in a bad relationship featuring emotional manipulation myself, refusing to move on and so I am not really one to talk.

The cast was as strong as I have come to expect this year, with Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Jemma Redgrave and Michelle Gomez lighting the screen with their performances. Ironically, Samuel Pink turned in his finest performance as Danny Pink this week and there were moments where I almost – almost – felt for the character as a result. The contrast between Danny as a soldier and The Doctor as a general was again played on this week in a more “real” sense. I enjoyed this interplay and for once, Danny’s bitterness towards the Time Lord’s high-handed attitudes did not seem out of place. I could have done without the speech given by Danny, to be honest as his audience didn’t need any motivation to do what he was ordering. Sometimes (as in Flatline), I do think writers can get carried away with writing an excellent speech that just feels out of place in the story.

Again, I must acknowledge director Rachel Talalay who does a sterling job in keeping both the personal and large-scale aspects to the plot in focus. I do think there was a little bit of heavy-handedness in Danny carrying the paper with his name on it but I can understand the necessity for some of the audience. The scenes set in graveyards were suitably creepy and amazingly lit to set the mood perfectly. I also got much more of a sense of being onboard an airplane in this story than I ever did watching Agents of Shield. Another nod to the prowess of the Director and her behind the camera team.

The episode starts and ends with Clara showing us something she has learned from her time with The Doctor. Lesson One: The Doctor Lies. Lesson One Point Five: so does Clara. I personally found the conclusion to the episode to be quite fitting. The Doctor found the answer to the question he asked Clara after his regeneration: Is he a good man? I think he’s spot on with his discovery of the answer to that question. It is also fitting that Clara and The Doctor both lie to each other to offer comfort to the other party. A Fine end to a fine season.

Let’s hope the search for Gallifrey begins in earnest soon as it has been conspicuous by its absence this year. The Doctor now has the spur he needs to move onward with that quest. I have enjoyed this series overall, despite a couple of bumps in the road and the descent into the fairy-tale. Roll on Christmas. And roll on series thirty-five next year!

Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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