‘Death In Heaven’, written by Steven Moffat, follows on from the events of ‘Dark Water’. Danny Pink is dead, the dead have returned as Cybermen and Missy is revealed as the Master. With the Doctor and Clara separated more will die as the graves give birth.
There is a palpable sense of dread hanging over this finale, like the dark cyber cloud in the episode. There are some very creepy sequences, action and very effective performances but by the end it has hard not to feel disappointed.
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN!
There have been two ongoing themes throughout this session. The question of whether the Doctor is a good man and his relationship with soldiers. This comes to a conclusion in this final episode as the Doctor is handed ultimate power and an army to see what he will do with it.
The episode begins with Clara attempting to convince a cyberman that she is actually the Doctor. This is the first disappointment as her statement that Clara Oswald never existed was one of the most exciting ideas presented in the teaser trailer for this episode.
The question is whether the audience was ever supposed to believe this. Its use as the cliff hanger for the opening, the reordering of the names in the opening titles (along with having Clara’s eyes instead of the Doctor’s) would seem to suggest so, if only for a moment. The problem being that this would take some serious mental gymnastics to make sense.
Things continue to not make sense outside St Paul’s cathedral as the Doctor is puzzled that people aren’t panicking at the presence of the Cybermen. Indeed, they seem to be taking selfies with them with Missy boasting that this is happening all over the world.
At first I thought maybe the Cybermen regularly emerge from the 3W institutes to lull people in compliancy, similar to ‘Army of Ghosts’. This doesn’t appear to be the case and later television news report indicates that the public are aware of Cybermen so this appears to just be a commentary how the modern world would now react to the appearance of the strange, not with terror but with a desire to upload the moment.
The photo op is interrupted by the arrival of UNIT, led by Kate Stewart with Osgood at her side. It was nice to see UNIT turn the tables for once, revealing that many of the bystanders were undercover and rebuffing the Cybermen by pointing out they’ve defeated them in the past (and they have the discarded head of an Invasion era Cyberman to prove it).
The Cybermen respond by revealing a new ability, rocket boots. Heading to every major city and town they explode in mid-air creating dark clouds. UNIT drug both Missy and the Doctor before rain from the cloud bring the dead back as Cybermen.
This is an effective sequence, with the Cybermen clawing their way out of graves or clambering off mortuary slabs. While it is creepy (continuing a theme of undead and zombie like creates throughout this season) it does change the fundamental basis of the Cybermen. Their overriding desire to survive has been twisted into a race of robots who aren’t truly alive. Hopefully this is just a perversion introduced by Missy and not a change to how the Cybermen operate.
Having reawakened the Doctor is escorted on to a UNIT plane, Boat One, where Kate explains that they want to make him a moving target. It is soon revealed that the Doctor is now President of Earth.
Apparently all nations agreed to this but their plan does rather rely on the Doctor being on Earth during an alien invasion (I grant you that the odds are good that he will be) and given that the 11th Doctor went to quite a bit of effort to keep a low profile it seems strange that everyone still knows who he is to vote him into office. One must also question the tactical advantage of putting the Earth President in a plane to keep him safe from flying killer robots.
Back at the 3W institute Clara is continuing to insist she is the Doctor demonstrating that she is very familiar with his backstory. She is saved by Danny Pink, newly resurrected as a Cybermen, knocking her unconscious and blasting the other Cybermen.
The physical acting of Danny the Cybermen is effective here, as he lowers his head when Clara says she is an incredible liar. The exploding Cybermen are spectacular and really sell the moment. Did we even need the note in Danny’s hand to know who he was?
On Boat One the Doctor questions Missy who reveals she escaped from Gallifrey after he saved it in ‘Day Of The Doctor’ but won’t reveal its location. Osgood is also nearby, with some well-observed insights into events and making the Doctor realise what a good companion she’d be (and thus setting up the tragedy later).
In another bewildering scene Clara wakes up in a graveyard, surrounded by more resurrected Cybermen who seem equally confused at being here. With the cyber cloud covering most land masses this has a nicely overcast look but the question remains why Danny would bring her there.
With the Doctor and the UNIT advisors trying to make sense of what is going on Osgood is below deck with Missy. Michelle Gomez gives a great ‘Hannibal Lecter’’ performance, taunting and goading Osgood with secrets and then threats.
This scene has so much dread because Osgood, played by Ingrid Oliver’, is such a good character despite her limited screen time. A Doctor obsessed, intelligent young women who had the pluck to survive one near-death encounter all ready. Who couldn’t relate to her and want her to join the Doctor as a full time companion?
That is why it is so gut-wrenching when Missy makes good on her promise by escaping from her bonds and ruthlessly killing Osgood. This adds further edge to Missy. She will use kind words one moment (telling Osgood she should have more confidence in herself) and then murder others the next, just because she feels like it.
In the graveyard Danny reveals his identity to Clara. This is a good performance from Samuel Anderson, helped with some gruesome makeup that help reinforce the grim idea that he has been dead for some time. His pleas for Clara to activate his emotional inhibitor are very effective.
In the air flying Cybermen pull apart Boat One. In the cargo hold Missy reveals to the Doctor that she was responsible for giving Clara his phone number (as many had suspected) and putting them together.
The disappointment is that Missy had no great motivation to do this. She simply wanted to put him together with a control freak who could tug on his leash and take him to hell. If Missy didn’t engineer the death of Danny this rather suggests that Missy thought Clara would force the Doctor to take her to the afterlife if anyone she knew died. That is a lot of planning for very little pay off (for both Missy and the viewer).
Clara continues to prove what a bad companion she is by calling the Doctor in the midst of his crisis and demand that he drop everything to help Danny, ignoring the Time Lord’s advice and pleas not to activate the inhibitor.
With the plane falling apart Kate Stewart plunges to her apparent death, much to the delight of Missy. The Doctor is soon in freefall, and in a sequence straight from a Roger Moore ‘James Bond’ film, he directs himself towards the tumbling TARDIS, key in hand. This is a rousing sequence in the midst of an episode filled with death and hopelessness.
Reunited with Clara at the graveyard the Doctor makes the case that the pain that Danny feels is a gift and prevents him from turning into a monster like Missy. Danny bitterly points out that the Doctor soon changes his tune when he realises that the only way to find out what the Cybermen are planning is to activate the inhibitor.
Clara lets him keep his hands clean by activating the inhibitor herself. This is a moving scene as Clara and Danny say their final farewells before she flips his switch. Revealing that the clouds will rain again, killing humanity so they to can rise as Cybermen.
Missy teleports in, drifting through the air like Mary Poppins, before revealing that she has assembled the army of Cybermen as a gift for the Doctor. He now has an army to ensure ‘good’ wins and makes a good case that he could rescue those suffering in Dalek camps and win the war against evil. All it costs is the innocent life of everyone on Earth.
Touchingly Missy claims to be doing this because she wants to show the Doctor that they aren’t so different, so that they can be friends again. For once she seems genuine asking if the Doctor’s problem with the offer is that he doesn’t trust himself.
A montage of clips remind us that this Doctor has been on a long quest to understand himself and now he comes to the realisation that he isn’t a good or bad man. He is just an idiot who likes to help.
He passes control of the Cybermen army to Danny, who didn’t hurt Clara or follow Missy’s orders even after his inhibitor was activated. This also brings Danny’s character arc as reluctant soldier to its conclusion as he gives a rousing speech and launches into the air with army to burn away the clouds in a display of self-sacrifice.
Defeated Missy gives up the co-ordinates of Gallifrey, offering to travel there with the Doctor even if it means imprisonment. Clara, however, doesn’t want Missy to live threatening to kill her with her own weapon.
Further compromising his morality the Doctor persuades her to let him kill Missy if that will save her soul. Missy appears shocked that she has broken the Doctor, accepting her fate but sadly asking him to say one final nice thing. His admission that she has won brings her no joy.
Luckily the Doctor is spared performing the deed by a rogue Cyberman, causing Missy to vanish in blue light (not unlike the blue light of her teleporter). With Kate Stewart found nearby, talking about her father, it is revealed that this remaining Cyberman is Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
This ties into the Doctor’s history with UNIT, soldiers and the dead but didn’t pack the emotional punch it perhaps should have. The death of Nicholas Courtney overshadows the moment, making the resurrection of his much beloved character as a Cyberman slightly in bad taste.
Two weeks later and the disembodied voice of Danny contacts Clara from the afterlife (which is apparently dying) using Missy’s bracelet to send the boy he killed many years ago back to the land of the living. How Clara goes about reuniting him with his family (and explaining any of this to the authorities) is probably worth a mini-series to itself.
Meeting the Doctor at a cafe both agree to go their separate ways, both of them lying about their situation. The Doctor claims that Gallifrey has returned and that he’ll spend his time helping it be a good place while in fact Missy lied and there was nothing there (leading to a wordless, rage filled performance from Peter Capaldi).
This farewell scene sums up the relationship between Clara and the 12th Doctor. Both are broken people who use lies to manipulate others and make themselves appear normal while terrible emotions bubble beneath the surface. It isn’t healthy and there relationship is harmful for both.
In a jarring moment that could be seen as breaking the 4th wall the credits are interrupted by the arrival of Nick Frost as Santa Claus who has an issue with the story ending that way.
This ruins the mood of the episode and continues a trend of mishandled conclusions of episodes. The self-awareness of the medium means that the audience knows that the episode isn’t really over until the preview and here that preview can’t wait until the end of the credits.
This self-awareness might be the biggest problem of this episode. It feels like it is hitting familiar beats in a Doctor Who story rather than giving us something new or original. Clara posing as the Doctor seems to have been designed for the previews and for the in-joke of the opening titles rather than something the story needed. Similarly the ludicrousness of Boat One is just so we can have the (admittedly cool) scene of the flying Cybermen attacking it.
Here the Doctor defines himself as an idiot and not for the first time. Much focus was placed on the fact that Capaldi was going to play the 12th Doctor has much darker and grumpier as previous portrayals. In truth the Doctor and thus this season, hasn’t been as clever as it once was.
Often he will miss the obvious and frequently he is much more passive. ‘Kill The Moon’ and ‘In The Forest Of The Night’ are prime examples but to a lesser extent others take the lead in ‘Into the Dalek’, ‘The Caretaker’ and large portion of ‘Flatline’. This can make things slightly anti-climatic as our lead character lets others save the day, as Danny does here.
Only ‘Mummy On The Orient Express’ really shows that the Doctor is still very clever. Considering that it is what I like about the character, along with the hope that previous incarnations brought, I’m cold on this version of the character.
There are still many questions left unanswered about Missy’s plan and this season. Where the various robots seeking the Promised Land influenced by her and to what end (maybe she just wanted their technology). We don’t know how she either gained the co-operation of the Cybermen or acquired their technology. I’m not sure whether these are dangling plot threads that will be picked up later or plot holes.
I find it unlikely that this is the last we’ll see of Clara but I wish it was. I’d begun to warm to the character but that was undone by her actions in this two part story. Her presence is firmly established as toxic to the moral character of the Doctor. It is particularly cruel that Osgood is dangled in front of us as a replacement only to be snatched away.
Peter Capaldi is still very good, even if I don’t enjoy his ‘idiot’ Doctor. He and Michelle Gomez have great chemistry and hope we’ll see them back together in the future. Capaldi brings conviction and emotional weight to any scene.
In conclusion I didn’t find this as enjoyable or exciting as previous series finales. This could be due to the darkness of the episode (both in tone and lighting) or that I’m missing the 11th Doctor’s era.
Going forward I think the series needs to reinvigorate itself and shake up its format. The Doctor’s relationship with Clara did put him on a leash, always at her beck and call. We need the Doctor to break free and be his own man again (whatever that might mean).
I usually don’t rank the episodes of the season but I feel that this year has been a little uneven and thought it might be useful to put down exactly what I did and didn’t like (with 1 being the best and 12 being the worst).
1. Mummy On The Orient Express
Great setting, guest stars and story. Classic Doctor Who!
Strong premise taking full advantage of the Doctor’s ability to explore time to investigate a mystery he has invented. Helped explore the background of Danny Pink and had a surprising final scene in the Doctor’s past.
3. Robot of Sherwood
A romp that was actually funny. The banter and conflict between the Doctor and Robin Hood made this feel like a genuine cross-over.
Another creepy story by the writer of ‘Mummy On The Orient Express’. Having Clara pretend to be the Doctor was a good development for the character and the shrunken TARDIS and Boneless were inventive.
5. Dark Water
Nice setup with some surprising moments.
6. Deep Breath
A good introduction to the 12th Doctor. The 3rd act was the highlight with Clara talking her way out of death and the 12th Doctor’s conversation with the half-face man.
7. Into The Dalek
I enjoyed finding out more about the Daleks and the 12th Doctor’s callousness. I didn’t feel it exploited its unique setting fully and found the definition of a ‘good’ Dalek questionable.
8. Death In Heaven
Strong performances saved this from a plot riddled with odd scenes and dodgy logic.
9. Time Heist
Simplistic plot that didn’t engage me. The time bending conclusion was well-done.
10. The Caretaker
The Doctor’s treatment of Danny was unpleasant and the paper thin characterisation of the monster belonged in a Children’s show. The confrontation between the Doctor and Danny in the TARDIS did expand on the themes of this season.
11.Kill The Moon
The biggest flaw was the worrying lack of basic science or understanding what eggs are. The Doctor letting his humanity decide their future was an interesting idea but the execution (with Clara having people vote by turning lights on and then ignoring their decision) was lacklustre.
12.In The Forest Of The Night
A story in which magic tree fairies save the world while the Doctor does nothing. Also Clara would prefer children die rather than live and miss their parents. This has very little resemblance to what I consider Doctor Who but at least it wasn’t boring.