Doctor Who: 812 “Death in Heaven” Review
Reviewed by John Hussey.
Another year has passed and another series of Doctor Who comes to a conclusion. Series Eight has been a tremendous series for all its intriguing ideas and regeneration as a whole, pushing the show into new territories for the new age. But the question is: was ‘Death in Heaven’ a satisfying conclusion?
The story as a whole was a brilliant attempt to push the show into dark scenarios that actually made the show somewhat grim in its design, something that even I found hard to watch and I love dark storylines and horror-based stories. I was left a lot of the time thinking, “wow that’s a bit much Moffat.” Honestly I found this episode made the Holmes/Hinchcliffe era look like a Rom-Com because Moffat really pushed the gothic nature of the show into the extreme. That wasn’t me taking a jab at Robert Holmes’ genius, not in the slightest as his era happens to be one of my favourites, but the point was that Moffat went about and outdid Holmes’ scale of ‘pushing the boundaries’.
It had already been established that the Cybermen were now being created by the minds of the dead, which was dreadful enough to say the least, but this story took it one step further. Using a special formed cloud the Cybermen gained the ability to animate the bodies of the dead, converting them into Cybermen through the minds trapped within the Nethersphere. ‘Death in Heaven’ became rather grim knowing that every loved one buried, or in preparation to be buried, turned into a cybernetic killer. Like I said last week, this idea took a lot of resemble to the typical zombie scenario in which the dead turn into killers without emotions, remorse or any real indication of their actions other than raw instinct guiding them against the world.
What made the Cybermen’s threat even worse, posing them as the most deadliest force in the universe, was the simple notion of their never ending army. With the power of creating new recruits to the Cybermen’s course through the dead, the Cybermen essentially had the advantage. Every person that dies would instantly become a Cyberman which pretty much granted the Cybermen a sense of immortality, not to mention god-powers. Like with the zombie idea, this kind of invasion is made worse by the idea of the heroes having to fight against their loved ones who should be left to rest beneath the Earth but have now been defiled in the worst kind of way. They had now been filled with evil and their bodies used as puppets, leaving the heroes torn as to what to do. Do they kill their loved one, ending the Cybermen’s reign of terror or do they submit due to the dilemma being unbearable?
For the first time within the New Series, and perhaps the entirety of the show, the Cybermen have never been so threatening and scary but unfortunately even this height of power fell flat. The Cybermen’s threat wasn’t utilised enough I think. Their threat was implied, especially through the dark notions mentioned above, but there wasn’t any real sign of physical threat in the entire story. The Cybermen were supposed to be invading Earth but the only real time we get a sense of invasion was when a small handful attacked Boat One. What’s made worse was this was also, surprisingly enough, the only scene to depict a Cyberman killing someone.
The plot towards the end of the story made this matter even more annoying when the cybernetic creatures were deduced to background props during the graveyard scenes, with the attention mostly on Clara and Danny. For a two-part finale that lends itself to being a Cyberman story falls flat just as ‘Army of Ghost/Doomsday’ did. The Cybermen once again had their moment of glory robbed from them in favour of the secondary villain, which in this case was the primary villain making the Cybermen in this scenario even less important. At least this time round they weren’t used as target practice and at least retained some dignity (oh wait Missy used them to do some plane safety demonstrations – never mind). I feel sorry for the Cybermen during the New Series because they just can’t seem to be given a break and lack a good story to make them the threatening beasts that used to show up on occasions in the Classic Series. Alas I’m still in hope that the day will come when their former glory is brought back, but after nearly ten years of New Who already established, that hope is fading fast.
Now I did seriously try and give Missy a chance to shine and prove to me that this demented publicity stunt was for the best but as I anticipated the whole female Master idea fell flat for me. This is mostly because it just doesn’t work in my eyes because its plain silly, coming across more as a fan-fiction idea rather than the pure genius that Moffat normally concocts. I think the other reason is this wasn’t handled well. The announcement of the Master being female was spoken out of the blue at the end of ‘Dark Water’ without any really indication of where the whole Time Lord reveal was going and then WHAM, she’s the Master. I was left thinking, “Ok then this doesn’t make sense for starters and is just a stupid idea to conform to modern day society”. I was praying near enough that Missy turned out not to be the Master or at least prove to me that she had the potential to convince me otherwise if this idea stuck. But nothing happened to convince me otherwise that this was just a crap idea.
Missy’s character barely acted like the Master and in all honesty acted more like a Moffat creation rather than an already established character, making me believe that that’s all she was: a Moffat invention. It was almost like he wanted to add more excitement to the plot and just thought, “what the hell, we’ll turn her into the Master. That should work.” Well in my eyes this lazy idea ruined the entire flow of Series Eight. I really enjoyed this series right up until ‘Flatline’ and then things started to falter. ‘Dark Water’ nearly brought it back up into high standards again but sadly ‘Death in Heaven’ brought things down again. I sort of felt like the Master was there but due to Missy playing some sort of insane Mary Poppins, all I could see, which I keep emphasising, was a Moffat created villain. Missy would’ve been much better as her own character and would’ve made the episode a lot better. The Master didn’t need to come back yet, especially with such a bad execution for his return which seemed both lazy and cheap, ruining my favourite character in many ways.
Moving onto some positive notes, I found Moffat’s promises of a darker series was really well played out within this story, as I mentioned above. This was something that I was in the middle with, though no doubt I’ll come to agree it was for the best, because it really did leave me feeling like there was no positive note within the story. It was just bleak right until the end. The Cybermen were converting the dead, Missy was insane, Osgood died, Danny was now a Cyberman in pain and the Doctor and Clara were left rather helpless. The colourisation to the story was always grey, emphasising further at how darkened the story was. Moffat took a different step within how he approached this finale, something first down with ‘The Name of the Doctor’. For the first time we had Moffat taking on a good-old fashioned ‘Earth invasion’ story, something I’ll forgive because it’s something that isn’t common within his era which I love. Too many invasion stories can be quite boring, with the exception of Jon Pertwee’s era which was executed well, and Moffat took a different spin on how to approach it.
It was nice to have UNIT return along with Kate Stewart and UNIT’ newest member Osgood, first introduced in ‘The Day of the Doctor’. It was great to see them brought into the story with a bang, having surrounded the Cybermen and Missy through stealth followed by force. As ever Kate showed off a great character that resembles her father in every way which I love. You can’t beat the scene where she threw an old Cyberman’s head to the floor in order to impose threat to the Cybermen. It was nice to see a sort of tick box to the old days in which we saw the Master, Cybermen and UNIT all in a story together for the first time (not counting ‘The Five Doctors’ as although the Master and Cybermen were in the same scenes, the UNIT scene was separate). These different did blend together pretty well within the plot. I will admit that the scenes between Missy and Osgood onboard Boat One was sinister because she was unpredictable, even to the point of being somewhat terrifying because she was absolutely insane. Part of me thought that Osgood would be safe but another part of me feared for her life as Missy’s threat seemed without bounds.
Danny’s end was extremely sad as I felt his character ended on the grimmest point possible. Not only had he been taken from Clara in ‘Dark Water’ through tragic incidence, now he had to face being converted into a heartless creature of metal. Seeing his face merged with the Cyberman’s body was just upsetting to watch and you really felt for the character. You didn’t want him to die basically. On the other hand his farewell was one of the best character farewells within the entire show as he went about to save the world and prove to the Doctor that a soldier can do the right thing. In many ways this story was about Danny’s redemption from his cruel past as a soldier which was made even clearer when he sacrifices his chance to return to Clara in favour of allowing the boy he accidentally killed to come back instead. It was very poetic and was made all the more better when Danny proved that his love for Clara was stronger than the Cybermen’s influence and outsmarted Missy in the process.
Unfortunately I do find this finale was a bit unsatisfying because it didn’t fully work and felt somewhat of a mess. The story-arc and the tons of questions built up weren’t answered and left a lot of things unfinished (though knowing Moffat he’ll eventually tie them up but this instance it left an episode feel flat in its execution). Another thing that I didn’t fully like about the episode was the fact a lot of characters were used as tools in order to serve a purpose. They we abused in order to add something to the story which made their appearance seem pointless and underused. Kate Stewart and UNIT for instance didn’t add anything to the story really other than aiding with the setting and additional information. Osgood, as Moffat admitted, was a tool to make Missy seem all the more threatening, making her death truly tragic in the grand scheme of things.
Danny’s turn into a Cyberman merely added to the ongoing plot-point of whether the Doctor is ‘a good man’ as well as bringing a conclusion to the Doctor’s trust issues with soldiers. Though this segment was handled well I can’t help but think it was a bit harsh upon Danny’s character and merely made him a tool for the on-going plot throughout the series rather than allowing him to be an individual character who adds to the story. As I said above, I won’t deny he got the send-off he deserved, though being extremely tragic, but I guess it was just sad to see him go like that.
One final negative point was my dislike in throwing in the pointless mystery that Clara could potentially be the Doctor, rubbing in the fact that I’d already grew annoyed with the Missy reveal. I nearly turned off the television there and then, even more so when I saw Jenna and Peter’s names had been switched round and her face was on the intro instead. This was all for ploy’s sake. That’s how the Master’s reveal felt to me, a big stunt in order to grab interest from the audience. It wasn’t done for necessity sake but rather for sake’s sake.
I will end this review on a positive note through my likeness that the story didn’t end on a positive note. Normally a ‘happy button’ is pressed which reverses all of the problems back into a positive light but in this case nothing bad was resolved really. The dead remained dead, Danny died, Osgood stayed dead and even the future of the Doctor and Clara was left hanging in the balance. I loved the fact that the series ended on the plot-point that had carried the series: lies. The Doctor follows Missy’s coordinates to the supposed location of Gallifrey and was left in anger when he discovered it wasn’t there (my theory being that he was brought to the point where the other Doctor’s were saying Gallifrey, thereby explaining how he came to be there, through Missy tricking him into aiding with her escape in the first place). Once more the Doctor is no closer to getting home and he must continue looking, making it clear that Missy’s return will only serve to highlight this story-arc further.
It was also nice to see Clara lying to the Doctor about Danny being back with her and the two of them being happy. This tragic scene was there to show that the two of them wanted to lie to one another in order to grant them a sense of happiness, making it seem that one was happy for the other and that they could go their separate ways on a high note. But of course after the interruption of Santa Claus it was made clear that the two of them hadn’t seen the last of each other and perhaps things will be sorted out during the Christmas Special.
Also I can’t go without mentioning the wonderful scene of the Brigadier returning to save his daughter. That scene made me cry because it was just so beautiful and another brilliant homage to Nicholas Courtney, further done through his continuous mentioning throughout the story. It was also great to see him take another jab at the Master, whom he really hated, giving a nice call-back to when the Brigadier punched the Master in ‘The Five Doctors’. Finally it was lovely to see the Doctor finally salute his old friend, the one soldier and friend he respected above all others.