Sunday, 16 November 2014

It’s always sad when a Doctor Who series finishes. Even the end of the shambolic series six left me at a loss. I mean, I’d rather spend my Saturday evenings watching shit Doctor Who than sitting staring into a wall, crying at how everything eventually dies. Or worse, watching Atlantis. Series eight has been a surprisingly enjoyable series – no masterpiece, but a big step up from the latter half of the Matt Smith era, thanks to Peter Capaldi’s frostier Doctor, Clara having a consistent character, and an absence of overwhelmingly bollocks plot arcs – and so it was a shame to see this run come to an end with Death in Heaven, the second part of the big Cybermen-and-Master-vs-Earth finale that began with Dark Water.

The main point I have to make about Death in Heaven is that Michelle Gomez is amazing as the Master. Manipulative, unhinged, and utterly terrifying, yet hilarious and impossible not to enjoy, with a playful evilness bordering on childishly silly; I love how she switches accents throughout the episode, doing one whole scene in a ridiculous cockney twang. A brilliant Master for a brilliant Doctor – I do hope she comes back sooner rather than later.

I particularly enjoyed the Master’s scene with endearingly nerdy UNIT scientist Osgood. “I’m going to kill you,” she whispers. “Is she really?”, we ask, as she counts down in her charming, evil manner. Yes. Yes, she does, shaking any doubts about her as a serious threat by nastily dispatching a character I’d started to like. It is a shame, however, that Osgood never got a chance to really shine! Sure, she had the best line of the episode (“We do have files on all our ex-prime ministers. She wasn’t even the worst”) but it feels like Osgood had so much more to give. Which is probably why her death comes as a shock. 

This came in the middle of a globe-spanning conflict against the Master’s Cyber-army, which was Steven Moffat’s most simply-but-deftly plotted finale in a while, seeing the villain always in search of more life joining forces with a Cyber-race offering immortality, lacking the rushed pace of recent finales and with some great graveyard horror and airborne action chucked in. I do, however, think the first half hour of the episode has two major flaws. 

Firstly, like Dark Water and a couple of other episodes this series (In the Forest of the Night, Deep Breath), the Doctor spends a lot of time being told things and not actually doing anything. Done well, this story could have been a brilliant Doctor-Master chess game, but at times, the Doctor’s passive willingness to fall into any trap placed in front of him rendered the action rather flat. In fact, once he's taken Clara to the Nethersphere, the only time the Doctor really advances the plot in the entire two-part finale is when he throws the bracelet to Danny. That’s it, he throws a bracelet. In comparison, look at The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang. All the heroes are constantly on the move, defeating zombie Cybermen and stone Daleks, progressing the plot, earning every piece of information they gain – and exposition sneaks in seamlessly as all this shit goes down.

My other major problem is a pretty gaping plot hole – why the hell does Danny, in full knowledge that Cybermen are about to emerge from all the graves in the world, rescue Clara then dump her unconscious in, of all places, a graveyard? That’s the stupidest thing he could possibly have done, and it’s never even mentioned why. A big jump too far in the name of plot convenience…

One more minor gripe… that title sequence giving Jenna Coleman top billing was an unnecessary gimmick typical of Moffat at his most mindlessly attention-grabbing. It would have been a cool idea had the episode actually delivered on that premise, but Clara pretending to be the Doctor was inevitably revealed to be just that – pretending – in her first post-titles scene. Maybe this sequence would have been more appropriate in Flatline, just two episodes ago, which actually had Clara take up a Doctor-type role. Here, it was all a bit pointless.

Oh yeah, and the kid being resurrected – nice emotional beat, but – what? If the bracelet’s a teleporter, how does he gain a body?

These points aside, there are a lot of great moments in Death in Heaven, and I particularly enjoyed the final fifteen minutes, which fittingly paid off a lot of the series’ emotional threads. Clara seeing off Cyber-Danny is surprisingly affecting (though it would have been nice to have seen more of their relationship prospering in order for this to hit hard), but the real kicker is that final scene in the cafe, in which Clara and the Doctor tell each other that most common of lies – “I’m alright”. I’ll never think of hugs in the same way again. 

Despite a couple of major flaws, and a few minor ones, Dark Water/Death in Heaven is Steven Moffat’s strongest finale since 2010. That may not be particularly high praise, as recent finales have been more than a little problematic, but there really is a lot I loved about it. This is a story that, if sometimes lacking in the dramatic tension required, benefitted from a longer running time that allowed it to not rush its terror – so let’s have more two-parters in series nine. Also begging to be brought back next year, of course, is this fantastic new incarnation of the Master. After all, she can never stay dead for long.


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