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.
Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in Death in Heaven.
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Peter Capaldi (The Doctor)
Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald)
Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink)
Michelle Gomez (The Master)
Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Cybermen)
Jemma Redgrave (Kate Lethbridge-Stewart)
Ingrid Oliver (Osgood)
Chris Addison (Seb)
Written by: Steven Moffat
Directed by: Rachel Talalay
Gifs by: J-Ru
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#This is how the season ends#
#This is how the season ends#
#This is how the season ends#
#Not with a bang, but with a thud#
And I don’t mean the thud of someone dropping the mic, I mean the thud of someone slamming into the Earth at high velocity.
Death in Heaven sees the Doctor opposite the Master, as the insane Time Lord’s plan comes to fruition: the creation of a seemingly limitless army of Cybermen. The story hits peak Moffat, as there are plenty of moments that seem awesome in the moment, but fail to hold up under scrutiny after the episode’s end. Thankfully, the chemistry between Peter Capaldi’s Doctor and Michelle Gomez’s Master is off the charts, serving as the most memorable and enjoyable moments of the episode.
As Cybermen explode over the cities of the Earth and the Master claps her hands with glee, the Doctor finds himself once again alongside Kate Stewart and the Unified Intelligence Taskforce. But they can only watch, helpless, as the remains of the Cybermen form clouds over the cemeteries of the world. Each drop of rain contains the seeds of a horrific fruit; the means to turn human remains into fully-functional Cybermen! As the graves of Earth give up their dead, Clara finds that one of the Cybermen is none other than her dead boyfriend, Danny Pink. And with his emotional inhibitor inactive thanks to never deleting his personality before being turned, Danny feels the pain of cyberconversion and the sorrow of being lost to Clara forever…
It’s a Steven Moffat finale, and the script for Death in Heaven contains everything including the kitchen sink and the copper plumbing. It’s a non-stop barrage of concepts, ideas, and moments, all meant to elicit an immediate reaction from the viewer, a quick shock to the emotional system before moving on to the next concept, idea, or moment. The complaint I’ve had all season about ideas “not being given a chance to breathe and grow” is on full display in this episode. The Doctor being made President of Earth. The idea of recently dead minds being stored in a “cloud” as their physical remains were being turned into Cybermen and that the Master has been storing these minds for as long as humanity has had the concept of an after life. Kate Stewart didn’t die from being suck out of an airplane. And the deus ex “I am trying to break your heart” ending where the viewer finds out that the Master’s bracelet allows one person a one-way trip out of the Nethersphere. Yes, a data cloud storage service meant to store the minds of the recently deceased can somehow send forth a physical body. It’s on par with the “lost daughter/sister returns from the leaves” ending from In the Forest of the Night, something damn near nonsensical meant solely to tug on the viewer’s heartstrings, any sense of continuity or faux-realism be damned.
It’s not even a case of “show don’t tell.” It goes beyond that. It’s “show, then show, then show.” After some great episodes this season where all kinds of ideas and concepts were given to the viewer without hand holding (Listen, Flatline), Death in Heaven is just a barrage, one after another, of shocking/cool moments where Moffat seems to be saying “don’t think, just go with it,” but there’s no place TO go with it because we’re getting dragged along to the next plot point. This episode, put simply, had too many good ideas/moments with no chance to expand on them. It needed less of those moments, but more time to properly work with them.
And I’ll do my best not to get started on the CyberBrig, which was probably THE biggest slap in the face Moffat could have given fans of the classic series. Nicholas Courtney has sadly passed on. Let his memory rest comfortably. What’s next, digging up Elisabeth Sladen for one more run?
(Of course, the idea behind CyberBrig opens up a whole new can of worms. What other companions were turned, even briefly, into Cybermen? Rory? Amy? Adric?)
The few moments that truly stood up were thanks more to the directing than to the writing. Rachel Talalay, who also helmed Dark Water, takes those moments and gives them the space and time they need to hit home. The Doctor diving out of an exploding plane to catch his TARDIS, followed by a brief pause as the viewer wonders if he pulled it off, is something that would have been right at home in a Third Doctor story.
When the Cybermen were pulling themselves out of the ground, the scene looked like something from a top-tier zombie flick.
The scene where the Master breaks free from her bonds and kills Osgood after taunting her (and complete with a shout out to Toni Basil) has more tension than the big climactic moment in the graveyard.
And perhaps my favorite moment in the episode, the one moment that actually did break my heart, the Doctor slamming his fists against the TARDIS console as he realizes (and this is what I believe, other interpretations are valid) the Master has lied to him once again and Gallifrey is still missing.
From the opening of Into the Dalek, Danny Pink has been portrayed as a haunted soldier who is content to understand more of the world directly in front of him him as opposed to seeing more of it. By the time of his final fate in Death in Heaven, I came to a simple conclusion. Danny Pink’s story arc, despite the best efforts of Samuel Anderson, was poorly handled and nearly a complete waste of time for the viewer. We see Danny Pink, as a Cyberman (and the viewer is initially reminded of this fact thanks to a piece of paper he clutches from his initial rise from the mortuary table all the way to Clara realizing who he is in the graveyard, thanks Steven!), initially begging for Clara to turn on his emotion inhibitor. The makeup effects are astounding as we see the final form of cyberconversion “under the hood” as it were, but other than that, CyberDanny’s sole purpose in this story is to whine and complain. First, he pleads with Clara to activate the inhibitor. The Doctor convinces her not to, because a fully-cyberized Danny would try to kill her. But when the Doctor realizes that a fully-cyberized Danny could connect to the hive mind and reveal the truth behind Missy’s plan for the Cybermen…thus weighing a calculated risk…Danny MOCKS him for it.
(Full disclosure, this was the point in the episode where I screamed a very loud and very profane curse word that woke up my newly-minted wife on the top floor of our townhouse and caused the neighbor’s dog to begin barking. At 2 am EST)
As the Doctor waffles over the difficult decision, Clara, doing something that companions have always done for the Doctor, offers to make the decision for him and use his sonic screwdriver to activate the inhibitor. When the Doctor hands the screwdriver over, giving into Danny’s decision and hoping for the best…Danny MOCKS him for it. “An officer can’t get blood on his hands, after all.”
(Cue a second use of the very loud and very profane curse word)
After an entire season, Danny Pink was reduced to a mouthpiece to drive home the point that “soldiers are bad, officers are bad, and the Doctor is no better than either of them.” Davros makes the very same point in Journey’s End that the Doctor turns his companions into soldiers, and throughout that season, the viewers saw it happen; to Martha, to Jack Harkness, and even to Sarah Jane Smith. This season, though, the only time we’ve seen Danny acting like a soldier was the flashback in Dark Water and marching the kids through London in In the Forest of the Night, along with shouting and saluting the Doctor in The Caretaker. Samuel Anderson did what he could with the material, and kudos to him for acting under all that makeup, but in the end all Danny Pink was a mouthpiece and a prop for Moffat’s writing, with very few personality traits or a strong character arc to define him.
On the flip side, this episode was not Jenna Coleman’s swan song as Clara Oswald, as she’ll be starring in the upcoming Christmas special. On one hand, we’ll get an entire episode devoted to tying up the Clara/Doctor relationship with a proper goodbye. On the other hand…this episode WAS a proper goodbye for Clara and the Doctor. From her opening bluff convincing the Cybermen that they couldn’t kill her because she WAS the Doctor (I’m imagining the Cybermen going “we know this is bull, but considering all the stuff the Doctor’s pulled before, let’s make absolutely sure…”) to her agony over Danny’s condition as she tried to activate his inhibitor, to the cold logic of drawing down on the Master, Coleman gave a solid performance, but one that was overshadowed by that of Michelle Gomez. So while I’m glad Clara’s official goodbye is going to be given some screen time instead of being lost amid the season finale, I’m a little torn because, even though both of them were lying to one another, Clara and the Doctor’s farewell in the coffee shop was perfect. Reassuring the other person that everything was truly “ok” when it wasn’t is one of the lynchpins of Twelve and Clara’s time together, sad, bittersweet, but comforting. I just hope that the Christmas Special doesn’t go and cock up what was a truly beautiful moment.
(Also, there’s a bit of “get off my lawn” here. Back in MY day companions just up and left 5 minutes before the end of a serial!)
The first half of this serial reminded me of the first half of Deep Breath. The Doctor really didn’t DO anything, and served more as the centerpiece for the other characters to explain just what the hell was going on. It wasn’t until the Doctor confronts the Master onboard the airplane that Capaldi begins to shine. The chemistry between Capaldi and Gomez immediately establishes the chemistry between the Doctor and the Master, former friends turned bitter enemies, but always with the underlying relationship under each word. Capaldi’s Doctor knows exactly what the Master is capable, and the Master knows what the Doctor is capable of figuring out, the anger of Capaldi mixes with the slyness of Gomez…until the end, where Capaldi’s cleverness mixes with Gomez’s dawning realization that her plan has, once again, failed. The key moment for me, as mentioned earlier, is when the Doctor realizes that the Master has lied to him again, and lets loose his anger and frustration in a shower of sparks and a slamming of fists. Just done in simple cutaways and no words, it nails the Doctor’s need for companionship; for someone, anyone, to be alongside him or waiting for him to drop in. In one season, Capaldi has firmly established himself at the Twelfth Doctor. Pragmatic, hiding his emotions, letting his disdain show, and willing to admit, with his flaws and virtues, that he’s not a good man, or a bad man. He’s an idiot. But he’s also honest.
And what else can be said about Michelle Gomez as the Master, aka Missy You’re So Fine You’re So Fine You Blow My Mind Hey Missy? Where one might have expected Moffat to drop the “SHE’S A LADY NOW” hammer over and over again, her gender barely came into play throughout the episode. Even with a female body, Missy was the Master, case closed, locked up for reasons of being absolutely bonkers. Roger Delgado’s Master was suave and calculating. Anthony Ainley’s Master was loud and bombastic. Eric Roberts’ Master was slimy and creepy. John Simm’s Master was a megalomaniac. Michelle Gomez’s Master was calculating while being a show-off. She had a long term plan, but absolutely had to revel in being the center of attention. Gomez lightly gnaws on the scenery while keeping the Master planted firmly in her reality. And that reality is to always, always, screw with the Doctor in any capacity possible. This time out, she’s not trying to take over the world. She’s instead giving the Doctor the KEYS to taking over the world with an invincible army of Cybermen. The ability to enforce his will, which he does anyway, but with an unstoppable force to ensure his will comes to pass. And she does this all…as a birthday present. So the Master and the Doctor could be friends again. Turning the bodies of the dead into Cybermen, all to make the Doctor happy. It’s peak Master, and Michelle Gomez deserves all the credit in the world for taking a “predictable” surprise and making it work. Missy being the Master was something people may have seen coming, but Gomez’s switch between showing off and being cold and calculating, as shown when she easily offs Osgood after taunting her with her impending demise, was spot on. I hope that the blue lines when she was “shot” was her teleporting away, ala the suicide devices in Time Heist, and not her final demise. And even then, the Master showing up, the Doctor going “I thought you were dead,” and the Master laughing it off without an explanation…it’s not a plot hole. It’s just the Master.
This season has given us some stinkers (Kill the Moon, In the Forest of the Night), some decent episodes (Robot of Sherwood, The Caretaker), some solid outings (Listen, Mummy on the Orient Express, Into the Dalek), and an outright classic (Flatline). Dark Water/Death in Heaven will be more remembered for Michelle Gomez’s performance as the Master than anything else, but the two-parter manages to serve as a decent, but flawed, capstone to Peter Capaldi’s first season as the Twelfth Doctor. Capaldi owned the role and Jenna Coleman got some decent writing to make Clara Oswald a stand-out companion. All in all, this season could be considered a strong success despite a few speedbumps along the way. I can’t wait until next fall to see what Capaldi (and…sigh…Moffat) bring us next.