After an extremely shaky last-half-of-season-eight, Doctor Who has pulled off an extremely good finale with “Death in Heaven.” Not much “stuff” happened in “Dark Water,” the first half of the two-parter, but they totally make up for that in the first ten minutes of this episode. Major spoilers.
Danny’s a Cyberman. Clara lies about being the Doctor. UNIT shows up, zaps everyone, makes the Doctor President of Earth. The Cybermen are everywhere. It’s a one-two punch of set-up and delivery. The marketing totally made us think this would be another timey-wimey Moffat finale, and then they turned the tables on us completely. I love it! The trailers linked Clara throwing the keys into the volcano with her line, “Clara Oswald never existed.” Turns out those are completely different situations, and the one explanation for her line we never considered is that she was just lying!
How can Moffat be so great in episodes like this and so awful elsewhere? Perhaps he’s a genius writer but a shit showrunner, hmmm? It kind of reminds me of Agents of Shield season 1, where they started off strong, dribbled away into utter boredom, then were suddenly great at the end. The last five or six episodes of Doctor Who were basically just filler, and would’ve made the season stronger by being removed. I guess that should be a lesson to us all about asking for 12-episode seasons. We meant we wanted twelve good episodes, Moffat! Anyway, let’s get into some specifics of the episode. (As usual, I assume you’ve seen it and I don’t have to explain the plot as I go along).
Yay for the painting of the Brigadier, one of my all-time favorite characters! And it only gets better when he actually makes an appearance. I was tearing up at that moment. There is an unanswered question, though, because it means the Brigadier didn’t burn himself with the others… Is he now some kind of free-range Cyberman with a Heart? Because that would be awesome.
Yay for Osgood, fan-favorite from “The Day of the Doctor”! If ever there was an audience stand-in, it was Osgood. This time around, instead of a Tom Baker scarf, she’s wearing a Matt Smith bowtie. I love her. She knows about the Master, solving my unmet need for a proxy in this situation! And she’s smart! My during-episode notes say “YES FOR COMPANION PLZ.” (My main request is a companion who’s not from modern-day Earth, but I will absolutely settle for Osgood). And what do you know, the Doctor makes an offer right then and there, “all of time and space,” and Osgood clearly understands what that means… And I immediately knew she was about to die. Moffat only makes us care when someone’s about to die. That’s a problem, honestly. Can’t we care about our central characters, too? Like Clara and Danny? Like I said last week, couldn’t we have spent the whole season making us care about them, or giving us someone who cares about the Doctor? Apparently not. I know Tumblr makes it seem funny that Moffat kills people all the time and people complain about their feels… I’m not complaining about feels. I’m unhappy that she’s dead, but I’m MORE unhappy that I cared more about her in two seconds than I have about Clara all season, and that’s shitty writing.
Back to the good stuff, though — Yay for the Mistress! My personal preference is still a Master/Mistress who isn’t crazy. He wasn’t always crazy, that’s a New Who invention. That said, I was much more impressed by the Mistress this time around. She’s still Sexy Umbridge, but Michelle Gomez was able to differentiate her more when she actually had some room to work. She’s creepy and scary, but most important, she’s powerful. She makes decisions that are in-character, even though she is crazy. I hate her for killing Osgood and Kate, which kind of gives a whole new weight to the old “I won’t kill you because that would ruin my fun” excuse for keeping people alive… She DOES kill people and DOES make it so the interactions are all over. That makes her genuinely terrifying, horrifying. But yeah, I kinda love her now.
What’s more, I love that her plan makes sense. I love that it’s a genuine moral conundrum for the Doctor. “Am I a good man” has been the main theme of the series, and the Doctor’s feelings about soldiers have been the main vehicle for that theme. So, this episode literally makes the Doctor commander of all the world’s armies. They don’t do much with that, but then he’s in charge of all the Cybermen. He really could use that power to save people, to liberate the Dalek camps as the Mistress suggests. It really is a struggle for him, and when he finally realizes what kind of man he is, it’s a well-earned moment. I love that he’s so excited he kisses Missy, because their connection is like that. It’s not a “you’re so sexy” thing, it’s an intense relationship that’s been around for thousands of years, and he can do that. I loved the moment when they finally come face to face in the graveyard. They just look so incredibly good together, the perfect dysfunctional couple. It’s just so good all around — again, well-earned. The season, for all its faults, constructs a cogent storyline for the Doctor and follows it through to a perfect emotional ending.
I still really don’t care about Clara, and Danny by association, but I guess I should talk about them. They’re handled well in this episode, an important element subordinate to the Doctor/Mistress interactions. Clara’s speech to Danny about the Doctor being the one man she’ll always come back to and the one man she’d never lie to was brutal… Although of course she lies to the Doctor all the time. I did appreciate the moment when she says “I wasn’t very good at it, but I did love you.” That, I can believe. Also, I loved seeing the Doctor finally really speak to Danny, eye to eye. Of course, Danny’s bitter about it and lashes out, but he’s right… The Doctor does need to act like a general sometimes. Mirroring the Doctor’s realization of his own nature, Danny realizes his own nature, that he’s always been a soldier — and that being a soldier can be both a tragic and a noble thing. I think the Doctor realizes it too, through Danny and through the Brigadier. And there’s the lovely, brilliant line, “Love is not an emotion. It’s a promise.”
All that self-actualization happens very quickly and perfectly. It’s like the season — all the parts of the season that mattered — is finishing with a flourish and then taking a bow. Now that’s good writing.
Of course, we must have a small section of falling action and saying goodbye. I did really like the structure of the ending, with Clara and the Doctor both lying to each other that they’re happy now. Unfortunately, it seems like there’s still a bit of something left there, unfinished, which means she’ll be back again for YET ANOTHER “last time.” Good god. Marvin K. Mooney, will you please go NOW. All my dislike of Clara is tied up in her last words to the Doctor — “You made me feel special.” Well halle-fuckin’-lujah. The whole point of the entire universe is to make you feel fucking special. You didn’t learn anything, you don’t treasure the memories, you didn’t engage with the experience at ALL. You just “felt special.” Bah, humbug.
Anyway, there are still unanswered questions — what was the Doctor trying to tell himself with the Roman’s face? What about Orson Pink? Why were robots looking for the Promised Land? — but I think we got all we could cram into this finale! Plus, there’s a lovely mid-credits scene…
I’ve enjoyed blogging this series along with my fellow reviewers, and watching it with all my fellow Whovians. Leave your reactions in the comments below, have a happy holiday season, and we’ll reconvene at Christmas for the best Christmas special yet. I have faith. 😉