Doctor Who Series 8 Episode 12 review: Death in Heaven

Posted: 23 November 2014 in entertainment, television
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Death in Heaven falls upon the Earth as the dead rise from their graves and the Doctor battles to save humanity from the machinations of his oldest enemy.

Oh, don’t be so slow, it’s embarrassing. Who could fool you, like this? Who could hide right under your nose? Who could change their face any time they want? Hmm. You see, I’m not Clara Oswald. Clara Oswald has never existed.

By the conclusion of Death in Heaven two things are abundantly clear. Firstly, Peter Capaldi’s a magnificent Doctor, quite possibly the best NuWho incarnation. Secondly, it’s way past time for Steven Moffat to relinquish his stewardship of the series. Series 8’s finale is one of the most nonsensically disjointed stories ever delivered under the banner of Doctor Who. It’s stuffed fuller than a Christmas turkey with Moffat’s increasing desire to produce illogical shock revelations. The writer’s fallen in love with his own supposed cleverness and sacrificed all attempts to produce a coherent narrative flow.

Doctor Who - S8 E12 Death in Heaven

Clara’s claim to be the Doctor (accompanied by Jenna Coleman’s name coming first in the opening credits and her eyes appearing in place of Peter Capaldi’s) is Moffat’s most ludicrous, idiotic and plain stupid supposed shock revelation to date. Emerging from nowhere with zero buildup it’s sole intention seems aimed at getting fans trending Doctor Who on social media as their fervour ignites. Everything’s then shot down as logic kicks in. Come on, all the bloody Cybermen had to do was scan Clara to realise that she’s not a Time Lord. She may have been a pseudo-Doctor in Flatline but it’s patently obvious that she’s not a future or alternate version of the genuine article.

Kate Stewart. Divorcee, mother of two, keen gardener, outstanding bridge player. Also chief scientific officer, Unified Intelligence Taskforce – who currently have you surrounded.

As with Dark Water director Rachel Talalay (Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, Tank Girl) does her level best to weave an apocalyptic horror action piece from Moffat’s risible material. From a squadron of Iron Man-inspired flying Cybermen attacking UNIT’s airborne HQ to the newly cyber-converted dead punching their way out of their graves – the new tombs of the Cybermen – there’s an expansive cinematic air to the hour long episode. Death in Heaven is late 1970s James Bond as done by Hammer Horror. The Doctor even gets a Moonraker skydiving moment as he’s expelled from the crippled UNIT aeroplane and free falls towards the TARDIS.

One of the few positives of Death in Heaven is Jemma Redgrave’s return as Kate Lethbridge-Stewart. Unfortunately she’s woefully underused in comparison to The Power of Three and The Day of the Doctor. Hopefully she’ll back for Series 9 with meatier material to enact. She’s one of the best recurring characters to show up in NuWho and deserves better than to be shunted out of the action so early on.

Even more underused was Sanjeev Bhaskar (Goodness Gracious Me, The Kumars at No. 42) as Colonel Ahmed. What’s the point of casting an acclaimed actor in a thankless role that gives him virtually nothing to do other than to be made fun of by the Doctor before meeting his demise? “Man Scout” wasn’t amusing the first time and became less so with every utterance.

In order to remind everyone of the nastiness of the chief adversary of the piece Moffat undertook one of his most stupid decisions ever: the death of the incredibly fun, personable and relatable Osgood (Ingrid Oliver). With her glasses, inhaler, wide-eyed adoration, and Doctor-inspired attire (ranging from a multi-coloured scarf to trainers and bow tie) Osgood would’ve made a brilliant replacement for Clara. The Doctor himself hinted that she’d make an ideal travelling companion. It can only be hoped that it was Osgood’s Zygon duplicate that met its demise at the hands of Doctor’s oldest friend and enemy.

Doctor Who - S8 E12 Death in Heaven - The Doctor, Kate and Osgood

Ah yes… The Master/Mistress/Mary Poppins *delete according to preference*…

Turns out the afterlife is real. And it’s emptying. Every graveyard on planet Earth is about to burst its banks.

His/her/her *delete according to preference* grandiose plan is so astoundingly stupid that it renders most of the Delgado Master’s ill conceived schemes into acts of towering genius by comparison. He/she/she *delete according to preference* schemes for the longest time to create an army of Cybermen by seeding the bodies of the dead with nanotechnology and returning their de-emotioned *invention of new word alert* consciousnesses. Did a copy of Ed Wood’s all time classic of awfulness Plan 9 From Outer Space find its way to Gallifrey?

And the Master/Mistress/Mary Poppins *delete according to preference* decides to hand the whole kit and caboodle over to the Doctor? A gift to try and win his/her/her *delete according to preference* oldest friend back. Clearly the memory of all the Doctor’s previous double crosses and rejections of power faded away during the sex change regeneration. Unfortunately in the midst of all his false revelations Moffat fails to explain the circumstances of the Master’s rebirth as the Mistress. Was it done privately or on the Gallifreyan Health Service?

Whether Disney or the estate of P.L. Travers contact the BBC about copyright infringement remains to be seen as this latest spin on the Master is clearly a riff on Mary Poppins – even descending to earth with the assistance of an open umbrella at one point.

Undeniably Michelle Gomez is adept at portraying an unhinged psychotic pseudo-Mary Poppins but why oh why did Moffat feel the need to screw up the Master? If he wanted to give a fellow Scot a job just create a character from scratch. All indications are that despite being unequivocally being killed this new version of the Master will return soon. Just as Anthony Ainley’s Master inexplicably showed up time and time again without satisfactory explanation as to how he escaped his previous inevitable demise.

Thankfully Death in Heaven features the definitive end of Danny Pink. Please, please, please say it’s so. He’s the least engaging recurring character ever created for NuWho with zero personality both before and after becoming RoboCop, er, a Cyberman. Whilst Bernard Cribbins can create heartbreak with a single tearful look, Samuel Anderson can’t instil sympathy even after he’s been killed, resurrected in “Heaven”, and cyber-converted. This supposed grand romance is even more insipid than the unfathomable one between Katniss and the wet blanket that’s Peeta in The Hunger Games.

Doctor Who - S8 E12 Death in Heaven - The Doctor and Missy

Of course. The world’s darkest hour. And mine. Where else would you be? Thank you.

Danny’s not the only human to retain his emotions following cyber-conversion. Also clinging onto his human heritage and deep allegiance to his daughter and the Doctor was the essence of Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. After previously landing a punch on the Master in The Five Doctors this time around the CyberBrig got to (supposedly) disintegrate the renegade Time Lord/Time Lady *delete according to preference*.

The Brigadier’s portrait (based upon the late Nicholas Courtney’s appearance in Battlefield) aboard the UNIT aeroplane was an emotional kiss to the past. However his resurrection as a Cyberman is in highly questionable taste. Clearly it’s intended as a homage to the honour, integrity and humanity that Courtney instilled into the character across 40 years. But was it required?

Courtney and the Brigadier were movingly eulogised in The Wedding of River Song so why do it again? How to explain to young children who’ve caught up on the past of Doctor Who via repeats and home media. Are they to be told that their beloved Brigadier is a collection of decaying bones beneath that metal exterior? Are they to be told that his mind hasn’t been at peace since he died because it was trapped in the Nethersphere? It’s a good job that Nicholas Courtney’s face wasn’t superimposed onto the CyberBrig through as that’d have been an unforgivably horrific error.

Never trust a hug, it’s just a way to hide your face.

The conclusion of Death in Heaven feels a natural point for the Twelfth Doctor and Clara to part ways, even if their reasons for saying goodbye were based upon lies. Gallifrey remains lost to the Doctor and Clara doesn’t have a future with Danny but the separation feels right. Peter Capaldi’s confirmed for Series 9 in 2015 but there’s no word on Jenna Coleman’s involvement with Doctor Who beyond 2014. All indications are that the tenth Doctor Who Christmas Special will be the final hurrah for Clara Oswald – an encore for her time with the Doctor.

Doctor Who - S8 E12 Death in Heaven - The Doctor and Clara

Also returning for Series 9 is Steven Moffat, who’s now one of the most polarising figures to have graced Doctor Who since John Nathan-Turner, the controversial producer of the 1980s. Whilst Moffat quite rightly points out to critics that the viewing figures for NuWho remain strong there’s increasingly justified criticism of script quality.

Choosing Capaldi and crafting the Twelfth Doctor as an unsettling yet heroic presence inhabiting the TARDIS was a genuinely brave decision on Moffat’s and one to be applauded. But Series 8’s stories have ranged from the good, to the bad, to the ugly. This darker morally ambiguous incarnation has been poorly served with material that often feels like leftovers from the David Tennant and Matt Smith eras.

Moffat captured the horror-tinged Twelfth Doctor beautifully in Deep Breath and Listen (even if the latter’s plot did wander and flounder) but he’s disastrously lost the thread come Dark Water and Death in Heaven. Early promises giving way to reversion to type. Psychological terror replaced by unsuitable action romps. Moffat needs to take some writing tips from Jamie Mathieson who crafted outstanding material for Capaldi in Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline.

As well as reexamining his writing skills Moffat needs to concentrate on resolving previously established concepts rather than fermenting one-off dead end plot notions.

The non-destruction of Gallifrey in the Time War and its unknown whereabouts in space and time was a major element of The Day of the Doctor. A potentially seismic shift in the format of Doctor Who. After 50 televisual years of running away from Gallifrey and the Time Lords the Doctor was now be on a quest to find his resurrected homeworld. Except it’s never happened. Aside from accepting a new regeneration cycle from them in The Time of the Doctor the Doctor hasn’t shown any interest in the Time Lords. His being supplied with the supposed coordinates of Gallifrey (“galactic coordinates ten-zero-eleven-zero-zero-by-zero-two from galactic zero centre” – its original location as established in Pyramids of Mars), and then finding nothing, should have been a major plot of Series 8, not an aside at series end.

The familiarity of the Doctor’s appearance as raised in Deep Breath? Moffat’s stated that the face of the Twelfth Doctor will be reconciled with Peter Capaldi’s previous appearances in Doctor Who and Torchwood. Eleven episodes later it’s never been mentioned again.

It’s to be hoped that these leftover plot threads are revisited and resolved in 2015. But first comes an encounter with the man who knows whether everyone has been naughty or nice…

Doctor! You know it can’t end like that! Mm? We need to get this sorted and quickly. She’s not alright, you know. And neither are you. I’m coming in. Ah, there you are. I knew I’d get round to you eventually. Now, stop gawping, and tell me… what do you want for Christmas?

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