Thoughts on Death in Heaven

The Doctor is “an idiot with a box and a screwdriver passing through, helping out, learning.” After a season long in which the Doctor wondered just what kind of man he was, he finally figures it out. He’s not a hero, a Dalek, a good man, or an officer, he’s just an idiot trying his best. Of course, a great deal has to happen in “Death in Heaven” to get the Doctor to that realization. Unlike its predecessor, which was a promising beginning to the finale, “Death in Heaven” was more of a mixed bag. It started out with a great opening scene of Clara saying that she is not Clara Oswald, but the Doctor, leading to the altered credits (although I never believed her). However, from there the finale goes a bit bigger than it needed to, resulting in some ideas that don’t seem fully thought out. Basically, I can break my feelings about the episode down into three categories: what worked, what didn’t, and what was problematic.

What Worked

Mary Poppins, I mean, Missy arrives in the cemetery.

Mary Poppins, I mean, Missy arrives in the cemetery.

 

There was one aspect of this episode that I absolutely loved.  One part that almost makes up for the parts that didn’t work for me: Missy.  I found Michelle’s Gomez’s portrayal of Missy riveting.  When she revealed that she was the latest regeneration of the Master, even though it was not a terribly surprising twist, I realized how perfect her portrayal was.  In my opinion, she is one of the scariest villains Doctor Who has ever had.  I don’t mean scary in a kind-of-afraid-to-look Weeping Angels way, but more in a Heath Ledger’s Joker kind of way.  She was ruthless and unpredictable, with a complete disregard for human life, which is scary in and of itself, yet she was also super-intelligent with a diabolical plan.

Even though it broke fandom’s heart, I thought the scene between her and Osgood was brilliant.  You can see her taking note of the pride the Doctor shows in Osgood’s intelligence, and developing her plan.  She then taunts Osgood before sadistically disintegrating her, all to make the Doctor suffer (I think out of jealously as well; she can’t have someone else diverting the Doctor’s attention away from her).  Her choice to deliberately step on Osgood’s glasses was just enough of a touch to show that this was personal, not just another routine killing.  The scene is effective in showing how little feeling Missy has for anyone as well as the strength of her obsession with the Doctor.

Missy with Osgood, moments before she kills her

Missy with Osgood, moments before she kills her

Speaking of the relationship between the Doctor and Missy, I felt that this episode made explicit the subtext the Doctor/Master relationship has always had.  There has always been a bit of a respect between the Doctor and the Master, with each wanting to show that he is the cleverer of the two.  Indeed, they have sometimes had to work together, putting aside their differences for a larger purpose.  Sometimes, even in the classic series, it has felt like the Master was trying to get the Doctor’s attention.  Therefore, the idea that the Missy’s grand plan was to make the Doctor realize that he wasn’t that different from her worked.  The idea that even the Master could get lonely and want her friend back fits with the image that I have of the Master.  After all, who is more like the Doctor than the Master?  They have always been like two sides of the same coin.

I have a few other random Missy thoughts before I move on to what didn’t work.  First, I also liked the heightened femininity that Michelle Gomez gave the character.  Her reapplying lipstick before killing the guards on the plane was a nice touch, because it made me think of how the Master always loved to play a role; I feel like she was “performing” being a woman in a very over-the-top Master kind of way.  I also kind of loved the weird Mary Poppins-ish touches; I feel like Mary is a woman who the Master could appreciate.

What Didn’t

The aspect of the episode that really didn’t work for me were the Cybermen.  True, the Master was always teaming up with other alien races, so it’s appropriate that Missy has Cybermen as part of her plan.  It’s also a far more successful collaboration for her than in the past, because this one doesn’t end with her having to work with the Doctor to save herself from the force she created.  However, I really didn’t feel like the Cybermen belonged in the episode.  I found their storyline rather confusing and non-sensical, as if their appearance wasn’t really thought out.

I had so many questions about the Cybermen that it actually hindered my ability to enjoy the episode.  Almost every time they were on-screen, many questions flooded my brain, keeping me from getting swept up in the story.  Instead of getting involved in the plot, I was pondering details like: why are bones seemingly the only organic component of these Cybermen?  The bodies in the 3W facility, as well as those in graves from 200+ years ago have nothing organic left but bones.  Why is the organic component necessary at all; they have metal exoskeletons, so why would they need bones? Plus, Missy took the mind of Gretchen, the soldier who the Dalek antibodies disintegrated, so it doesn’t seem like the consciousnesses she’s taking can only go back to specific bodies.

Doctor Missy Selfie

Missy prepares to take a selfie with Doctor and her Cybermen

 

My questions don’t even stop there.  How exactly does the Cyberpollen work?  This has never been a part of the history of the Cybermen before, that any part of a Cyberman can build a whole new Cyberman.  If they had this capability, why haven’t they used it before?  Or did Missy invent the way to use it? Or did she just invent the way to use it on the dead?  And, if Missy invented it, why does the Doctor talk about it as if he is quite familiar with it?  And how does it know where to travel to get to the dead bodies?

Honestly, I have even more questions than these, I’m just tired of writing them.  It seems to me that Missy could have created a different race of robots to download the consciousnesses into that wouldn’t have opened up all these questions because they would be something new.  These Cybermen just didn’t feel at all like Cybermen to me; it seemed like they could have been any robotic species.

Another aspect of the story that just fell flat for me was the Danny/Clara relationship.  There were a few nice touches, like when he hangs his head when Clara says she is an excellent liar, but the big emotional moments just fell flat for me.  I have never felt invested in their relationship, so the big tearjerking moments left me cold.  For instance, instead of getting caught up in the emotion of Danny begging Clara to turn on his inhibitor and, essentially, killing him again, I was thinking about how the Doctor was right, that he might kill Clara instantly.

I know I shouldn’t, but I couldn’t help but compare him to Rory, and in that comparison, Danny doesn’t come out on top.  Since I was acutely aware of how much he was putting Clara at risk by turning on the inhibitor, I found Cyber-Danny rather whiney.  Rory would have withstood anything to protect Amy; Danny is willing to risk killing Clara.  If he really just wanted to die, he could have blown himself up.  Plus, why does he take her to the cemetery in the first place?  If you are trying to protect someone, do you bring them to the place where there is the greatest concentration of the enemy?

Clara embraces Cyber Danny.  Apparently nothing inhibits his love for Clara.

Clara embraces Cyber Danny. Apparently nothing inhibits his love for Clara.

Then I still have issues with the relationship between Danny and the Doctor.  Once again he’s a jerk to the Doctor in the cemetery when he should be more concerned about Clara and the future of the world.  He’s the one who begged Clara to turn on his inhibitor, and then he taunts the Doctor when he gives in and lets Clara do it.  It’s like putting down the Doctor is more important to him than anything else.

I also was left wondering a few things about Danny (and Dodo-why was it the Chaplet funeral home?).  Was he not under cyber control because he didn’t push the button to disconnect?  That was my assumption, but it was never really made explicit.  Also, even though he denies it, doesn’t Danny essentially become an officer at the end?  The word “officer” is defined as: a person in the armed services who holds a position of responsibility, authority, and duty, esp one who holds a commission.  Doesn’t that describe Danny at the end, since he is the one giving orders to a large military force?

The final troubling aspect for me was Danny’s decision to send the boy he killed back.  I didn’t necessarily have a problem with his decision, but with the idea of the boy being able to return.  He was a consciousness, so how did he have a body when he returned?  It opens up a whole can of worms about the afterlife that Steven Moffat is never going to address, because it would mean really tackling some heavy issues. While I am not a Moffat basher, I’m not really a fan of these “magical” events that he often relies on to avoid explaining things.

What Was Problematic

While it was not a big issue for me, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the Doctor as president of the world.  On the one hand, it was almost worth it to have the Doctor’s dig at Missy about how many times she tried to become ruler of the world, and now he’s its president. I also rather enjoyed the line about the salute explaining all of military history.

I could also see its function in the plot.  For one thing, it allowed for U.N.I.T. to enter the picture, which was appropriate, since the Master was really the thorn in U.N.I.T.’s side during its time on the show.  The fact that he was only president while on the plane also served to confine the Doctor, Osgood, and Kate with Missy in a place from which there was nowhere to escape.  It also plays a part in the Doctor’s journey of self-discovery, since here is another person forcing him to take the mantle of officer and presenting him with an enormous army.

However, nothing ever really came of it.  The Doctor, perhaps to emphasize the fact that he is not an officer, never does anything while he holds the title of president of the world.  And once the plane is blown up, it is never mentioned again.  Unfortunately, this makes the whole storyline feel a bit superfluous to the plot.

The Doctor looks at the enormous, random picture of the Brigadier hanging in the plane.

The Doctor looks at the enormous, random picture of the Brigadier hanging in the plane.

The man reason that I felt that I had to add a category of what was problematic, however, was due to the Cyber-Brigadier.  First, I thought it was a bit odd to have a gigantic picture of the Brigadier in the plane, but honestly, I was just happy to see him.  If that had been all the tribute paid to him in this episode, I would have been happy.  I found it a bit odd when Kate said that all her father had wanted was for the Doctor to salute him, since I don’t think the Brigadier gave that much thought (and, despite what the Doctor says in this episode,  I don’t think he would have had any luck trying to get the third or fourth Doctors to salute), but, again, I could accept that.

The point at which it all gets troublesome is the end.  It does make sense for the Brigadier to shoot Missy, since the Master certainly caused him endless problems when he was the head of U.N.I.T.  However, the fact that the Brigadier was turned into a Cyberman is, well…problematic.  In my head, I made up a story to explain his presence.  I like to think that the Brig was intelligent enough to not disconnect, so he still had some awareness of who he was.  Since we saw the other newly born Cybermen staggering around confused, I like to think that the unflappable Brigadier woke up a Cyberman and kept his head, just as he always did when confronted with the unknown.  He assessed his tactical advantages, and then he got to work, protecting his daughter and the world, just as he had always done.

Now, was this the best way to pay tribute to the character? Probably not.  What exactly happens to the Cyber-Brig at the end?  If he’s going to blow himself up, he’s a bit late.  And, I don’t really like the idea of a reanimated Brigadier (never mind the fact that it makes me wonder if there was a Cyber-Jamie or Cyber-Amy in that army).  But, I have to admit that the scene in the cemetery is the most touching part of the episode; it does actually bring tears to my eyes every time I see it.  Logically, I have some problems with it, but emotionally it works for me.

"Never trust a hug. It's just a way to hide your face."

“Never trust a hug. It’s just a way to hide your face.”

While the episode had its ups and downs, I have to admit that I loved the final scene between the Doctor and Clara.  While we know that this was not, in fact, the end for Clara and the Doctor, they could not have parted  in a more appropriate fashion.  The Doctor misunderstands the meaning of Clara having Missy’s bracelet, which leads him to tell Clara that she can be with Danny because he has found Gallifrey, which makes Clara lie about Danny returning, so that the Doctor can return to Gallifrey without worrying about her…Given the history between the two characters, what could have been more appropriate than to have them both lie their relationship out of existence? However, Santa might have something to say about the matter…

Impressions of Dark Water

After much deliberation (and delay), I finally decided to write about each episode of the finale separately because I have a very different opinion of each half.  “Dark Water,” the first part of the Steven Moffat penned finale, was a promising beginning.  It did exactly what a finale should do: leave you eagerly awaiting the second part.  It sets up a trajectory for each of the four major characters (Danny, Clara, the Doctor, and Missy) that left me wanting to see how everything would be resolved.

It is the pre-credits death of Danny Pink that sets everything in motion.  He becomes so distracted by Clara’s declaration that the words “I love you” will never be said by her to anyone else, that he steps into the road without looking and gets hit by a speeding car.  While I was never a big fan of the character, I didn’t wish him dead.  However, due to my lack of connection for the character, I found his death surprising, maybe even shocking, but it didn’t make me feel terribly sad.  I felt badly for Clara, but I’ll get into that in a moment.

Danny, moments before his untimely demise.

Danny, moments before his untimely demise.

For the rest of the episode, we see Danny’s progress through the Nethersphere, as Seb takes him through the process of getting settled.  I can say that this was the episode in which I liked Danny Pink the best.  I guess it’s largely the way he relates to Clara that makes me dislike the character.  I felt for him in his confusion, and the rush of emotions that he felt upon being confronted with the boy for whose death he was responsible.  I was, however, a bit disappointed at the big revelation (finally!) of Danny’s trauma.  While it is something for which I could see him having to bear guilt, I didn’t feel that it really explained his dislike for the Doctor (and officers in general).  We leave him on the cusp of deleting his personality (to get rid of those troublesome emotions).

It was Clara’s storyline, however, that really made this episode work for me.  This episode contains a powerhouse performance by Jenna Coleman.  She conveyed Clara’s grief at the loss of Danny perfectly (I felt more for her loss than I did for Danny himself).  The scene in which she is throwing the TARDIS keys into the volcano is one of the most memorable of the season.  Aside from it being extremely well-written, the anger and despair that she clearly feels perfectly displays Clara’s grief, as the control freak tries to find a way to take back control of the situation and find a way to save Danny.

Clara, trying desperately to find a way to bring Danny back.

Clara, trying desperately to find a way to bring Danny back.

It is Clara’s desire to see Danny again that brings her and the Doctor to the 3W tombs.  In their interactions with both Missy (when they think she is a welcome droid) and Dr. Chang, you can see a Clara who is still grieving, but starting to act a bit more like herself.  The way that she alternately leans on the Doctor for support and gets upset when he takes too much control (“Speak for me again, I’ll detach something from you.”) was true to the character.  She also gradually realizes that the Doctor is right, and she needs to be clever and on her guard.  Both she and the Doctor are so distracted that they don’t notice the danger that surrounds them until it is upon them.

I can’t really discuss Clara without talking about the Doctor, since their story lines are completely intertwined  for most of the episode.  I feel that this episode really showed the fact that this Doctor isn’t as detached as he likes to pretend.  I felt the Doctor’s response to Clara’s plan to throw all the TARDIS keys in to the volcano sums him up well, “Why? Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”  This Doctor actually cares so much about his companion that nothing she could do would ever make him care less for her.  He just isn’t going to show that he cares in a traditional, more affectionate way.

There were many other nice touches that further showed the Doctor’s concern, such as when he takes Clara’s hand after saying there would be something wrong with her if she felt okay.  However,  Peter Capaldi does a great job of conveying the Doctor’s feelings without making him seem as if he is acting out of character.  As I stated before, this Doctor doesn’t go all gooey and emotional just because he cares about Clara.  He approaches the problem in a very logical way; he proposes an investigation to see if their really is an afterlife.  He also doesn’t like Clara to get too emotional, but not only because displays of emotion can make him uncomfortable.  He knows that he needs Clara sharp, since they are journeying into the unknown.  He has no patience for weepiness; it will only make things more dangerous.

Only in the final section of the story does the Doctor’s story line separate from Clara’s, and that is in his interactions with Missy.  His reactions to her during her charade as the welcome droid provided some much-needed humor to the episode.  His reaction to both her kiss and her placing his hand on her chest displayed Capaldi’s great comedic talents, something that he hasn’t always been able to demonstrate this season.

The Doctor backpedals from Missy's aggressive kiss.

The Doctor backpedals from Missy’s aggressive kiss.

Which, of course, leads me to the final major character, that of Missy.  While I can’t say her reveal as the Master was a huge surprise, I was pleasantly surprised to learn how much I enjoyed her character, now that we saw more than just a fleeting glimpse of her.  Previously, I had seen her as a bit too similar to Madam Kovarian.  However, this episode allowed her to finally develop some really personality.  I loved the way that her relationship with the Doctor just oozed familiarity.  Once she revealed her true identity, her decision to “get physical” with the Doctor earlier made perfect sense; she knew that he would be caught completely off guard, enabling her to put her plan in motion without detection from him (and we know the Doctor and the Master always had a bit of a love/hate relationship, so she probably couldn’t resist the opportunity).  She gave him the chance to notice her two hearts, but was probably banking on the fact that he would be so thrown by her placing his hand on her breast that he wouldn’t notice.

Her plan, or as much as we learn of it in this episode, is the typical convoluted plan of the Master.  She is once again working with another alien race, in this case the Cybermen.  Although it is not clear, Missy either led Dr. Skarosa to believe that the dead were speaking through television static (leading to Dr. Skarosa hearing the 3 words for which 3W is names, “Don’t cremate me”) or Missy took advantage of Dr. Skarosa’s preexisting belief, but either way, she has used the idea that the dead are still connected to their bodies to get people to have their bodies in the 3W tanks of dark water (water which only shows organic material, allowing other structures to remain hidden).

In reality, she has been using the bodies, and the cover of the dark water, to build herself an army of Cybermen.  She has been uploading their minds to a bit of Galifreyan technology: “Upload the mind, upgrade the body.”  I also wondered if the connection between mind and body was how she managed to convince the people of the Nethersphere to “disconnect” themselves.  Was it just emotional pain that Seb used to convince them, like he did on Danny, or would it help protect them for the physical pain of what their body was going through as well?

Michelle Gomez’s Missy seems just crazy enough to have hatched a complicated plan like this, and her Master is wonderfully imbalanced.  The ending scene in which she finally reveals her identity to the Doctor is perfectly played.  Her delight in revealing her true identity and the Doctor’s horror upon realizing that his old adversary has returned, while Cybermen march out of St. Paul’s Cathedral, was a perfect cliffhanger.

The Doctor and the Master: together again.

The Doctor and the Master: together again.

Overall, I enjoyed this episode.  I have some issues with the Cybermen, which I’ll come to in part two of the finale, but they were suitably creepy and atmospheric.  The way that they would turn their heads when the Doctor and Clara passed by was a nice, unsettling touch.  I’ll also admit that I had completely forgotten that the Cybermen were in the finale (I know, it’s hard to believe that I could’ve been that forgetful), so the reveal that the skeletons were, in fact, cybermen with the metallic covering hidden by the dark water did pack a bit of a punch for me.  I know I should have put it all together much sooner, but I just didn’t.  So score one for a bad memory; if only I could forget a few things about “A Death in Heaven”…