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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…

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9 responses to “Thoughts on Death in Heaven

  1. Aidan ⋅

    Great review. I don’t think the CyberBrig is as problematic as you suggest for exactly the explanation you give (though it’s never directly stated in the script). People are signing over control of their bodies because of the pain they feel, both physical and emotional.

    My feeling was that the Brigadier was never the type to regret the choices he made. He assessed dangers and acted as he saw fit. While we might think he occasionally made a wrong call (The Silurians springs to mind), I am pretty certain the Brig never felt that way (and if he did, he would have felt it was his duty to accept the consequences of those actions) so that was one less weapon the Cybermen could use to get him to turn his emotions off.

    I think the bigger question is not why did the Brigadier not get taken over but why is he the only one to avoid that fate? I’m not sure I have an answer to that.

  2. I agree with you about the Brig. That was part of what was problematic about his apprerance; why were he and Danny seemingly the only two not under Cybercontrol? Why would Missy even make turning emotions off optional? Unless we are supposed to believe that he was the only person not to disconnect, which seems a bit far-fetched.

  3. I saw this at the LI Who con, with a few Osgood cosplayers in the room when Osgood was killed. Between that and the Cyber Brig, there was not a dry eye in the house by the end. But, like you said, there were a lot of problematic and silly things with this episode (the Cyber-pollen being a completely horrible idea, one of many that Moffat has grafted onto returning monsters over the years). As I remarked at the time, it was a typical Moffat finale: made you want to cheer, cry, scream, and throw heavy objects at the TV screen, all at the same time. Fun to watch and frustrating to think about weeks later …

  4. I always think about LI Who, but it’s the same month as Chicago TARDIS. It was perfectly timed this year, though. That must’ve been quite an experience. It sounds like you and I have a similar view of Moffat finales. I tend to find that they are emotionally satisfying, but infuriating logically.

    • LI Who is awesome (no less so because it’s only an hour drive from where I live… if there’s no traffic). I got to be on some pretty well-stocked panels. Looks like I may also get to be on one at Gallifrey next month… if I don’t get snowed out of it like I did last year! But that’s another story 🙂

      • That’s pretty much how I feel about Chicago TARDIS. It’s about an hours drive away from me. I haven’t been on a panel there yet, but I’m hoping I can remember to sign up next year (I somehow always miss the sign up deadline). I’m looking forward to Gally next month. I thought I’d have to skip it this year, but, miraculously, a friend found me a membership transfer on the last possible day!

      • Awesome! Hope to bump into you there (I’m in a similar situation, I have, like, the 6th-to-last badge that was issued…).

  5. Hannah G

    Yep, pretty much agreed on all counts. I was very skeptical about Missy, but once she actually got to act onscreen she was great. Many, many cyber-questions. Emotionally satisfying ending… but the questions remain. I’m also particularly sad about how they dropped the President Doctor storyline, because Moffat does that ALL the time… starts off with all these cool plot threads, then puts in a “twist” and focuses on that the rest of the episode, totally dropping all the things he set up in the first half.

    • It seemed like he could have done something with the Doctor as President storyline. However, as is typical for a Doctor Who finale, I think there was just too much in there. With Missy, the Cybermen, resurrected Danny, etc., there were just too many threads to bring together in one episode.

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