Hello Whovians and DAPs-devotees, and welcome back to the Doctor Who Review. Cybermen rise from long-sealed tombstones, ominous clouds loom over Earth’s surface, and the Doctor’s oldest nemesis the Master – now Mistress AKA “Missy” – reigns supreme. The Doctor sails high in the skies as Clara confronts multiple Cybermen on her own, and the fate of Danny Pink still hangs in the balance. What will become of the three in the Series Eight finale of Doctor Who “Death in Heaven?” Warning, spoilers ahead!
Cybermen are on the rise once again – this time literally. Under the command of Missy, they launch into the sky and explode, resulting in never-ending clouds that rain down Cyberpollen across the globe. Instead of pollinating flowers, it pollinates the dead, seeping into the ground and causing the long-gone to rise up once more, only this time as Cybermen. Teamed up with UNIT, the Doctor oversees this automaton apocalypse from a plane with Missy in tow, along with a few old faces. Simultaneously, Clara is left alone to defend against several Cybermen using only her bravery and wits, though perhaps not as alone as she thinks. With the reign of the Cybermen raining down upon Earth, the Doctor is left with two questions: what is the purpose of Missy’s plan, and the still unsolved is the Doctor a good man?
The second half of the Moffat-written two-part finale, “Death In Heaven” does a fantastic job of continuing the build-up and raising the stakes. Beloved characters get the axe – some you never would have expected – and old faces make unexpected returns. Unfortunately, despite all of the tension, hype, and high-stakes, it ultimately falls just short of being fantastic. The ending is relatively lackluster, the Master’s return is short-lived, and the hint for the upcoming Christmas Special is mind-boggling. This episode gets many things right: the characters, the imminent threat, the nerve-wracking tension, everything but the last seven minutes.
The Doctor is faced not only with his oldest frenemy but the threat of an Earth overrun by Cybermen, all the while having to act as the President of the planet. Confronted with seemingly impossible odds, Peter Capaldi does his finest acting yet conveying both hope and futility. His confidence bordering on arrogance when he has Missy supposedly locked up quickly gives way to loss and fear when she reveals her upper hand. The reoccurring question of whether or not the Doctor is a good man comes back into play as well when confronted with either maintaining a friend’s humanity or destroying it for a tactical advantage. Torn between good and bad – facing what he hopes to be and what he sees of himself in Missy – he decides that he is neither; rather, he is an idiotic madman with a box and a screwdriver. This realization is not only hopeful but reflective of the history of the character and shows great promise for the future of the show.
Clara’s role is the most emotionally tumultuous this episode, having to not only trick Cybermen thinking on her feet but also deal with the return of Danny Pink (more on that in a bit). Everything that she has learned as a companion comes into play – thinking quickly, being able to lie convincingly, and making impossibly difficult decisions. For most of the episode she is left to deal with the rise of the Cybermen alone, with the exception of Danny who ends up saving her more than once. While her screentime has almost no effect on the main story and the Cyberman threat, it is a fantastic set-up for her eventual split with the Doctor.
Danny Pink’s role has expanded into that of the tragic hero, having been turned into a Cyberman while still retaining his emotions and memory. Waking up in a cold morgue, seeing his mechanized reflection in the mirror, would leave anyone confused and dismayed. Yet Pink’s first thought is to find Clara, whom he promptly saves through his own trickery and deception, retaining what the audience loves most about him: compassion, wit, and unyielding bravery. His strength falters in the face of being eternally stuck as a Cyberman with the painful emotions of a human, asking Clara to erase them and then offering the Doctor a tactical advantage that he cannot refuse at the cost of Danny’s humanity. Yet even without his emotions, he is ultimately the one who saves the day, sacrificing himself and the other Cybermen to eradicate the cloud that hangs over Earth; further still, he gives up his one chance to return to Clara in order to save a young boy he accidentally killed in the war. Danny’s role is the most purposeful in the episode, as well as the most depressing.
Michelle Gomez continues to bring a wonderful madness to the Master AKA Missy, coming off as a madcap Mary Poppins (complete with a scene of her floating to the ground via umbrella). Yet her character goes beyond simple crazed megalomaniac, as she reveals that she has done all of this to raise an army for the Doctor to retake Gallifrey and save any other planet he deems worry. Her goal is to make him realize that they are the same – that he is no better than her and are as closely alike as when they were friends. Sadly, with the end of the Cybermen also comes the end of Missy as well, as her death comes at the hands the the newly-cybernetic Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. While it’s a neat little nod for Classic Who fans, it cuts down Missy too quickly; Gomez had great potential for a reoccurring villain, an old foe from both Classic and New Who to oppose the Doctor as he finds Gallifrey. It feels like an opportunity wasted all for the sake of some shock value.
Where most season finales are neatly wrapped up with perhaps a hint to the next season, this episode felt like a book that’s missing the last few chapters after a particularly depressing plot twist. Clara has lost Danny, the Doctor finds Gallifrey but it is not what he expects, and they are separated after both having lost people dear to them. Add in the Nick Frost cameo at the end playing Santa Claus and you’re left feeling more confused than before. It was by no means a bad episode, but it made for a poor end to the series. While I look forward to seeing the Christmas Special featuring Frost as jolly old Saint Nicholas, his fantastical role in a science-fiction show leaves me scratching my head as to how exactly he’ll fit in. The series in its entirety is well worth the watch, as you’ll find lovable characters and fantastic storylines; just don’t get too caught up on the ending like I did.