Sunday 9 November 2014

Reviews in Time & Space: Death in Heaven

Doctor Who s08e12 - Death in Heaven

The big finale has finally arrived! Danny Pink is dead! Missy is the Master! There are Cybermen pouring out of St Paul's Cathedral! As the Doctor and Clara face Earth's darkness hour, they'll both be presented with some incredibly hard decisions. The Cybermen have revealed that with Missy's help they now have the power to pollinate the dead, UNIT return and the Doctor is made President of planet Earth in the crisis. As the Doctor has every army under his command to defend Earth against this Cyberthreat, Clara meets Danny again in a way she never expected. But what is Missy's end goal? It's time for Death in Heaven.

After a chilling introduction with the rather brilliant Dark Water, Death in Heaven drops the slow-burning horror vibe for a more spectacle-driven affair. It's still not missing it's fair share of scares though, as an army of Cybermen burst from Earth's graveyards (something many may find more cliche than scary admittedly, but still a moment likely to stick with young ones) and Danny gets a whole new look as a Cyberman. But the story is one a much bigger plane (quite literally at one point), offering a lot of big moments in that lovely BBC-quality CGI that always manages to not quite hit the mark and make everything actually seem considerably cheaper. Points for trying though I guess? What the BBC shouldn't get point for though is that awful attempt at a twist with the beginning of the episode, because you'd have to be an idiot not to instantly recognise Clara's bluff.

Danny Pink as a Cyberman
Danny's new look

Despite weeks and weeks of feeling like non-character forced repeatedly upon the audience, it's time for Danny Pink to step up to the plate as the new and improved Cyber-Danny. It's a pretty grim situation for the former solider, not only dying but then reawakening in his zombified body with all his emotions still intact. If the show had done a better job of warming me up to him prior to this finale everything would have felt a bit more heart wrenching, but watching a minimally developed character become a focal point isn't really difficult watching in that regard. Once again his only real highlight is the rather blunt way he's able to call the Doctor out on his soldier-like tendencies, especially how he isn't one to get his hands dirty. Only we've seen the Doctor get his hands dirty in a similar regard several times this season, so that kind of fell a bit flat too.

Meanwhile both the Doctor and Clara have been pretty well-rounded this season, even with some dodgy material to work with here and there. While the logistics of the Doctor becoming the president of the world so quickly are best left unthought about, it's played up suitably with both the Earth representatives and with Missy. However with the being an episodes all about hardships, its no surprise that the pair have their serious face on most of the time. Clara's had a pretty awful time of it this season, and Jenna Coleman is really able to sell it that these events are pretty much the last straw for her. In a season of varying quality it's nice that the leads have at least been able to show some level of consistency.

Missy/The Master
Delightfully mad

After last week's shock reveal of Missy's true identity and subsequent internet squabbling about our first on-screen Timelord sex change, many were eager to see whether Michelle Gomez would be able to cut it as the latest incarnation of the Master. Admittedly I'm not the biggest fan of the relaunched series' seemingly lovesick "Doctor please just notice me" version of the Master, but Gomez is absolutely superb in the role regardless. Like John Simm's version this version is mad as a hatter and relishes in theatrics, but with considerably less of the annoying ticks that came before (though her whole Mary Poppins descent at the end if perhaps a little TOO much). But with so much going on in the episode, even Missy somehow manages to feel wasted. There was no specific mention of how the Master returned (or why he's now female, unsurprisingly), and despite some pretty good chemistry with Capaldi and further exploration of Gallifrey's fate there was very little that felt like it HAD to be the Master doing all of this. It's a big shame because Michelle Gomez was so brilliant that I'd have liked to have seen her be her own character so that there's more chance as a proper return, as with the Master you never know if the same actor is going to return once again.

UNIT return
A cosplayer ran on set

But despite some mild disappointment, Missy gets my seal of approval for doing something I've wanted to happen for quite a while - she killed Osgood. Yes UNIT make a return in Dark Water after their last appearance in Day of the Doctor, however all they really seem here for is to move the plot along and add to the body count rather than contribute to a good old fashioned 70s reunion. I've never once bought into Osgood as a character, with her entire schtick being an personification of the "Tumblr" sect of Doctor Who fans (uttering that godforsaken line of "bowties are cool" here only reinforced that opinion) so I'm glad she bought it just to show how unhinged Missy was. I do think that it was a rather abrupt end to what felt like a regularly recurring character though, so who knows how long that'll stick. After all, there were all those Zygons at the end of the anniversary special...

The Cybermen really haven't fared well since the relaunch of Doctor Who, and with Dark Waters not really elevating them to great heights I'm beginning to give up hope that any writer will manage to do so anymore. Here the Cybermen are woefully underused, spending most of the time idly standing around as a "horrible zombie army" than doing anything particularly Cyberman-like. Their new tactics were a rather interesting twist on their old methods, but also further seemed to move the species away to what originally made them so frightening. The focus is becoming less and less on how the Cybermen are prosthetic humans with their emotions taken away, and more on how they are just human husks in robot shells. The obvious Iron Man ripoffs in their design are becoming more and more apparent too, if not by their godawful flying than by the way their designs seems to just render their innards as a person in a metal suit (also seen in Torchwood's Cyberwoman).

The Cybermen
Still not that interesting

The episode really begins to fall apart when it reaches its high-speed conclusion at a nearby graveyard, which is pretty much just a case of "love conquers all". We've had humans overcome the Cyberman emotional inhibitors before, but in every previous case its been rather cheesy and this is no exception. The episode tries to justify this bad writing choice because "love isn't an emotion, it's a promise", but I'm fairly sure anyone will tell you that love arguably IS an emotion - or at least a feeling based on emotions.

After this rather disappointing turn the episode quickly spirals downwards into a rush through an obvious checklist of things it needs to get through in its rapidly decreasing runtime. Love conquers all and the Cybermen are defeated, Kate's alive and Missy is killed by a Cyber-Brigadier, Danny can apparently resurrect himself but chooses to bring the child he killed back to life instead, the Doctor and Clara lie to each other and say their goodbyes and then we have Santa Claus showing up for the usual Christmas special sting. That's quite a lot to take in in such a short space of time, with much of it needing far more time for proper processing. So the Earth is completely devoid of dead bodies, Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart was also able to break the Cyberman programming (all you need is love after all) and flies off to who knows where, Gallifrey isn't where Missy said it was (surprise surprise) and Clara may be gone for good (or not, if the official BBC synopsis for the Christmas special is anything to go by). Not to mention Danny clearly hasn't thought about the logistics of a British person trying to find the parents of a presumed dead Afghanistan child.

So anyway, the Brigadier was indeed resurrected as part of the Cybermen plot - rounding off the set up earlier about how he always wanted the Doctor to salute him at least once. I genuinely don't really how to feel about this particular scene as it stood pretty firmly on the line of a unique/interesting tribute and being a horrible degradation of one of Doctor Who's most beloved characters. Opinion is quite firmly going to be divided on the matter (and quite rightly so I think), but just where did he fly off to at the end? Let's face it, we'll probably never know.

The Brigadier returns
Needs more moustache

Death in Heaven had all the set up it needed to be something great, but turned out to feel like a lot of empty spectacle. The individuals components all had their merits but were ultimately squandered, either from underuse or by a lack of effective build up through the show for them to have the right impact here. Its a pretty dower end to the story of Clara Oswald (if this really is the end of course), but even with her development into an actual character this season I don't feel like I'm going to miss her. A disappointing end to a season which has had it's fair share of ups and downs.

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