The last time I’ve seen a Doctor Who finale this satisfying was with The Big Bang from way back in 2010. Death In Heaven is a fantastic, if subdued, finale that neatly ties almost all of the ideas that were introduced with Peter Capaldi’s first outing as the Doctor. I wasn’t able to review the entirety of Doctor Who series 8 because I was either too busy or was experiencing website issues. So sit back, and I’ll talk about Death In Heaven and the first eleven episodes that led us here.
Warning: spoilers after this point.
One of my biggest complaints with Matt Smith’s tenure as the time travelling alien in Doctor Who was that the stories were too ambitious and stuffed with ideas while the execution suffered from a host of problems. Mainly, the BBC’s budget isn’t enough and the annoying no two-part stories imposed by the BBC in Series 7. While I believe Matt Smith is one of the best Doctors ever, his era will be largely be remembered as the “time-wimey era” – a time where bootstrap paradoxes and plot pyrotechnics took precedence over character growth. Bootstrap paradoxes are fine by me, believe me – The Big Bang is my favorite finale ever – but by the time The Time Of The Doctor rolled around that particular plot device elicited nothing but a huge groan from me.
And as I predicted when Capaldi was announced as the Doctor, he doesn’t fuck around. The scope of the stories may be smaller – no more threats against all of space and time – but the Twelfth Doctor is a darker, more abrasive incarnation who doesn’t flinch when people die, doesn’t mince his words when he knows he’s about to kill his enemy, and doesn’t fancy himself as a big hero or legend like his predecessors. He’s just a traveler passing by, and you’re lucky if he manages to be there to save your life.
The eight season dwelt a lot – maybe a bit too much – on death. It was a major theme introduced in the very first episode when the Half-Faced Man found himself in Paradise with the mysterious Missy. Death was a constant presence in this season, and it all came to a head when Missy literally raises every dead being on earth in Dark Water/Death in Heaven.
But first, let’s talk about Clara. This season put a lot of focus on Clara, and we’ve seen her evolve from the Mary Sue-ish perfect companion who literally follows everything Matt Smith says and to the nuanced manipulator who can carry an episode on her own. She did not turn into the sassy female character that seems to be a staple in Stephen Moffat’s scripts, and she ended up becoming a lot more complex. Hell, she almost outwitted and even declared herself as the Doctor at one point. Donna and Amy will always be my favorite Nu Who companions, but Clara has proven herself worthy to be more than just a companion. She is the first companion who the Doctor can call his best friend and you know it’s for real.
As for the Twelfth Doctor, Capaldi actually takes a step back as the main character and lets Clara take over the show. But when he bursts on the scene, oh god. He is dark, intense, and grumpy. He doesn’t like Robin Hood – who doesn’t like Robin Hood? – and has a dismissive attitude towards soldiers, ending up with him being abrasive towards Clara’s boyfriend, Danny Pink, not believing he’s smart enough to be a math teacher.
But there’s more to Capaldi than grumpiness. This is a Doctor who, just a lifetime before, went through centuries stuck in a planet where he believed he had no choice but to protect a bunch of people whom he had no stake in. He cared too much, and that led to his regeneration. Hence, Twelve ended up questioning himself – “Am I a good man?” was also a major theme – who tried to cover up his newfound vulnerability with aloofness and mad ideas, one of which, led him and Clara chasing after a boogeyman that may or may not exist. He is a Doctor who is lost, and needed to find himself.
Well, then, it was great for The Master – or as she is now known, Missy – to come along with an insane plan to use the Cybermen. The moment he found out that Missy is a new reincarnation of his classic foe, the old Doctor snapped into place and ran around London like a madman, trying to warn and save as many people as he can.
But we know Missy isn’t after world domination this time. She’s out to prove a point: that she and the Doctor aren’t so different after all, that the mere offer of power will make the Doctor into something like her and take the Cybermen army and save the universe, morals be damned. But then the Doctor realizes he’s not a good man. This time, he’s an idiot in a box, travelling along, trying to help, trying to make the best decision whenever he can. And the best decision to make at that moment was not to take the Cybermen army and relinquish control to Danny – now a converted Cybermen at this point but with some semblance of emotion (don’t ask me, ask Moffat) – who saves the world by destroying everything.
But then we also discover something: Missy’s been working the Doctor a while back now, apparently. She manipulated Clara and the Doctor to meet the first time around, because she knew a control freak can turn the Doctor – a man famous for his refusal to be controlled – into her lapdog. This all comes to a head when Clara, seething with anger over Danny’s two deaths, attempts to kill Missy. The Doctor intervenes, and unlike the moral posturing of 10 when he ended up in a similar situation, he doesn’t let Clara kill the Master not because killing is wrong or something. It’s just because he just doesn’t want Missy’s blood on Clara’s hands. He’ll kill Missy himself. And by letting himself kill his worst enemy, he had no choice to admit that Missy won.
And who else was better equipped to save the Doctor but the Brigadier. He has been saving the Doctor’s ass since the 70’s, and it was fitting that he would come back from the dead, fight his cyberman programming, and save the Doctor one more time – and finally get the salute he was always asking for.
And at the end of Death In Heaven, we now have a Doctor who isn’t afraid to let his vulnerabilities be on full display but be in command at the same time – and have a load of choice put-downs on the people around him. He spent an entire season trying to rediscover who he is, and now that he knows that he is just an idiot in a box, I cannot wait to see what he does next.
- Calling it: the Master regenerating into Missy and Clara taking over as the Doctor are BBC’s ways of testing a female Doctor. I used to be lukewarm to the idea, but now I am excited.
- Michelle Gomez appreciation bullet point. She was bananas. Even though we literally saw her disintegrate in front of The Doctor’s eyes, we know it’s a Master tradition to show up again with no better explanation than “I escaped.” So I’m hoping Michelle Gomez comes back as Capaldi’s recurring archnemesis.
- Oh, the Master and Doctor finally kissed. HAPPY NOW, TUMBLR?
- I liked Danny Pink well enough during his first few episodes, but when he started to show more and more signs of PTSD, I started to dislike him a lot. Also, is he a soldier? I can’t figure it out AFTER THE SHOW TRIES TO REMIND US OF HIS PAST PROFESSION EVERY TEN MINUTES.
- I still can’t get over the fact that they killed Osgood. I liked her so much.
- I still think Clara is pregnant with Danny’s child. That’s why she went off the deep end and tried to betray the Doctor.
- “Do you think I care so little about you that betraying me would make a difference?” is one of the lines that is going to define Capaldi’s Doctor.
- Capaldi hitting the TARDIS console after discovering that Gallifrey is not where Missy says it is – such a powerful scene. You can really feel Twelve’s pain.
- Twelve and Clara lying to each other at the very end. Man, they knew each other too well to know they’re bullshitting each other, but they just didn’t think they want to get in the way of each others’ happiness.
- “Never trust a hug.” Such a bittersweet ending.
- Here’s how I rank season 8:
- My favorite season 8 episodes: Listen, Mummy on the Orient Express, Flatline, and The Caretaker.
- OK episodes: Robot of Sherwood, Into The Dalek, Time Heist, and Dark Water/Death In Heaven.
- Great ideas but severely flawed: Deep Breath, Kill The Moon
- Ugh, kill it with fire: In The Forest of The Night
The Big Bang is still my all-time favorite season finale, but season 8 has topped season 5 in my list of favorites. It marries the best ideas from RTD and Moffat’s eras and brought in new writers who found ways to reinvigorate the show and make a 51-year old franchise feel fresh again.
What do you think of Death In Heaven and season 8 in general? You should let me know what you think by leaving a comment.