Doctor Who S8 Ep12: Death in Heaven

Missy has raised an army of Cybermen – but what is her ultimate plan? Can Clara and Danny find a way back to each other? And is this really the end for the Doctor and Clara?

Look at this new app I just downloaded … (Image: BBC)

Danny ex machina

Attention! This is not a good day. This is Earth’s darkest hour. And look at you miserable lot. We are the fallen, but today we shall rise. The army of the dead will save the land of the living. This is not the order of a general, nor the whim of a lunatic. This is a promise – the promise of a soldier.

I’m going to start this review by noting what I hope was obvious to every viewer about the ending of the main story. This finale was Steven Moffat‘s tribute to the brave soldiers who fought in World War I. A century on from 1914, the year in which the Great War started, and in an episode airing the day before Remembrance Sunday, we have an army of soldiers saving Earth from its darkest hour. The timing of this season’s finale has been 100% deliberate.

And for once it’s not the Doctor who saves the day with one of his monologues but an ordinary soldier in the form of Danny Pink. The tongue-tied teacher who struggled to get the right words out in the right order becomes the leader who provides a rousing Churchillian speech for the troops.

Danny Pink. The little boy Rupert, in whose mind the Doctor planted the idea of becoming Dan, Dan the soldier man in Listen. The soldier who killed a civilian boy and retreated into life as a maths teacher before being unwittingly converted into another even more lethal soldier, who cannot bring himself to hurt Clara even with his emotional inhibitor chip enabled and whose final act is to right a wrong by restoring the dead boy rather than himself to our world. A soldier created twice over – once by Clara and the Doctor’s influence, the second time by Missy – but ultimately a hero.

Of all new Who‘s season finales, this is the one whose ending makes the most sense and is the least glaringly deus ex machina. It does rely on Danny’s force of will to overcome his emotional inhibitor in another case of love conquering all – but the series has previously established that it is possible to resist conversion with Yvonne Hartman (Doomsday), Miss Hartigan (The Next Doctor) and Craig Owens (Closing Time).

After that, this ends up being a straightforward, linear problem with a straightforward, linear solution. No swallowing of the TARDIS’s time vortex (The Parting of the Ways). No channelling of the human race’s psychic energy to restore an artificially aged Doctor back to normal (Last of the Time Lords). No ‘Impossible Girl’ scattering herself throughout the Doctor’s timeline (The Name of the Doctor). Just an act of will and self-sacrifice entirely in keeping with Danny’s character. I do feel that Danny was never really fully fleshed out as a character during this season – he never grew out of the shadow of being (a) Clara’s boyfriend and (b) not the Doctor – but his exit was superbly done.

The Doctor is joined in battle by Kate Stewart and Osgood (Image: BBC)

 The Impossible Girl finds an ordinary ending

Clara Oswald is a cover story, a disguise. There is no Clara Oswald … You see, I’m not Clara Oswald. Clara Oswald has never existed. I’m the Doctor.

It’s fitting that – just for this one episode, her last (or is it?) – Jenna Coleman receives top billing in the opening credits. This season has been as much about her journey as the new Doctor’s. We have seen her learn about what it means to be the Doctor, from making big decisions (Kill the Moon) to the necessity of lying (Mummy on the Orient Express, Flatline) and even adopting his identity (Flatline).

Here she is as independently resourceful as she has been all season, lying convincingly and using her knowledge of the Doctor to keep herself alive. Then in the graveyard it is she who steps up when the Doctor hesitates, activating Danny’s emotional inhibitor.

We also see her darker side too. Just as Danny’s death drove her to attempt to blackmail the Doctor, so his final sacrifice pushes her to demand retribution on Missy. We’ll never know whether he would have pulled the trigger, though, as one of his oldest allies takes the moral dilemma out of his hands. The Cyber form of Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart (as originally played by the late Nicholas Courtney) finishes the job for him.

I suspect some fans will find the concept of the beloved Brigadier as a Cyberman sacrilegious. Personally I liked it. We never got to say goodbye to him on-screen before Courtney passed away in 2011. Now we have. He even finally got the Doctor to salute him too. At ease, soldier.

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

For one final time, let me repeat that Jenna Coleman is superb here, running the full gamut from joy to grief. But perhaps her finest moment is in the episode’s closing scene, as she and the Doctor realise it is time to say goodbye and lie to each other to soften the blow. As the Doctor reveals the deeper meaning behind him not being the hugging type, she pretends Danny is still alive and he tells her he found Gallifrey at the co-ordinates Missy provided. Do either of them realise the other is lying? It’s open to interpretation.

Behind Clara’s smile there’s steely resolve and a flicker of pain as she hugs and then turns her back on her best friend, having already lost her boyfriend. The final shot of Clara walking quietly away, having traded her extraordinary double life for an ordinary one without both Danny and the Doctor, is heartbreaking. The Impossible Girl becomes the Ordinary Girl.

What do you mean, you don’t like your birthday present? (Image: BBC)

The Doctor discovers who he really is

I am not a good man. I am not a bad man. I am not a hero. I am definitely not a president. And no, I’m not an officer.  You know what I am? I am an idiot with a box and a screwdriver, passing through, helping out, learning. I don’t need an army – I never have – because I’ve got them [the companions], always them. Because love is not an emotion – love is a promise and he will never hurt her.

It takes the Doctor’s old childhood friend turned nemesis to provide the answer to the question he has been wrestling with all season: am I a good man? He has been told he is a good Dalek (Into the Dalek), actively denied being a hero (Robot of Sherwood), been accused by Danny of being just another military officer (The Caretaker), been appointed President of Earth and questioned himself at every turn.

I had a friend once. We ran together when I was little and I thought we were the same. When we grew up, we weren’t. And now she’s trying to tear the world apart and I can’t run fast enough to hold it together.

In the end, Missy sparks a moment of self-revelation. In trying to prove that the Doctor is just like her, she offers him the birthday present of a Cyber army with which to conquer the universe, right every wrong and save every good soul. She does give the Doctor a gift, but it is not an army – it is an identity. The Twelfth Doctor now knows who and what he is, and recognises the debt of gratitude he owes to all his companions, past and present. He is the Doctor, and that name in itself is a promise.

There has been a lot of debate throughout this season about why the Doctor has become so curmudgeonly compared to his most recent predecessors. And yet, prior to his regeneration, the Eleventh Doctor spent 900 years on Trenzalore in The Time of the Doctor fighting a seemingly never-ending battle to protect the inhabitants of Christmas with no real friend other than Handles the Cyber head.

Is it any surprise his social skills eroded during that time or that he has at a number of points this season been at his most comfortable when talking to himself? It has essentially taken the Doctor the whole of this season to rediscover himself. But now he’s back. Now let’s see what kind of man you really are.

Unanswered questions

Although Moffat does a fine job of pulling together this season’s various threads and answering most of the key questions, there are still some unanswered questions which may or may not be dealt with next season. Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • Having been apparently disintegrated by the Brigadier, can Missy regenerate? And if she does, will she become a Mistress or a Master? Or is she actually dead at all?
  • If the Cybermen raised bodies from the dead, just as the Brigadier was converted into a Cyberman, does that mean that (among others) Amy and Rory were too?
  • What now for the Cybermen? The Brigadier was independent of Danny’s control, so are there any other survivors?
  • What about Orson Pink? Has his timeline disappeared as a result of Danny’s death – or is Clara pregnant? It’s neither mentioned nor even hinted at in the episode. But (and this is pure speculation on my part) Christmas itself revolves around a birth story, so might we just see the Christmas special revisiting Clara eight months hence?
  • What about Gus, who was pulling the strings on the Orient Express? A mystery for season nine, or maybe even the Christmas special (alongside Nick Frost as Santa Claus)?
  • We know Missy was lying about the location of Gallifrey, but was she telling the truth about its survival?

Death in Heaven is a match for any season finale Who has ever produced. It’s certainly Moffat’s best effort, and ranks right up there with season one’s The Parting of the Ways. I’d have liked the Cybermen to provide a more direct threat, but as a means of satisfactorily wrapping up all the season’s plotlines and reintroducing the Master, as a way of giving both Clara and Danny a good send-off and as a timely tribute to WWI, this was an hour of television that brought a tear to my eye. Superb.

Fun stuff, references & quotables

  • After Clara declares she is the Doctor, there are two playful changes to the opening titles: Jenna Coleman receives top billing before Peter Capaldi, and the outline of her eyes replace his.
  • “Bow-ties are cool.” When we first met Osgood in The Day of the Doctor, she was wearing a Fourth Doctor-style scarf. She’s moved on to copying Eleven’s wardrobe now.
  • “Divorcee, mother of two, keen gardener, outstanding bridge player.” Is that Kate Stewart’s Facebook profile too?
  • Kate throws down an old-style Cyberman head as a reminder of how UNIT has previously defeated them. She’s referring to the Second Doctor story The Invasion.
  • “87, OCD. 91, Queen of evil.”
  • After the Doctor mentions the Valiant (from The Sound of Drums/Last of the Time Lords), Colonel Ahmed (Goodness Gracious Me and The Kumars at No 42‘s Sanjeev Bhaskar) corrects Osgood on her Gerry Anderson trivia. ‘Cloudbase’ featured in Captain Scarlet, not Thunderbirds.
  • “You are the chief executive office of the human race. Any questions?”
  • In claiming to be the Doctor, Clara mentions that she has a non-Gallifreyan daughter who was created by a genetic transfer. She’s referring to Jenny from The Doctor’s Daughter, who was played by Georgia Moffett, the daughter of Fifth Doctor Peter Davison and wife of Tenth Doctor David Tennant. So in real life she is both the Doctor’s daughter and his wife!
  • She also states the Doctor has a doctorate from Glasgow University. Steven Moffat is a Glasgow graduate and was made an honorary Doctor of Letters in 2013.
  • Clara states her birth date as 23rd November 1986. November 23rd was the date on which the show first aired in 1963, and 1986 is the year in which Jenna Coleman was born.
  • “All of time and space. Just something for your bucket list.” Poor Osgood. The Doctor extends an invitation to join him as a companion, only for Missy to kill her minutes later.
  • Missy sings Toni Basil’s 1982 hit Mickey. Here is the original in all its glory.

  • “I’m his best friend … I would never give up the Doctor because he is my best friend too. He is the closest person to me in this whole world. He is the man I will always forgive, always trust, the one man I would never ever lie to.” Of course, one of the last things Clara does is to lie to the Doctor about Danny’s fate.
  • Missy floats down into the graveyard with her umbrella in the style of Mary Poppins.
  • “Go on, crack a smile. I want to see if your eyebrows drop off.”
  • “Armies are for people who think they’re right, and nobody thinks they’re righter than you.”
  • “I need you to know we’re not so different. I need my friend back.”
  • According to Missy, Gallifrey can be found at co-ordinates ten-zero-eleven-zero-zero-by-zero-two. Or not, as the case may be.

Rating: 10/10

Doctor Who season 8 reviews

8.1 Deep Breath

8.2 Into the Dalek

8.3 Robot of Sherwood

8.4 Listen

8.5 Time Heist

8.6 The Caretaker

8.7 Kill the Moon

8.8 Mummy on the Orient Express

8.9 Flatline

8.10 In the Forest of the Night

8.11 Dark Water

9 Comments on Doctor Who S8 Ep12: Death in Heaven

  1. Great review. The thing about this finale that once isn’t enough! I want to watch it all over again! So much to take in. I think I watched it more on first viewing as a fan and I’d like to see it in a more objective viewpoint. Hated Cyber-Brig!

  2. Thanks GK. I thought Cyber-Brig would be a contentious issue (and does this mean there are two Cyber-Ponds out there?) but I was okay with it in the end. I have to say, I picked up a lot of nuance on second viewing that I missed first time round. There is a *lot* of stuff buried (ho ho) in this episode. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am Clara will be back at Christmas.

    What’s surprised me – at least in terms of the forum community, which isn’t necessarily representative of all viewers, I know – is how negative the reaction to this episode is. It seems you can’t keep all of the people happy all of the time. Who’d have thunk it? (It will be interesting to see the Appreciation Index scores for this episode – I’m expecting it will be pushing 90.)

    I don’t have a problem with other people having a different opinion to me – you and I don’t always agree, but I respect your opinion because it is always considered and well argued – but I am starting to find the sheer volume of the anti-Moffat agenda is somewhat tiring, particularly when all the professional reviews I’ve read so far have been extremely positive. Strange world, eh?

    • John Elliott // November 15, 2014 at 5:14 pm // Reply

      Two Cyber-Ponds, Cyber-Jamie, Cyber-Vicki, Clara’s cyber-Mum, Rose’s cyber-Dad…

      Appreciation index was 83; per Wikipedia, all the episodes this series have had AI of 82-85.

      • Thanks John. Any AI score north of 80 is pretty impressive, so overall the wider audience seems to be prettu happier. Although from memory am I right in thinking the AI scores are marginally (but only marginally) lower than for previous seasons?

        • John Elliott // November 15, 2014 at 11:05 pm //

          Again from Wikipedia:
          Series 1: 79-89
          Series 2: 76-89 (the 76 is ‘Love & Monsters’: others 83-89).
          Series 3: 84-88.
          Series 4: 86-91.
          Series 5: 84-89.
          Series 6: 83-88.
          Series 7: 84-89.

          It does seem that AIs in general are a couple of percentage points lower this time round.

        • Thanks John. So, as I understand AI scores, they’re slightly (but not massively) lower but still impressively high. Certainly not indicative of the terminal decline that some would like to suggest.

  3. Hi, Tim, I’ve only watched this once so far, but I was intrigued. I’ve also listened to a couple of Doctor Who podcasts already and they are NEGATIVE. Sometimes I despair of Whovians! They want the impossible and then bitch when they get it! Your points on this are well made. Yes, there is controversy, but Moffat thrives on this and it gives us something to discuss.

    Anyway, I’m off to see it again. I agree with everything you raised in the review. One thing – Osgood represents the hardened Whovian, so by killing her off was Moffat sticking two fingers up to fandom? I hope so!

    • I don’t know about sticking two fingers up, but I do think Moffat has been pulling fans’ legs all along by teeing up a load of stuff and then pulling the rug from under our feet. The whole Missy equals Master or Rani debate, teasing Osgood as a future companion before killing her, Clara being another incarnation of the Doctor, Journey Blue being potentially linked to Danny Pink – this whole season has been an exercise in encouraging fan theories. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but it’s amazing how worked up some people get about it.

  4. HaHa, yes I agree. Having now seen the episode several times, I really like it. I think a lot of the negativity was gut reaction on first viewing. Personally, I thought Missy was going to be Romana, especially when she said about being left behind (though technically, Romana elected to stay in E-space). It was beautifully directed by Rachel Talalay (I hope that’s right) too, showing here horror movie roots ( Elm Street movies comes to mind).

    Of course, the story doesn’t look like its quite finished, with the Santa coda about unfinished business

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