Monday, 26 January 2015

Review: Doctor Who 8.12: Death In Heaven

Okay so yeah I might have actually liked this episode.
From Wikimedia
Moffat finales do not have a good track record with me, at least not on second-viewing - I usually give them glowing reports after broadcast and then cast a more critical eye after the fact. Well, it's two months later and I've seen the episode twice, and my opinion of Death In Heaven has remained the same. The good bits are good and the bad bits are... there. That is to say, while Moffat's writing still has a number of flaws with plotting and sexual politics, this episode managed to create enough genuine character drama and characterisation that I kept with it and just rolled my eyes at the silly bits as they came around. Which means I liked this episode, in an objective sorta way.
     The Master and The Doctor are captured by UNIT before the Time Lady gets the chance to gloat, but not before the 91 Cybermen from her 3W facility in London fly up into the air and explode, creating black clouds which rain down Cyber-pollen on graveyards. Clara pretends to be The Doctor in order to fool some Cybermen into not shivving her, but she is eventually kidnapped by a Cyber-converted Danny. The Doctor is awakened, and Kate Stewart (with great reference to her father The Brigadier) reveals that he is now President of Earth, and is aboard a private jet. The Master, not kept under more security than a pair of handcuffs, sets her flying Cybermen on the plane and kills Osgood, leaving The Doctor and Kate to fall to their deaths. Clara discovers that Danny, while revived and converted, can still feel the pain he's been put through, and he asks her to turn on his inhibitor.
     The Doctor manages to fall into his TARDIS, and follows Clara's call to her location. The Master's plan is revealed - kill all of humanity, bring them back as Cybermen and then give them to The Doctor as a gift to corrupt him into being like her. He rejects her offering after some deliberation, and allows Danny the power of control over all of the Cybermen. He commands all of them to fly into the sky and explode, destroying the cloud and the Cyber threat. The Master is seemingly killed by a rogue Cybermen identified by The Doctor as The Brigadier, who also is seen to have saved Kate from falling. Two weeks later, and The Doctor and Clara meet up with one another, each telling a lie - Clara, that Danny managed to send himself back into the land of the living (he sent the child he killed in Afghanistan instead), and The Doctor that he has found Gallifrey and gone back to be President. The two hug and separate, with The Doctor subsequently being interrupted by Father Christmas.
This is a fantastic shot and it actually does what I've always
wanted - display the human element within the Cybermen.
It would have helped had they not been made into magic
microbes though. From Wikia
     Okay, last week's elephant in the room - The Master is now a woman, and calling herself Missy because, according to Moffat, "I couldn't go on calling myself The Master, could I?" Yes, you could have - Master as used by that character refers to both being "The Master of all matter" and to the fact that he claims to have a Master's degree, both of which are gender-neutral titles. Changing their title to "Mistress" adds an unfortunate connotation of subservience, especially when you add in Moffat's standard "crazy-sexy woman" tropes, this time thankfully toned down to match Capaldi's less sexual Doctor. There was also a complete avoidance of any discussion of trans issues which would be raised by a Time-Lord changing gender, with the previously all-male Master instantly adopting feminine traits and mannerisms. You could argue that it's just The Master playing up her new appearance for the fun of it, but some look at that side could have been both interesting and relevant. Despite that though, I absolutely adored Michelle Gomez' performance and thought it was entirely in-character for the Master, a blend of both the Delgado and Simm portrayals, with a hint of Ainley's ham. I really hope her character isn't dead and that we see her again.
     I've said many times here that the Cybermen are my favourite of the show's big monsters - the original form being a cautious tale about a desperate people forced to integrate themselves with their technology to survive, and then not being able to return to the same ways. RTD reinvented them fairly well, with a satire on Capitalism and consumerism, but since the Moffat era any actual lore about them has been thrown out of the window and they've been used as an interchangeable villain whose only thing is that they have no emotions, except when they do, because love and stuff. In their last appearance, I made comment that the Cybermen's new design made them a more boring cross between Iron Man and The Borg. Here the comparison to the latter gets a full-blown execution, with The Borg's converting nano-probes taking the form of "Cyber-pollen" which can somehow revive the dead. That's so obviously Bad Science there's no point in discussing it on that front. One thing the episode did do well with the Cybermen was an angle the show tried before back in Closing Time - one person using emotions to resist conversion. The scene in that episode, in which a father's love for his child is enough to melt steel, felt cheesy - here the mood was more somber and triumphant, and as the plot was more primary character based it didn't disturb the rhythm that Danny's love for Clara is what allowed him to carry on.
     As to that, we had a strong continuation of the character scenes from the previous episode. I may not be particularly enamoured with the direction of these character traits, but the fact that they've been developed continually across the series in a consistent way as opposed to the depending-on-the-writer nature of the previous season is such a breath of fresh air. The Doctor's wrestling with good and evil felt hollow earlier in the season - here he's given actual moral dilemmas, albeit ones coated in weird, OTT plotting, and his decision to put aside his differences with Danny feels more realistic for it. Clara's imitation of The Doctor, and her ultimate decision to "execute" Danny herself, follows the logical conclusion of this season's development of Clara from one of Moffat's paper-thin female characters into a defined woman who, even if she has no provenance, certainly has dimension. The lying scene at the end of the episode felt well-won and really new, and I really enjoyed having that level of genuine emotional complexity in Moffat's work. I just wish that this wasn't the second time we said goodbye to Clara, and that this was the actual ending for her tenure as fulltime companion.
I didn't think that the show could make the connection
between these two work, but in this scene it ends up being
poignant regardless of how you like the characters.
From doctorwhotv
     Cybermen aside, the main weak spot in this episode was the appearance of UNIT. Their inital appearance and quick deduction of The Master's identity felt like a return to strength, but soon the rot started to set in. Osgood, a character from Day of The Doctor who was used to both stand for and parody the show's fans, was both intelligent enough to recognise The Master for who she was but not clever enough not to ignore everything she says. Not to mention the fact that The Master has escaped UNIT custody before, and that was in less secure circumstances than tied loosely to a board. It's times like this that I wish Torchwood would make a reappearance, they knew how to get things done. Oh wow, now I'm thinking about Michelle Gomez' Master in Torchwood. That would be wicked.
     Death In Heaven, while not a cohesively good episode, was still one that I enjoyed very much. At first I thought it was just the sheer joy of seeing a well-executed Master mix with some adequately-executed Cybermen. The episode takes so many aspects from various RTD episodes that it was almost a given that I was going to enjoy it. But when I came back to the series to review it, I realised that there was something organic here, something which was genuine. Moffat writing character drama and for once actually succeeding in doing so without derailing characters, inciting huge retcons or just being an offensive ass. It wasn't perfect, but by god it was progress, and it made me feel something. And to be honest? That makes it more like Doctor Who than the show's been in a long time.

Thank.

NEXT WEEK: I can't believe I'm watching it in January, but then again, I did only see it Last Christmas.

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