“Death in Heaven”
You may remember that I closed last week’s post by saying that “Moffat is sometimes guilty of trying to have his cake and it eat too, and a fear he may do that here”. This is one of those cases where I hate being right, but I’m sure as hell not surprised to be. The non-committal ending was a classic Moffat cop-out, but then “Death in Heaven” was pretty much a survey course in what makes Steven Moffat both a brilliant writer of Doctor Who and an incredibly irritating one.
On the whole, I thought this episode was kind of a mess. Well – a huge mess. But there were definitely moments, a lot of them provided by Michelle Gomez’ balls-out hyper-performance as Missy (I refuse to believe she’s dead – the Master/Mistress always has an escape plan). The Mary Poppins bit was a hilarious touch (apparently there’s an entire mythology built around the idea that the original was actually a Time Lord), but Gomez was generally pretty on-point here – over-the-top in a good way. You can add Missy to the long list of people I’d rather see traveling the Universe with the Doctor than Clara.
I’m not going to talk much about the whole Cyberman plot, because all of it – the uploading dead brains, the clouds, the rain – was frankly pretty dumb. The best elements of this scenario were all in Part I of the finale last week – the creepy notion of 3W and all it implied – and the invasion stuff this week was ludicrous and silly. I do rather like the notion that the Mistress would go to all that trouble just to give the Doctor an army to force him to admit what a hypocrite he is – and because she’s lonely of course – and that she hand-picked Clara to be with him because she’s a control freak who could P-whip him and make him miserable.
Speaking of Clara, it’s impossible not to wonder if the first part of her storyline this week – where she pretended to be the Doctor – was a swipe by Moffat at the legions of fans who decry the fact (quite rightly in my view) that she’s taken over the series way too much. No doubt many “Clara Who” viewers believed Moffat might just go there, but it was just a red herring. In point of fact Clara (for a change) was a minor factor for much of the episode, which was mostly spent with the Doctor (6 sugars in his coffee!) on-board a UNIT plane with Sarah Lethbridge-Stewart and her gang, acting as President of Earth while Cyber-clouds gathered over cemeteries and Missy did her best Hannibal Lector impersonation. This went on way too long, though again Missy was the saving grace – even if I was a bit bummed she killed Osgood (now a Smith/Tennant otaku – poor Tom Baker). The body count was definitely high this time around, thanks to the Mistress.
The rest of the episode is pretty much Danny Pink’s story, though there are highlights – Missy’s declaration that UNIT One should be crashed into Belgium because “they’re not even French!” Missy’s Marilyn Monroe impression (are you seeing a trend here?). As for the Brigadier cameo, I appreciate the thought but it was a classic Moffat overreach. Danny gets a good sendoff – saving the world, and then saving the boy he’d killed in Afghanistan (add another one to the list of those I’d rather see traveling with the Doctor than Clara) rather than going home himself. Was he in the “real” Afterlife this time, or just the sputtering remnants of the Nethersphere? Does it matter?
In any event, it appears Danny really is dead – though with Moffat at the helm, Doctor Who has become the Aldnoah.Zero of TV sci-fi. I thought the way he chose to end the Doctor and Clara’s relationship was very elegant and bittersweet, a sort of “Gift of the Magi” (appropriately seasonal that, actually) ending with each of them telling a lie to protect the other’s feelings. But to thine own Moff be true – as ever he can’t leave well enough alone, and as much as I appreciate the cleverness of casting Nick Frost as Santa Claus (I mean come on, give it up – that’s delicious) it still pisses me off to see that beautiful ending wasted and the tedious Doctor-Clara melodrama dragged on. Hopefully the Christmas special really is it, and even Moffat can see that it’s time to move on – poetically and prosaically, this relationship has run its course.
Just couple more thoughts – it is, of course, only my assumption that the Doctor was lying to Clara about having found Gallifrey. But given his reaction when he arrived at the coordinates Missy had told him (any fan of long-enough standing to remember the classic “Pyramids of Mars” will have recognized them) and the nature of his parting with Clara, it makes sense that he certainly didn’t find what he told her he found, if he found anything at all. And I loved what the Doctor told Clara as they hugged (not that he hugged her exactly like Cyber-Danny did) – “Never trust a hug – just a way to hide your face.” It says so much about not just the Doctor, but this Doctor – the one who’s captured the endless pathos of the character perhaps better than any, as Peter Capaldi’s sheer brilliance has shone through despite his being marginalized by the scripts. Here’s hoping he sticks around for a long time.