It’s all over, the final episode of the eighth series of ‘Doctor Who’ ‘Death In Heaven’ has aired. If you haven’t seen it then please check out Geoff’s review here: http://sfcrowsnest.org.uk/doctor-who-death-in-heaven-by-steven-moffat-doctor-who-review/. SERIOUSLY don’t read on if you haven’t seen it! If however, you have watched ‘Death In Heaven’, then read on or face deletion…
‘Doctor Who’ has been to some pretty dark places down the years, but this last series has provided fans and more casual viewers with some of the most powerful and disturbing moments for the Doctor for many years, hell, ever. Cybermen rising from the graves under black skies was a disturbing image. If I have to pick a stand-out moment, it’s the abject disappointment turned into frustrated anger of Capaldi’s Doctor thumping the console because Gallifrey isn’t where the Master promised. We’ve rarely seen the Doctor lose it like that – ‘Caves Of Androzani’ perhaps, emotional distance removed replaced with rage. Sure, we’ve seen him angry before but there was always an element of control or playfulness behind it. There was even black humour in the episode – the Chaplet Funeral Home where presumably the bodies are as ‘dead as a Dodo’ – one for the long term fans there.
The grim nature of the finale was differentiated by what it did different to other finales of recent years. Firstly, no time travel antics with ‘Listen’ as Moffat achieved a contained story that used time-travel to drive the characters not as complex plot resolutions. No need for it here. Secondly, there were no celebrity cameos, from either real-life celebrities or characters we’d encountered from the run of the series, apart from the antagonists, of course. It was nice to have UNIT return, though, the Valiant replaced with a more sensible Air Force One style passenger jet. Poor Osgood, a joke that had essentially outlived its usefulness, didn’t make it and neither did the criminally under-used actor Sanjeev Bhaskar. I’m glad they decided to retain Kate Lethbridge-Stewart though.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the whole episode looked a lot like a mash-up between ‘Doomsday’ and ‘Last Of The Time Lords’ but this was in many ways much more subtle. Firstly, there is the reasoning (or lack of it) behind the Master’s plan. In ‘Last Of The Time Lords’, the Master subjugates the human race and keeps the Doctor as a pet to teach him a lesson, one that he gradually tires of. This time around she wants the Doctor to be at her level, commanding an army to do his or her bidding. The beauty of Capaldi’s Doctor is that just for a second he actually considers it. Michelle Gomez again excelled in her pouting, deranged ‘Mary Poppins’ performance complete with umbrella – the second ‘Poppins’ gag in the series if you count Clara bringing the mallet out of her bag in ‘Flatline’.
The second area of subtlety concerned Clara and the Doctor. Yes, Danny Pink had to die. Obviously, being trapped as a Cyberman restricts what the actor can or can’t do, but something about Anderson’s performance here felt a little more one-note than usual, leaving Coleman to do the heavy lifting in the scene and sell the end of this doomed love affair. More compelling, in my eyes at least, was the final scene of the Doctor and Clara in the cafe. This wasn’t a repeat of him and Rose on Bad Wolf Bay, this was two people who care deeply about each other, breaking up and lying to each other over the reasons for doing it. It was powerful and yet understated. There was one other moment I shed a tear at. See if you can guess which.
And that was series Eight. Regular readers (if there are any) will know that I’ve very much enjoyed this series of ‘Doctor Who’ and I absolutely have. Sure there were some moments that needed improvement – Capaldi needs to stop mumbling for one – but it was scary, funny and poignant in most of the right places. I can forgive ‘Into The Dalek’ feeling like it came from series 2 or the huge logic flaws in ‘In The Forest Of The Night’ but when you have episodes like ‘Deep Breath’, ‘Listen’, ‘Time Heist’, ‘Mummy On The Orient Express’, ‘Flatline’ and the finale all in one series it suddenly feels like a real return to form. Especially when you have a Doctor you can’t stop watching. The arc was understated and worked two-fold. Yes, the Missy/Master piece kept unfolding, but not in every episode and, secondly, the Doctor’s self-doubt over his own worth, articulated as a disdain for soldiers was followed through on and addressed. It simply felt that, unlike other series of ‘Doctor Who’ under Steven Moffat, a bit of extra time and effort had been committed. This is probably down to the partnership with Capaldi and it’s been clearly shown onscreen.
Last week ‘Doctor Who Adventures’ confirmed they were revising their publishing schedule after they revealed a drop in sales. Many have taken this as proof that the show is now losing the younger audience. That may well be true, especially when you abandon the Fezs, fart gags and fundamental friendliness of the Doctor. Many will also focus on the later time slot also as proof. Maybe none of that matters, maybe it’s OK for the show to grow up a little, it’s still family viewing, not adult.
Unlike the editor of this blog, I LOVE Christmas and so was delighted with the appearance of Santa Claus at the end of the episode, seemingly suggesting he could do something about Clara and the Doctor’s relationship. Though if you’ve seen the trailer, then there’s trouble at the North Pole.
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you at Christmas. Now, about that spin-off I have in mind it’s called ‘Cyber-Brig And Rusty Save The Galaxy’…
© John Rivers 2014
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Doctor Who: Death in Heaven – www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04ph4cn/doctor-who-series-8-12-death-in-heaven