Doctor Who Season 8, Episode 12: Death in Heaven
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay
What a mess.
What a bleak, depressing, pointless mess.
With a title like “Death in Heaven,” it was to be expected that the eighth season finale would be a tad grim, but it’s fair to say that this was the worst episode of Doctor Who since it debuted in 2005.
The season finale is a failure on so many levels. Where to start?
“Dark Water” left characters under dire circumstances, but that’s typical for a Doctor Who cliff hanger. Danny is pondering his deletion, Clara is facing down a Cyberman and the Doctor has discovered that Missy is the Master, now the Mistress, and created an army of Cybermen using the minds of the dead. And she’s been doing it for a long time now.
The fun of the show is how the Doctor and his friends are going to turn the tables back in their favor, but this time out they never really do. And UNIT is useless. So useless, in fact, you have to under why they were even written into the story. While it was great to see Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and her sidekick Osgoode, it was only to completely ruin both characters.
At first it looks like UNIT are on top of things, showing up to deal with the Mistress and the Cybermen. But from there they go from kidnapping the Doctor while incarcerating the Mistress, only to tell him he’s in charge – the president-elect of Earth! From there we get a lot of exposition about what the Cybermen are in the process of doing, while UNIT goes from looking proactive to downright stupid.
The Mistress easily escapes from the bowels of a jet that no one should have boarded in the first place. Her mistake is made possible because the men guarding her are clearly blind and deaf. And Osgoode, who proved herself to be very clever against the Zygons in the 50th anniversary special, is easily killed despite getting plenty of warning from her killer. A gratuitous, meaningless death of a potentially great character. And Kate’s only real role in this entire mess is to fall out of an airplane. We’ll get back to that.
Meanwhile, poor Danny is a Cyberman, and wants Clara to deactivate his emotions, which are the only reason he rescued her from other Cybermen. She wants to grant his wish, even though it will put her in danger. But she already is in danger because Danny brought her to a cemetery that will soon give birth to an army of Cybermen!
The problem with “Death in Heaven” is everything that happens is for effect; plot-wise nothing holds up under scrutiny. It’s emotionally manipulative without any real substance behind it. Stealing minds to create a new breed of Cybermen – not a bad idea. But why do they need to make use of their withering skeletons. That’s daft. And while Cybermen do predate the Borg by many years, it feels like Moffat is just ripping off the assimilation methods in Star Trek: First Contact.
Ultimately, the goal of the Mistress was to prove the Doctor was a lot like her and that’s why she was creating the army of Cybermen – for him! This at least tracks with what Russell T. Davies did with the character in that he made sure that the Master wasn’t just an evil jerk – this builds on theme of two childhood friends going down divergent paths.
But whose story is this? The Doctor’s or Clara’s? They spend of most the episode separated after finally really coming together at the beginning of “Dark Water.” Their storylines don’t mesh all that well here, and we still have the problem of Clara’s journey this season being all about a guy, a guy who seemed decent and all, but someone we never truly got to know, so his tragic yet heroic end seems rather empty. It’s easier to feel for Clara because we have history with her.
Where Clara ends up by the end of “Death in Heaven” is heartbreaking. Was that the point of season eight? To take Clara from be a hopeful, adventurous spirit only to run her heart through a meat grinder? While unfortunately this actually happens to people in real life, what has been Doctor Who’s greatest traits as series is that even in the dark episodes there is a glimmer of hope.
“Death in Heaven” leaves us with none.
The episode ends with the Doctor and Clara lying to each other when they’re clearly both miserable, the Mistress apparently dead (whatever) and Kate rescued by her own late father, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who instead of getting the peaceful rest a hallowed character deserves, ends up a Cyberman.
A joyless mess, to be sure, which we can only hope gets cleaned up by this year’s Christmas special.