New Who Review – “Death in Heaven”
When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth. As Cybermen. See what he did there? The Master is back, and has been working on this plot for QUITE a long time. Some old friends return for the fight, we say goodbye (for now, anyway) to some others, and oh goodness, were there still surprises. I don’t know why you’d be reading this recap before you saw the episode, but if you are, don’t. Because it makes much more sense to know about the…
DEATH IN HEAVEN
By Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay
As things rather ended in the moment last week, this week’s adventure starts just the same. Clara, when discovered by the newly minted Cyberman, takes the lessons she’s learned throughout the year and put them to use – she lies through her teeth. She claims to be The Doctor, having created Clara Oswald as a cover identity. It keeps the Cybermen confused enough to keep her alive until a mysterious other Cyberman comes along, destroys the ones interrogating her, and takes her away. Back at St. Paul’s, UNIT has arrived just in time to keep The Doctor safe from The Master’s plans, but not the rest of England. Cybermen come streaming out of St Paul’s, heading for every major metropolitan area in the country, where they…explode. Their ability to turn new beings into new Cybermen has been taken to the nth degree – now every atom of their being can assimilate new organisms, and those organisms no longer have to be living.
Which rather brings us back to that mysterious Cyberman who grabbed Clara. Back from the nethersphere, Danny Pink has been upgraded and downloaded, but since he never deleted his memories, is still aware of who he is and what’s happened to him. Knowing he’s already dead, he asks Clara to turn on his new body’s emotional inhibitor so at least he won”t have to consciously experience what’s happening to him. To say that Clara is torn at this request is an understatement. She tries to contact The Doctor, who is a bit busy at the moment – The Master has escaped, and is wreaking havoc on the flying fortress that has been keeping The Doctor hidden, eventually resulting in the death of almost all aboard.
The Master reveals her plan – she hands the cyber-army over to The Doctor, in the hopes that with absolute power in his hand, he’ll see that he and his childhood friend are not too far apart, morally speaking. The Doctor’s choice is a culmination of all his experiences through the series, and results in a decision that many will likely ask why he didn’t make months ago.
Anyone who thought that Steven Moffat wasn’t an unholy beast who lives off the tears of Doctor Who fans finally saw the truth after this week’s season finale. Another balance of laughter and tears, and begorrah, there were a lot of both. The first five minutes were as witty and sharp as anything he’s ever written, carried into the stratosphere on the shoulders of the effortlessly magnificent Jemma Redgrave. The dark and mature themes of the season all tied together here – lying, death, harsh choices, and more than a few noble sacrifices. A spectacular finale, featuring the least amount of deus ex machina since the new series began. Top marks all round.
GUEST STAR REPORT – Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart) has most recently appeared in Frankie, a BBC series about a district nursing team, the title role played by Eve Myles from Torchwood. She also appeared in the recent Dracula TV series.
And because you’ve all been SUCH good people reading my recaps all season, here’s a treat – for the next week, you can unlock Kate Stewart automatically in Doctor Who: Legacy with the code below!
Sanjeev Bhaskar (Col. Ahmed) wrote and starred in The Kumars at No. 42, which also starred Doctor Who and Jekyll alumna Meera Syal.
BACKGROUND BITS AND BOBS –
CHAPLET FUNERAL HOME – Dorothea “Dodo” Chaplet was an early Companion during the Hartnell years, one of only a couple not to get a farewell scene. At the end of The War Machines, she simply sends a note with new Companion Polly Wright that she’d decided to stay in modern day London. Her experiences in the other media’s adventures have been…somewhat controversial.
KNOWN AS DANNY PINK – Danny’s transformation and eventual fate is of course tragic, but presented a couple of questions. One must assume the handwritten note on his body’s paperwork was simply a shorthand to make sure it was clear and legible for the audience. But to call back to an observation from last episode, we may be looking a few days back in time. In Dark Water, several days pass after Danny’s accident, enough for a memorial to have been created and already starting to get dirty. Odds are his body would not still be lying on a slab mid-autopsy.
THEY’RE COMING TO GET YOU, CLARBARA – The BBC got about 100 complaints about last week’s episode, saying it was too scary, a complaint the Beeb politely swatted away like it was a theory that cottage cheese was instrumental in the Kennedy assassination. But considering the tone of the graveyard scene, they might get almost twice as many complaints this week.
“I’m the Doctor” – This is the logical progression of all Clara has learned – she learned how to lure people into danger in Mummy on the Orient Express, she learned how to lead scared pudding-brains around in Flatline, and here she’s taking the role to heart(s), non-stop talking, hoping she can back her way up to a well-placed lift. And in case you missed it, they reversed the billing of Coleman and Capaldi in the opening credits, and the face that floats to the viewer from the vortex are not Capaldi’s attack eyebrows, but Coleman’s .
“Cybermen in broad daylight? You think people won’t noti…” – As far back as The Eleventh Hour, The Doctor has been railing about Earthling’s new love of electronics. He bemoans the fact that people will observe the end of the world through the screen of a mobile phone, and his disdain for Twitter is well documented. So it’s no shock that when enemies that have been seen on Earth only a few years before, people see it as an opportunity to score a few new followers. While the crowd in London were mostly UNIT soldiers, that certainly wasn’t the case across the rest of the world.
“Nice bow tie” – When we met Osgood the first time in The Day of the Doctor, she was wearing Four’s scarf (and notwithstanding the stitching pattern being wrong, I maintain it might well HAVE been four’s scarf), and after her adventure with the Zygons, has grown more assured in her actions, and more “cool” in her accessorizing.
“So, you left this behind on one of your previous attempts” – That’s only the second appearance of an old school Telosian Cyberman head in the new series – the other was in Van Staaten’s hoard in Dalek. This head was clearly a remnant from The Invasion.
“He’s on the payroll” – The Doctor has been working for UNIT since the Pertwee years when he was exiled on Earth, and has remained in close contact all through the old series and the new. They first re-appeared in Aliens of London, or at least their website did, with their drum-tight password security.
“Where are we going, Cloudbase?” – When UNIT’s flying base the Valiant was introduced in The Sontaran Stratagem, some people were reminded of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, but fans of the work of Gerry Anderson immediately saw a hit tip to the floating headquarters of Spectrum in Captain Scarlet vs the Mysterons. To see them hang a lampshade on the similarity was a delight, not to mention the way Col. ManScout couldn’t stop himself correcting Osgood when she mistakenly said it was from Thunderbirds.
“I see you’re bringing daddy along too, that’s very sweet” – Kate Stewart is the daughter of Brigadier Alatair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, former head of UNIT. When Nicholas Courtney passed away in 2011, reference to the passing of The Brig was added to The Wedding of River Song – The Doctor pompously plans to visit his friend in the nursing home for a distracting adventure, only to learn that he had passed away, peacefully, in his sleep. This adventure gives the show a chance to pay a more active and fitting tribute to the character, and rightly deserved.
“I’ve been married four times, all deceased…” – That would be River Song, Elizabeth I, Marilyn Monroe (though he swears that never counted) and presumably, his first wife with whom he had children, one of whom bore his granddaughter Susan. Another woman, Scarlette, appeared in one of the novels, but using the rule of thumb that if it didn’t happen on screen, it didn’t happen, she can likely be discounted. Also note that while Clara says “her” children and grandchildren are all “missing, presumed dead” (including the aforementioned Susan) she does explicitly mention Jenny, AKA The Doctor’s Daughter, giving at least a glimmer of hope that she’s not been entirely forgotten.
“You saved me” – The exact details of The Master’s survival and escape are left unexplained, and largely, can remain so. She was on Gallfrey after The End of Time, went into the dimensional exile with the planet, and got out some time after – the rest is largely commentary. Well, save for one question, which shall be discussed below.
“Remember all those years when all you wanted to do was rule the world?” – Moffat has been doing a lot of mirror/bookending of events and moments this season. This is another example of that – Here’s The Doctor intending to twist the knife by pointing out that he’s got exactly what The master worked so hard for, not knowing that her plan consists of giving the President the military might to really take control.
“All of time and space” – Osgood’s fate was easily the most shattering to yr. obt. svt. – that line was clearly a sign that The Doctor considered her Companion material.
“Cyberpollen” – The Cybermite was introduced in Neil Gaiman’s Nightmare in Silver – micro-creations capable of invading and converting humans into cyber-controlled being almost instantly. That concept has been taken to the nano-tech level, with every particle of these 3W Cybermen being able to convert dead tissue. One must assume that a) these special models can ONLY convert the dead – otherwise it’d make far more sense to just make it rain all over and convert everyone in one fell swoop- and b) the newly converted models did not have the same atomic-level conversion ability, or any particle that might have survived their atmospheric immolation might start the whole mess up again.
“Humans are born dying – eight” – Amy Pond was made to count down her own demise via the Weeping Angels in Flesh and Stone.
“I’m not his associate – I’m his best friend…the one man I would never, ever lie to” – Except for all the times she has so far, and will again. Clearly she’s just putting up a brave front against what she assumes is another enemy, but not perhaps as much a lie as what she said before. She’s being more honest with Danny here than ever before, and he realizes fully it’s because she doesn’t know it’s him.
“The control freak and the man who should never be controlled” – This is a reversal of the theme that’s been threaded through the series. The Doctor changes his companions, but here we realize The Doctor has been changed by his time with Clara, so much so that he can’t refuse her anything, even “going to Hell”. If The Master is responsible for bringing them together, this means that she’s de facto responsible for saving The Doctor from the Great Intelligence, as if they’d not met, she could never have saved him by fighting all the way through his time stream. I wonder if she’s aware of that?
“I know what it does!” – The Doctor turned off the emotional inhibitors on Pete’s World in The Age of Steel, and is quite aware of how they work, and the pain that Danny must be feeling. But of course, he’s feeling a lot more than physical pain.
“I had a friend once…we ran together when I was little” – This is the closest to canon description of these enemies’ origin as we’ll ever get. Originally they were planned to be brothers – now it seems they were merely close enough to feel like brothers, which is just as good.
“I don’t need an army, I never have – I’ve got them!” – Another reversal of the idea that The Doctor turns his friends into weapons, except now it’s seen as a positive.
“Ten-zero-eleven-zero-zero by zero-two” – Gallifrey’s coordinates from galactic central core were first mentioned on the Tom Baker story Pyramids of Mars.
“You win” – The Master wanted to show that she and the Doctor were “not too different” – and by driving him to the point that he’ll kill, she will have succeeded. A certain old friend steps in to do it for him, a soldier who’s used to killing enemies, but there’s still the fact that The Doctor was ready and willing to pull the trigger.
“Never trust a hug – it’s just a way to hide your face” – the last big bookend of the season – we finally get a reason for the not being a hugging person.
BIG BAD WOLF REPORT – The series did a good job of ending neatly – there’s no major outstanding plot threads…wwwwell, I say “none”…
WHERE IS MISSY’S TARDIS? – It was clear that The Master had a TARDIS, as she was hopping about much of Human history picking up military minds to make into Cybermen. And clearly it had to be somewhere on Earth. So with her gone (yeah, right) that leaves an amazingly powerful device hidden somewhere If it wasn’t for the fact that there were 3W centers in every country, I’d almost posit that she took a page from Professor Chronotis’ book in Shada, and the cavernous mausoleum in St. Paul’s was her TARDIS. But odds are if it’s found, so too will the means for her amazing escape from cyber-ka-zapping.
WHO SAYS THE MASTER WAS LYING? – The Master made three statements about Gallifrey – 1) It is not lost 2) It’s back in its original galactic position and 3) it is in another dimension. That third one was all but forgotten by the end of the story, and it is almost certainly the most important one. There’s every possibility everything said was true – Gallifrey was right in front of The Doctor’s face, but spun sideways into another dimension. He may forget about looking, or it could be brought up again in the future. I suspect it’ll get left off the table for a bit.
AM I A GOOD MAN? – The entire series looked like it was about lying, but ultimately, and with nobody noticing, it was really about The Doctor remembering who he is again. It’s the kind of thing that usually gets finished off in the first adventure of a new Doctor – a few minutes of mad rambling, the gag with trying on the new outfits, a moment or two of truly out of character actions, but by the end of the story, the new personality is in place and we’re off to the races again. But this whole series was The Doctor’s journey of self-discovery. From the first episode where he asked the big question, we saw him struggle with the choices he was making, and more jarringly, see the choices that Clara was making. Slowly but surely, Clara was learning how to be The Doctor – the lies to make people feel safe, and pretending to know what is going to happen, all hoping that last hole card would give him a hand worth a damn. Eventually, she took on the role of The Doctor effortlessly here – lying like mad, talking fast and just playing for time. It’s what he’s been doing all year, and only when presented with the keys to the kingdom is he able to realize that he’s not a white knight, but he’s not the bad guy. The Doctor Is Not The Daleks, as he realized shortly after he started traveling with Ian an barbara, but he now knows he not The Master either.
YEAH, I’M “OKAY” TOO – The ending of the episode was also about sacrifice – both The Doctor and Clara are lying to each other to give the other one the permission to go off and have a good life, neither realizing that the other one’s life is not at all good. It’s sort of a sci-fi version of The Gift of the Magi, if you will. Now the tease for the Christmas episode (not to mention the title card made by BBC America) certainly suggest that we’ll see Clara at least one more time. Indeed, the BBC has verified that Jenna Coleman will indeed appear in the Christmas episode, which while it somewhat reduces the drama of that wonderful farewell scene, it was rather set up to require a final moment of truth, literally.
But the problem I have with that is that Steven Moffat has already shown us that he doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone. As I’ve mentioned before, he gave Amy and Rory a perfect farewell, returning then safe and alive (and young) in England. But he couldn’t resist going back to the well and giving them a bigger, sadder ending. I fear he may be setting us up for the same with Clara. I get wanting to have them both find out that neither is actually happy to stop gallivanting with each other, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still decide that it’d be best to stop anyway. We’ve seen dozens of Companions leave the TARDIS alive. I wouldn’t mind it happening here.
NEXT TIME ON DOCTOR WHO – Nick Frost as Santa Claus. Now all we need is for Edgar Wright to direct an episode and we’ll be set. No details of the plot, save for the snippets we saw in the teaser. But there’s one piece of news that has me…worried. The BBC announced that set tours of the TARDIS would be cancelled from the 3rd to 23rd of November. Now those tours, part of the popular Doctor Who Experience, are scheduled FAR ahead of time, very possibly with vacations planned around them. The BBC would likely need a VERY good reason to cancel them…like they need the set. For reshoots. Very last-minute, secret reshoots. Does anyone recall that before the rumors of Jenna leaving the show, there were rumors that Peter Capaldi, being such a busy actor, might only have signed on for one season? Considering how many rules they were keen to break this season, breaking the rule where everyone knows ahead of time that The Doctor would regenerate would seem to be a good one.
I’m sure we’ll hear more about the special in the coming weeks, and any really big secrets would have to be almost impossible to keep under wraps…but we shall see.