Death in Heaven

Posted in Episode by - February 21, 2016
Death in Heaven

Aired 8 November 2014

If there was any fear going into ‘Death in Heaven’ that the scope, ambition, tension, and potential consequences built up in ‘Dark Water’ would be more tempered, those qualms were quickly put to rest. With a sheer disregard for life, Missy brutally racks up the kill count right from the start, adding an audacious emotional weight that Doctor Who rarely explores since so often its characters are so strongly protected. The most distressing death came at the hands of Missy as she callously murdered Osgood, returning from her fan-favourite stint in ‘The Day of the Doctor’ while decked in an outfit boasting callbacks to both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors. It’s a testament to Ingrid Oliver that her character garners so much loyalty and emotion in such a short time frame.

Missy’s deplorable actions were hardly limited to Osgood, though. Kate Stewart gets thrown out of a plane, Seb is gunned down, Colonel Ahmed is sucked out the plane, and even the Doctor is left plummeting to his doom. Doctor Who is no stranger to providing some interesting, and sometimes eccentric solutions to its predicaments and impending death scenes, and that certainly is the case here. And yet somehow, as ridiculous as it sounds on paper that Kate would be saved by a Cyber-converted Brigadier or that the Doctor would break his fall with his key that homes in on the TARDIS, they manage to effectively work. Undoubtedly there will be some uproar regarding this ‘appearance’ of the Brigadier, but he is such an iconic character of the show that it’s only fitting that the Doctor (and fans) would have one final chance to say goodbye in person.

Regardless of the fan perception of the Master now being a woman, there is no doubt that Michelle Gomez completely took over the role and made it her own. She’s managed to give the character a menacing sharpness that the Master rarely displays so overtly, and she certainly is one to rush to action, regardless of consequences or potential loss of life, rather to sit and espouse lengthy bouts of exposition. Her motivation for all of her actions is loneliness, something the Doctor can certainly relate to and adding a much deeper layering to her character. While it certainly seems as though she meets her end by episode’s end, the Master has always been quite adept at returning from seemingly inescapable situations before, and hopefully she returns to menace the Doctor in future episodes.

Given their stupendous reveal in ‘Death in Heaven,’ the Cybermen obviously play a big role in the conclusion as well. They probably had the weakest cliffhanger to follow up- uploading just doesn’t have a tangible or overly visual direct threat to it- and some of the CGI with multiple Cybermen was a little too noticeable given the high quality of CGI throughout the series, but the Cybermen as a force, especially when in isolated small groups, remain incredibly threatening and intimidating. There’s a much more militaristic air about them, and it’s clear that they’re capable to dealing massive amounts of destruction.

And that leads events to the Cyber-converted Danny Pink. It turns out that is no miraculous reversal in store for Danny following the accident in ‘Dark Water.’ This is easily Samuel Anderson’s best performance (a line that has been true many times as the series has progressed), and his exchange with the Doctor and Clara was mesmerising. Considering the anguish and turmoil he is so clearly feeling, he is without a doubt the emotional heart of this story, and the remarkable makeup work adds a physical depiction to that internal disorder.

There’s not enough praise that can be heaped upon the leads Jenna Coleman and Peter Capaldi either. Coleman, right from the start, has been carrying a miraculous load throughout this series, quickly becoming very confident and in many cases making decisions that would have previously been the Doctor’s alone to make. She’s been put through an incredible amount of emotional distress this series, and that continued through ‘Death in Heaven,’ and she superbly conveys every sentiment excruciatingly well, sometimes overtly and sometimes with just the tiniest movement. There are still lingering questions regarding any future offspring, but Clara’s path has been a fascinating one to experience. Likewise, Peter Capaldi has commanded full attention in every scene he has been in inn his opening series. He has been questioning what type of man he is all along, and he finally seems to get some sort of inner concord on that topic here following a particularly sentimental and heartbreaking conversation with Danny.

Danny departs the world of Doctor Who with one final heroic act of sacrifice. ‘Dark Water’ ended with a slow shot of the reflection of the young child Danny had presumably killed as a soldier and, thanks to a one-time-use device that allows one person to return to land of the living, Danny takes his chance to redeem himself rather than to save himself. This is perhaps the most heartbreaking of endings for any character in recent Doctor Who history, and it’s a truly powerful and remarkably shot scene. For a soldier, the type of person the Doctor has been so adamantly against all along, Danny proves that he is much more than just a stereotype, and the repercussions for Clara and the Doctor going forward will be immensely interesting. As it is now, Clara and the Doctor are separated, she lying to the Doctor about Danny’s fate and the Doctor lying to Clara about finding Gallifrey. Should this prove the end for them, it’s a natural and fitting end to an immensely wild and emotional companionship.

In the end, ‘Death in Heaven’ is possibly the strongest series finale since the programme’s return in 2005. It satisfactorily resolved all of its cliffhangers, portrayed both Missy and the Cybermen as brutal and effective enemies, given Danny Pink a truly emotional sendoff, and again changed the trajectory of Clara’s and the Doctor’s relationship even as the Doctor finally discovers what kind of man he is.

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