Doctor Who #959: Death in Heaven

"Your cooperation is to be ensured and your unreliability assumed. You have a history." "You don't have a future without me."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Nov.8 2014.

IN THIS ONE... Cybermen from beyond THE GRAVE!!!

REVIEW: Remember how Dark Water (a title that could cover this episode's Cyber-rain as well) kept telling us to "be skeptical"? Death in Heaven is certainly book-ended by moments we should look at with that frame of mind. Up front, and this is the culmination of the Clara-as-Doctor thread woven into Series 8, Clara pretends to be the Doctor once again and while the idea of going to credits that name Jenna Coleman first and have HER eyes is certainly fun, it's almost too cute. If you haven't been paying attention for the past 12 episodes, it comes out of nowhere. If you have, the moment feels like it was made just so it could fit in a shocking teaser trailer (and it was) because there's too much evidence to the contrary. Anyone believe it for a second though? All this sequence really does show is that 1) Clara has access to Impossible Girl memories, and 2) that she can be a phenomenal liar. The scene where Cyber-Danny recognizes her as such isn't without some pathos, and it's something that will return later in the episode. Putting on a brave front, she hurts Danny even more by telling him (not knowing he was standing before her) that the Doctor is the only man she would never lie to, when he suspects it to be true, and we know it not to be. At the very end, Clara and the Doctor will lie to each other, telling each other what they think they want to hear, and hide their true faces under cover of a hug. The reason they do so is to spare the other pain (and don't tell me Clara wasn't going to spring a pregnancy on him just then, see yesterday's Theory). And that's a major theme of the episode.

The heroes in this episode are intent on taking psychologically damaging experiences away from one another. Danny asks for this, forcing Clara to play the Doctor's role one last time, screwdriver in hand. And she's willing to do it, taking on the guilt he'll be released from as she'll have "killed" the man she loves. And it's a double sacrifice, because she also keeps the Doctor from bloodying his hands with this action. Danny takes him to task for it, playing the "officer" card and even in undeath, trying to bitterly wedge Clara and the Doctor apart, but he doesn't understand the situation. This is Clara's choice. Later, the Doctor will reciprocate and offer to kill Missy so Clara doesn't become a killer. And then a mysterious Cyberman zaps Missy (but that's our second skeptical moment, or do you honestly think Missy's dead? it would be easy to build safeguards into her Cybermen so their weapons could only teleport her), taking that "damage" so the Doctor doesn't have to. The Cyberman turns out to be the Brigadier, and the Doctor offers him the first sincere salute of his life in tribute and as thanks.

I must admit I have misgivings about such a tribute. The Brig is more than a dead character; he was played by a deceased actor. His presence in the Cyber-army reminds us that it's likely all of the Doctor's friends were probably time-knapped at the moment of death and are part of that army. Many must have pressed DELETE, because only Danny and the Brig (in London anyway) are acting of their own free will. And some of these companions were also played by now-deceased beloved actors. So it all made me squirm in my seat a little bit, even on second viewing, and it's somehow even more irritating that the Cyber-Brig isn't seen to explode like the others. Better not bring him back. Yeah, it's real icky. It's joined by the notion that Missy's collection might have given rise to the very idea of an afterlife, which is just a step too far. Ugh. The statement doesn't even make sense.

Let's talk Missy for a second, because Michelle Gomez really steals the show this time around, and I can understand why a lot of people have already embraced her as their favorite version of the Master. She's completely looney-tunes, of course, which seems to be the paradigm for modern-day super-criminals (especially this group of writers; see Moffat's Moriarty as well as RTD's Master). Missy is deliciously evil, funny and mercurial, brings some interesting pop culture references (like Mary Poppins and Marilyn Munroe), but most of all, is having FUN. This is actually an important notion. The thing that separates the Doctor from the Master, and the uninhibited Danny from a Cyberman, is their ability to feel pain. The Master has so much fun because nothing can damage her psychologically, so she can kill without remorse - the Doctor signed Osgood's death warrant when he contemplated taking her on as a companion, but perhaps she Missy was reacting to the cosplay; Kate thankfully survives. Missy is nevertheless motivated by an ancient pain, a pain she may no longer recognize has such. The two of them being old friends dates back to the Delgado days, got lost during Ainsley's time, and was touched on with Simm. But the loss of a close friendship, and from the Master's point of view, for no discernible reason (remember: it's the Doctor who's atypical of his race), is a deep wound. Missy just wants the Doctor to be like her so they be friends again. And that means corrupting the Doctor (I'm having a flashback to Survival), giving him an army and daring him to use it (or in fact, blackmailing him into doing so). And he seemed on his way this season. Full of doubt and dark thoughts, put in positions of power like never before (President of Earth?!), and now given the means to be the "officer" Danny thinks he is. Pushed to the limits of his identity, he finally finds the answer to the question "Who is the Doctor?", a question that's been thematically asked again and again through the season. It's not my favorite speech of all time, but it has its merits - he's the Fool of the Tarot, an idiot on a journey, learning and continually becoming. He doesn't want unlimited power because he doesn't trust himself with it. It's not that he could fall prey to corruption, but rather that he accepts the idea that he doesn't know everything and that it's not his role to make important decisions for others. It's why he gives the army to Danny, and possibly why he let Clara make the call in Kill the Moon. How this realization will affect the Doctor's portrayal in episodes to come is something I'll be keeping a close eye on.

I don't have a problem with how insane Missy's plan is, because the Master's always been one for crazy convoluted ploys with so many moving parts, there's no way they should work. The Cybermen too, incidentally, so they're well matched. So that this plot hinges on Missy getting Clara and the Doctor together and keeping them together is suspect - it seems a long shot to hope the Doctor's bond to this particular companion would eventually make him follow her into "hell"; there must be easier ways to drag him to St.Paul's - but we're talking about an immortal time traveler who can hack minds (The Bells of Saint John also used this plot device; just how long has Missy been moving pieces behind the scenes?), so who knows how much she knew? Did she in fact engineer the whole Impossible Girl thing? Was it all part of a Time Lord plot to get themselves free by creating a non-Time Lord who could flit her way into the Doctor's timeline, Gallifrey sections included, and nudge the crack open? Did the Master get left on our plane after The End of Time and so the only agent they could use to get the ball rolling? Missy would have hijacked that plan as soon as possible and used that bond to her advantage. She could even be responsible for the Clara-Pink relationship, just pushing sliders on mind hacks at an appropriate time. Who knows? The point is, I don't find it difficult to fill in the holes, and any inconsistencies can be chalked up to erratic behavior.

What I do have a problem with is some of the last act and epilogue. The "love conquers all" ending - and absent love, Danny still keeps his promise and so on - borders on the cheesy, and left me cold first time 'round. Clara's difficult moment was more gripping the second time. I've really come to care for the character, if not her beau. Then comes the Cyber-Brig moment, which I've already discussed, also cheesy in its way. Where it loses me is the scene that starts with a call-back to Doomsday, and Danny waking Clara up with a whisper from some other dimension. In exposition, we're told Missy's Cyber-control bracelet has the power to bring a single person back from the dead, essentially making a digital avatar of a mind flesh again. It comes out of nowhere, though I suppose we're meant to believe Missy physically entered the Nethersphere in all those scenes. It wasn't just a mental connection. The classic series has moments that bear this out (in Arc of Infinity and Trial of a Time Lord, which really should never be referenced), but I don't expect most viewers to be Whovian scholars. Even in the context of the season, the child Danny saves, the very child he killed, I didn't even recognize on first viewing because I hadn't given a lot of thought to the character a week before in Dark Water what with everything else that was happening. Now I see it as Danny's redemption, but then it might as well have been the ending of In the Forest of the Night, with Maebe's unknown sister. Still, it feels tacked on, especially the magical process by which it happens, and we're left wondering if Danny and the other Cybermen all escaped by uploading their minds back to the Nethersphere. And if so, how did the bracelet follow? Is Danny "physically" in the Nethersphere as a Cyberman? Thankfully, there's that restaurant scene where the Doctor and Clara give their farewells. We end the season on the right note.

Oh right, not quite. In another fanciful credits meta-moment, the scroll is interrupted by Nick Frost as Santa Claus telling the Doctor it can't end like this, like he's been watching the show. Is he another mind hacker? An amusing teaser for the Christmas special, in the style of RTD's season enders. See you then.

THEORIES: Is the Cyber-race created by Missy the same one that assails the Doctor and his friends in Nightmare in Silver? Obviously, they're the same new look Cybermen, but where did that look come from? They have the same hive mind, not shared by other Cyber-races. There's one superspeed moment for Cyber-Danny, as Clara looks around, again a unique ability from Nightmare. We just met them in the wrong order. So how do they survive? With Time Lord technology in the mix and the ability to grow new ones with nanotech, I'd say it's a fair bet we'll see them again, and that we saw them before.

REWATCHABILITY: Almost Medium-High
- Resolves a lot of themes we've been following this season, provides several worthy moments, has great dialog and an always entertaining version of the Master. It's unfortunate that it drops the ball in the fourth quarter with wrong-headed notions, cheesy melodrama, and at least one objectionable magical fix.


Martin Léger said...

While the whole Cyber-Brig was weird in concept. I still find the idea that he basically stayed in the nethershpere for years enduring the pain, refusing to wipe his emotions, knowing something was up. That was kinda badass.

JeffJedi said...

Something I felt was missing was an explanation of how the Master lived and came back. I feel like S/He was trapped in the nethersphere until the Doctor entered.

If the bracelet can recreate matter that explains how he'd get a new body. That worked for the Kid.

Are the machines even turned off yet or are they collecting the dead?

Madeley said...

I enjoyed this one. It was the big bang series-ender that we've come to expect from New Who, and for that I'm more forgiving of its faults. It feels very much like a love letter to RTD and his Big Ridiculous Events, damn the consequences just throw everything at the wall and go mental.

I actually liked the return of the Brig, and I agree 100% with Marty- the idea he was sat there stoically in the Nethersphere completely resistant to Seb's wheedling and cajoling and not buying any of it is great. As is the idea that it's the Brig being the one to kill the Master considering the history between the two (even though there's no way she's actually dead). Good luck convincing the Brig to feel guilty about who he had to sacrifice to save the planet over the years.

LiamKav said...

I'm looking forward to the Doctor Who Monthly review of the episode ratings. If the internet is to be believed, the rating should fall off a cliff due to the number of people refusing to watch the show any more after the "gender-bending" of the Master and the anticipation that they will do that to the Doctor and so Ruin Things Forever! (My favourite comment? "If the Doctor becomes a woman will he be called the Nurse?" I'm amazed that they had the internet back in 1896.)

Freddy said...

I sat and watched this (as I did for most of the season) with my nine year old son. The cyber-brig thing I saw coming moments before it was introduced, and I exclaimed "Oh no", as I felt it was almost desecration of Nicolas Courtneys memory.
But once they went for it, and the Doctor saluted, I started to cry. A forty three year old man, hugging his nine year old son as he cried at a kids tv show, something no other program ever has managed. I thought it was incredibly moving and totally respectful of the characters.

My son was also hugely impressed, he's a massive fan of Doctor Who (our house is populated by endless numbers of Daleks), and he's watched my DVD collection of everything from Unearthly Child through to Survival. And although he's not a massive fan of the Pertwee era, he loves Battlefield, so was amazed and impressed they brought the Brig back.

We're well impressed with Capaldi (my son gives him bonus points for being Scottish), and apart from the Forest episode, were hugely impressed with this season. Roll on Christmas, we can't wait for more.

Siskoid said...

You guys go a long way redeeming the Brig's use in this episode. Now you've got ME tearing up. From COMMENTS.

Jeff: I'm not too worried about the lack of explanation. I'm used to it with this character. And when explained (magic cauldron etc), it's more irritating than anything.

Liam: I can't even believe that level of sexism still exists in our culture. By which I means science fiction fans. Do ppl learn nothing from the heroes so call themselves fans of?

Freddy: Thanks for ensuring the next generation!

Anonymous said...

Never thought a Cyberman would make me burst into tears, on repeat viewings.

110% fan of the Cyber-Brig here. Not that I want him to be zooming around the earth, just taking care of business with a little hat and a mustache -- as infinitely badass as that would be -- but beyond the echo back to all the times it was the Brigadier who saved the Doctor (often against the Master (I'm looking at you "The Five Doctors")), the Brigadier is the resolution to the Soldier vs. the Officer. Yes, the Brigadier had to make harsh calls on occasion -- and sometimes calls the Doctor found unforgivable, such as "The Silurians" -- but the Brig was never afraid to put himself at risk either. He was not elevated any higher than the men he commanded, beyond the duties of his rank.

I don't feel it was a slight to Nicholas Courtney to repurpose the Brig in this fashion; I took it as a tribute to a character who was loyal to the Doctor until the very end, and even that wasn't enough to stop him.

Here's the Brig saving the day in Nicholas Courtney's most recent appearance:

Good ol' Brig. Earth's darkest day, and the Doctor's ... where else would he be?

So the question comes up of why Danny and the Brig were the only Cybermen to not hit "Delete" (or, perhaps, they refused to stay "Deleted" -- Cyberman "Deletes" don't always take as well as intended, like with "Closing Time"). I bet they weren't the only ones, but there were too few "Undeleteds" to be immediately noticed. And it probably didn't hurt Danny's and the Brig's chances that they were relatively mentally prepared for weirdness, having dealt with the Doctor as they had. But in the Brigadier's case, I would bet that he never hit Delete, and was never even significantly tempted, because he was used to wrestling with his own conscience and coming to terms with his own actions.

So, the Cyber-Brig's future? I don't know what the long-term prognosis of this wave of Cybermen is, but it's pretty clear they can't use him again in the show; there's no way for that to work without breaking the appeal of the moment. The fanfictiony part of my head figures that the Brigadier did a quick fly-around for a last look at beloved sites and people, and then flew off to a mountaintop to watch the sunrise as his batteries ran out. Nothing flashy, just letting the end come.

I've talked a lot about the Brigadier, so let me just say that other stuff happened in this episode.

Siskoid said...

My own personal Cyberman tear-up moment isn't on TV, but in the Big Finish audio Spare Parts. Heartbreaking.

Madeley said...

Spare Parts. Oh god. New Who's biggest mistake was failing to get Marc Platt to adapt his audio to be set on a parallel world instead of comissioning Tom McRae's mediocre "Rise of the Cybermen" two parter allegedly inspired by it.

Ryan Lohner said...

"If the Doctor becomes a woman will he be called the Nurse?"

Well, the show itself has just declared that a woman can't possibly be named Master...

What made the Brig scene work for me is that the Third Doctor's era was the one that Capaldi really loved as a kid, making this his equivalent of David Tennant getting to give Sarah Jane a proper goodbye.

When he started going into "I am not a hero, or a monster, I am...", I was so sure he was going to say "the Doctor," making a cheap fanservice moment at the cost of not actually saying anything about the character. So thanks for not doing that, Moffat.

On the other hand, the death of Osgood really killed a lot of this one for me. It's like Joss Whedon at his worst, killing off a good character with tons of potential just because he wanted to kill a character off and she was available. And it really didn't help when Moffat stated that he needed to convince the audience a woman could be evil. Damn, that is some deeply ingrained Madonna/Whore shit he must have in his head. Women in Refrigerators, look it up sometime.

Anonymous said...

If there is to be a woman Doctor, I nominate Ingrid Oliver. After all, a precedent has been set that faces come from somewhere ...

"Moffat stated that he needed to convince the audience a woman could be evil"

Right, because the whole Cybermen scheme was all about puppies and kittens. Give your viewers a little credit, Moffat!

Siskoid said...

Ryan: I don't need to, I was reading comics in the 90s.

But Osgood never did anything for me, so I'm not going to miss her. Just too on the nose as a stand-in for fans. Meh.

As for making Missy a killer, it's not like Osgood was her first one. In Dark Water, she killed Dr. Chang, whom she actually liked. But by killing Osgood off, a recurring character with I guess some fan attachment, it made Kate getting thrown out of the plane more believable. If Osgood can die, so can Kate. Simple as that. And it's how Whedon works too. By harming a "name" character, suddenly the threat to other name characters, normally safe because of that name (as opposed to one-off guests who die all the time), much more real.

I'm not saying Osgood's death raised the tension any for me, but I do think I remember a "whoah!" in the living room from other viewers.

Anonymous said...

More Ingrid Olivery goodness:

All the characters in this clip have been on "Doctor Who" in the past two seasons.

LiamKav said...

"I can't even believe that level of sexism still exists in our culture. By which I means science fiction fans. Do ppl learn nothing from the heroes so call themselves fans of?"

Considering that the WHOLE POINT of Star Trek was, essentially, tolerance and learning to get on with other people, it amazes me when you see a racist or homophobic Star Trek fan. I honestly knew one person back in the 90s who preferred Voyager to DS9 because he didn't like a black captain.

"Well, the show itself has just declared that a woman can't possibly be named Master..."

I think that was partly to hide her identity, and partly a quirk of language. I mentioned the doctor/nurse thing to my wife, and she laughed at how stupid it was. I then mentioned that they'd changed the Masters name, and she didn't get why they could have left it the same. My wife is a qualified doctor (forensic pathologist, which is so much cooler than my job that I can't even speak at parties). She also has a masters degree. It took her a moment to get the connection.

In English, when someone says "Doctor", then the first thought that comes into most peoples head if deprived of context would be "medical doctor". However, if a person hears "master", they are more likely to think of a "master/slave" relationship, or maybe someone who owns a pet. The qualification is much lower down. Besides, us fans KNOW that the name "The Master" was derived from "The Doctor" as a qualification, but whereas people with PhDs can be called "Doctors", no-one with a Master's degrees is ever referred to as a "Master". If they were, I would be walking in to work demanding to be called "The Bachelor", along with half the other staff.

So, in short, they could call Missy "The Master", but it would sound weird, like when Kirk kept saying Mr Saavik in TWOK. On the other hand, female doctors are called doctors all the time. Half of all qualifying doctors in the UK are female, so for someone to think he'd have to be called "The Nurse" just shows him to be an outdated dinosaur. And not a cool dinosaur. One of the rubbish ones.

Toby'c said...

Any thoughts on the line about the Master not being the worst Prime Minister they've ever had? A reference to Brian Green, I imagine.

Siskoid said...

Insert your politics here.

F. Douglas Wall said...

Loved this episode, loved the Brigadier moment, but agree that it should remain a moment.

The main turn-off from this episode was how Missy went a little too Ainley (The puffy shoulders should have been a clue) in the last act. Spending the entire season building her up as a master planner, then having her dance around acting "bananas" in the last scene while the other characters did their business was kind of weak.

Martin Léger said...

"I'm not saying Osgood's death raised the tension any for me, but I do think I remember a "whoah!" in the living room from other viewers."

Now that I think about it, I said "whoa!", because I was thinking on how Moffat had a surrogate fan as Anderson in season 3 and the whole Sherlock club. The club itself was a mocking, albeit funny, jab at the Sherlock fandom.

Osgood is basically the same thing, but then they straight up kill her! Like whoa, what does that mean?! Moffat seems to have a weird relationship to his fanbases.

Cradok said...

Wow, I'm really out-of-tune with all of you this season. With the exceptions of Mummy and Flatline, this whole season was average at best, and Kill the Moon at worst. Or possibly this at worst. A confused mix of ideas which never get fully developed before moving off to the next, which even retroactively makes previous episodes worse.

Missy's plan, okay, I'll buy it, even the incomprehensibly unpredictable Clara part of it. But what was the point, then, of all the scenes earlier? Why the dark water, what was that about? Why was the police officer rejected but Gretchin got to go to the garden, even though both were vaporised? What was the garden anyway? And what about every other character we ever see, are they all Cybermen now too? Amy and Rory? What about characters who haven't 'died' yet, like Donna? Did Missy snatch her from the future and shove her into some unrelated corpse? And that goes for anyone we've yet to even see. The Doctor goes back to the 20's, saves a whole bunch of people from some monster, yay! But! They're all going to die and become Cybermen. It's a pretty depressing thought.

Osgood's death, yeah, echoes of the worst Whedon deaths. Spiteful and pointless.

And then, there was Danny. Both hugely under-written and badly written. We see nothing to show why Clara loves him in Caretaker, and not much more before her declaration last episode. And at the same time, I'd always disliked his smug, passive-aggressive condescending righteousness - planting my flag fairly firmly, there - but this episode made me really hate him. His at-the-time funny model soldier thing in Caretaker that's now revealed as a pathological hatred for 'officers'. His reveling in horrifying the Doctor with an impossible choice. His turnaround from begging Clara to delete his emotions to sneering at the Doctor letting her, just so he can get another dig in.

(As an aside that more properly belongs in the review for Dark Water, but I'm on a roll with this one: Danny's big crime... wasn't really all that terrible. Yes, he killed a child (teenager?), and there's no reason for him to not have PTSD because of that, but I was expecting something more. We see him taking fire, then grenading the building, then suppressing the room, and he happens to kill what we have to assume is an innocent. But that's the nature of that kind of asymmetric warfare, where innocents will die, and where you can't take innocence for granted anyway.)

And then there's the end, where Danny sends the kid back. Character wise, it's fine, it fits with Danny's personality. But it's so sappy, and without any suggestion of being a thing before it happens that it just comes off as lame.

The acting was generally excellent, though. I loved the UNIT ambush at the beginning, and the Brig was touching, even if it did feel disrespectful at the same time. The Doctor losing his temper and pounding the TARDIS console was great, as was the last five minutes between Clara. I really liked the mid-credit scene too, looking forward to Nick Frost at Christmas. Hope we see the Mistress again too, because let's face it, the Master's superpower is to not stay dead.

Anonymous said...

"Danny's big crime... wasn't really all that terrible. Yes, he killed a child (teenager?), and there's no reason for him to not have PTSD because of that, but I was expecting something more."

I'm glad the crime was what it was, a mistake rather than an act of cruelty or callousness. I like my Danny Pink as a good man who never wanted to hurt an innocent, and is remorseful that he did.

I was going to type a thing about how the Mistress's plot made no sense, but every time I started typing, I kept coming up with more and more points that made zero sense. So ultimately we have to chalk this up to yet another Master scheme that, given enough time, blows up in his face. It's a tradition. That said, I don't think we were given the full story on how many "souls" Missy collected, how many bodies were Cybermannable, or the connections between the two. (Not sure how a Cyber robot shell benefits from incorporating a body with a missing or damaged brain, but again, the Master.)

Siskoid said...

I think killing a child is plenty to make Danny feel guilty for the rest of his life. They weren't hinting that it was anything more sinister or grandiose. Seems plenty to me.

Cradok said...

Okay, attempting to sound a bit less sociopathic, it's not that I don't think that Danny shouldn't be traumatised by what he did, and that it wouldn't affect him for the rest of his life, nor did I think that he'd purposefully done something terrible and later came to regret it, I just expected it to be as the result of a poor choice, rather than something that happened as what I see as a result of doing something properly. Or something.

Anonymous said...

... hey, did Osgood have her inhaler?

Siskoid said...


Is this a vaporization joke?

Anonymous said...

No, I was wondering if the Osgood who got disintegrated was in fact a Zygon.

Though I guess I could still settle for the Doctor traveling with a Zygon who had become so familiar with Osgood as to essentially be her.

Anonymous said...

No worries about CyberBrig reappearing. Whenever he's needed, he'll just somehow be stuck in Peru...

I like the theory about the Cybermen here and Nightmare in Silver. Since that episode takes place so far in the future, I can certainly see the Matrix Cybermen's (to differentiate from the Mondas Cybermen and the Cybus Cybermen) involvement actually explain away a lot of the "Borg" problems in Gaiman's script!



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