"Your cooperation is to be ensured and your unreliability assumed. You have a history." "You don't have a future without me."
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.