Doctor Doctor Who Guide


01 Nov 2014Dark Water, by Martin Ruddock
08 Nov 2014Death in Heaven, by Matt Hills
16 Nov 2014Death in Heaven, by Marcus

Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
This review contains plot spoilers.

Poor Danny Pink. It was looking fairly inevitable that he'd end up paying the Nethersphere a visit at some point, but who would have thought he'd get there for not observing the Green Cross Code? Clara herself remarks on what a boring demise it is, in her numbed, traumatised state - even if 'death is not an end'.

These early scenes see Doctor Who handle death and grief in a very grown-up fashion, perhaps influenced by Broadchurch. Indeed, the whole episode deals with various facets of death, and is set to challenge one or two belief systems. One bit of blackmail-related plot misdirection involving lava and a dressing-down from the Doctor later, and it's time to go and rescue Mr Pink from his new home in the Nethersphere.

Speaking of the Nethersphere, we get our first proper glimpse here. Not only do we get a look at its impossible vistas and see how it works, but we finally get to the bottom of what's eating Danny.

Boldly, he's brought face to face with the young victim of his tour of duty in the Nethersphere, and we see his 'really bad day' in flashback. After weeks of treading water whilst Clara's story continues bounding forward, Samuel Anderson finally earns his stripes, as he finds out that 'death is not an end' via administrator-from-hell Seb (Chris Addison), and is left contemplating his own final end, as he tearfully manoeuvres Clara into hanging up on him.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Clara make their way to the mysterious 3W institute. Here we meet Doctor Chang, who is pressed and pressed until he finally reveals the full horror of what happens after 'death', and the TARDIS crew finally get to meet Missy - who terrifies the Doctor with her unorthodox and highly invasive method of introduction.

After lurking on the sidelines since Deep Breath, Michelle Gomez gives a superb, playful, unsettling performance once given a bit of space to move. The terrified Chang is asked to 'say something nice' before she executes him. We still don't have the full lowdown on what she's about, but unsurprisingly, given the familiar publicity shots - Missy is in league with the Cybermen. The Nethersphere gets the minds, our friends from Telos get the bodies. There's some neat foreshadowing with the Cyber-eye motifs used on doors and the 'water tombs'. This is even used to alert the viewer ahead of the Doctor as to what's coming. The title itself is a plot point, and it becomes very apparent that it's there as Cyber-camouflage. It's good to finally have confirmation that these Cybermen are of organic origin, and not the RTD-era brain-cases though.

In another bit of misdirection, Moffat pulls the rug to reveal that the Nethersphere exists on a different plane to the institute, and the Doctor and Clara are actually in central London all along - as Missy puts things into motion, and Cybermen once again march down those St Paul's steps.

Interestingly, for a change, the Doctor has no inkling of the series arc, he blunders into it by accident while attempting to rescue a man he doesn't much like. Despite his 'so what' reaction to Clara's news, we know whether he's a good man now.

As ever, Capaldi and Coleman are excellent, and their relationship is key. The Doctor gets some good moments, be it his disbelief and horror at Missy's revelation, or tersely telling Clara how much she means to him when she attempts volcanic blackmail. Coleman meanwhile channels grief, deviousness, and pluck throughout, with the underlying unsaid note that her phone call caused Danny's death. The chemistry between the two leads is electric as ever.

Dark Water is a brilliant part one, how part two pans out is anyone's guess, but hopefully our questions will be answered next week, and it'll be worth the wait.
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This review contains plot spoilers.

Death in Heaven’s pre-credits sequence plays with the idea of a female Doctor; it’s a notion which hangs over this finale. The cheekily modified title sequence lends unexpected credence to Clara’s assertion as to who she really is, deftly borrowing a trick from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, although in the end all of this proves to be little more than a diversionary tactic.

There can be no doubting Steven Moffat’s ambition – this episode caps a story that has taken Doctor Who to some pretty dark places for a ‘family’ show, and concludes a series that has combined romps and dead-ahead monster stories with experimental, unusual and outright fantasy-driven tales. There’s a sense of the showrunner cutting loose and ditching tried-and-tested timey wimey devices in this episode; Moffat clearly relishes writing for a “bananas” Master, and takes care to show us the danger and potency of the character, particularly by killing off a returning friend of the Doctor’s. It's a version of the Master that seems indebted to Big Finish’s explorations of the Doctor-Master relationship, specifically framing this archest of arch enemies as a “childhood friend”. Moffat makes Missy’s agenda more personal than ever before: what she wants isn’t simply world domination, but rather full recognition of the fact – as she sees it – that the Doctor is her mirror image (it’s almost as if she’s read a scriptwriting manual on how to represent heroes and villains in the contemporary screenplay). This partly replays tropes from the tenth Doctor’s showdown with Davros in series 4. And it further develops Moffat’s thematic interest in the implications, or possibilities, of a warrior-like Doctor, something that's chillingly explored via the Doctor's use of any tactical advantage he can lay his hands on.

More than anything, though, this finale integrates the series that has come before: flashbacks to a range of episodes including Deep Breath and Robot of Sherwood pull series eight together impressively, representing a satisfying rather than gimmicky story arc. I’m tempted to suggest that this is Moffat’s finest series finale yet, as he riffs shamelessly on the “tomb of the Cybermen” image and idea, seeking to make the Cybermen as terrifying as possible (and delivering in spades).

Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Samuel Anderson all put in impressive performances – something enhanced by Rachel Talalay’s smart and assured direction – but the episode belongs to Michelle Gomez as well as her channeling of John Simm in the role. I realize that many of us would have liked a regeneration scene, but what we get is, in a way, more substantive than that. Gomez’s heightened and exaggerated performance consistently calls her predecessor to mind. Her mocking lip-biting is a joy to behold, as is her choice of pop music (even more narcissistically self-centred than the Simm-Master). And the child-like way that Gomez chooses to interpret a line about playing with more of the Doctor’s friends is also spot on. I very much hope she will return in the role, as there’s real scope to further explore this somewhat retooled relationship between Time Lord/Lady peers.

Death in Heaven offers another terrific piece of narrative trickery from Moffat. Having directed audiences to consider how the Doctor and the Master are the same (or not), we instead end up with a very different mirror image, as Clara and the Doctor face each other across a gulf of mutual deceit, both of them seeking to protect and release the other. And, most wonderfully of all, Moffat transforms what has up until now looked like a bit of mildly flailing comedic business – the Doctor’s aversion to hugging – into an emotional sucker punch, as the Time Lord explains why he doesn’t trust a hug. That instantaneous shift from slapstick froth to brutal truth might just be the darkest moment in the episode – it’s not a fantastical scenario of uploaded minds and upgraded bodies, just the simple, stark recognition that even those we most care about, and deeply trust, might nevertheless choose to lie to us about matters of life and death.

As well as lacking full-on time travel shenanigans (bar Missy’s acknowledgement that she’s been patrolling up and down the Doctor’s timeline, by way of explaining her earlier episodic appearances), this finale also plays out like a fairly linear continuation of Dark Water. Other Moffat two-parters have sometimes taken off in a whole new direction. Here, we get the shifting perspective of UNIT’s involvement, and the Doctor’s unexpected rise to mastery of Earth, but there’s still very much a sense of organically developing ideas from episode eleven. And if some of Dark Water’s darkness is backed away from, the Master’s made-over identity is nonetheless firmly embraced (though we are deprived of seeing Missy’s TARDIS, unless one counts Saint Paul’s as occupying the role). Unfortunately, I think Seb represents a slightly miss(y)ed opportunity, despite offering a pay-off to Missy’s initial explanation of her status. And although Seb’s final word offers a moment of fan referentiality (only someone as black-hearted as the Master could possibly be opposed to a good squee), it would have been interesting to see Chris Addison properly facing off against his The Thick of It co-star Capaldi.

This is an episode sprinkled with special, fan-pleasing moments, not least of which is the manner in which a much-loved classic series character is cleverly and poignantly featured. And it is an episode which, for me, integrates sentiment and intellect more thoroughly than, say, The Angels Take Manhattan, and in which the graveyard setting feels thematically relevant and earned rather than a case of set dressing or overt emotional manipulation. Clara’s (latest) story really feels as if it’s been completed here, although the cunning false ending, and Nick Frost's eyebrow-raising debut, both promise further adventures (and these moments were omitted from an advance screening of the episode, as well as from its BBC preview for journalists).  

Is the Doctor a “good man”? Did you ever really, truly doubt it? And has series eight offered a good run of episodes? More than that, it’s been startlingly great in its overall consistency, its risk-taking, its freshness and its vision. Much of this series, and Capaldi’s effortless, bravura inhabitation of the role, is surely up there with the very best of Doctor Who times past. Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin and the many other prime movers behind this run of episodes all deserve hearty recognition.

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Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

Death in Heaven Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Rachel Talalay Starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Samuel Anderson, Michelle Gomez, Chris Addison, Ingrid Oliver, Jemma Redgrave, Sanjeev Bhaskar Premiere 8 November, BBC One
This review contains plot spoilers.

Although not short on giddy action and a twist or two, this concluding episode to both the Missy/Cybermen double-header and Series 8 proper is fundamentally one about characterisation and interpersonal drama. It is not afraid to take risks, and manages to be distinctly memorable - if not the out-and-out classic that the best of modern Doctor Who has to offer the viewer.

Steven Moffat was emphatic in interviews that he and his team would make good use of the Cybermen on this occasion. The creepiness factor for the silver giants was dialled up very high in 'Dark Water', to the extent that many viewers were left quite upset and some even complained to the BBC. The tone alters somewhat here, and it is arguable that the use of some (re-done) voices for these creatures may take just a little edge away. But since Doctor Who was reborn 9 years ago, I cannot name a more solid outing for the Cybermen than this. They are not shown to be overcome by anything mundane or commonplace, and there is a good sense of poetic justice when cyber-converted-Danny commands his troops to end the crisis once and for all. Moffat believes in having these emotionless aliens as a persistent threat but economical in terms of screen-time, and this approach is pretty succesful.

And after all we have another villain who has plenty to offer, and every scene featuring her is an absolute triumph. I was left rather underwhelmed by Missy's previous cameos in Series 8 and felt the arc was not the most intriguing; now I want to go back to earlier stories to try and pick up on the clues that were set in place. Michelle Gomez is someone I myself have seen little of before, but once again casting an actress better known for comedy really works - much as was the case with Catherine Tate.

The main talking point with the audience is the sheer audacity of re-gendering the Master. Yet somehow this fully fledged appearance of a new and very different incarnation is right up there with all the best debut outings for the Doctor himself. Moffat is prepared to stray close to pantomime - especially evident when she channels 'Mary Poppins' by teleporting into a graveyard and falling gently to the ground with her black umbrella - and yet Gomez is able to convince us that there is something very sinister bubbling away underneath the kookiness and spectacle. But most crucially the inter-personal chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Gomez is unquestionable and leaves the strongest after-impression once the final credits flash on the screen.

And in general 'Death In Heaven' works pretty well, even with flaws like 'telling - not showing' - namely when the Doctor is briefed by UNIT on the global situation. Also the 'President' title given to a reluctant Doctor may be a deliberate nod towards long-term fan-favourite 'The Five Doctors', but somehow ends up falling flat. The choice of killing off Osgood conclusively is perhaps a little disappointing, as she has more facets to her than the rather dour Kate Stewart. And further to that, the way Kate is shown to survive is memorable for the wrong reasons entirely; her late father has been converted to a Cyberman, but then breaks free from Missy's control and catches her in mid-air. I do like the intention behind the Doctor's salute to the former Brigadier regardless.

Another talking point, but one that I myself find amusing is the glaring tease over whether Clara is not only a Time Lady, but in fact the show's lead after all. Maybe more humdrum is her fooling of the Cybermen when facing certain death if she were to say the wrong thing. Jenna Coleman is as reliable as ever though - clearly putting in that extra bit of intensity that is needed for a big finish to a year's worth of episodes. Once Clara gets to interact with Danny, the Doctor and Missy, then it becomes abundantly clear just how much of a personal journey this initially plot-oriented lead character has been through. And as of this date it appears there is still some more of her story to be told.

Danny Pink is given some of the strongest material in the script, building on all the foundations laid in place since the beginning of this season. His guilt over his accidental killing of a small boy is a bold theme to tackle for Doctor Who - but given how topical Britain's military presence abroad is, this is a commendable storytelling decision. It also is notable that we last met Danny when he was showing all sorts of panic, fear and apprehension. Now he feels emptiness but appreciates the sacrifice he (and Clara) need to make.
Although I found the Torchwood episode 'Cyberwoman' to be pretty unwatchable, this particular use of Cyber-conversion is both poignant and disturbing. Samuel Anderson seems to be written out now rather conclusively, but he really has made the most of his character's arc in the last cluster of stories. In the end my overall feelings toward this character are positive.

A further big highlight is Clara's brave pretence to her friend that she she has used Missy's techno-bracelet to have the 'normal' Danny restored to her. This scene of two people talking in an unremarkable cafe setting may seem low-key, but is acutely moving. The added dimension of the Doctor also covering his loss by lying that the Master for once told the truth is brilliant. I really doubt that Doctor Twelve will mellow out too much when he still has so much angst and loneliness to process.

Series 8 has been a sound season when taken as a whole, and there have been mostly winning individual entries. Peter Capaldi has proven virtually all doubters wrong and looks ready to raise his average performance yet higher. As fans of the classic series will attest, an actor with a good number of years under his belt is more than compelling enough. Lastly, the 'Santa' epilogue was amusing enough and brought an utterly hilarious bemused reaction from the Doctor. First Robin Hood, and now this? Let's hope the traditional Christmas episode will make strong use of the North Pole setting..
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