Doctor Who "Death in Heaven" Review - Point/Counterpoint ~ What'cha Reading?

Doctor Who “Death in Heaven” Review – Point/Counterpoint

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By: Julie Hegner and Nancy Joyce

Doctor Who "Death in Heaven" Review - Point/Counterpoint

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Julie: Few things bring me simultaneous joy and sorrow. My family’s Irish, so a wake does (you’re saying goodbye to a person but also laughing about the good times with them), and generally a Doctor Who season finale does as well. Same general principle, I guess…you know that tears are going to be involved in both, but also some of the best damned lines you’ve heard all year. “Death in Heaven” was no exception. I laughed, I cried, I thought entirely too much about how life, the universe, and everything tie together. Speaking of emotions that shouldn’t go together, I’m convinced that Moffat gets a level of Schadenfreude from his writings…to coin a phrase, I’m going to call what he inflicts on us Whovians as Whodenfreude. This episode was a massive example of Moffatian Whodenfreude. And this week, Nancy’s going to explore all the feels with me.

So, let’s talk about what went down (and before I start, now would be an excellent time to remind you that there are going to be an abundance of SPOILERS AHEAD). One of the major problems people have had with this season is its darkness. This was not your usual “things are going to go pear-shaped, but the Doctor will save people” season. This was a season about consequences, what happens when you act like you know what’s best for everyone although you might not, about when you play fast and loose with other people’s emotions, about a life where sometimes there are only bad choices but a choice still has to be made.

Yes, the Twelfth Doctor often seemed about as likable as Dr. Gregory House this season, but I enjoyed his turn as antihero. This was a season about a man struggling to recover from a regeneration that was Never. Supposed. To. Happen. No wonder it took him some time to find his feet and remember who he was. This brings me to the Doctor’s big speech in this episode, about pain being a gift. More than just the pretty words Danny sneers at, I look at this moment as the bookend to the “fear is a superpower” speech from “Listen,” because I think these are the two things that drive Capaldi’s Doctor: pain and fear. As for Clara, the Impossible Girl who scattered herself into his timeline at every point along the way, was there any way for her to come back from that unscathed? No. Doesn’t matter that her particular paradox was solved, I would argue that when the Doctor transforms, she transforms as well. Her entire history has been about saving him, why would things be any different with this latest incarnation?

Nancy: I get what you’re saying about him being an antihero but that’s not how it came off to me. It came off as simply not caring. We all know the Doctor feels the pain of each death he can’t prevent, that’s been shown again and again but this season it seems like he’s just accepted that people die and he doesn’t let it bother him at all. It’s as though he knows there’s collateral damage. That’s not the Doctor, even in his darker incarnations. As for Clara transforming, I felt it was less that than her anger at this stranger replacing her friend the Doctor. Their relationship always felt too adversarial.  

Julie: Now, as far as this episode goes on its own, yes, it was brutal and over the top. The Missy one-liners were awesome until they started to be painful (I believe that was right about “Kill some Belgians, might as well, they’re not even French”) because so much of the episode was focused on them. We had two of the big three Who baddies, and I’m not satisfied with how it ended with them because why? Why should it have been so easy to defeat them? However I have to say that Michelle Gomez’s turn as Missy in this episode was awesome. Like Mary Poppins on acid, Gomez perfectly captured the Master’s manic energy, her complete psychotic cruelty. The Master is the Joker of the Whoniverse, and Gomez flat out nailed it. Which is why it seems like such a damned waste to kill her so easily. It took Martha Jones a damned year of hoofing it around the planet to knock out the Master/Saxon, and this time the Master goes poof in about forty-five minutes.

Nancy: I agree it went to easily. This was a waste of the Master. There was no need for it to be that specific character. I felt like it was some kind of cop out to appease fans who were angry that the Doctor didn’t regenerate into a woman. I’d have preferred one of the Time Ladies being the big bad, The Rani or Romana would have been an awesome twist. I was far happier with the Cybermen reveal but they never really felt threatening. 

Julie: Speaking of this, in spite of my fangirl adoration for this season, I had some issues with this episode:

  • Missy’s means of controlling the Cybermen reminded me of nothing so much as a Fitbit Flex. I’m going to start talking into my Fitbit and see if I get an army of Cybermen to control.
  • Why did Cyber Danny take Clara to a cemetery if that’s where all the Cybermen were going to be? For someone who took the trouble to bring her jacket with her (remember she woke up and put it on), this seems like a gross oversight. (Nancy: I had huge issues with that too. It made no sense.)
  • How in the hell does a Gallifreyan become President of Earth? I mean, I guess I can see it because the Doctor has saved us so many times, and it would avoid a lot of political infighting among human leaders (can you imagine the campaigning for President of Earth? And you thought midterm elections were bad), but this one felt a wee bit contrived to me. (Nancy: yup!)
  • The lying to each other at the end. In spite of Clara giving a grand speech to Cyber Danny about how the Doctor “is the one man I would never, ever lie to,” she lies to him in the end about a happily ever after with Danny and he lies to her about finding Galiffrey (damn that Time Lord on TARDIS violence was brutal, though). They’ve lied to each other all season, and I shouldn’t have expected different, but it coming so soon after that declaration landed a bit false. (Nancy: That was the worst part for me. That it ended with them lying to each other. It left a horrible taste in my mouth. I also feel like Clara was completely ruined this season. She is now known as a liar, to the people she loved the most. She broke Danny’s heart because she couldn’t ever be honest with him and then in the end she couldn’t be honest with the Doctor either. I genuinely disliked her and that broke my heart because I loved the Impossible Girl from the start.)

Nancy: The points that really bothered me:

  • what the hell was the point of the Master keeping Clara and The Doctor together? That was tossed out there to close a loop but it made no sense whatsoever. (Julie:
    I have an idea and it’s a terrifying one based on one of your earlier points–what if the point was to give the Doctor an adversary on the TARDIS? If the Master can see all of time and space, she could see the effect that Clara would have on the Doctor in all his regenerations and spectacularly, what effect Clara would have on the making of Twelve. What if Twelve—a Doctor much more removed from humanity than previous incarnations—is the Master’s master plan? The Master playing the extra-long game; that’s too devious even for Moffat, isn’t it?)
  • really we had to kill Osgood? As the representative of fandom I felt like that was just done for effect rather than plot driven and that pissed me off with so much of this episode being about fan service (Clara as the Doctor, the female regeneration, the romantic/sexual moments between the Master and the Doctor) it felt particularly pointed when she was killed so unceremoniously. Is Moffat saying, “ok I gave you all my versions of what you want, now go away”? (Julie: Osgood’s death was horrible and painful and I hated it, but damn did it illustrate the Master’s evil side. I mean, have we ever seen something on Who that was as utterly cruel and sadistic as that countdown Missy did? There’s a reason the Master is one of the top three Who baddies of all time, and this is it.)
  • Dear Danny was a redshirt the whole time, yet he was the only character who behaved with any sense of moral compass. Very odd that (this ends up being more a seasonal complaint brought to conclusion in this episode). (Julie: Is it wrong that I enjoyed having no moral compass this season? I mean, I know, Who is ultimately about good vs. evil and morality was one of the big themes this year, but I enjoyed that there were no definitive black and white answers or characters.)
  • Why did we give them that ending just to go back to deal with it in the Christmas episode? I need Clara to be done. I don’t want to see them together anymore. The Christmas episode should give us the new companion or be freestanding as usual. It seems ridiculous and manipulative to not have done it right the first time. (Julie: Well, Moffat is nothing if not manipulative. On the one hand, I’m totally with you. On the other, completely frustrated Whouffaldian hand…yeah, I could deal with a little more Whouffle before it’s over. Also, we’ve still got that dangling “Orson Pink” thread to deal with.)

Julie: I know, it seems like I hated the episode based on these points, but I really didn’t. I loved the humor and the snappy dialogue. I loved that Osgood got to be a three dimensional character, albeit for way too short a period of time (I had high hopes that she would be the next companion). I cried when Cyber Brigadier saved Kate and when Osgood died (metaphorically, can we make an argument that Osgood, in her bow tie, was the last vestige of Eleven, and then the Master killed her? I think we can.) I loved the Doctor and Clara’s goodbye, even if it was based on lies, and was seriously sobbing at “Never trust a hug.” I even loved that sodding noble Danny Pink continued in his role of too-good-to-be-true human even after he wasn’t a human anymore by sending the boy back to Earth in his place—it was a twist of the knife, but let’s face it, we all know Clara would have made Danny miserable. I even loved that Moffat has ruined living by a cemetery for me AGAIN (thanks, Moff). It was a good episode, even if it was a flawed episode.

Nancy: Did I love anything? The Brigiadier moment broke me, absolutely broke me. I was sobbing so loud I’m surprised the neighbors didn’t knock on the walls. The line about Clara’s betrayal not effecting how much he loved her, now that’s my Doctor. That moment when the water recedes and the Cybermen are revealed, I freaked out, there was screaming (yes the neighbors must have been entertained that night, the perils of living next to fangirl central). It was a fantastic moment.

Julie: Now…how long until Christmas? I’m calling it right now that the “she” St. Nick referred to is actually the Master, not Clara (even though I know Jenna Coleman is in the Christmas ep), and I love that Nick Frost is playing Santa—with that name, it’s just so apropos, don’t you think?

Nancy: That’s an interesting idea. Right now I’m just focusing on Nick Frost as Santa, that brings me no end of joy. Now if we could get Simon Pegg as his head elf I’d really be happy.

Julie: Oh my gods, yes! I know that the Christmas episode has already wrapped, but please, for the love of all that is holy, Simon Pegg as an elf has to happen. I can see the fanfics writing themselves now.

I found this Doctor Who Extra on the internet this morning and thought I’d share it so that Steven Moffat gets a bit of a say in our final Point/Counterpoint of Season 8. Also, you get more of the fabulous Michelle Gomez, Peter Capaldi doing stunts, and Samuel Anderson roasting in a Cyberman costume on the hottest day of the year. It gave me some badly needed closure, and I’m passing it onto you all in the hopes that it will provide you with the same.

Don’t be shy, leave us your comments below or find us on Twitter. We’re dying to know your thoughts on the episode and the season; we’ve got forty-plus days to dissect the hell out of everything, starting….NOW.

About Author

Julie Hegner has been descending the geek rabbit hole since she watched her first episode of Star Trek at age eight. A longtime fan of Trek, Who, X-Files, and the Whedonverse, it was only a matter of time until hanging out with other geek girls and repeatedly watching Tom Hiddleston led her to the awesomeness of comics. She takes a special joy in reading about ladies who kick ass, but in general anything with a good storyline floats her boat. You can tweet @julz91 on Twitter.

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