Doctor Who, Season 8, Episode 11, “Dark Water”
Season 8, Episode 12, “Death in Heaven”
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay
Airs Saturdays at 9pm ET on BBC America
This week, on Doctor Who: Missy makes her intentions clear, Danny fixes his bad day, and Clara and the Doctor lie
Showrunner Steven Moffat has stayed away from two-parters for a while, but as is traditional for Doctor Who, a new Doctor means a fresh start for the show and it’s only fitting that the Twelfth Doctor get the same two-parter blowout end-of-first-series as his predecessors. After a season of teases, Missy is revealed as the latest regeneration of the Master (Missy being a shortening of the Mistress) and she’s come to Earth to turn the entire population of the planet, current and former, into a massive army for the Doctor, so they can be buddies in universal domination. As far as plans go, it makes sense for the Master, even if it is a bit disappointing. Michelle Gomez is fun in the role, particularly in “Death in Heaven*,” but seeing the Master reduced to an agent of chaos, rather than someone with a particular agenda or motivation all their own, feels more appropriate for a mid-season romp than a season-ending two-parter.
*Moffat’s use of non-consensual kissing as comedy was never funny, but it does manage to get more aggravating each time it pops up. Men grabbing women and kissing them against their will, not okay. Women pinning men up against a wall in a clearly unwelcome kiss, also not okay. Presenting either as funny and something to be laughed off, NOT OKAY. This isn’t rocket science. Though perhaps Moffat thinks he showed restraint by not having any of the women “humorously” hit the men in their lives this time around.
There’s a lot in this two-part finale that is effective and incredibly entertaining. Chris Addison is a hoot as Seb, Samuel Anderson continues his excellent work as Danny, and the Doctor soaring through the air is downright awesome. Danny’s Deus Ex Machina bracelet is a bit much, but at least the finale has the courage to keep him dead (looks like time was rewritten, unless there’s a Pink lovechild out there somewhere—bad news for Orson). Even Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) gets a couple memorable moments and her final scene with Missy is among the season’s best. The Doctor and Clara’s goodbye, each lying to the other, is fitting and their hug is incredibly touching. Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman have been good together, a definite improvement on the Matt Smith/Coleman dynamic, and while Clara has been a completely new character this season, this version has been far more interesting than her predecessor and Coleman will certainly be missed as the Companion. Clara could easily recur, but her last scene has an appropriate sense of closure and finality and while a Christmas special tease really is not necessary here, the delightful reveal that Nick Frost will be playing Father Christmas more than makes up for it.
Unfortunately, much of the rest of this finale does not go down so smoothly. As has been the case all season, the finale’s plot involves a great deal of willing suspension of disbelief. Series eight has not been interested in hewing even remotely close to science, making this season far more fantasy than science fiction, and that continues here with magically appearing cyber suits. Apparently the Cybermen can rain down cyber pollen, which is any miniscule mote of any Cyberman, and within that is the blueprint to convert any living (or with Missy’s help, dead) being into a fully functional Cyberman, giant metal suit included. Ignoring the obvious (that being able to instantly convert any living matter is ridiculously overpowered and problematic for the next time the Cybers show up), the sheer tonnage of magically self-replicating metal on display is incredibly distracting.
More problematic than this is the episode’s less-than-surprising loophole: Love is more powerful than Cyber conversion. Unfortunately for Earth, it would seem only Danny Pink and the Brigadier love anyone strongly enough to overpower their conversions. The finale’s case for love as a promise, not just an emotion, is a beautiful idea, but by having CyberBrig save Kate, Moffat expands this from just the recently deceased Danny Pink to the entire world. Kate’s seeming death may have felt perfunctory, but the reveal of her survival is even worse**. Missy traveled through time capturing the minds of the dying as they passed—no one else had a loved one still living? Shouldn’t the number of spouses and parents and best friends, the army of the loved and loving, outnumber the truly love-less and be able to defend the living? Poor Man Scout—nobody cared enough to save him from a mid-air Cyber attack.
**Despite these complaints, the moment still managed to work on me—the Brig is one of my favorite characters in the series and even a manipulative, cheap stunt like CyberBrig saving Kate managed to choke me up.
“Dark Water” is just as guilty of frustrating fridge moments. The most powerful scene, on paper, is Clara’s confrontation of the Doctor, where she holds the TARDIS ransom and demands the unthinkable from her friend. This scene has tremendous potential; unfortunately, it refuses to commit. The notion that the Doctor requires a key to get into the TARDIS, a sentient being that loves him, would be ridiculous even if he couldn’t open the doors just by snapping his fingers, so there’s no tension to the scene. The audience knows the Doctor is not going to lose the ability to enter his TARDIS, and yet this is played as a close call, with the induced dream state being the only reason Clara failed. It’s another example of the finale’s lazy, manipulative writing.
Clara’s ultimate betrayal of the Doctor, as it’s portrayed, is then never mentioned beyond the scene immediately following it, and their relationship remains unaffected. Clara asserts that the Doctor is her best friend, and she his, and yet their relationship has been far more complicated than this all season. They’ve not seemed particularly close or treated each other with respect for most of season eight, but this nuance is swept under the rug and left unexplored. When pressed by Danny, Clara didn’t say she travels with the Doctor because he’s her best friend, she was instead presented as a TARDIS addict, far more interested in herself and the power she feels living the life of a time traveler than anything relating to the Doctor. After the episode-ending blowup in “Kill the Moon” and the hard truths of “Flatline”, Clara and the Doctor’s dynamic in their final story should be much more interesting than a played out Doctor-Companion-Love Interest triangle, a beat returned to in “Death in Heaven”’s graveyard scene.
Instead, all that potential is wasted and this is what most frustrates about the finale. After this season’s intense character work, Moffat had in Clara an utterly unique and fascinating Companion. The show was for once exploring the dark side of traveling with the Doctor, showing just one example of what can go wrong traveling in time and space. Clara was on track to be the first Companion arguably made worse through her time with the Doctor. But in the end, Moffat and co. were unwilling to commit to this arc and abandoned it, returning instead to the thread introduced early in the season, and subsequently dropped, of the Doctor’s struggles with his nature. This debate could have been powerful, but the Doctor opened his tenure either killing or forcing suicide upon the villain of “Deep Breath”—his potential execution of Missy (there’s no way she didn’t teleport away) brings the character full circle, rather than progressing the Doctor to anywhere new. Few of the finale’s emotional or character moments truly come together and as entertaining as much of these episodes are, it’s hard not to look at series eight and be let down by its lack of follow-through. This is a solid to very good season of Doctor Who, but it could have been much, much more.