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Death In Heaven

Review by Paul Bowler

[Contains Spoilers]

Dark Water (1)

In 24 hours the human race will cease to exist. The Cybermen have invaded London, a new indestructible army built from humanity’s dead. Missy has been revealed as the Doctor’s arch nemesis, the Master! With Danny deceased, trapped in the Nethersphere, an impossible decision looms for Clara as the Cybermen close in. As the Cyber-Invasion spreads around the world, the Doctor joins forces with old friends, but can even the might of UNIT help the Doctor defeat this terrifying alliance between the Master and the Cybermen? The Doctor must his face the greatest challenge of all and difficult sacrifices will have to be made to save the world…

Death in Heaven concludes the exciting two-part series eight finale, as the Cyber-Invasion continues in this special hour-long episode, written by show runner Steven Moffat, and directed by Rachael Talalay. Now that the secret of the “Promised Land” and Missy’s true identity has been revealed, the dark and ominous tone of this this action packed season finale kicks into high gear as Steven Moffat engineers the mother all showdowns for the Doctor and his UNIT allies as they battle the combined menace of Missy and the Cybermen.

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While Clara tries to deceive the Cybermen that she’s really the Doctor, the Cybermen hidden in the Dark Water tanks at the 3W Institute begin to emerge onto the streets of London, where the Doctor, still reeling from discovering that Missy is his old enemy, the Master, can only look on helplessly as the Cybermen march past St Paul’s Cathedral towards the unsuspecting civilians. Missy encourages people to take selfies with the Cybermen, giving the concealed UNIT forces time make their move, but even though they capture Missy the dome of St Paul’s cathedral opens and 91 Cybermen take to the air – except for one that remains and explodes over London to unleash a deadly cloud of Cyber-Pollen. Missy gleefully informs the Doctor, Kate Stewart, and Osgood the Cybermen will target the other key areas of significant population density in the UK to spread the Cyber-Pollen – something the Cybermen are now doing simultaneously on a global scale in every town and city around the world. As the dark clouds gather over graveyards, funeral homes, and mortuaries, the rain starts to fall and the Cyber-Pollen begins its heinous work – infusing the corpses of the dead and reanimating them as Cybermen.

Steven Moffat rounds off series eight of Doctor Who in fine style with Death in Heaven, building on the deeply unsettling premise established in Dark Water (Where all of Earth’s dead had been transformed into a Cyber-Army, their minds stored in the Nethersphere – a Gallifreyan Hard Drive – were their emotions are subsequently deleted before transplantation back into the Cybermen), to provide a harrowing and emotional roller coaster ride for the Doctor and Clara that will test their friendship to the limit.

Dark Water (10)

Needless to say, Peter Capaldi is superb as the 12th Doctor in Death in Heaven. Here we see just how dark and uncompromising this incarnation can be, and Capaldi delivers an absolutely magnificent performance that will have you on the edge of your seat. Jenna Coleman is also brilliant as Clara Oswald, whose character has constantly evolved over the course of series eight, and the culmination of the events and decisions Clara ultimately makes in Death in Heaven makes this arguably one of Coleman’s best episodes to date.

Death in Heaven also marks the welcome return of UNIT to help the Doctor fight the Cybermen and Missy. Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor has constantly voiced his dislike of the military since his regeneration, which creates a really interesting dynamic here as he’s forced to work alongside the Brigadier’s daughter, Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave), together with Ossgood (Ingrid Oliver), now sporting an 11th Doctor style bow tie instead of the 4th Doctor scarf she wore in The Day of the Doctor (2013), and Colonel Ahmed (Sanjeev Bhaskar). The Time Lord takes to the skies as the newly appointed President of Earth, where he is given control of the worlds military forces and is expected to coordinate their retaliation against to the Cyber-Invasion.

Death in Heaven (4)

Its good to see Jemma Redgrave return as UNIT’s chief scientific advisor Kate Stewart, she gets some really powerful scenes alongside the Doctor, even confronting the Cybermen in London where she throws the head of an Invasion style Cybermen – that originally featured in The Invasion (1968) – at the feet of their new counterparts to make her point. When Kate brings the Doctor, the TARDIS, and the captured Missy to a special UNIT aircraft that serves as its secret mobile headquarters (just like her father Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart used in The Invasion), there’s a great scene where the Doctor notices a portrait of Kate’s late father – its a fleeting moment; and one which resonates poignantly with events later in the episode.

Samuel Anderson gives a particularly moving performance in Death in Heaven as Clara’s boyfriend, Danny Pink, the former soldier turned Maths teacher, sent to the Nethersphere after he died, where Missy’s conniving assistant, Seb, sinisterly played by Capaldis The Thick of it co-star Chris Addison, now explains to Danny that he – along with the other minds of the recently deceased stored in this Gallifreyian data cloud – are about to be sent back from what they believed was the afterlife with an added upgrade…

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Transformed into a Cyberman, the moment where Danny awakens in the Chaplet Funeral Home is genuinely chilling. He saves Clara from the Cybermen at the 3W Institute and takes her to a graveyard, where Danny’s role becomes even more vital, and the groundwork already established earlier in the series really comes to the fore. The traumatic event that caused Danny to leave the army, when he accidentally killed a young boy (Antonio Bourouphael), continues to haunt him in Death in Heaven while his love for Clara remains undiminished, despite her lies, and she becomes his guiding light as he later confronts the most heartrending decision of all.

The army of Cybermen created from the remains of every human being that ever died, is a deeply unsettling concept, and one from which Steven Moffat skilfully wrings every ounce of horror from as we witness Clara stumbling through a graveyard just as the Cybermen begin to rise from the graves. Danny’s Cyber-resurrection in the mortuary is another scary scene that’s sure to send a few chills down the spine before the realisation of who he actually is begins to sink in. The Cyber-Pollen is perhaps the most grotesque use of cyber-technology that we’ve ever seen in Doctor Who, used to weaponise the dead, the Cybermen have created the ultimate form of Cyber-Conversion, and the way its implemented in this episode is truly horrific. These Cybermen also have a new ability, the power of flight, and their chest units emit a scanning beam to try and validate Clara’s identity when she tries to buy herself more time by pretending to be the Doctor – a witty subterfuge that cleverly spills over into the opening titles of the episode to keep us guessing.

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It doesn’t take Missy long to orchestrate her escape, she ruthlessly kills Osgood, and summons the Cybermen to attack the plane mid-air. I was really surprised when Osgood was killed, and the senseless nature of her sudden death left us with no doubt just how evil and manipulative Missy can be. When the Doctor confronts Missy he’s horrified by what she’s done to Osgood, but when the Doctor receives a call via the TARDIS from Clara whose just discovered that Danny is a now a Cyberman, Missy finally reveals that she was the one that originally gave Clara the phone number to the Doctor’s TARDIS in The Bells of St John (2013), and she also put advert in the paper in Deep Breath (2014). Missy is the person who brought the Doctor and Clara together, the control freak and the man that should never be controlled, and the irony of her grand design to keep them together really hits home as the Cybermen tear into the fuselage, sending Kate Stewart plummeting to her doom before Missy teleports away and the plane explodes. The special effects used to bring us the Cybermen’s attack on the plane are stunning, the action doesn’t let up for a single moment, and the aftermath of the aircrafts destruction throws the Doctor into a nail biting freefall towards the TARDIS.

The gender reassignment for the Doctor’s old enemy, the Master, has given the renegade Time Lord a whole new lease of life as the gloriously twisted Mary Poppins-like incarnation known as Missy – the woman that we’ve seen welcoming the recently deceased in series eight after they’ve arrived in the faux afterlife of the Nethersphere. Michelle Gomez gives a wonderfully villainous performance as Missy, successfully channelling the sinister charm and menace of the Master with a mischievous twinkle in her eye as she revels in her evil scheme. The scene where she kills Osgood, initially taunting her, and then crushing her glasses underfoot after killing her is really cold. Missy’s scenes with the Doctor are the real highlight of Death in Heaven, especially when she taunts him about killing his friends and teases him with her claims that she actually knows the location of Gallifrey. The chemistry between Michelle Gomez and Peter Capaldi is positively electric, their verbal sparing perfectly captures the essence of the classic rivalry between these two characters, and it certainly makes for a fittingly epic confrontation between the 12th Doctor and this new version of the Master.

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After using the TARDIS to reach the graveyard, where Clara is trying to activate Danny’s emotional inhibitor to end his suffering because even though he’s a Cybermen he has still retained his emotions, the Doctor is reluctant to help as he fears Danny will try and kill Clara after his emotions are deleted. The Doctor also needs to know what the rumbling storm clouds of Cyber-Pollen will do next, however, Danny informs him that in order to access the Cybermen’s hive mind his emotional inhibitor will have to be switched on. The Doctor reluctantly agrees and Clara tearfully says goodbye to Danny before using the sonic screwdriver to switch on the inhibitor. Danny reveals that a second rainfall is imminent, and this time all humanity will die and rise again as Cybermen. Missy teleports to the graveyard and offers the Doctor control of the Cyber-Army as a twisted birthday present for the Time Lord, so he can use them however he wants to save the universe from tyranny. Aghast that anyone should have such power, the Doctor rejects the offer, giving the control bracelet to Danny, whereby the former soldier takes command of the Cyber-Army and orders them to fly into the skies where they explode and destroy the Cyber-Pollen clouds.

These riveting final moments of the battle conclude with a furious Clara threatening to kill Missy with her own weapon, and she’s angry that the Doctor hasn’t done so before. The Doctor intervenes, saying he will kill Missy for her, but before he can act a lone Cyberman suddenly fires at Missy and vaporises her. The Doctor and Clara discover Kate Stewart unconscious on the ground nearby, she’s still alive, and was saved by the Cyberman. The moment when it suddenly dawns on the Doctor that the Cyberman that saved Kate is her father, the Brigadier, also resurrected by the Cyber-Pollen, is both haunting and deeply moving, and the Doctor’s farewell salute to his old friend before the Cyberman soars into the sky makes this beautifully poignant scene even more special.

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Death in Heaven really shows what the Doctor and Clara are made of. We’ve seen over the course of series eight how both of them have been capable of making difficult choices that haven’t always necessarily rested easily with them, secrets and lies have also shaped and defined their adventures, so it is perhaps fitting that this series finale concludes with the Doctor and Clara not being entirely honest with each other. The coda that unfolds two weeks later as Clara meets with the Doctor to end her travels with him and say goodbye is tinged with sadness and deceit for both of them.

We know Danny found enough power in Missy’s bracelet to return to the living world, but Clara doesn’t tell the Doctor that Danny chose instead to send the young boy he accidentally killed when he was a soldier back in his place – sacrificing his last chance of being reunited with Clara – knowing she will help him put things right. Likewise, we see the Doctor take the TARDIS to the coordinates that Missy said were for Gallifrey – having claimed the planet had actually returned to its original location – only to find an empty region of space, where he flies into a furious rage inside the TARDIS at being given this glimmer of hope by his old enemy only to have it cruelly snatched away. After saying their farewells, unaware of the others lies, the Doctor’s solitary travels in the TARDIS are suddenly interrupted by a very unexpected and special Christmassy visitor…

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I really liked how Dark Water and Death in Heaven were not quite as time twistingly complex as some of the previous season finales, instead we had the focus placed firmly on making it a more straightforward action-adventure, and I think that made these episodes all the more enjoyable. Sure, it’s not 100% perfect, few season finales ever are. The resolution to the cliff-hanger was initially a little stilted, with civilians taking selfies with the Cybermen, and I was really sad to see Oswin get killed. However, overall I thought Missy was an excellent foil for the Doctor, and the Cybermen were used effectively by the story and were really creepy in the graveyard scenes. Steven Moffat’s tense and exciting storyline was fast paced and skilfully brought all the elements of series eight together, and Rachel Talalay’s confident direction made this two-part series finale gripping viewing.

Death in Heaven was a great way to bring Peter Capaldi’s impressive first season as the 12th Doctor to a close. I’ve really enjoyed series eight, there’s been a great mix of stories, and the performances by Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman as the Doctor and Clara have been excellent. Samuel Anderson has also been exceptionally good as Danny Pink, and Michelle Gomez was superb as Missy. Peter Capaldi has completely won me over as the 12th Doctor, he’s proved to be a perfect choice for the role, and I can’t wait to see what happens next in the Christmas Special!

Images Belong BBC