“Death in Heaven” Review

This wasn’t cheerful watching. I saw this last Tuesday, and it left me with mixed emotions. On Wednesday I dwelled on what I didn’t like: real death (Osgood) and crass resurrection (The Brigadier). On Thursday I reflected on the things I did like: the ambition, the ending, the wonderful performances. I’ve gone from thinking it as another flawed and overblown finale to a rather impressive and fitting end to a strong season.

I was delighted for the new UNIT to reappear, and loved them get ahead of the game at the start of the episode. I thought this might be a chance for the episode ‘come down’ after the first part, to be able to build up again slowly, but this wasn’t to be as it continued at a high altitude without letting up for almost the full hour. I was less keen on giving the Cybermen a new super-power. Like making Cybermen super-speedy, new powers don’t make them any more scary, just less interesting. But then, I’m not sure this was really a Cybermen story – it would have worked just as well with, say, the Toclafane. When Doctor Who gets a bit ‘wobbly wobbly sciencey-wiencey’ that’s fine, but knowing about cyber-conversion made the ‘Cyber pollen’ harder to accept. A bit of hand-waving is one thing, but the hand needs to be waved in the right direction (nano-tech, say, not cyber technology). Incidentally, this isn’t the first time the dead have been used as Cybermen – Joe Lidster’s Sixth Doctor audio The Reaping used this idea – and, as it happens, also featured much death and keening.

Also, on the death front, I was sorry to see Osgood get zapped. I loved her ‘bow ties are cool’. Moffat, at the preview, was asked about why his deaths are never really death – and he admitted RTD had commented on it, but that he was ‘sentimental’. Why, then, kill the character who represents the fan? I can understand the glee with which he defies those wishing to wag their finger and tell him he couldn’t make The Master female, but they’re not the mainstream young fancies Osgood represents. I can understand why he needed to make The Master a killer, not just a comic villain, too. But Osgood? Really?

After Dark Water tied up all the various mysteries about Missy and the Netherworld, it was down to Death in Heaven to bring the various themes that have run through this season to a conclusion: Danny’s war, the Doctor’s attitude to the military, Clara’s addiction to phone box travel, and the complications and mendacity within the Doctor/Clara relationship.

The ending, which I loved, dealt beautifully with both Danny’s war guilt and the damage caused by the lack of honesty between the Doctor and Clara. And at the start of the episode, the Clara-becoming-the-Doctor idea, which was foreshadowed in Flatline, was a promising development in addressing the addiction storyline, but this seemed to fizzle out when Danny zapped her. The Doctor’s refusal to admit his ‘officer class’ outlook was perfectly exposed by Danny when it became clear activating the inhibitor would enable him to spy on the hive mind – when the ‘tactical advantage’ overrode all the compassion. It was beautifully pointed up, but I’m not sure it was resolved… Exciting as seeing the preview was, the disadvantage (apart from not being able to talk about it) was not being able to rewatch any of it. There are scenes I would love to watch again (in particular, I really need to see the “I am an idiot” speech). I couldn’t keep up at times, as the episode had so much packed into it. (Also, Steven Moffat told us there was something we weren’t show that was included in the TV screening – but wouldn’t say what it was, and I haven’t watched what was broadcast yet which may be why I’m missing something obvious here). I’ve also seen comments that the title sequence changed, but not so much I noticed it; another thing I need to re-watch.

Where Dark Water referenced early classic who in The Invasion and Tomb of the Cybermen, here we got at least two references to The Movie and loads of nods to Last of the Timelords and The Sound of Drums with The Valient getting name checked and The Master making an army by recycling the human race. But while the imagery borrowed from the Cybermen stories was more iconic, this story was successful because of The Master – the first successful Master story of the 21st century, and one that made me want to see Michelle Gomez return in the role – hopefully, not before long!

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

Leave a Reply