Dark Water/Death in Heaven – Doctor Who series 8 finale review

Death in Heaven
So I finally got around to doing this. What with Christmas happening, I've been a bit busy with preparations, as well as some very exciting college deadlines. (Did you like my little teaser? The finished product is ready to go, and I must say, it's possibly the best thing I've ever made.)
Anyway, the Series 8 finale. I'm reviewing both parts in one post, because I was taking part in NoWriMo through November. Plus, my thoughts are more cohesive when thinking about them as one story. Not that I'll do this for every two-parter. Also - I'm yet to tell you how NoWriMo actually went. But basically, I'm  a better person for it. Now, let's get to it...

For a two-parter, Dark Water/Death in Heaven has a strange structure. Dark Water‘s climax is the sum total of a build-up of multiple concepts. The Dark Water itself is a genius sci-fi idea, because it reminds us of what the Cybermen actually are. They’re skeletons. Skeletons in protective suits. Just like Humans. In fact, I found that it made a very creepy point of how, underneath it all, we and the Cybermen are the same. The Doctor didn’t respond to them in any way that’s different from how he responds to Humans, until he discovered that they’re Cybermen. And that also makes an interesting point about prejudice, given the Master’s physically female now. In Death in Heaven, the Master kills Osgood in cold blood to prove how psychotic she is. The whole point is that, despite that one change, she’s still the same person underneath. She’s still capable of being everything she was before. Which is fine by me. In fact, one of the things that makes the Time Lords such a wonderful species is that, because of their ability to change gender with regeneration, they don’t actually have a concept of gender, and therefore can fall in love with anyone, regardless of physical sex. They’re like an idealised Humanity, and their corruption is just a lacking of the light they could strive towards.

And yet, Missy… she’s not really the Master. She’s just a generic psychopath. At no point could I actually believe she was who she said she was. One of her lines of dialogue was “Look at me, I’m bananas”. Which is basically, the only villain Steven Moffat’s ever written. I’d argue that one of Moffat’s weaknesses (not that I’m denying his strengths), is his cookie-cutter villains. River Song. Kovarian. Tasha Lem. Missy. They’re all the same. They have different motivations, but their personalities are exactly the same. Which is a problem if one of them is trying to convince me she’s the Master. And I do believe that, but that’s only because I consider myself an open-minded Whovian who can accept a character changing sex (a real thing, by the way), in a show that contains mostly fictional concepts. That’s what’s so interesting about science-fiction; the big, Humanist concepts, people are okay with. But bring an aspect of reality to it, and apparently everybody loses their minds.

Also of note: when Missy reveals the truth, the Doctor is clearly scared. He isn’t freaked-out, he’s just scared. Because that person is the Master. Not because that person used to be the Master.

 

Anyway, so the Cybermen emerge in spectacular fashion that needs to happen again. Cyber-warfare’s always fascinated me, and I do like a good submarine drama (blame The Wrath of Khan), so the Dark Water’s a concept that deserves to be seen from  a military point of view, where it’s deployed by a beach or something. I remember Steven Moffat saying somewhere that what made The Tomb of the Cybermen so exciting was the build-up to the Cybermen. There’s Cyber-insignia everywhere, and then they get the coolest entrance ever. But after that… they don’t do anything. And so for Dark Water, he wanted to build-up to them in a way that allows them to enter just as spectacularly, before actually continuing what they were already doing. Except that, unfortunately, that isn’t actually anything. They just… stand around. And I know that’s because Missy’s controlling them vocally, but if she isn’t going to use that power for anything, that’s not a very good method of invasion, since an army could easily destroy them all. In fact… why didn’t they? UNIT are supposed to be all over the world, yet they can’t take out the Cybermen of one graveyard?

Which brings me back to my comment about structure. The Master’s back, there are Cybermen all over the world. And Death in Heaven begins with UNIT arriving? Surely that would’ve been an extra thing to go at the end of Dark Water? Not that I mind, it just seems an odd way of doing things. Having them turn-up at the beginning of part two made it seem as if there wasn’t a way for the plot to advance. Having them arrive at the end of part one makes it more acceptable for them to be there. But hey, that’s a different story I’m asking for. And, honestly, it doesn’t matter. I just have a strange way of thinking about things. The only reason I pick-up potential flaws is because it pays to be aware of these things for when I’m Head Writer. (Just sayin’.)

But UNIT are there, and it doesn’t really matter how. Because they’re here to action an international plan, agreed-upon by every United Nations member state – including North Korea – that, in the event of a full-scale Earth invasion, the Doctor’s appointed President of Earth. Of course, that happens so the theme of the story can mirror the Doctor and the Master as part of the Master’s obsession that she and the Doctor are the same. Which makes good sense. The last time they met, the Doctor was battled scarred and armed, so clearly the Master’s had time to think. That’s good character development from Steven Moffat there, even if that character is a carbon copy of his other villains. (It has to be said though, that voting the Doctor President of Earth was a very risky idea, given that one of Earth’s Prime Ministers was once proven right over the possibility of him just not being there. Isn’t that what a Secretary General is for, anyway? Again, it’s just nitpicking. But I admit that.)

Ultimately, the reason Missy hasn’t used the Cybermen yet is because she’s saving them for the Doctor. She figures that if she gives the Doctor an army of Cybermen, he’ll happily accept, and definitely won’t use them against her. Although, surprisingly, he didn’t. Danny did.

Ah – Danny.

Danny is such a forgettable character that I nearly forgot to talk about him. As uninteresting as I find Danny Pink, even I can admit that his death was handled potentially more dramatically than any other death. What I liked about it the most was that it wasn’t epic. You don’t die sacrificing yourself in an air lock, or trying to save an exploding ship, or ageing to death. You die in the middle of a sentence, in the middle of life. And it’s rarely meaningful. His death was the most realistic of any significant character, and still managed to be emotionally affecting. For Moffat to kill a character to whom I was indifferent at best in such a way that even I cared a little bit – that’s an accomplishment. Well done Moff. Also: nice continuation of the phone theme. (Moffat often uses phones as plot devices. See here.) The most important phone theme is the mystery of who gave Clara Oswald the TARDIS number, and it’s finally revealed that “the woman in the shop” was… the Master. So that happened. What frustrates me (I know I keep switching between praise and criticism, but that’s just how this two-parter made me feel) is that it wasn’t really an explanation. It’s as if Moffat realised “I need to explain who the woman in the shop was… ooh, I’ll make the Master a woman!” And then use flashbacks as some sort of answer. Using flashbacks to acknowledge a mystery doesn’t actually give us an answer. Okay, so the Master put the ad in the paper? But howHow did she know when to give Oswald the TARDIS number? Ultimately, this was another secondary arc that’s only answered in the most minimal sense. In the same way that we never found out how the Mechanicals’ ship from Robot of Sherwood was going to the Promised Land. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t mind, but this is a season finale. I’d have liked to be answered. But ignoring it on that basis, overall, I liked it.

As it happens, I was in London last November, and found the street leading down from St. Paul’s Cathedral where the cliffhanger takes place. It’s included in my new a panoramic video of London, which then became useful for… oh, nevermind.

 

Also, the end credits were interrupted by Nick F, who introduced the audience to the next adventure…

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Author: alexsigsworth

Basically... run.

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