So, I was in Indonesia, getting ready to fly home. The Bali airport has good free wi-fi (even better than the Nethersphere, apparently), so I had a quick look and found that the first part of the two-part finale – Dark Water – was expiring from the ABC website in 46 minutes! And, international restrictions meant that I couldn’t watch it right then and there. So…I bought it off iTunes, and watched it on the plane. Then I came home to Australia, and that night, I caught Death in Heaven on the ABC’s site. (I’m a big believer in watching the show legally – amongst other reasons so that in whatever small way, my vote “counts” toward keeping my favorite programs alive.)
I’ve been writing intermittently about the current series of the show, including my crazy thoughts and speculations about who Missy might actually be. It turns out that I was right – in the sense that the most obvious and widely discussed possibility was the answer (not in any of my crazier guesses, or my wishes). It was the answer that I said I was the least interested in, but even so, it was pretty good. At least for now. If she continues to re-appear in future seasons (as actress Michelle Gomez has states she will) I could imagine very quickly becoming tired of her, but I guess we’ll wait to comment on those stories when they come out.
As for the finale that we’ve just had, well…to start with the first part, Dark Water was pretty amazing. It was probably the best “second to last episode” of a season that we’ve had since the revival series started, and was packed with one great moment after another. Starting with the terribly tragic death of Danny Pink, and moving onto Clara’s dark plan to force the Doctor to break his rules to help her, to the revelation that the Doctor is both smarter and kinder than we think. Then we get into the story proper, with the deceased Danny discovering more about what’s happening in the Nethersphere, and the Doctor and Clara investigating the mysterious 3W facility.
Missy turns up, and if we haven’t had things spoiled for us, we might briefly think she is telling the truth when she introduces herself as a Mobile Intelligent Systems Interface – an interactive welcome droid. Unfortunately, for me, I did have things spoiled, by an annoying item in my Facebook feed which said something like “Rachel Talalay talks about the Cybermen and the Master – spoilers.” (Just to be clear, Facebook, putting in a spoiler tag right after the spoiler doesn’t really count.) But even I wondered at this point if Missy was a droid and the Master would turn out to be someone else.
But when the truth is revealed, it’s pretty effective. Michelle Gomez is a better Master than John Simm was, making a viciously evil and pretty terrifying villain. And as the mystery of what is going on unfolds, that is pretty terrifying too – both the fake story, and the eventual real revelation. And if only they hadn’t been all over the promotional material, the reveal of the Cybermen would have been pretty amazing. So that’s two major revelations in the episode that would have been even more fantastic if they hadn’t been spoiled for me. My friend in the States who tends to watch things about a year late without having heard anything about the stories at all (he only recently saw The Angels Take Manhattan and was surprised when it turned out to be Amy & Rory’s last story) will probably have a cleaner experience with it all.
So, after Dark Water, expectations were high.
And the follow up, Death in Heaven, was good. But it wasn’t great. Or at least, not as great as it should have been. It just had too many moments that didn’t quite work, or didn’t quite make sense, alongside the moments that did. And overall, it had a lot of moments. So let me run through the ones that really stick out and comment on them.
The Opening Titles – It’s been commented on in many other places that this season is very much about Clara and how she’s often becoming a version of the Doctor. Certainly, there has been some of this, in Flatline especially. But in the pre-credit scene of Death in Heaven, the idea is taken up to eleven. Clara suddenly claims that she in fact is the Doctor, and that Clara Oswald is just someone she made up. This leads to the surprise in the opening titles of Jenna Coleman’s name being listed above Peter Capaldi’s, and her eyes taking his eyes’ place in the sequence.
It’s a cool idea, but it’s not really justified. I mean, nobody is really fooled even for a moment that Clara could be telling the truth – not the Cybermen, and certainly not the audience who has seen as much of Clara’s life story as we have of any other companion’s. And the story doesn’t really give Clara enough “Doctoring” to do to justify the switch, as the whole notion is really over and done with after just a couple of minutes. After that, Clara is just Clara, and she is certainly the second lead after the Doctor, where she belongs. Maybe the idea would have worked better if it’d been part of Flatline instead.
The Death of Osgood – When you’re in the midst of things, this is a pretty depressing episode. Danny dies. Kate dies (apparently). And of course, the unexpectedly likable Osgood dies, in quite a cruel fashion. Now, I don’t really mind that. I get the idea that I recently read from Steven Moffat that you have to really show the Master (or the Mistress) doing something vicious to remind us that this isn’t a cute & cuddly character. So Missy killing Osgood, and taking childish delight in it, I get that (as despicable as it is), from a narrative point of view.
But what’s annoying? How incredibly stupid Osgood and those soldiers who are supposedly “guarding” Missy are in this scene! If you’ve got someone as dangerous as the Master on board (and Osgood has figured out that she is the Master), why let them talk? Why not keep them sedated? Why keep her in a room ten feet away from her deadly weapon (as well as the Doctor’s Tardis)? Why aren’t the soldiers paying attention when she unties herself? Why don’t they act when she applies lipstick just before killing someone? Why not do something when an enemy promises they are going to kill you in a few seconds?! Arrgh! Such stupidity undermining an otherwise powerful scene.
Danny takes Clara to the graveyard – It’s all Rule of Cool, or Rule of Scary, I guess. Why else would Cyber-Danny take the unconscious Clara to the graveyard? Is that going to help her listen to him, or believe him, or even just feel more comfortable? No, but it leads to some creepy moments of Cybermen rising out of their graves, and provides an interesting setting for the climax of the story.
Underestimating the Cybermen – This goes right alongside of underestimating Missy. It’s that Colonel Ahmed guy, who wonders what one Cybermen could do to their ship. What can one Cybermen do? Well, it only took one to punch a whole through the window and drag Colonel Ahmed to his doom. So I guess one Cybermen can do quite a lot.
Missy is the woman who got Clara and the Doctor connected – As we thought, it’s true! It was all part of her diabolical plan! You see, because of this connection, Missy was able to…uh, she could…um, well…. Uh, I guess that’s it. She got them together, just because. No particular reason, I guess. Because the Doctor would go to hell for her. Unlike Amy. Or Rose. Or Donna. Or Sarah Jane. Or Jo. Or…
And who cares if the Doctor would go to hell for her? Was it all a plan to get to get the Doctor to go to the hidden 3W facility? Give the Doctor a companion, keep them together, so that eventually she’d fly the Tardis via its telepathic circuits, and her boyfriend would die, and she’d go crazy and demand the Doctor save him, and they’d use the telepathic circuits again to find the place? Surely there’d be some easier way to lure the Doctor to this place, right? Oh well, it is the Master, I guess. Convoluted plans are kind of his specialty.
Danny Pink is still giving the Doctor lip about being an “officer”? I mean, this moment comes when he’s been turned into a Cyberman. Dead people are turning into Cybermen all over the world. There are Cybermen corpse-zombies climbing out of their graves right in front of him. And in the midst of this, Danny is hassling the Doctor about the whole soldier thing? Certainly, I think we should be able to agree – we all need the Doctor at this moment. It’s time to shut up and listen to him.
The Doctor rediscovers the value of soldiers and Danny Pink saves the world – This is kind of awesome, but Missy just stands around and watches? You think this woman who apparently can move like a lightning bolt would try to do something to keep her plan from going up in smoke.
But then, once again, this is the Master. She probably has about six other equally insane plans that she’s eager to try, and she doesn’t want to lose the opportunity. Just have a look at Castrovalva from the classic series to get a glimpse of the kind of back-up plans that the Master would always have ready to go.
The Brigadier saves Kate’s life and the Doctor’s soul – And the Doctor gives him a salute. But now, the Brigadier is a Cybermen? Is he still flying around out there, extolling the virtues of the British? Talk about robbing a character of his dignified death.
The Doctor and Clara lie to each other – And they do it out of kindness, which is kind of nice to watch. But it’s annoying to watch it play out in a bad sit-com sort of way, where the Doctor interrupts Clara with the cliched comment that he knows what she is going to say, but gets it wrong, so that we never find out what she was going to say. In fact, the story starts and ends like this, with Clara not getting to say what she really wanted to say to either Danny or the Doctor. And both times, it seems like there was something else she was trying to get out, and neither time did we find out what it was.
Speculation is that maybe she’s pregnant with Danny’s baby (explaining Orson Pink from Listen). That’d be interesting, but I don’t know that it’d explain all those post-it notes at the beginning of Dark Water.
But with all of this, a lot of these moments aren’t all bad. And there are a lot of good moments too. Like the Doctor saving himself after falling out of the airplane. Or Danny sending the young boy back home. Or Kate and Osgood staring down the Cybermen. Or the Doctor saying that Love is not an emotion – it’s a promise.
And the end result is a decent finale of what has been overall a very strong season.
So we’ve certainly had to deal with worse.
Only 40 days until Christmas!