And so we've reached the 8th season finalé of the new Doctor Who. Some of it worked. A lot of it didn't. Let's take a look, shall we? Come along, darlings. [Spoilers ahead.]
[Apologies in advance, this is a long one.]
From comments I've seen (and reviews here and there), some people didn't know what to make of the episode, needing to watch it twice in order to make sense of it all. I am all for writing that makes its audience go "Huh?", leaving them riled up and confused. But, that effect should be a deliberate choice on the part of the writer. With Death in Heaven, it's anything but.
Last time, the Master announced her return as the Mistress, just as an army of Cybermen began spilling out of St. Paul's Cathedral, and a single Cyberman tromped with menace towards Clara. Oh, Crumbs!
Now: In the teaser, Clara rises up and proceeds to bluff her skirt off, claiming to be the Doctor.
Does It Work?
As a diversionary tactic? You bet. She's taken to the Doctor's primary MO: keep
talking lying until an opening presents itself. (Honestly, if any of his foes were rude enough to interrupt him with a well-timed laser blast, the show wouldn't have lasted two seasons.)
Does it work to mislead the audience? Nope! Moffat threw his audience for a loop with the change-up in the credits (shown here). But, it's meaningless distraction. It's a lie, directed at characters AND the audience.
If your audience is scratching their heads and thinking about the character's history, trying to resolve this new data while they're watching the show, then they're not paying attention. Moffat knows this, or should. So what is he distracting us from? Uh… there doesn't seem to be an answer to that! Moving on!
The Cybermen unleashed on London… don't attack. They don't even stand in formation. They just take to the streets, and go into stand-by mode. The public finds this delightful and starts snapping photos with the invading horde.
Does It Work?
No. No it doesn't.There is nothing funny or amusing about dozens of metal men marching onto your streets. Especially metal men that look almost exactly like the same invading horde that arrived in the millions, six in-universe years before.
Remember Doomsday? It wasn't that long ago. These people— who should remember Cybermen marching through every major city in the world— should be angry, or afraid. Running and screaming. That would be the realistic reaction. Instead, they find it cute. Which means the public of this Earth are morons. No, really.
UNIT shows up (thank goodness), led by the indomitable Kate Stewart, to announce that the Cybermen are going to face resistance. They still don't attack. Instead, they fly off in separate directions, and explode.
I did not foresee this.
Does It Work?
Oh my, yes. Kate Stewart is one of the most welcome additions to the DW roster in recent years. Her move to put Missy and the Cybermen in Check forces them to move up their agenda. It's also a good reminder that the Time Lords— for all their will and massive intelligence— can still be surprised, can still be physically overpowered.
So! Waterborne Cyber-pollen slinks, spills, and slips its way to the remains of Danny Pink. In seconds, a dead body has been converted into a fully operational Cyberman. If last season's Nightmare in Silver needed any escalation, they've gotten it. The Cybermen can now also convert the dead (provided the deceased's memories were uploaded to a Time Lord receptacle). Yikes.
Does It Work?
Well, yes and no. I mean, congrats. You've taken away one of the last conceivable flaws for the Cybermen, who as of Nightmare in Silver, were already upgraded to a galactic threat. Now you've made them virtually unstoppable. That's great…
Except that this is a serial. Doctor Who recycles its villains. A lot. If the Cybermen have become this invincible, you face two problems: a) you can never really use them again, or b) the future encounters will require colossal Deus Ex Machinas to defeat 'em. Neither is a good sign.
Oh! Hey! The Doctor was voted President of Planet Earth. The people of Earth— outside the ones so stupid as to take selfies with their recognizable invaders— were desperate, and gave the job to the Doctor. (I love that while he's receiving this news, he's put so much sugar into his tea, it's slopped down the sides. He's about to slurp the spillage out of his saucer when the news sinks in. Subtle, low-key stuff. Whose idea was that?)
In the Nethersphere, Clara's lies run out… just in time for a Cyber-converted Danny to arrive and destroy the opposing Cybermen.
Does It Work?
Absolutely. It's not the first time the Doctor was elected President in a pinch, and Missy already introduced a tangible, physical door between London and the Nethersphere. We've also seen other Cyber-converts resist their programming and turn rogue. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen.
So the Cybermen have seeded clouds with Cyber-pollen and plan to resurrect countless corpses. It begins to rain over every major graveyard, and Cybermen begin crawling out of the ground.
Does It Work?
Largely, yes. There is no mention of how intact the remains have to be in order to qualify. If the previous episode is anything to go on, the Cybermen no longer need anything more than a relatively firm skeleton to build a frame around.
To the show's credit, not every coffin lights up with activity, as UNIT investigates. Some of the graves are decades or over a century old, there'd be nothing inside for the Cyber-pollen to work with. Yeeeuch.
It's also striking imagery; the overlap of the Cybermen, and our dead. It was bad enough when they wanted the living to "BECOME LIKE UZZZZ". Now even dying isn't enough to save you from a grisly fate.
Aboard UNIT'S equivalent of Air Force One, Missy slips out of her handcuffs, summons an army of not-blown-up Cybermen, kills Osgood, and throws Kate Stewart off the plane before destroying it flat-out. She teleports away and leaves the Doctor to plummet to his death. Again.
Does It Work?
Are you kidding me? The Mistress' entire plot works if—and only if— the people holding her are complete morons. Osgood is not a moron. Yes, I get that Missy is crazy, but it's phenomenally stupid to try to slip out of your handcuffs when two armed guards are watching you do it.
This is UNIT. The only earthbound organization equipped to deal with extra-terrestrial threats. They know she's the Mistress. They had her in captivity, unconscious, for hours. She's a Time Lady. They have weapons that don't look like weapons. Take away her jewelry.
If the Mistress had been held by anyone with a lick of intelligence, they'd have shot her or tranquilized her the first time she tried to touch her handcuffs, and remove all her jewelry as a precaution.
The insulting thing about this is that it's simply a waste of the Mistress. She can control your mind. She's done it before. Moffat could have made her singing hypnotic, to distract the guards while she slipped out of her cuffs. He could have written a simple exchange: "Hey Osgood." "What?" /foolishly makes eye contact/ "I am the Mistress, and You Will Obey Me."
The dialogue, the mounting tension, the terror we feel for Osgood, that all works. (And hey, congrats on passing the Bechdel Test!) The Mistress' contempt for the human race? Delicious stuff. But it's wrapped around such a stupid plot contrivance that it doesn't work. Oh, and hey. The Mistress vanishes/teleports in a flash of blue light.
The Doctor skydives to his TARDIS, while Clara has the most heart-wrenching conversation of her life with the Cyber-animated remains of Danny Pink.
They decide together that Danny should be allowed to let go of his pain, which is as messed-up-a-metaphor for Euthanasia as you'll ever find on Doctor Who. The only flaw here is that this beautiful scene was bisected by the rampant action mayhem aboard the crashing UNIT plane.
Two completely different moods going on, at two tempos, juxtaposed on top of each other. It's a mess. The Doctor shows up to try to talk them out of it. He fails, until moments later he pulls a complete 180 and determines that the only way to stop the Mistress is to learn what she's planning. To do that, he needs to switch on Danny's emotional inhibitor. Well… shit.
The Mistress arrives in a flash of blue light to taunt the Doctor, and… hand him his very own army of invincible Cybermen.
I did not see this coming.
Does It Work?
That bit? 100%. In-universe, because the Mistress is an old pro at conquering planets. She has the patience of a Time Lady, spinning out her web one stand at a time. And it worked. She'd come as close as ever to winning, if she'd kept the bracelet for herself. But she didn't.
She handed over the keys to the Cyber-Kingdom, offering the Doctor his very own unstoppable army, tempting him to march across the universe and destroy foes like the Daleks once and for all. The Doctor does the only thing he would ever do in such circumstances: he destroys the army at once.
Well, no. He hands the keys to Danny, who gives a lovely speech about a Soldier's Promise "You will sleep safely tonight." Then he commands every last* Cyberman into the air, to self-destruct.
Her army gone, the Mistress is at the Doctor and Clara's mercy. Too bad they don't have any. Clara's happy to vaporize her. The Doctor is all right with doing it himself, if it means keeping the blood off Clara's hands. He's seconds away from pulling the trigger, when she vanishes in a flash of blue light.
A Cyber-converted Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart just blasted the Mistress to smithereens. And if you believe she's actually dead or gone for good, then there's this lovely bridge I'd love to sell you.
Two weeks later, Danny resurrects the child he killed in the army. The Nethersphere is shutting down for good. Danny seems to be lost forever.
The Doctor meets Clara for coffee, and steamrolls over her sad announcements to lie, and tell her he found Gallifrey. He's trying to say good-bye, so Clara lies right back to him, saying she and Danny are going to be fine.
That ending may seem bittersweet. It may also seem, more realistically, like a massive pile of crap. Two best friends just lied to each other's faces about life-changing events, hoping to never see each other again. It's not bittersweet, it is awful.
Of course, Moffat knows this. He can't let the season end on such a downer, so here comes Santa Claus! "Oi! That ending was crap! The audience is gonna realize it as soon as they stop cryin', so you've got to pull out a feckin' miracle! Good news! Santa Claus is here to deliver!"
The show— and the season— had high amounts of emotional torque. Moffat knows how to get his audience to be emotional. But the plot… Yeah. Picture the pitch meeting: "So yeah. The season ends with the lead character miserable, separated from his best friend for good. Their lives have been pretty much ruined." Blink. Blink. The show runner asks, "So what happens?" "Oh, Santa Claus shows up to save the day."
I have no words. I've taken up far too much of your time as it is, but… yeah. That was awful.