Sunday, 9 November 2014

Review: Doctor Who - Death in Heaven

Two of the Doctor's oldest enemies have returned and want to take away everything that is precious to the Time Lord and Clara. Will there really be 'Death in Heaven' in the series finale?

'Hey Missy, you're so fine. You're so fine you blow my mind, hey Missy.' 

Doctor Who finales are always something of a double-edged Darth Maul-style sword. On one hand, they are automatically the most anticipated and often most exciting to watch by nature of their sending off the current run of the show with a bang. On the other, the pressure of ending the series on a high note can be too much and such episodes don't always live up to the hype. In this respect, 'Death in Heaven' succeeds, delivering an episode both exciting and emotional in equal measure.

Perhaps unlike the feature-length series opener 'Deep Breath', this episode certainly benefited from its fifteen minute extra running time, which really allowed for a few scenes to be further explored that might otherwise have been cut short. The story deserves praise alone for wrapping up most of the ongoing ideas and themes of the series - from Clara and Danny's relationship to the Doctor's dislike of soldiers. Building on the thoroughly glum 'Dark Water', 'Death in Heaven' tugged at the heartstrings and contained its fair share of shocks to boot. Much like last week, however, there were points at which I thought the show was pushing the boundaries of taste. In particular, one 'reappearance' of a much-loved character seemed a tad dubious in its execution to me and I'd rather it hadn't happened. Still, there was much to enjoy elsewhere…

While it was fun to see them, this episode had the unenviable task of featuring two classic villains in the Cybermen and their Master. For the Cybermen, this was glorious comeback. Their new jet-powered boots are a great new superpower to add to their evergrowing collection and the image of them attacking UNIT's plane like gremlins is a terrific moment. Likewise, not since 'Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel' has the true terror of the Cybermen been demonstrated this well: that they were once us. Whereas previous episodes have cast them as regular robots, we are left in no doubt here as to who these Cybermen are underneath. 
Also, Michelle Gomez is rather wonderful here as an utterly 'bananas' incarnation of the Master. What she does, particularly mowing her way through the episode's supporting cast and her scenes with the Doctor, she is brilliant at but with the episode as packed as it is the character is not as well explored as she could be - just why was she suddenly so besotted with the Doctor, for instance? This reviewer certainly hopes she will return. 

Despite the shocks and the Cybermen, the true heart of this episode is the trio of central characters who all go through the ringer here. Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Samuel Anderson have been superb all year and each go out with another fine performance. Anderson's Danny proves to be the real hero of the series as he finds redemption for past failures in the most tragic of ways. Faced with his old enemy, the Doctor has to look hard at who he is but comes out the other end a wiser man by realising he is nothing but ‘an idiot with a box.’ And Clara...Well, poor Clara. The final scene between Capaldi and Coleman is a touching affair and beautifully scripted by Steven Moffat, acting as a bittersweet round-up of the characters’ journeys over the series.

There really was much to like about this finale which encapsulates this series' style, mood and its courage to be different. It was not a heavenly episode of Doctor Who but that's not to say it came from the Nethersphere either. Say something nice? How about: 'Death in Heaven' is almost certainly the best finale since 2010. There you go, that's something to squee about. 

In the words of Clara, thank you Capaldi and Coleman for making Doctor Who feel special. 

Next time: The Doctor returns at Christmas when he faces the great evil of ... Santa Claus and his elves? 

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