With Cybermen on the streets of London, old friends unite against old enemies and the Doctor takes to the air in a startling new role.
Can the mighty UNIT contain Missy? As the Doctor faces his greatest challenge, sacrifices must be made before the day is won.
I think in my mind, I do this episode a disservice and focus more on the negatives than the positives. This is a very good finale to Peter Capaldi’s debut season, and whilst it may have its flaws, I really enjoyed watching it for this review. There are certainly issues with this, but largely it is enjoyable and engaging, switching from the bombast of the opening half to the more intimate four-hander in the latter half.
This story brings what has been quite a dark series to a close, with the culmination of Missy’s plan to convert humanity’s dead into a Cyber army to give to the Doctor. Moffat starts this story out with an epic sweep, reminiscent of some of the Russell T Davies penned finales, however, by the halfway point, the Cybermen are largely sidelined as the story focuses on four characters in a graveyard – the Doctor, Missy, Clara and Danny. The Cybermen essentially become Missy’s muscle here, which is disappointing when they are just staggering around a graveyard in the background, but perhaps it is an acknowledgement that, despite their status as one of Doctor Who’s best known adversaries, they aren’t great at carrying a story by themselves. Moffat pulls off some quite good twists here, like the reveal that the Doctor is the President of Earth and the death of Osgood, which was something I remember really surprising me at the time although, in hindsight, her card is marked as soon as the Doctor offers the opportunity to travel in the TARDIS. The café scene at the end of the episode is a testament to good and economic writing as both characters lie to each other. It is a case of two characters with good intentions wanting the other to believe that they are fine, and of course, the Twelfth Doctor assuming rather than knowing something for certain.
Why don’t you like hugging, Doctor?
Never trust a hug. It’s just a way to hide your face.Clara Oswald and the Twelfth Doctor
The story benefits greatly from the direction of Rachel Talalay and the score by Murray Gold. Talalay’s direction creates some great shots, such as the aftermath of Danny rescuing Clara from Saint Paul’s Cathedral, which contains some of the best looking Cybermen destruction I’ve ever seen. Her experience of directing horror films stands her in good stead here, especially in the scenes in the graveyard when the Cybermen start emerging from the graves around Clara, which all helps to create a sense of imminent threat and danger. Combined with Gold’s score, she manages to make something as simple and mundane as water travelling along a pavement seem threatening and epic. Another moment where Gold’s score really stands out is when the Doctor falls out of Boat One, only for the TARDIS to materalise in mid-air. In what might seem like a more ridiculous moment, the music soars to almost Bond-like level, making the Doctor’s unlikely escape seem more like a homage.
Of course! Earth’s darkest hour, and mine. Where else would you be?The Twelfth Doctor
The shadow of the Brigadier hangs quite heavily in this story, with his portrait featuring on Boat One and his Cyber-converted Brig appearing at the end of the story. Anybody who has read my reviews of the Classic series will know that I absolutely adore the character of the Brigadier and parallels between Pertwee and Capaldi eras absolutely make sense, especially with this series focussing on the Doctor’s difficult relationship between himself and militaries. It’s clearly an era that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have a lot of fondness for too, but there is a part of me that thinks that “Cyber-Brig” was a misstep. I do think that it is of questionable taste and, in fact, the whole element of Kate needing to be saved from the Presidential plane is unnecessary – Moffat has already upped the stakes by killing Osgood, putting Kate into peril shortly afterwards feels a bit superfluous. There is a part of me that thinks that it would be equally satisfactory to see the Doctor salute the portrait on the plane, but when I watched Death in Heaven for this review, the salute in the graveyard worked for me. Ultimately, having the Brigadier there pays homage to some of those great stories from the 70s (or 80s, depending on the dating protocol) with the Third Doctor going up against Roger Delgado’s Master, and despite many assertions over the intervening years, the Brigadier is probably the closest thing to a best friend the Doctor has ever had. The Brigadier is also an example of someone who the Doctor can rely upon to trouble himself with the dirty work and allow the Doctor to keeps his own hands relatively clean. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that this send-off for the character works well enough for me but it doesn’t entirely sit easily with me.
Missy has a feeling of real anarchic glee about her for most of the story and it is clear that Michelle Gomez is having a ball here, able to tap into the Master’s absolute insanity. She is quite funny at times, but also capable of reminding you that she is completely unhinged and evil, like in the scene where she escapes UNIT captivity, killing her two ineffectual guards and Osgood, disregarding the opportunity for a tactical advantage proposed by Osgood of not killing her, which ultimately leads to her plan failing. The chemistry between her and Capaldi is great, and when Missy says that she just wants her friend back, it is utterly believable. For the first time since Pertwee and Delgado, I believe that these two were once friends and their paths have diverged. Missy states that she wants the Doctor to see that they aren’t that different after all and wants to prove that the Doctor would be capable of the same things that the Master has previously done given the resources of an army. This always reminds me of the Batman comic The Killing Joke and, in turn, of The Dark Knight and the Batman/Joker relationship but also the Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty element of their relationship, which of course, was Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts’ original idea when the character was devised. Ultimately, Missy’s plan is derailed due to her inability to look at the details and focus too much on the big picture, not being able to see that Danny is the one Cyberman not obeying her orders. Despite her bombastic performance, one of my favourite moments is immediately after Danny and the Cyber army have destroyed the clouds, and Missy stands off to the right of the Doctor with her eyes closed, resigned to her fate before she comes out with the co-ordinates of Gallifrey.
Peter Capaldi wraps up his first series as the Doctor with aplomb here, with his crowning moment his silent fury after travelling to Gallifrey’s co-ordinates, only to find out that Missy has lied to him. His fury as he pounds the TARDIS console is really powerful, made more so as he tells Clara that he found Gallifrey and intends to go back and change it. As mentioned above, he has great chemistry with Gomez, and his relationship with Coleman and Jemma Redgrave is good too. Another of Capaldi’s crowning moments in this story comes after he tells Colonel Ahmed not to salute him and makes a disparaging comment about how it looks like self-concussing. A couple of scenes later, Kate tells him that it was her father’s biggest ambition to get a salute from the Doctor. Capaldi’s attitude completely changes and he noticably softens as he says “He should have asked.” It could easily come across as quite brusque and rude, but it’s a lovely line delivery.
Clara spends the early part of this story separate from the Doctor, utilising her experiences of watching the Doctor getting out of similar situations to her advantage. Of course, the “Clara Oswald has never existed” moment screams that it is trailer fuel, but Jenna Coleman is great as she attempts to convince the Cybermen that she is in fact the Doctor, not the grey haired Scotsman who was in the facility earlier. The impact of Danny and Clara’s scenes in the graveyard surprised me – having gone off their relationship after In The Forest of the Night and wondering why they were still together after Danny finds out that Clara lied to him about still travelling with the Doctor, I was surprised that I was invested in these scenes. This is certainly testament to the acting of Coleman and Samuel Anderson, who managed to get me to believe in their relationship once again and it means that Danny’s double sacrifice – the first to stop Missy’s plans, the second in not coming back from the Nethersphere and sending the child he killed on active service back – is more powerful.
Ah, there you are! I knew I’d get to you eventually. Now, stop gawping and tell me: What do you want for Christmas?Santa
Verdict: One of the darkest series finales, Death in Heaven brings Capaldi’s first series to a close with a bang. There are issues with it, such as the Cyber Brig and the Cybermen become almost like set dressing, but it is a great conclusion. 8/10
Cast: Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald), Samuel Anderson (Danny Pink), Michelle Gomez (Missy), Chris Addison (Seb), Ingrid Oliver (Osgood), Jemma Redgrave (Kate Lethbridge-Stewart), Sanjeev Bhaskar (Colonel Ahmed), Antonio Bouroupael (Boy), Shane Keogh-Grenade (Teenage Boy), Katie Bignell (Teenage Girl), James Pearse (Graham), Jeremiah Krage (Cyberman) & Nicholas Briggs (Voice of the Cybermen).
Writer: Steven Moffat
Director: Rachel Talalay
Behind the Scenes
- The opening titles mark the second time any facial of a character other than the Doctor’s appear after the TV Movie. This is also the first time that the actor playing the Doctor was not credited first in the opening credits.
- The first series finale to lead directly into the Christmas special since The Last of the Time Lords.
- This continues the trend of the Cybermen appearing in the 12th episode of a Moffat-helmed series.
- Steven Moffat confirmed that one of the Doctor’s four marriages mentioned by Clara included his marriage to Susan’s grandmother.
- Sanjeev Bhaskar previously appeared in the Eighth Doctor Adventures The Eight Truths and Worldwide Web.
The entrance of UNIT in the story’s opening moments is fantastic. It’s a bit of a cheat to include another great bit of dialogue in this bit, but I love Kate’s entrance in this story.
Afternoon. You’ve picked a lovely day for it. [to the Doctor] Haircut?
Bit of a trim.
Might want to do your roots. [Motions to Missy] The woman. [To Cyberman] Kate Stewart, divorcee, mother of two, keen gardener, outstanding bridge player. Also, Chief Scientific Officer of the Unified Intelligence Taskforce, who currently have you surrounded.
Human weaponry is not effective against Cyber technology.
Sorry, you left this behind on one of your previous attempts. [throws down The Invasion era damaged Cyberman head] So, now that I have you attention, welcome to the only planet where we get to say this: He’s on the payroll.Kate Stewart, the Twelfth Doctor and Cyberman
I am not a good man! And I’m not a bad one either! I’m not a hero. I’m not a president, and, no, I’m not an officer. You know who I am? I…am…an idiot! With a box and a screwdriver. Passing through. Helping out. Learning. I don’t need an army, I never have. Because I’ve got them, always them, because love is not an emotion. Love is a promise and he will never hurt her.The Twelfth Doctor
Previous Twelfth Doctor review: Dark Water