The two part finale of Doctor Who Series Eight, comprised of “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven,” has the Internet all abuzz. Steven Moffat seems to have hit all the right notes with his scripts. Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Samuel Anderson and Michelle Gomez each did excellent work portraying the Doctor, Clara, Danny and Missy.
There is soooo much to cover… where to begin? I expect that most everyone reading this review will have already viewed these two episodes, so I can keep the plot summaries to a minimum and focus on my reactions & analysis. If you need to refresh your memories about the details, well, as my girlfriend likes to say, “Look it up on Wikipedia!”
“Dark Water” opens with Danny walking through the streets of London, talking to Clara on his cell phone. Crossing the street, he is hit by a car and is instantly killed. Wow, I did not see that coming. And I was genuinely upset. As with the character of Clara, I felt Danny was somewhat inconsistently written over this past season. But Anderson played him so very well, made him such a compelling character, that when Danny died I was upset.
Clara is consumed with grief and shock. Absolutely distraught, she attempts to force the Doctor to travel back in time and undo Danny’s death, threatening to strand them both on a volcanic planet by tossing all of the TARDIS keys into the lava. However, the entire journey is revealed to be an illusion, as the Doctor hypnotized Clara to find out how far she was willing to go. This sequence is interesting because throughout Series Eight we have seen Clara acting more and more like the Doctor. Now she attempts to manipulate him, and in the sequence where it appears that they are standing on the edge of the volcano Clara really behaves in a very Doctor-ish manner.
Realizing that she has betrayed the Doctor’s trust, Clara is ready to accept banishment from the TARDIS. But the Doctor informs her that despite this betrayal he still regards Clara as a friend, and if it is possible he will help her attempt to locate Danny in the afterlife, or wherever it is people go when they die. While I did think the bit about the Doctor saying “Go to hell” was forced, both Capaldi and Coleman play this extremely well. It really demonstrates Clara’s grief and remorse: she believes that having already lost the man she loves, she has now also let down her best friend. Then Capaldi shows us a Doctor who, despite his disappointment at this betrayal, is still willing to help a friend who needs him.
Speaking of Danny, he regains consciousness in the Nethersphere, the mysterious location where several other characters who died in recent episodes have also found themselves. A bureaucrat named Seb (Chris Addison) informs Danny that he is deceased. Addison portrays Seb with this amusingly smarmy quality. He very much brings across the notion of a paper-pusher attempting to project sympathy, but who it is transparently obvious really doesn’t give a crap, and who delights in being able to tangle people up in red tape.
Danny is having difficulty believing he is really dead… until he comes face to face with the young boy he accidentally killed while serving in the military. Moffat has previously been heavy-handed at implying that this is what took place during Danny’s time in the service, and why Danny dislikes the Doctor, who reminds him of the officers & politicians who sent him into a war zone. So the revelation comes as no surprise. But, again, Anderson plays Danny so well that he brings real emotion to this scene.
Back in the TARDIS, the Doctor uses the telepathic circuits to navigate via Clara’s thoughts, hoping to home in on Danny’s location. They materialize inside a massive mausoleum containing dozens of skeletons seated in chambers filled with liquid. The pair is greeted by Missy who introduces herself as the android interface of 3W, a facility dedicated to preserving the bodies of the deceased out of the belief that the dead remain conscious after death. The Doctor dismisses 3W as a scam… and he is correct.
Missy is not an android, but the head of 3W. She has conned people into letting them preserve their bodies, but in fact is converting them into Cybermen. She has also spent centuries stealing the minds of countless people at the moment of their deaths, storing them in the Nethersphere.
The revelation of the Cybermen is not a surprise, as there’d been publicity photos of Missy standing alongside an army of them circulating about for weeks before “Dark Water” was broadcast. So it wasn’t much of a mystery as to what was happening with all of those dead bodies in the possession of 3W.
Missy is a slightly different matter. Over the past few months, since her debut in “Deep Breath” there’s been much online speculation concerning her identity. It was clever for Moffat to throw in some last-minute misdirection so that, for several minutes at least, it appears that Missy is some sort of artificial intelligence gone rogue. It then results in some more drama & surprise when her true identity, which many already suspected, is finally revealed.
Of course, I totally missed out on figuring out what the nature of the Nethersphere was, when it should have been so obvious. The Doctor identifies it as “a Matrix Data Slice, a Gallifreyan hard drive.” Introduced in 1976 in the serial “The Deadly Assassin,” the Matrix was a vast computer network into which the memories of recently-deceased Time Lords were uploaded. Living minds could also enter the Matrix, within which a virtual reality world could be generated. So, yes, as a long time Doctor Who fan, I really ought to have figured out that this was the destination where all of those deceased people were arriving at throughout Series Eight, especially given the speculation concerning Missy’s true nature.
Trying to locate Clara, from whom he has become separated, the Doctor accidentally exits the 3W facility, only to finds himself outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, 2014. As the corpses, now converted into Cybermen, begin marching out into the streets of London (in homage to a very similar scene from the 1968 serial “The Invasion”) the Doctor attempts to figure out Missy’s identity.
The Doctor: Who are you?
Missy: Oh, you know who I am. I’m Missy.
The Doctor: Who’s Missy?
Missy: Please, try to keep up. Short for Mistress. Well…couldn’t very well keep calling myself the Master, now could I?
The Doctor is absolutely horrified at this revelation. The look on Capaldi’s face is epic. You can just see an expression spread across his features that translates into “Oh fuck!”
Quite a few people guessed Missy’s identity well in advance. So it wasn’t nearly as much of a shock as, say, the reveal several years ago in “Utopia” that Professor Yana was actually the Master. Nevertheless the climax to “Dark Water” is well-written and well-filmed, so that even if you’ve deduced what’s coming it still packs a punch.
Regarding the Master becoming a woman… It was established in both “The Doctor’s Wife” and “Night of the Doctor” that Time Lords have the ability to change genders when they regenerate. So it is not entirely unprecedented that the Master should resurface as a woman. Honestly, it adds yet another wrinkle to the Doctor’s dysfunctional rapport with the Master. The two of them have had a love-hate relationship right from the moment when the Master was first introduced in “Terror of the Autons” back in 1971. On many occasions the Master has come across as a demented stalker, hounding the Doctor, attempting to impress and outdo him before finally trying to kill him. It actually makes a certain twisted sense that the Master, regenerated into Missy, now refers to the Doctor as her “boyfriend” and is behaving like an unhinged, jilted lover.
Still in 3W headquarters, Clara is communicating with Danny in the Nethersphere over an audio link-up. Danny refuses to give her any information that might prove he is the genuine article; he wants her to move on with her life and not attempt to find him, finally having accepted he is deceased. A frustrated Clara cuts the link, and Danny is left weeping. Seb hands Danny an iPad, giving him the opportunity to erase his painful emotions… which, of course, is exactly what the Nethersphere programs want him to do, in order to be able to convert him into a Cyberman. Danny is ready to press “delete,” but then he sees the face of the child he killed reflected in the iPad screen, and he hesitates.
As “Death in Heaven,” opens, the Cybermen are marching through the streets of London. The human bystanders, rather than fleeing, come up to the cyborgs and start taking selfies with their cell phones. Oh lordy! Yeah, I could see people doing that. The Doctor has mentioned on more than one occasion that human beings have an exceptional gift for mass amnesia. It seems no one in this crowd remembers the time several years ago that the Cybermen and the Daleks were fighting it out in the city streets. So we get everyone taking photos of themselves posing with a murderous cyborg army and posting onto Instagram, much to the Doctor’s bewilderment & frustration. Missy shows him via her own handheld device / disintegrator ray that the exact same thing is occurring in all the major cities on Earth. “We’re going viral,” Missy proudly announces.
It turns out that many of the people in the crowd are undercover agents of UNIT headed by Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and her assistant Osgood (Ingrid Oliver). Kate drops a wrecked Cyberman head left over from the 1968 invasion at the feet of this new wave and warns them to leave Earth because humanity has the Doctor on their payroll. Instead all of the Cybermen fly into the sky via rocket-boots and blow themselves up, scattering “pollen” all over London. The same thing takes place across the globe. This infects the bodies of countless deceased people, transforming their corpses into Cybermen, and downloading their now-emotionless minds from the Nethersphere into their revived corpses.
In the past I have described the idea of being converted into a Cyberman as a fate worse than death. And that is literally the case here. Missy has stolen the minds of billions of dying people, imprisoned them in the Nethersphere, removed their emotions, and forced their consciousness back into their reanimated bodies. It is an absolutely monstrous act, depriving countless innocents of the peace of the grave, transforming them into her enslaved army.
Interestingly, in the Big Finish audio story “The Reaping” it appeared that the Cybermen had gained the ability to convert the dead. This turned out to be a deception on their part to trick the Doctor into assisting them. But in “Death in Heaven,” enhanced by Missy’s pilfered Time Lord tech, they are able to do exactly that. One of the most chilling aspects of this is how we see it affect Danny, who revives in the morgue transformed into a Cyberman. Not having deleted his emotions, Danny is fully aware of what has happened to him.
The converted Danny tracks Clara to St. Paul’s and rescues her from the other Cybermen, rendering her unconscious in the process. She awakens in a cemetery as disoriented Cybermen slowly begin crawling out from their graves. There Danny removes the faceplate from his helmet, revealing his undead, distorted face to Clara. It’s a genuinely heartbreaking moment.
UNIT takes both the Doctor and Missy into custody. Aboard their mobile aircraft headquarters, Kate informs the Doctor that due to the worldwide crisis he has been appointed the President of Earth. Naturally enough the Doctor is appalled; he does not want that kind of power & authority. Of course, when you think about it, that probably makes him the most qualified person for the position.
I enjoyed the interaction between the Doctor and Osgood here. The Doctor shows a grudging admiration for the clever scientist, who is definitely a major groupie. Osgood is a cool fictional version of a geek girl. When we first saw her in “The Day of the Doctor” she was sporting a multi-colored scarf. Now she’s switched to a bowtie.
Since she survived her run-in with the Zygons, in the back of my mind I assumed that Osgood had gained plot armor. That’s sort of the thing with UNIT personnel: when they first appear they stand a very good chance of getting killed off by that episode’s alien menace. But if they manage to make it out of their debut alive, their survival is all but assured in any subsequent appearances.
So I was genuinely shocked when Missy, who had been handcuffed & restrained by UNIT, broke free and, after taunting Osgood, murdered her, blasting her to atoms, and then crushed her glasses beneath her boot. Shortly after, when the Doctor is horrified to discover that all that is left of Osgood is ashes and a broken pair of spectacles, Missy mockingly inquires in a child-like voice “Have you brought any more friends I can play with?”
At this point Missy reveals she was the lady from the repair shop who gave the TARDIS phone number to Clara prior to the events in “The Bells of St. John,” putting them together, in effect altering the Doctor’s entire life. The idea that Clara had become the most important person in the Doctor’s existence, having been scattered along his time stream, giving him hope when he was a child, understandably annoyed some viewers. Now we find out that all of this has occurred only because the Missy put her into that position. It must have given the Doctor’s arch enemy a great deal of pleasure to indirectly influence and manipulate so much of her adversary’s life without him even realizing it.
The UNIT aircraft is destroyed by a group of flying Cybermen, seemingly killing everyone onboard, including Kate. Teleporting back to the Nethersphere, Missy watches the Doctor plummeting to his death. She is actually disappointed to see him dying such an ordinary death. Then, in a cool sequence, the Doctor aims himself at the falling TARDIS and manages to streak down to it, enter, and dematerialize, homing in on Clara’s cell phone. Seb, who is watching all this with Missy, is delighted by the Doctor’s feat, which causes an exasperated Missy to delete him from the Nethersphere.
When the Doctor arrives in the cemetery, a distraught Clara asks the Doctor to active Danny’s emotional inhibitor, erasing his emotions and ending his turmoil at his undead existence. At first, the Doctor refuses to do so, alluding to his own relationship with the Master / Missy…
“I had a friend once. We ran together, when I was little. And I thought we were the same. But when we grew up, we weren’t. Now she’s trying to tear the world apart and I can’t run fast enough to hold it together. The difference… is this. Pain is a gift. Without the capacity for pain we can’t feel the hurt we inflict.”
The Doctor asks Danny what the Cybermen’s plan is, but Danny is not connected enough to their hive mind to be able to discern their intentions. The only way he will be able to find out is if the emotional inhibitor is activated…
“Clara, watch this. This is who the Doctor is. Watch the blood soaked old general in action. I can’t see properly sir, because this needs activating. If you want to know what’s coming, you have to switch it on. Didn’t all of those beautiful speeches disappear in the face of a tactical advantage, sir?”
Once more we see what the Doctor meant when he told Clara “Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones. But you still have to choose.” It is an impossible choice, save Danny or let him become totally converted in order to learn the information needed to possibly save humanity. When Clara takes the sonic screwdriver from the Doctor to conduct this awful task, Danny sardonically mutters “Typical officer, got to keep those hands clean.”
The now-emotionless Danny reveals that the clouds of cyber-pollen will rain again, this time killing all living humans and converting them into Cybermen. At this Missy descends from the sky via umbrella, a demented Mary Poppins. Surprisingly, wishing the Doctor a happy birthday, Missy hands the Cyberman control unit to the Doctor. She reveals that the only way to halt the annihilation of humanity is if the Doctor himself takes control of the Cybermen army and uses them to bring order to the universe.
There is a great deal to say about the twisted relationship between the Doctor and the Master / Missy. I’m planning to address it in an upcoming blog. Suffice it to say that Missy is determined to drag the Doctor down to her own level. She sees that as her ultimate triumph. Yet again we have the Doctor confronted by two terrible choices: allow humanity to be destroyed, or join with Missy, in the process becoming everything he has ever fought against. The question that has been haunting the Doctor since his regeneration comes rushing back at him: is he a good man?
Then the Doctor glances over at Clara, who is hugging the motionless form of the converted Danny. He realizes that even with the inhibitor activated Danny has not lost all of his emotions, because he will not harm Clara. The Doctor realizes that Danny is one of those people with a will strong enough to resist being fully converted. And he comes to a realization. Addressing Missy, he states:
“Thank you. Thank you so much. I really didn’t know. I wasn’t sure. You lose sight sometimes. Thank you! I am not a good man! And I’m not a bad man. I am not a hero. And I’m definitely not a president. And, no, I’m not an officer. Do you know what 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, it’s not an emotion… love is a promise. And he will never hurt her.”
The Doctor tosses the control unit to Danny. Taking command of the Cybermen, Danny flies with them into the sky. They explode, destroying the clouds overhead. As Danny stated earlier in the season, “I’m a soldier. Guilty as charged… I’m the one who carries you out of the fire.” He proved that here, protecting humanity, saving it.
Clara, once again mourning the loss of Danny, now knowing that he is gone for good, is ready to use Missy’s own weapon to kill her. The Doctor realizes that the only way he can stop Clara is to do the deed himself. Despite what Danny believed, the Doctor is willing to get his hands dirty, willing to kill Missy himself in order to prevent Clara from becoming a murderer. Ready to pull the trigger, he sadly tells Missy “You win.”
At the last second, however, Missy is vaporized by a laser blast from a sole surviving Cyberman, one who has also rescued Kate Lethbridge-Stewart. Although not stated, it is heavily implied that this is Kate’s father, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, returned from death to once more protect the Earth, and to save the Doctor’s soul.
In the closing scenes of “Death in Heaven,” the Doctor and Clara meet up in a café. Clara tells the Doctor that she can no longer travel with him. He believes that Danny used the control bracelet to return to life, and that she plans to marry him. Via a flashback, though, we see that Danny used this one time only “get out of jail free” card to instead restore to life the child he accidentally killed. Clara doesn’t tell this to the Doctor, and instead lies. The Doctor informs Clara that he is going home to Gallifrey, having discovered it at coordinates provided by Missy. But it turns out that the Doctor is also lying. The information that Missy gave him before she died was false, one last painful, torturous twist of the knife by her. Clara and the Doctor part, each with the mistaken belief that the other, at least, has a chance at a happy future.
It’s a very solemn, downbeat ending. Then, midway through the credits, we cut to the Doctor, brooding at the TARDIS console, hearing a knocking on the door. And into the TARDIS pops none other than Santa Claus. Sooooo, to be continued on the 25th of December, then?
Is everyone still here? Yeah, this write-up went on really long, didn’t it? The two-part finale was certainly jam-packed with material. On the whole, I liked it. While not perfect (Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and UNIT felt somewhat wasted) it was certainly enjoyable, a real emotional rollercoaster.
In the past I’ve felt too many Doctor Who season finales have has the Doctor facing some apocalyptic threat that threatens the whole of existence. In one respect that was the case here. But it felt a lot different. Instead of going into detail about the worldwide resurrection of the dead as Cybermen, Moffat’s script mostly focused on the Doctor, Clara, Danny and Missy, at exploring the relationships between them. Against the backdrop of the looming annihilation of humanity, Moffat wrote a very intimate, moving, tragic character piece. This story was much the better for it.
How would I rate it? Well, as the Doctor’s former instructor Borusa once told him, “Nine out of ten.”