I have to admit that I didn’t have the best of attitudes going into the second part of the finale. I did have Missy spoiled (stupid Internet!) 30 minutes before watching “Dark Water” and so the reveal didn’t have any impact, and the character really hadn’t gelled yet, so I wasn’t sure if I liked her or not. But that really wasn’t here or there. The main thing was that Clara had continued to be completely unlikable and Danny completely uninteresting, except for the moment where he rejects Clara’s pleas and says “I love you” for the final time - that was a completely stud-out moment, and made him worthy for the first time the entire season. But Clara… Hoo boy. Attempting to force the Doctor to try to bring Danny back, without even asking him first? And then forcing him by blackmail? You might argue that she was deep in mourning and rather unhinged, but even in those circumstances, it's hardly an endearing action, to threaten to (and then actually do) ruin her friend's (her best friend, she says later) life to get him to do something. She's lucky the Doctor's an alien, because most humans would have walked out on her at that point.
But there was a lot more to dislike in "Dark Water". Danny's encounter with the boy he killed while in the army was emotionally tepid, and in general, the Nethersphere scenes were mostly for tugging on heartstrings. The Doctor didn't do much of anything throughout the episode, not even being able to detect that Missy was a Time Lady, either by the innate sense mentioned many times in previous seasons or by placing his hand on her chest and feeling her heartbeat. On the other hand, the episode ended with Cybermen emerging from underground in London, which, while making me squeal, "I was there last month!" also promised some action in the second part. I try not to watch trailers, but I did see Kate Stewart and Osgood in it, and the promise of UNIT meant that while the first part was middling, the second part could be a lot of fun. So, my attitude going in was part good, part bad.
Halfway through "Death in Heaven", I wasn't sure if the bad attitude was coloring my enjoyment of the episode. Now, I think I'm pretty sure that the episode was just bad.
The opening scene starts with the Doctor confused as the Cybermen walk around, non-menacing, with the Londoners thinking they're cool and trying to take selfies with them. Remember that Cybermen are not unknown: they attacked the entire world in "Doomsday", being shown in Paris and by the Taj Mahal, to name a couple of places. Thus, the really strange and unbelievable speech by the Doctor in "In the Forest of the Night" (oh, don't get me started on *that* episode) about the humans forgetting about the global sprouting of the trees actually had a point: it was to explain why the people this time don't recognize the Cybermen.
Meanwhile, Clara is confronted by three Cybermen, and to not get killed immediately, she claims she's actually the Doctor. The showrunners decided at this point to try to convince the audience of this, by putting Jenna Coleman's name first in the opening credits and featuring her face in the time vortex instead of Peter Capaldi's, and you have to wonder, why? Were they trying to capitalize on the notoriety of the Master's gender change? Did they really think the audience would be fooled for a moment? The devoted fan would immediately realize it can't be true - as recently as in "The Day of the Doctor", the anomalies and paradoxes caused by two incarnations meeting themselves are shown to be very dangerous, so there's no way two incarnations could be traveling together for years - and the casual viewer would simply be confused. To me, it basically reinforced the idea that what we've been watching for the past four months isn't Doctor Who, but instead The Clara Show.
So, it wasn't a fortuitous start, and the episode didn't get better from there.
First, there was no action. At all. The Cybermen never attacked. The Doctor did nothing but stand around and either listen to someone talking or talk himself. The Master just talked. But it's even worse: the entire conflict was presented, explained, and resolved with words. The Doctor honestly did nothing, spending much of his time sitting in a chair drinking tea. He did have to make the final decision and come up with the flash of brilliance that would save the day, but that was the end of his involvement in the entire plot. Come to think of it, he pretty much just talked in the first part, too.
But that's okay - we can have a good episode with no action. The action parts of “Dalek”, “Vincent and the Doctor”, “Human Nature” / “Family of Blood” and “The Doctor’s Wife” are not the good parts. So was the non-action in this episode good? No. Again, it was saddled with melodrama and heavy-handed themes.
There’s Clara and Danny. Again, Cybermen fail to completely take over a human because of the power of love. It was done in “Closing Time” and it was the reason that episode failed, the unbelievability that of the thousands, even millions of people the Cybermen have managed to convert, only one person loved his child enough to resist them. Yet, they did it again here. Danny, for some reason, is the one person in all of human history (since it’s made clear the Master has been doing this for centuries) who loves his girlfriend enough to resist the conversion process and retain his emotions. And it sucks, and he begs Clara to turn on the inhibitor.
The Doctor, of course, wants to him to retain his humanity and doesn’t want to do it, and tries to give Danny hope by giving him that same speech he gave him in "Listen". (It was a dumb speech then, but maybe it'll work this time!) However, in order to save the planet, he finds must remove Danny's emotions, and Danny takes this opportunity to attack the Doctor by pointing out that the Doctor is completely willing to sacrifice Danny to save the Earth.
Yes, he is. We've been here before. The Doctor has to weigh both sides and make difficult decisions. That's what he does. This point has been made many times before, in firing the Moment, in "The Fires of Pompeii", in "The Girl Who Waited" (where he gives the decision to Rory). Why should he suddenly realize it now and rise to Danny's bait? And why should Danny complain? A moment ago, he wanted it done, as quickly as possible, and now he uses it to take a shot at the Doctor, forcing his beloved Clara to do it instead. Thanks a lot, honey. Danny's action doesn't make sense, and it doesn't make sense that this broke the Doctor in this scene, and thus, it felt like it was only written to tweak the audience.
And now we come to Missy. She was completely insane, which is perfect for the Master, but not cleverly insane, and that was a disappointment. In the scene with Osgood, the Master should have had some clever plan to get free. Instead, it hinged on Osgood being stupid enough to listen to her, which she should not have been - this is the person who realized that the Zygons were hiding as statues, that she could defeat her doppelganger by pulling on the scarf, and which of the two Osgoods was actually the human (and that they shouldn't say anything about it to the others). You'd also think that she's seen enough movies to not get tricked like that - when the big baddie talks to you, you immediately call in the reinforcements. (Osgood is also the latest victim of one of the most egregious Doctor Who tropes: If the Doctor asks you to be a companion while the adventure is still happening, you will die before the adventure ends.)
But I digress. Missy's escape at that point was not particularly clever or interesting, or surprising. She's crazy, but she's kind of vanilla crazy, doing and saying unexpected things, and it turns out that she had no designs of her own except to give the Doctor an army to show that she and the Doctor are the same. I much prefer Delgado's evil Master sparring with the Doctor while trying to take over the planet or the universe and Simm's gleeful malice as he poisons his cabinet (who he knows he can't trust) and dances while the world burns and the Doctor is helpless. Perhaps they were trying to say that she's trying to corrupt the Doctor, but it didn't really come across, and instead they seem to have made Missy the same femme fatale that we've already seen in River, Madame Kovarian, Tasha Lem, and Miss Delphox, who basically exist to out-talk the Doctor.
Interestingly, my husband commented that this part of the plot was basically "School Reunion", specifically the showdown between the Doctor and Brother Lassar, where Brother Lassar offers the Doctor the control of the Skasas Paradigm, so that the Doctor can correct all the things that have gone wrong. The thing is, Brother Lassar offered the Doctor the ability to do good, and he offered it to the Tenth Doctor, the darkest incarnation (except for maybe the Seventh Doctor) who was most likely to be tempted and corrupted by such power, and we see that the Doctor was about to accept, if Sarah Jane hadn't intervened. Here, the Master offered the Doctor an army, with some argument about being able to enforce good with it. The Master should have known the Doctor well enough to know that he would never accept an army, and the Doctor is not even tempted; his only hesitation was due to trying to figure out how to save the situation. The scene just didn't ring true.
And then there's the ending. First, Danny with no emotions giving a rousing speech to his soldiers. How does that work? Then he has the opportunity to come back to life, but he sends the boy he killed instead. This could have been a very emotional scene, except that the scenes with the boy had already fallen flat and caused this one to have no impact. And then the Doctor and Clara lie to each other and part - after Clara's big speech about how she would never lie to her best friend (who she's been lying to all season).
(Side note: Doctor, why are you so upset that Gallifrey wasn't in the spot that the Master said it was? You haven't even thought about the planet all season, not even once, when it should have been your sole focus. You've instead been worried about monsters under the bed and begging Clara to go traveling with you. What happened to that hope of going home that shone in your eleventh incarnation's eyes as he talked to the Curator?)
(Second side note: When I watched “The Poison Sky” for the first time, I screamed in outrage when the Doctor cleared the atmosphere by burning it off with a fireball. The science there is SO BAD. Now, granted, the bad science meter has new highs with “Kill the Moon” and “In the Forest of the Night,” but they just did the same thing again in this episode! Do they really think we don’t remember that far back?)
I’m sure I could say more, but I’ll stop here. So, no, this episode made no sense, and only seemed to be attempting to create cheap emotional thrills and rehashes of themes done a lot better previously. There were a couple of good moments. Bringing back Osgood was one, though it was very sad that she was killed off; she was an interesting character and would have made a good companion. The other was the appearance of the Brigadier, saving his daughter's life, though it's very disturbing that he flew off. It would have been far more fitting, and more heart-rending, if he had decommissioned himself once he had done his duty. As it is, you're left wondering when they'll bring back CyberBrig.
Well, I can't say I expected more from this episode, given the season. I noticed a number of callbacks to previous episodes, in that a lot of the heavy-handed things they did earlier were repeated here, which makes sense: they shoehorned things into previous episodes to try to give more weight to the finale. The "fear makes you faster" speech is one. Clara's preoccupation with lying and with trying to be the Doctor are two others. Oh, and that ridiculous "people won't remember that trees covered the entire planet" speech. This season really lacked subtlety. I almost feel like they think we’re stupid enough to need concepts pounded in, that we won’t grasp the themes if they aren’t spelled out, that we have to be told things rather than shown them, given how much talking there’s been. Talk talk talk. That was my main complaint about "Deep Breath", and it's still one of my main complaints about the show now.
Sadly, the thing that I’ve really grasped this season is that I’m glad that it’s over. This is my favorite show, almost the focus of my life, and I’m not particularly excited about the prospect of the Christmas special and season 9. That's what I mean by "Death in Heaven" is a fitting name. To be completely truthful, I love Mr. Capaldi's Doctor, as much as I love all the Doctors, but he's been given the worst stories and companions. Also, this hasn't killed my love for the rest of the show and universe, and I've said before, if I have to abandon the current show for seasons 1-6, the classics, and the audios, I will be perfectly happy. I think I’m going to go hit the bathtub and listen to a Big Finish audio now.