Doctor Who: “Death in Heaven”

Look, I’m not going to mince words here. Doctor Who‘s eighth season finale,”Death in Heaven,” was crap. Although I suppose it could have been a passable, rousing adventure if it weren’t for the fact that nothing in it made any sense. If you thought the science in “In the Forest of the Night” was absurd even for Doctor Who, wait until you get a load of this episode!

**MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!**

My issues with “Death in Heaven” are almost entirely comprised of plot and logic holes, of which there are so many I suspect the script was written on a wedge of Swiss cheese. Let’s jump right in by talking about the major plot point: the transformation of the dead into Cybermen.

Missy employs something called Cyberpollen (magic rain!) that transforms every dead body on Earth into Cybermen — but only dead bodies. It works so perfectly that it begs the question why it wasn’t intended to transform all the living beings instead. But no, that will require a second pollination performed by the dead-body Cybermen! Why have this two-tier plan? Why not just turn every living human on Earth into a Cyberman with the first rain? Why even bother with transforming the dead first? On top of that, there didn’t seem to be any limit on how long someone could be dead before their body is transformed into a Cyberman. Did you die in the 1700s? Are you just dust and bone shards now? Doesn’t matter. Now you’re a full-bodied Cyberman! On the other hand, are you a healthy, living human being with all your limbs intact? Then sorry, we don’t want you. Just the dead , thanks. Again, why? There isn’t a reason beyond the fact that the plot demands a two-tier plan so the Doctor can stop it.

The logic holes continue to pile up even beyond that. Why did Missy upload every dead human’s consciousness over time into the Nethersphere only to download them back into the newly created Cybermen bodies? What is the point? Human consciousness isn’t necessary to being a Cyberman. In fact, they’d make much better Cybermen without their original human consciousnesses returned to them. That way, they would be certain to obey orders without fail. So why does Missy bother? What is the point of it all? Frankly, there isn’t one. It’s a plot device to allow the return of Danny to the real world in Cyberman form but still with his conflicted emotions.

Why were robots from the future looking for the Promised Land (another name for the Nethersphere) in “Deep Breath” and “Robot of Sherwood”? How did they even hear of it? What did they want from it? It’s never explained. Also, and I’ve mentioned this before: Cybermen are not stealthy! They are essentially big, honking robots, they can’t sneak around a graveyard only to be glimpsed in ghost-like flashes by Clara when she wakes up in the cemetery! And as for the Doctor flying out of the exploding plane after the TARDIS like he’s James Bond in the opening sequence of Moonraker, well, all I can say is that it’s the new version of the Doctor riding the motorcycle up the side of the Shard. It’s stupid, and the less we dwell on it, the better.

I still don’t understand why the Master would want to turn everyone into a Cyberman. As I mentioned in my write-up of “Dark Water,” she doesn’t have a good history with the Cybermen, and her plan, when it is revealed, doesn’t really require anything specifically Cybermanish. It would be fun, though, to imagine what this episode would be like if it were a Third Doctor serial. The Master would create the new Cybermen, but they would of course fall under the control of the nearest Cyber-Controller and turn against the Master. Then the Doctor and the Master would have to team up to defeat them. In “Death in Heaven,” I guess the Master just assumes there aren’t any Cyber-Controllers anymore out there?

Speaking of the Master’s plan, the whole birthday present thing had me rolling my eyes. It’s such a Moffatism, which is what I call the new, unnecessary additions to Doctor Who canon that Steven Moffat, who wrote this episode, likes to come up with. Also, since when has the Master ever needed a special occasion to mess with the Doctor’s head?

The plot holes keep coming. Why did Missy give Clara the Doctor’s phone number way back in “The Bells of St. John”? Why did she set up the newspaper ad to bring them back together in “Deep Breath”? There’s no satisfying answer. Something about teaming up a control freak with a man who can’t be controlled or something? I don’t get it. There’s no point. If it had been a trap for the Doctor, that would make sense. Instead, it was basically, “I thought you two would make each other crazy like bad roommates.” Whatever. Great plan, you diabolical mastermind!

Let’s talk about Missy’s magic bracelet, a plot device that comes out of nowhere. This bracelet can apparently open up a portal, but it can only be used once for unspecified reasons. (Low battery? The plot?) Danny is on the other side of the portal as some kind of…ghost, I guess? Is this a true afterlife? Or did everyone go back to the Nethersphere again? Like the bracelet and its portal-creating properties, it’s never explained or explored. Frankly, the entire scene is absurd and out of left field, but at least Moffat did right with it. Of course Danny would send the young boy back. Although, how the young boy suddenly has a physical body again is beyond understanding.

On the other hand, one of the few things I really liked in the episode was the scene where the Doctor goes looking for Gallifrey at the coordinates the Master gives him, only to realize it was a lie. The scene is incredibly powerful. Too bad it was just a flashback in an otherwise boring and pointless “catching up with Clara over coffee” scene. Good job, Moffat. I see your love of dramatizing the scenes that happen after the important ones, instead of giving full due to the important scenes themselves, is still going strong. You similarly robbed us of the scene with the young boy talking Danny out of pressing the “delete” button at the start of the episode.

Okay, I’m probably being unfair in calling the coffee scene pointless. It does have a point, it’s just that with Clara lying again, and the Doctor lying back, it feels pointless. Our emotional attachment to the characters completely disengages, and as a result it gives the scene entirely the wrong tone. If there was ever a scene where they both need to be honest with each other, it’s this one. Oh well. Maybe it’ll finally happen in the Christmas special. (I fully expect Danny to be resurrected as Clara’s Christmas wish in that episode, too, for two reasons. One, we saw Danny and Clara’s future descendant in “Listen,” and two, Moffat never leaves any character dead. He can’t help himself.)

I was not as morally outraged about the reappearance of the deceased Brigadier as a Cyberman as some fans were. It makes sense that he would be among them, since he’s dead, and the scene where it’s revealed he saved his daughter’s life and the Doctor finally salutes him was actually pretty good. I assume he self-destructed like the other Cybermen after that, but there’s a part of me that’s keen on the idea of the Brigadier now roaming the Earth righting wrongs as the Whoniverse’s version of Iron Man. (Please, though, never let that be shown, let it just be in my imagination!)

I was also not as outraged that Missy is the Master as some fans were. I have less of a problem with the Master regenerating into a woman than I do with the way Moffat writes female characters (Missy calling the Doctor her boyfriend, saying he loves only her, forcing a kiss on him, etc. — although at least this time it wasn’t the Doctor forcing a kiss on an unwilling woman again, thank God). I’m also slightly upset that this means John Simm won’t be playing the Master again, because he was amazing in the role. But in the end, the Master being a woman is okay by me. And hey, at least Missy didn’t turn out to be the dinosaur from “Deep Breath” (that was an actual fan theory!).

With “Death in Heaven” the eighth season of Doctor Who comes to, for me, a very unsatisfying end. I had such high hopes at the start of this season. We had four or five really good, strong stories, but then it all fell apart once the season became mostly about Clara’s dating life. After that, I felt like the Doctor was barely present. Peter Capaldi could have been amazing in the role. Instead, they relegated him to being the wacky neighbor in The Clara Show. I never bought all his strife with Danny. It felt as forced as all of Clara’s constant lying.

Wasn’t the Doctor supposed to be looking for Gallifrey this season? Instead, every episode was basically “Where do you want to go today, Clara?” and Moffat just shoehorned Gallifrey in again at the very end of the season. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: he does not know how to craft a good season-long arc. He focuses on all the wrong things, then shoves everything he can into the finale. It’s why so many of them fall apart under scrutiny. “Death in Heaven” certainly does.

This is going to sound a little overly dramatic, but to be honest there are times when this show doesn’t feel like Doctor Who to me anymore. It reminds me more of the overwrought, fan-fictiony New Adventures novels of the 1990s than the show I’ve watched and loved since I was eleven years old. I barely recognize it as Doctor Who these days, except that there’s a TARDIS. I don’t even rush to watch new episodes anymore, the way I used to.

There’s a lot riding on this year’s Christmas special, because if it’s as bad I might be ready to call it quits on Doctor Who.

4 responses to “Doctor Who: “Death in Heaven””

  1. Paul McNamee says:

    Thank you. I really didn’t want to expend that much wordcount on tearing apart a single crap episode. Power to you, sir!

    I still think the Brigadier Cyberman thing was ridiculous and trying too hard.

    Also, might I note; Moffat didn’t even *try* to explain the Master’s regeneration/escape .. other than to say “I escaped.” There’s teasing the audience, and then there is sheer laziness – “he/she’s back, no time to figure out a clever explanation, maybe later.”

    Haven’t heard as unconvincing a retcon since the Master burned to death in ‘Planet of Fire’ and then reappeared in ‘The Mark of the Rani’ with the explanation, “The whole universe knows I’m indestructible.”

    I don’t know about the other episodes in the season, but I agree with you that certainly the finale did not feel like Doctor Who to me, either.

    • Nick says:

      It is a lot of word count, and it’s not even everything I wanted to include! I started a whole paragraph about how the Cybermen don’t even need organic material, let alone material that’s already decomposing, but then I decided it would be too nerdy. As opposed to the rest of it, of course!

      The Brigadier thing was kind of goofy, it’s true. It could have been done a lot better. But I wasn’t morally outraged like some fans were.

      I hear Missy will be back next season, so maybe they’ll explore how she escaped from Gallifrey then. Hopefully.

  2. Well put!
    I couldn’t agree more, although yes, that cyberBrig thing was freaking awful. I’m suddenly not caring so much about what was my favorite show, since forever. I’m approaching my old sixth Doctor level of disinterest. That’s saying something. Knowing that Moffat can write spectacular stories when he wants to just compounds my revulsion when he throws this kind of superficial crap at us. Ugh.. seriously, Mr Moffat, don’t insult us.
    😮

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