So that’s it then. The past ten weeks have all led us to this great big stonking two-part finale. Sure there’ve been missteps and the occasional extreme pratfall, but the series finales of Doctor Who are where everything that’s happened gets laid out, prodded and seen for all it meant. Always has. Well, since 2005 at least. At last we finally get to find out who Missy is, what this afterlife malarkey is all about and ultimately why it’ll all spell trouble for The Doctor and Clara in some kind of doom-laden alphabetti-spaghetti. For the purposes of being concise I’ve decided to squish both episodes, last week’s ‘Dark Water’ and this week’s ‘Death in Heaven’, together. That’s how I roll when it comes to two-parter finales.
Yeah, I know all this happened last week but HOLY NOISE did you expect Danny Pink to snuff it in the opening sequence? I sure as stuff didn’t. Given how frequently Amy-husband Rory died in Matt Smith’s run of the show, you’d think having a male beau get offed almost seems hackneyed at this point. That said, given how differently Danny Pink has been portrayed (yes annoying character traits and inconsistencies included), his death justifiably comes as a sudden and painful shock to us and understandably Clara. So she takes matters into her own hands.
In a scene that I personally found a little too intense to have the show start on, Clara appears to drug The Doctor and threaten to throw all his TARDIS keys into a volcano unless he finds a way to bring back Danny. Surely we saw a potential future of Clara and Danny’s, with their grandson getting lost at the end of time in that earlier episode ‘Listen’? So, everything should be fixable, yeah? Well as The Doctor has made pains to mention, and is the crux of our very heated argument between our two leads (that’s a pun because they’re in a volcano) time can be rewritten. And yet sometimes it can’t. Voices are raised, Clara is distraught and throws The Doctor’s TARDIS keys into the lava. Not only does this all seem moot with the Galifreyan being able to snap his fingers to open the TARDIS anyway, it all turns out to be a hallucination that The Doctor turned against Clara. Something about dream patches and sleight of hand tricks, you know how it is.
Now comes the big emotional drop-kick; despite being technically betrayed by Clara, The Doctor asks her “Do you think I care so little for you that I can’t forgive your betrayal?” (or something to that swooping effect). It’s the most caring thing Capaldis’s Doctor could hope to say, and with Clara promptly linked to The TARDIS’ time circuits (safety off, too), they shoot off in search of Heaven, or wherever Danny’s gone.
Instead of pearly gates and farting cherubim with harps they find themselves inside the HQ of a company called 3W, a place where they house the recently departed (and currently skeletal) in water tombs to counteract the shocking ‘truth’ they discovered, a truth that caused a fair few people to write to the BBC about it. Apparently dead people are still psychically active and have been asking three words (hence 3W) all this time, forever: “don’t cremate me”. 3W’s goal, they say, is to preserve the residual mental remains in a sort of cloud database and the bodies in eerie water tanks that conspicuously only show organic matter. Hmm. Suspicious much?
We learn all this 3W hokum thanks to, well, Missy, who introduces herself as a fairly ridiculous service droid in service to 3W and her local doctor owner. Clara is taken in by it all, whilst The Doctor is rightfully sceptical to the point of irreverence. When they start to hear from Danny Pink, up in the cloud, however, tunes change and Clara stays with Danny’s signal whilst The Doctor and the other doctor scamper off to find answers. All the while, we must note, the water tanks full of skeletons are starting to drain…
The Doctor asks Missy what the deal is, and then the guise drops. Missy vaporises the other doctor and shows off the shiny sphere where all the mental data of the departed are kept, a sphere The Doctor recognises. It’s Time Lord tech. And just as things are going increasingly towards what-the-bloody-hell-is-going-on, those skeletons turn out to be Cybermen, now activated and let loose on modern day London. Understandably at this point, we want to know just who the flip Missy is, and as she quite rightly tells us it’s short for ‘mistress’, she couldn’t quite rightly keep calling herself ‘The Master’, now, could she?
That was a bombshell. Some people claim to have twigged it out from the series start, but to those people I say: don’t be such an arse, Ben.
The sudden appearance of Cybermen and Missy’s true identity revealed leads us directly into the next episode, ‘Death in Heaven’, where instead of your usual Cyberman romp, UNIT turns up lickety split and grapples the situation like the alien-wrangling goobers they are. Well, that would be the case if the Cybermen didn’t shoot off into the sky and explode, turning into big black clouds showering “cyberpollen” (or nanites, micro cybermats, whatever) across all the graveyards in the world. Graveyards? Well that is a thing, but before we get any further answers from Missy about her plot UNIT tranquilize The Doctor and Missy and fling them aboard a plane. Good job there, UNIT. Slow clap.
While all this flailing hysteria is going down, Clara’s been dealing with Danny and the sudden appearance of a load of Cybermen back at 3W. Danny’s iGhost couldn’t convince Clara that it was him, and being already distraught over meeting that little boy he done shot when he was in the army (kinda predictable, but at least now we know), is being strong-armed by Chris Addison to sign his emotions away. It’s more of an emotional strong-arm, I mean, have you seen Chris Addison? Clara meanwhile bamboozles some Cybermen with all the details she’s learned from following our time-travelling Scotsman all his life in the world’s greatest stalling-for-time technique: pretending to be The Doctor. This works, up until a certain resistant Cyberman knocks her out and blasts some fool Cybermen for good measure. Hmm, yes, quite.
The Doctor, now on UNIT’s specialist plane, is horrified to find out that the Earth has given him command of all its armed forces, seeing as he is the expert on this kind of preposterous Cyberman-filled situation. All he wants to do is find out what Missy’s plan is. If she wanted the world, she could take it. Then again, she hasn’t. So what’s going on?
Before we get into the specifics of things, it’s always welcome to see old faces return, and with UNIT (with its current C.O Kate Stewart [daughter of The Brigadier] and Doctor-nut Osgood) it goes doubly so. I mean, yes their presence is logically welcome, but they don’t really do much apart from briefly house Missy and befuddle The Doctor before their plane gets ripped up like it’s Christmas wrapping to the Cybermen’s excited 5-year-old. Still, nice of them to make an appearance.
So, Missy’s plan! After The Doctor saved Galifrey in ‘The Day of The Doctor’ last year, he saved The Master too, who then somehow got access to a TARDIS and travelled up and down time telling people about the idea of an ‘afterlife’ so as to make sure people preserve their bodies which she can later turn into Cybermen. If that wasn’t enough to start, Missy not only knows where Galifrey is but admits to being the woman who has been keeping Clara and The Doctor together since ‘The Bells of St Ives’. Way to wrap up plot points, Doctor Who, I applaud you.
It’s at this point The Doctor has made a hairy mid-air escape from the crashing UNIT plane, after it and its personnel (including Kate and Osgood) have all been snuffed thanks to Missy and the Cybermen (good name for a band, that). This is where he comes across Clara and her mystery Cyberman, who, it has been made clear to us from the start, is actually Danny Pink. Because he never signed away his emotions he still retains his personality (what there is, anyway) and most importantly his love for Clara.
Now in order to find out what Missy plans to further do with her army of everyone-who-ever-died-and-is-now-a-Cyberman The Doctor needs the override in Danny’s chest to be activated, which will however make him go full Cybernuts. Clara insists she be the one to do it, and her and Danny’s relationship continues being trite and whiny up until she effectively kills him. Eh. This turn of events does bring us finally to Missy’s reappearance and the ultimate in sneaky plans.
To those of us who’ve watched a fair amount of Doctor Who, we know it’s fair to say that The Doctor and The Master’s relationship has been… well… complicated. They’ve been friends, enemies, the last of their kind, etc etc, but it’s when Missy gives the command bracelet for the Cyber army to The Doctor that things get especially interesting. After countless centuries of not being able to beat The Doctor, Missy just wants her friend back. And how do you do that when you’re a psychopath? Give your morally-upright old friend an unkillable army of course! Stop wars, save planets, do everything your grander moral compass desires. And this iteration of The Doctor? He might just be morally flexible enough to do it.
Well, not really. Thank God this show has as many last-minute introspective revelations as it does or everyone would be Donald Ducked. The Doctor realises that at the end of all things, he’s just, in his own words, “an idiot with a blue box and a screwdriver”. He isn’t going to do anything preposterously rash as Missy thinks, and so gives the bracelet to a still-somehow-un-Cyber-brained Danny Pink who sends all the Cybermen on Earth, including himself, into the sky to explode and disperse the clouds of nanites. World saved, go stick the kettle on.
Missy is flabbergasted and in her defeat tells the Doctor the coordinates for Galifrey. There looks to be the on-set of a new argument with Clara as to what to do with Missy, but suddenly she is vaporized (or teleported away?) by another rogue Cyberman who seems to have saved Kate Stewart from the crashing plane. Of course it’s The Brigadier, and personally I would love to see a spin-off of a rogue Cyberman with stiff-upper-lip British attitudes flying around the universe having adventures. Do it BBC. Flippin’ DO IT.
All that’s left now in this big ol’ rumpus of an ending is to see how things lead into our Christmas special. Danny figures out a way to somehow send a physical form through the spooky Time Lord cloud thing, but because he’s so ruddy moral instead of saving himself he sends that child he shot to Clara’s flat. The Doctor meanwhile goes to Missy’s coordinates to find nothing there. Outraged he beats on his poor TARDIS in a way I can’t remember The Doctor having done before. When the two finally do meet however, they both lie to each other’s faces and weepily hug goodbye.
If all of that previous paragraph reeks of sadness and heartbreak, well… good. It did feel as if this series was going to end on the bleakest note a Doctor Who series ever has, if it wasn’t for Santa Claus turning up to give Ol’ Eyebrows a good talking to. Yup. Santa. Hurry up already Christmas.
So that was Doctor Who series 8, a series about lies, soldiers, getting old and trying to remember where and what we came from. If anything this series was more wildly inconsistent than previous ones; nothing felt like a ‘filler’ episode, either you were good-to-excellent telly or you sucked fiercely. Enough has been said about how Capaldi has accepted the mantle of ‘Doctor’ so completely and so uniquely, so I think we can just nod in agreement about that bit and move on ever-so slyly. While previous Doctor-companion pairings such as Tennant/Piper and Smith/Gillan have all been fantastic, this series’ combination of Capaldi and Coleman feels like the strongest and most complete a relationship that The Doctor has had with anyone since the show restarted all those nine years ago. It’s going to be hard on several levels to find someone to take over the role of Clara Oswald when such a time comes (as it appears to be doing), but given the heights that Doctor Who can achieve when it wants to, I shouldn’t worry too much about its future. I just hope it wants to.