Doctor Who episode 828: Death in Heaven (8/11/2014)

‘I am an idiot, with a box and a screwdriver. Just passing through, helping out, learning.’ The 12th Doctor finally rediscovers what it is to be the Doctor after Matt Smith memorably ended his time as a blood-drenched tyrant at the head of an army, issuing orders for the extermination of millions to the horror of Clara and his former friends. Except, oh, that never happened barring a possible future which was cancelled when a Clara fragment pushed the Great Intelligence in front of Bessie. Which means this whole series has been based on the Doctor recoiling from something that never was (or at least, was never shown): effect without cause. And if the Doctor really is still running from Trenzalore, maybe someone should have mentioned it to the audience.

I’m pretty sure that’s the intent of the Series Eight storyline, unless it’s a coincidence that the CyberDan’s description of the Doctor as a ‘blood soaked old general’ connects back to Dr Simeon’s ‘minor skirmish, by the Doctor’s blood-soaked standards… but enough to finish him. In the end, it was too much for the old man.’ Because The Time of the Doctor never showed us Matt Smith descending into Time Lord Victorious megalomania (Series 8 might have been a more convincing follow up to that plot line), it’s hard to square the 12th Doctor’s crisis of conscience with the kindly old grandfather who sacrificed centuries to save a small town. I definitely don’t think this pay-off was worth strangling Capaldi’s Doctor in the cradle like Old Sixie having a go at Peri.

On the plus side, this is much better than Dark Water (the horror of live cremation is waved away here as ‘an all-new paranoia among the super-rich about dying’), with a Master who’s dangerously unpredictable and a theme of the Doctor rejecting the titles and expectations pushed on him by friends and enemies alike. I can buy the ‘idiot with a box’ as a riposte to being made Commander in Chief of the Earth or CyberController or even ‘officer’. Even Clara assuming the Doctor’s identity is shown to be rubbish – she can recite all the facts fans have listed over the years, and even get her eyes in the opening credits, but that doesn’t make her the real McCoy.

I like the big action sequences – the Cyberman attack on the aeroplane is one of Moffat’s best (I love the one that appears at the window like a Sensorite outside the spaceship). This, and the scenes of Clara picking her way through a cemetery disgorging its converted dead, are superbly directed by Rachel Talalay. The Doctor sky-diving to the TARDIS is right out of Moonraker, a bit of punch-the-air heroism that really did deserve a squee. It’s a brilliant story for fleshing out the Doctor and Master’s relationship: the Doctor’s furious reaction to Missy, the way he mocks her for failing to achieve in lifetimes the planetary dominion he’s just had thrust upon him, and the venomous little glance Missy gives when she clocks the Doctor likes Osgood.

I’m less sold on having the beloved Brigadier wandering round as a Cyberman being a fitting tribute to the late Nicholas Courtney. But mostly, I think this story and this series has been a destination in search of a journey. If Moffat wanted to tell the story of the Doctor having to rediscover the truth of himself, he would have done well to seed that idea in The Time of the Doctor. As it stands, Capaldi’s had to contend with a character arc with no obvious beginning, and as a result the cold, abrasive personality feels more wrong than the sixth Doctor dubbing his new persona a corrective to the fifth Doctor’s effete failure. The highlights of this series have been the episodes least interested in this story. Shame.

Next Time:

Oh, wait a minute. I forgot to mention. I do love the ending. Two control freaks continuing to lie to each other to conceal their true feelings. Both needs the other, but both thinks they’re being kind by leaving it unsaid. Where do they go from here, and will Father Christmas have the answers?

Last Christmas

One comment

  1. Pingback: Doctor Who episode 827: Dark Water (1/11/2014) | Next Time...

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