Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Death in Heaven written by Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay

This story in a nutshell: The dead are coming back and they have been upgraded...

Indefinable: Capaldi slips into Pertwee mode quite easily as he teams up with UNIT but manages to insult, baffle and contradict them at every turn. He is dressed for the part too so it's nice to see him live up to his predecessors role. I'm not sure about this President of Earth nonsense and I'm pleased that the Doctor looks unsure too. Like Pertwee he manages to run rings around them, chastise them but secretly seems to working with them. It takes a great deal to impress this Doctor, especially if you are a human being so for him to offer all of time and space to Osgood says an awful lot. I prefer this Doctor as a more thoughtful, contemplative man and so his James Bond stunts falling from an exploding plane into the TARDIS left me a little cold. Leave that to the younger boys, Doctor. You get back to brooding. The Doctor has been pondering on whether he is a good man or not for an entire season now and delving into the complexities of that question. The conclusion that he has come to in the final episode is that he is simply an idiot with a box and a screwdriver. I can't say that was exactly where I thought this was heading - I was figuring we were going to draw some complex emotional conclusion to all this therapy. Instead the Doctor realises pretty much what he knew all along. That he's a drifter, a helper, a healer. Well, duh. What really worked was the scene between the Doctor and Clara at the conclusion because all the fucked up science fiction nonsense that this episode sports has been dealt with and we are back to two people talking about their relationship. It feels very right that these two should hide their real feelings and pretend that they are okay for sake of the other and part amicably. There's has always been a dysfunctional relationship and it felt right that it should end on this warped and poignant note of pretence. A shame that this couldn't have been the end for them because it would have been a uniquely disquieting split. The Doctor's furious anger at being lied to about the position of Gallifrey, kicking the shit out of the console, was a real eye opener. I hope there is some fallout from that disappointment next year. He's got some scores to settle with Missy.

Impossible Girl: Clara is not needed until the climax in the graveyard and the episode spends an awful long time forgetting about her until then (aside from a brief trip back to the Neversphere where she is keeping up her Doctor ruse). It's a little strange because Dark Water invested so much time in the character and when watching the two episodes back to back it seems very strange to suddenly just forget about her completely for 20 minutes. Not only has lost the man that she loves but now she has to make the choice to kill him all over again. What a cruel decision to have to make. You might think that the writer enjoyed torturing this character? We get some insight into why Clara travelled with the Doctor: because it made her feel really special. She really has had an impressive overhaul this year. It's just a shame things couldn't have worked out better with Danny.

Fruit Bat: Ah, the Master. Or the Mistress. Or Missy. Or whatever we are supposed to call him/her these days. You see what a can of worms you have opened, Moffat? Do I have a problem with the Master regenerating into a woman? Not at all, in fact I find the idea rather a refreshing one for a character that has been pretty much done to death. Why can't Time Lords become Time Ladies? With the feats of science that this race have achieved I'm sure a little gender swapping isn't beyond them. Is this a backdoor way of seeing how well a female Doctor might be taken in the future? Perhaps, and with the near universal acclaim for Michelle Gomez's female Master I could well see that being a possibility in the future. The simple fact of the matter is it comes down to the writing and the performance, not the gender of the character. And one of the reasons that the first half of Death in Heaven was so enjoyable was getting acquainted with this nuttier than squirrel shit Mary Poppins versions of the Master. She's absolutely psychotic and embraces that madness whole-heartedly. Cold blue eyes piercing out of pale moonlight, whispering sadistic threats in the ears of our friends, casually taking lives of people we care about. As much as I enjoyed John Simm's childlike insanity as the Master he never frightened me in the way Gomez does when she murders Osgood. It's so calculated and yet unpredictable, I was on the edge of my seat. Simm's Master was so inextricably linked with David Tennant's Doctor that I cannot imagine the villain without his heroic counterpart (it was their relationship that was so interesting, not so much the character), Gomez stands alone as a formidable nasty. You can see the look of jealousy in Missy's eyes when the Doctor offers Osgood a place in the TARDIS - her cards were marked from that point on. The way she plays with Osgood, making the scientist believe that she has made a decent case for staying alive before killing her is heart in the mouth stuff. I didn't even mind it when she ascended from the heavens, literally playing Mary Poppins. I rather like the fact that she's taking inspiration from the practically perfect. The Master has always been a playful character and why should Missy be any different? Is this the last we have seen of her given that she appears to have been bumped off? Have you seen this show before?

Mr Pink: Danny Pink is resurrected as a Cyberman, a soulless automaton and I couldn't tell the difference between this and the man that has dragged his heels throughout this past season. That's probably the blackest joke of the year. It goes back to presenting a relationship that is fun and zesty and heartfelt...because that wasn't done with Clara and Danny so much of the tragedy that Moffat is trying to present in the graveyard scenes lacks any emotion. I honestly couldn't tell the difference between their conversation about switching off his emotions and their conversation earlier in the season about unruly school kids. We're being asked to care about this pair at the eleventh hour without being given a good enough reason to in the previous eleven episodes. His death felt perfunctory to me, something to tie up the plot and little more.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'You know the best part of not knowing? Not telling you...'
'How can you win a war against an enemy that can weaponise the dead?'
'I'm going to kill you in a minute...'
'Pain is a gift.'

Dreadful Dialogue: 'Hey Missy you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind, hey Missy...' - really?
'Permission to SQUEEEEEEEEEE!' - rivals 'I'm not your boyfriend' as the worst line to grace the series.
Danny's entire speech in the graveyard. Why would he need to make a big rousing speech to a bunch of emotionless automatons? It's almost as if he knew this was his swansong from a popular series and wanted to go out with some style. Logically, it's nonsense.

The Good:
* Kate Stewart throwing down the Invasion-style Cyber head gave me a little thrill.
* Flying Cybermen and a Travelodge. Sums up Doctor Who perfectly. The fantastical and the mundane, side by side.
* What a delicious, macabre idea it is to bring the dead back to life en masse. There was a real buzz of excitement in my house around the appalling concept of dead bursting free of their graves and turning on the living. It continues the themes that were mooted last week in a very in yer face fashion. What's the one thing more appalling than people being burnt alive and begging you to stop whilst it is happening? People being shoved back in their decaying bodies and brought back to life. Missy admitted that our dead far outweigh the living in terms of numbers and we wouldn't have a hope in hell if they were directed to slaughter us. The only problem that I have with the idea is the bodies being turned into Cybermen. Quite aside from the fact that this is their least terrorizing manifestation, just where do the constituent elements come from to turn those rotting corpses into metal men? Even if there is nanotech in the water, you would still need the basic materials for them to make a Cyberman. I find the idea of decomposing cadavers being animated far more frightening (like the one in Mummy on the Orient Express) but I don't think the audience is ready for an episode of The Walking Dead on BBC1 on a Saturday night. Saying that the shots of Clara wandering the moodily it graveyard with Cybermen slowly clawing their way out of the graves are exceptionally creepy. Rachel Talalay should certainly return.
* The scene in the morgue was wonderfully reminiscent of both The Moonbase (the Cyberman under the blanket) and The TV Movie (the rattling door).
* I loved every second of the action sequence on the plane and it proved without a doubt that Doctor Who can pull off cinematic action set pieces on a TV budget. These Cybermen are designed as evil Action Men and work much better when treated like that, performing impossible stunts. Seeing them gliding alongside the plane by use of rocket propelled feet and then smashing their way inside was desperately exciting, the sort of visuals we could only dream of in the classic series. I was floored by the moment when Missy caused the hull of the plane to tear asunder and Kate Stewart was ejected out into the vacuum, screaming. With Osgood murdered too it felt like Moffat had genuinely restored the pulse back to Doctor Who. It's not every day the show sports action like this and it should be relished whilst it lasts. I've heard complaints that the series favours 'the moment' over plot logic and that is a valid argument but when you have moments as dizzying as this it is hard to question the approach.
* The painting of the Brig on the plane was lovely, I wish this tip of a hat to the character had ended there.

The Bad:
* I don't want to be accused of being sexist but I'm not very keen on these sleek, feminine looking Cybermen that the Moffat era has developed. The idea for the redesign in Nightmare in Silver (spits in corner) was that they were smooth and slender so that they could run at incredible speeds. The redesign made sense in that context. Now they are slim line and curvy and yet still stomp around like the old cumbersome ones. When I think back to the original Cybermen with stitched together cloth faces and scream-like mouths this is a world away from that kind of blank horror. Nowadays they look as though they are built for marketing purposes. Frankly, I don't find them very scary and that is a bit of a problem when you are talking about the walking dead.
* This has been a year of pretty impressive pre-title sequences, gripping hooks that sink their claws in and never let go until the credits. Death in Heaven tries to pull off an audacious gag by suggesting that Clara has been the Doctor all along this season. It even goes to the effort of having Coleman's name first in the credits and her eyes replacing Capaldi's in the graphics. The trouble is I could well believe that this was the case. Clara has slowly become the dominant figure in season eight and it has done her character the world of good as a result. She even got to play the Doctor in Flatline whilst he was relegated to the TARDIS. Why not take this idea to its natural conclusion and come out and say that she is the Doctor and that strange Scottish fella is her companion. Unfortunately I was groaning under the weight of the possibility that Moffat (who has made some pretty whacko decisions of late, including adding a whole new Doctor to the shows mythos that we knew nothing about) might genuinely thinking of going ahead with this crazy notion. When it was all revealed to be a con I was left thinking thank goodness for that...and what was the point of it all except to be clever clever?
* People taking selfies with Cybermen? Suddenly comparisons with The Invasion seem irrelevant. What an appalling comment on today's society (and unfortunately an accurate one).
* Why does Kate Stewart talk in sassy quotes all the time. She's less of a character and more of a walking sound bite. Seriously, go and watch this episode again and try and look out for one natural piece of chatter from this character. The Brig was always on duty but I always believed he was a real person. Not so with his daughter.
* There were hints of the Big Finish adventure The Reaping (which made vivid connections between Cybermen and the dead in graves) and the DWM comic strip The Flood (the rain).
* Once the Cybermen have left their graves they amble around the graveyard in a discombobulated fashion, like rat-arsed punters after closing time. Hardly a terrifying threat.
* Missy brought the Doctor and Clara together because one day in the future she would ask him to take her to Hell? Was anybody else expecting a little bit more than that as an explanation for the woman in the shop? Does that mean Missy had a hand in Danny's death. If that was explicitly stated that would make a lot more sense. It would still be pretty underwhelming, but at least it would suggest some kind of pre-planned scheme to bring the Doctor to Missy. This does strike me as Moffat once again suggesting a great overall plan and then tossing a scrap of an answer just to tie up that loose end (see Time of the Doctor and the appalling wrap up of the Silence arc).
* Once Danny has been 'murdered' (i.e. had his emotions switched off) why didn't he kill Clara? Such a song and dance was made of this but instead he gives her the longest hug in the history of television.
* It's time to see where all this insane plotting of Missy's has been heading. She's created a falsified version of Hell and trapped souls there in order to turn her victims bodies into Cybermen and download those souls back in to them once they have been converted. Try saying that three times fast. Complete insanity but certainly on par with the Master's usual lunacy. The only thing that is missing is why. I could have gone along with the idea of her wanting an army to conquer the galaxy and play Goddess. Or to use the Cybermen to systematically destroy every world that the Doctor has ever saved. Instead Moffat goes down the baffling route of Missy having performed this entire stunt simply to give the Doctor an army of Cybermen as a gift. Huh? She wants to give him a present so he can conquer the universe and she can get her friend back. I'm sorry, what? In what should have been a scene where their relationship was laid bare and some conclusions were drawn I was left scratching my head in bewilderment. Either she has fundamentally misunderstood the Doctor and his role in the universe or she is completely bananas. Either way this climactic revelation falls flat on its face. It takes a potentially horrific scenario and turns it into a farce. Suddenly the Cybermen aren't scary, they're just fodder in a bizarre misunderstanding. If Missy wanted to please the Doctor then why didn't she simply ask him what he wanted? If she wanted to show him how similar they are why didn't she ask to travel with him? If she wanted to please him why did she do something that would horrify him as much as resurrecting the dead population of his favourite planet? Or murder his friends? It's best I move on and simply accept that Missy is so gaga that she just makes it up as she goes along. And that goes for Moffat too.
* Why are the wrap up of all these season finales so unconvincingly simple? Let's suck all the Daleks and Cybermen into the void. Let's delete the past year. Let's tow the Earth back to orbit. Let's reboot the universe because Amy Pond says so. This is possibly the worst example yet. The dead have been brought to life and violated across the globe. With the sacrifice of Danny Pink and his compatriots the clouds have vanished and everything has gone back to normal. I think perhaps we are supposed to be thinking more about the sacrifice than how insultingly the grisly developments have been swept away but unfortunately this time Moffat pushed the series off a precipice and attempted to claw his way back up invisibly and failed. Like this madness can just be forgotten?
* The Brigadier Cyberman. Dear God no. Poor Nicholas Courtney must be turning in his grave at the thought of this perverse violation of his character. Watch the Confidential for this episode and listen to Moffat's reasoning behind this. It sounds like he's gone mad. Plus it guts the episode of one of it's best moments, the death of Kate Stewart.
* I don't understand the return of the kid at all. Hasn't the kid been dead for yonks? Shouldn't his body be a decaying mess? Isn't this all a bit cloyingly obvious?

Result: If you had got in touch with me half an hour into Death in Heaven I would have happily have told you that this was the most exciting script that Moffat had written since The Pandorica Opens. Had you come and seen me during the last fifteen minutes you would have found me banging my head on the dining table wondering how it had all gone to pot. It's such a mishmash of good and bad it is impossible trying to judge episode as a whole. At one point I was riveted to my seat at the callous death of a character I liked and later I was trying to claw out my eyeballs as a tribute is made to the Brigadier in the worst possible taste. There's no denying that Moffat has found some inspiration in his creation of Dark Water/Death in Heaven but it is laden with huge flaws that seem destined to crop up with every season finale where everything needs to be tied up neatly for the next season. The good stuff is easy to spot; this is genuinely dynamic episode in parts with an unforgettable attack on a UNIT plane by Cybermen, the ideas are once again pleasingly morbid and the duo of the Doctor and Clara continues to shine when they are together. Michelle Gomez springs into action as Missy and she is as mad as a box of frogs and yet utterly compelling with it, even when Moffat feeds her some appalling dialogue. The only thing that spoils this version of the Master is her motive for why she has pulled off such an insane scheme - it lacks any sense whatsoever. Pretty much everything that takes place in the last 20 minutes sees season eight heading into the delirium of madness, embarrassment and cloying emotion of the sort that it had managed to avoid until now (aside from the climax of Into the Forest of the Night). The graveyard climax that sees Danny Pink depart the show turned me right off. Good riddance, I say. Moffat, like Davies before him needs a strong script editor to tap him on the shoulder and ask 'are you sure that's a good idea?' to ideas like resurrecting the Brigadier as a flying Cyberman, bringing a war victim back to life in a magic glowing cloud or waving a magic wand and making the grim developments of the past couple of episodes disappear like they had never happened. You really shouldn't set up such an insolvable dilemma if you have no means of tidying up satisfactorily. Fortunately the closing scenes restore a little dignity with the Doctor and Clara departing on dishonest terms in what would have been a exclusive way for a Doctor and companion to say goodbye. But Santa has something to say about that. Yeah, you heard me right. Death in Heaven = gripping, action packed, barmy, disturbing, illogical, humiliating, farcical and unsatisfying. A contradictory episode: 6/10 


Anonymous said...

The series is in worse shape than any point in the late JN-T era. Nobody at our house enjoyed much of season 8 so the pleasure shared was a pleasure halved this time. There were two maybe three episodes which amused but it's a poor hit rate. Few if any space stories, few alien planets, no science come to think of it - fiction or fact. There are lots of old returning adversaries whose rationale has been completely mishandled - exhibit one: The Cybermen. Instead of a scientist travelling time and space we have a madman in a box. Rather than companions with character who get into trouble we have companions with lots of angst and relationship problems and little character…who get into trouble.

Anonymous said...

First off - it's NETHERsphere. As in 'nether regions', yes? Down below?
Having got that off my chest, I have to say I agree with much of what you say here, especially poor ol' desperate Danny. Have to disagree about Kate though - why shouldn't she be sassy? She's way more real than 'Mr plot device' Pink, that's for sure.
On the question of the CyberBrig, Katy Manning (who knew Nick Courtney a tad better than you did, I would think?) reckons that he's have loved it - her comments are in the Radio Times online edition www.radiotimes.com/news/2014-11-08/death-in-heaven-review-doctor-who-honours-its-fallen-soldiers-in-a-macabre-exhilarating-finale

Joe Ford said...

First off all they're called manners, Mr Anonymous. Secondly, you say Nether, I say Never. It's much of a muchness. Thirdly, with the greatest respect Katy Manning isn't Nicholas Courtney and so cannot speak for him. Besides, I'm not talking about anybody elses reaction to the tribute, I'm talking about mine. And I thought it was in the worst possible taste.

ExPatFanSF said...

Generally I find a lot to agree with in your commentaries and, where we disagree, I enjoy your perspective (plus, on a crass level, after posting the TimeyWimey pics, I'm tuning in now because you're so handsome. Lucky Simon getting both articulate and handsome).

With regards to Danny (who was fairly dour throughout the season), my rationalization of the character is as follows: he was never intended to be one of three leads (for season 8 the show clearly had 2 leads)and as such we haven't seen that much coverage regarding interviews etc. with Samuel Anderson. I assumed with the initial casting announcement that we would be getting another Rory and Amy (or Ben and Polly, Jamie and Victoria etc.). Or another Barrowman. As such, I was initally disappointed when he didn't become a fellow TARDIS traveler and he never embraced the wonders of traveling the universe with the Doctor.

However, where I can rationalize, and to some extent enjoy, the character is that Danny was instead being presented as an example of a "good man" to counterbalance the Doctor's own questioning of himself. Danny was someone who saw the horrors of the Afghan war and came out of it as a man focused on kids and teaching etc. And, you know what, a good man - a genuinely good man - without a thrill for risk taking or adventure, could end up being quite boring. Danny was a stay-home with the girlfiend every night kind of boring. Someone who Clara should not have been interested in, but he became her choice because he was a representation of a stable life to counterbalance her need for thrills that were being met by life with the Doctor. Plus, who can explain attraction and hormones. In the end, when push came to shove, Clara really was more interested in her life with the Doctor. And I found the cyber-Danny's reactions to Clara being a good liar and, later,to her comment about never giving up the Doctor, to be heart-breakingly tragic from Danny's perspective.

So I can live with that as the character we were presented with. And to me, divorced from the idea/expectation that all TARDIS two-somes must be like Jamie and Victoria, Sarah and Harry etc. this was an acceptable character to present, insofar as we hadn't seen this before.

For the most part I'm ready to move on from that experiment. But, let's not foget that the plot device of Orson Pink has not been explained. Not even a "time can be rewritten" line of dialogue. As such, I suspect Moffat has one more card to play with regards to the character before movnig on.

I look forward to your Christmas review and following you in 2015.

David Hancock said...

In response to the first Anon, personally, I think series 8 has been the best in a long time and certainly rates as one of the best of new-Who, certainly in terms of first viewing. As for the JNT era - there was a LOT wrong with it, but there was also some gems in there too (even in the final years Ghost Light, Remembrance of the Daleks stood as as classic episodes).

And, back in the day, JNT's first season was considered a huge breath of fresh air after the "silliness" of the Graham Williams/Douglas Adams era (which is viewed much more favourably with hindsight than it ever was back in the 1970s).

New series companions have suffered enormously as a result of Rose. Billie Piper was so much maligned as a choice prior to series one airing and then blew her critics away with her performance. In doing so she won the hearts of so many that she shaped the archetypal companion. In many ways Martha, as a character was better than Rose, but was eclipsed. For me, Clara is better than Amy (to my mind, Amy worked because of Rory - who, through simply not trying to be special, is the best companion of the new era); and she worked better this series because of her being grounded rather than the mysterious "impossible girl."

The Cybermen have always been a problem. They were huge in the 1960s because they were different. Their return in the 1980s was great, because of the initial shock value, but the appeal dwindled as there's so little you can do with them. Returning villains work when you can add something new - exactly as was done with the Master here.

Was the Doctor ever a scientist traveling in space and time? He's been an explorer and an adventurer, and he's been good at science - but he was only ever really a scientist when he was trapped on Earth in (the original) season 7. When it comes to being a madman in a box - surely the mould for that description was Tom Baker?

Edward Azad said...

"You really shouldn't set up such an insolvable dilemma if you have no means of tidying up satisfactorily."

Moffat rightly (and smugly) pointed out that 'this is basically every Doctor Who ever so get used to it.' I'm paraphrasing. That was the point of Danny's sacrifice: to give the deus ex machina added emotional weight. It's also why Nu Who finales all tend to blur together. The story breaks down and someone sacrifices themselves to restore the status quo.

I'm going to go on a radical limb and say that Doctor Who is not suited for story arc or cathartic endings for this very reason. Once Gatiss gets his foot in the door he will probably do away with all that.

And now to say something nice (xoxo): The Master doesn't intrigue me as a schemer, or even a troll, but as a perverter of the Doctor's idealism. This direction was briefly teased at in Simm's episodes. Good call, Moffat.

"Billie Piper was so much maligned as a choice prior to series one airing and then blew her critics away with her performance."

See my above comments. It wasn't that Rose was a hard act to follow. It's that every companion since then (with the exception of the very underrated Martha) has ended up in the same place: reunited with their families, depowered and exiled.

David Hancock said...

I couldn't agree more with Edward on the story arc issue. For me the "Bad Wolf" one worked because it was so loosely linked - just a series of little clues. As a child, I found the Key to Time season incredibly tedious by Stones of Blood and even the E-Space trilogy seemed overtly long.

I see your point about the non post-Doctor character development of the new companions. There was a brief line in one of the Sarah Jane Adventures where Sarah had looked up old companions and they'd all moved on with their lives and were doing something special (I think Tegan was campaigning for Aboriginal rights and Ben & Polly had set up an orphanage in India) so, whilst unseen, these were viable developments for characters who had grown from their experiences (and Rose, Martha and Mickey have to be added to that list) - it's something you can't imagine from Donna or Amy and Rory (obviously we don't yet know Clara's final fate so hard to comment there)

Adam Graham said...

I think the reason for many things in this episode including the Cyber-brig and Danny's speech is the fact that this was aired three days before Remembrance Day 100 years after the entering of World War I. The idea Moffat has here is showing the fallen saving the world to point to the fact that the "promise of a soldier" made by countless soldiers during both World Wars is why we can sleep safe and how the hope of the land of living has been secured by the fallen.

Of course, whether it was appropriate or not is something to debate, but that was intent. Personally, I found it wonderful. Though I liked Danny Pink. I empathized with him, if for no other reason than the fact that he was dumped on while trying to be a decent human being in his own quiet way.

Burrunjor Rex said...

I HATED this story with a vengeance. Glad to see someone liked it though.

Joe Ford said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I'm just starting to get involved into the DW world and this episode was too much for me. Too much to understand, too much content... I mean... undead, robots, dead Danny, Mary Poppins (last one is a joke)... anyway. The end was very emotive when Danny doesn't come back but brings back to life the kid he killed during the war. For me this is 8/10 taking as reference the other episodes I've watched. I'm sorry but my friend keeps me watching the series in a very unorganised way so in the end it's his fault.

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David Pirtle said...

I just wanted to say, besides the fact that I thought this two-parter was a solid 8, and that I think Michelle Gomez is the best Master since Roger Delgado, that ExPatFanSF is spot-on when it comes to Danny Pink. In retrospect, I think he's one of the things that works best in this season, and I know that puts me in the extreme minority, but that's alright.

David Pirtle said...

OK I wanted to say one more thing, that when I saw this I thought it really would have been one of the most interesting companion departures, with both he and Clara lying about things working out and parting ways wrongly believing the best about the others' lives. However, I also loved Series 9, including Hell Bent (which again I know puts me in the extreme minority), so I'm happy it wasn't the end.