After a canon-shattering surprise in part one of the Season 8 finale, Death in Heaven has a lot of work to do making sense of it all. Clara betrayed the Doctor (kinda). Danny is dead (kinda). The Cybermen are reborn. And the Master, now the Mistress, has returned!
Starting exactly where Dark Water left off, the Cybermen are invading London. But just as things are getting out of hand Kate Stewart arrives with UNIT (and Osgood) in tow. With the confidence and bravado of her late father, Kate tells the Cybermen to shove off. They do, by blasting off, and flying away. Never seen Cybermen do that! New meaner voices, now with the ability to fly? The Cybermen have become a bit of a threat again!
The Cybermen explode in the atmosphere, and The Mistress explains that the Earth is being seeded by the Cybermen. Before she can explain further, UNIT makes a surprising play and tranquilizes both Time Lords. It seems they have a plan of their own.
It’s great to see the Cybermen back in a story that actually feels like a Cybermen story. This whole season has had hints of Classic Who, but the true beauty of what Doctor Who has become has been showcased in these last two episodes. The Cybermen finally achieve the menace they never really ever have. Their presence in the story manages to be as interesting as the Master’s return.
As for the Mistress, she is a much more Classic Master than were John Simm and Eric Roberts, but with a hint of both their madness. Missy embodies the calm, silver-tongued, devil that battled with the Third Doctor, but lets a little insanity slip through from time to time. It’s a treat to see the new Time Lady be played as serious as the Master should be. I think it’s both a tribute, and a good sign of things to come.
Clara is late to join the rest of the party. She’s been left behind to deal with the Cybermen on her own. Her strategy is to try and convince them that she’s actually the Doctor. The sub-plot of Clara becoming the Doctor throughout this season seems to have been intended as a thought experiment meant to hint at the Master returning as a woman. It’s actually quite nicely done, one of my favorite themes of this season, and a great high point in Death in Heaven.
The most anticipated moments of this episode, at least for me, were to see the Doctor and the Mistress together. Some of the best moments in all Doctor Who are the Doctor and Master dueling with words. The Doctor asks the Mistress how she got back, as well as where Gallifrey is hidden? Her response is so Classic Master that there can’t be any doubt of who this person is.
In a scene out of Night of the Living Dead, Clara finds herself in a cemetery as the dead begging to rise. Newly upgraded undead. I love how we are once again reminded of the organic nature of the Cybermen. Their last few appearances completely erased the horror of what they are. At some point the Cybermen became more of a child’s toy robot than dangerous cyborg. This was one of the reasons the Cybermen had become so yawn-able. But now, it looks like an old enemy has found new potential.
I know there are John Simm fanatics out there, but I’ve always favored a chillingly dignified Master, and this story really takes off when the Mistress gets a chance to escape. The scene gives us a spectacular look at the Mistress’ personality, as well as how far she will go. The death of a relatively minor, yet charming character was all it took to establish the Mistress as wholly evil. The Mistress is quickly becoming my favorite incarnation of the Doctor’s old enemy. And just like the Twelfth Doctor, The Mistress instantly becomes the most interesting thing on the screen. They are a perfect pair, and the best moments of this whole season happen between them in this episode.
Death in Heaven really blossoms when Clara is standing defiant against the Cybermen in the cemetery. Her fate decided, one of the Cybermen takes aim at her, only to stutter and reveal itself to be Danny Pink. Having been offered the option to delete his emotions back in the Nethersphere, it becomes clear how Danny decided. Clara, as well as I believe everyone watching, is visibly taken aback. It’s a rather dark moment. One that just really makes this episode a fantastic season finale.
Cyber-Danny asks Clara to turn off his emotions, to help him finally rest in peace. Doing so would put her life in danger, but she can’t keep herself from helping the man she loves. It’s a scene that carries great weight, and really puts Clara on the spot. All her time with the Doctor has been building to this moment. When the Doctor arrives he tries to convince Clara not to do it because ex-Danny now-Cyberman would kill her. The Doctor tries to talk Danny out of deleting himself, but it’s no use. Danny has the last word as he condemns the Doctor for not doing the job himself. Clara musters the strength to put Danny down, and it instantly becomes one of the most poignant moments in Doctor Who.
It would have been nice to not have “love” save the day again, but it seems to be just part of the deal nowadays. That said, this was probably the best use of the trope. Even though we got another simplistic and fanciful resolution, the story leading up to it was fantastic. I really wish they hadn’t built up the Cybermen just to take the rug out from beneath their feet, but at least they were fun while they lasted, and could always come back. Even in the face of a weak resolution the Mistress stands tall above this episode to draw all the attention to her. It is through her that an otherwise potentially deflating resolution manages to fade into the background.
Death in Heaven felt like a new take on Classic Who, exactly what I had hoped for the show. The entire season has been a beautiful transformation for the characters, even the substance of the show, and I think everything has been a huge success. This episode was full of self-referential goodness from Doctor Who’s past, even the pseudo-return of a treasured character that was monumentally touching. In light of this tribute to the past it felt completely new and exciting. Be it due to a spectacular new take on the Mistress, a return of the chilling side of the Cybermen, or a revival of the darker side of Doctor Who, this season, this episode, was everything I could have hoped for!
image source: [doctorwhotv]