With “Death in Heaven,” ‘Doctor Who’ Finishes Series 8 On a High Note, Leaving Us Wanting More

By  · Published on November 9th, 2014

BBC America

The biggest problem I have with the Doctor Who series 8 finale, “Death in Heaven,” is really a compliment: there wasn’t enough Missy (Michelle Gomez). The female incarnate of the Master is one of the most enjoyable villains I’ve seen in a long time, on television or in the movies. She’s a wicked blend of Bond nemesis and evil Mary Poppins (with a dash of Marilyn Monroe impersonation), and it’s probably for the best that I was left wanting more. That’s usually a sign that the desired element was employed just enough. I got the impression that her “death” is more her teleporting away just in time, so it’s likely the rival Time Lord will be back in the future, but it’s unlikely that Gomez will be playing him/her. Hopefully it’s not the last we see of her in general. The current era of 007 movies could use an Irma Blunt/Rosa Klebb-type henchwoman, am I right?

Missy’s most shining scene in this episode is when she escapes from captivity aboard the the U.N.I.T. airliner. Poor Osgood (Ingrid Oliver), a character who hasn’t been around for very long (she was introduced and only otherwise appears in last year’s “The Day of the Doctor”) yet one that I got upset about more than normal with a Doctor Who supporting role. I wasn’t even as emotional when Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) is sucked out of the plane and seems to fall to her death – of course, I assumed she was going to turn out alive somehow anyway. I think it’s because Osgood is one of us, a Doctor Who fan, always wearing Doctor cosplay (this time the Eleventh’s bow-tie and Tenth’s sneakers), that it felt personal. Plus the sneaky, drawn out way she’s killed, with the devilish countdown, really is just brilliantly, heartlessly played by Gomez.

“Death in Heaven” is great for many other reasons, too, including some of the best lines of the series in at least a year (“Never trust a hug…”) and some perfectly clever situations. There’s the way that Clara (Jenna Coleman) plays Doctor again, for instance. We have a female Master, so why not a female Doctor for just a brief moment, and while there are interesting identifications being made, how about the Doctor (Peter Capaldi) being named the President of the World and Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) becoming a Cyberman – and also Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (obviously not played by the late Nicholas Courtney)? We got the Night of the Cybermen Dead, albeit without enough zombie-attack pleasure, and a bit clearly paying tribute to the Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

The murder of Osgood isn’t the only great emotional beat for this season-ender, either. After we’re made aware of the Cyberman Danny, the part where Clara tells him that basically she likes the Doctor more, trusts him more, is more faithful to, etc., we can feel her boyfriend’s newly metallic heart being crushed. Danny has consistently been one of the better ingredients of series 8, and his significance pays off very well in that sad scene as well as the one where he again calls the Doctor out for being like a military officer who too easily makes choices about the fate of others when it comes to winning a battle and lets his underlings do the brunt of the work so he doesn’t have to get his hands dirty. Missy shows up and digs it all in deeper in revealing that her master plan (or should we say mistress plan?) is just a overly illustrated point about him not being purely good.

Yes, that point is a repeated statement for an audience who should already be following along that the Twelfth Doctor is troubled by the idea that he might be a “good Dalek,” as in a hero who can be compared to the villain in the fact that he also kills and has hate in him. There has also been some address of his stubborn ego in the past eleven episodes to lead to Missy’s claim that armies are for people who think they’re right. Again, though, Clara’s confrontation in “Into the Dalek” kind of suffices with that territory more than necessitates a Cyber-zombie attack intended to drive it all home. Missy’s motives and schemes are not the character’s most praiseworthy aspects. I’m not sure I understood why, as is revealed in this episode, she’s responsible for bringing the modern-day Clara and the Doctor together – didn’t we already assume that was part of the reveal of her link to the Doctor in “The Name of the Doctor”?

As funny as it sounded for the Doctor to respond to Missy’s – and really the whole season’s – judgment of who he is by stating, “I’m an idiot with a box and a screwdriver,” I would have appreciated more of an acknowledgment and acceptance of his character flaws and complexity. He admits to understanding that he’s neither good nor bad, but he’s not just some dummy who happens upon trouble and then lends a hand the way he makes it sound. He still has more to answer to why, then, he’s such an officerial leader in these situations and to the season’s and Missy’s address of all the people and beings who’ve given their lives for him, the latter an address that is driven harder in Danny’s wish for Clara to help him kill himself (further, as he’s already dead) and the Doctor’s answer to Clara’s call regarding how he won’t help her commit suicide.

Another thing about this finale that I don’t think works too successfully on an emotional level is the ending between Clara and the Doctor. Is this really the moment where they part ways and Clara is done as a companion? It’s appropriate that it’s done with both characters lying to each other, but otherwise it doesn’t have the weight that it probably should. Maybe it’s because Clara doesn’t die, or maybe it’s a personal matter of me never really liking her and not being upset to see her go. The difference there compared to when Osgood is disintegrated is huge, and I know it’s partly because for a second I believed maybe the young U.N.I.T. member was going to be the next companion. Is it possible for the Doctor to go back in time and give her a ride aboard the TARDIS, preferably for a standalone episode?

Speaking of standalone episodes, let me finish this review by stating that I loved the mid/post-credits scene teasing this year’s Christmas special. Nick Frost as Santa Claus! Talk about leaving us wanting more.

What did you think of this finale and of series 8 overall?

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.