TV Review – Doctor Who series 8 Finale – Dark Water/Death in Heaven

There were so many pictures to choose from, but I didn’t want to spoil the episode BEFORE the review began, now did I?

Series 8 has been a series of change, while having a lot of familiarity. On one hand, we witnessed the start of a new Doctor, a new personality, new sides to established characters, and new twists and turns. While some of these aspects of the current series have been better than others, I can safely say that the season hasn’t produced an absolute dud! That said, I’m still quite divided on the season finale, even more so than “Into the Forest of Fear” (which I’ll still declare as the low point of the season.) Now, was the two-parter good regardless of my uncertainly towards it? We’ll just have to take a trip through space and time to find out, now won’t we?

WARNING: This review contains spoilers on both episodes of the Series 8 Finale of Doctor Who.

The two-parter begins with Clara admitting to Danny that her adventures with the Doctor have been filled with peril and danger. However, her call is cut short when it is revealed that a freak accident took Danny’s life. Danny wakes up in the same weird dimension that other characters have throughout the season, wondering what exactly is going on. in a mix of desperation and despair, Clara tries to force the Doctor to help bring Danny back. After it’s revealed that the Doctor wanted to see how far Clara would go to accomplish her goal, the two set out to find out what or where this “Afterlife” actually is! It turns out to be a bleak looking commercial complex with holding chambers for dead bodies. Clara and the Doctor are greeted by Missy, who appears to be a glitchy android. One of the employees then meets up with the Doctor and explains that thanks to the invention of “Dark Water”, family can observe their deceased loved ones. Furthermore, only organic matter can be seen within the water. This gets weird when the skeletons begin to slowly move within their tanks. Meanwhile, the Doctor and Clara ponder with the employee on voices from the afterlife. Clara figures this is a way to contact Danny. Meanwhile, Danny’s consultant in this other world tries to help him move on by essentially deleting himself. This is made worse after he encounters a boy he accidentally killed while Danny served as a soldier. Danny and Clara are then connected as the two converse about the everything that’s happened. Meanwhile, everyone notices things aren’t as they appear. The “Dead” in the cases aren’t really dead, the spherical world of the afterlife matches the whirling orb in the main room, and the doors all carry a very familiar motif! After Clara and the Doctor try to figure out what’s going on, it turns out they were duped! The Afterlife? A Timelord Technology that suspends dying minds and transfers them. The bodies in the Dark Water? The organic remains of an old nemesis, the Cybermen! And Missy? Well, a Timelady would have a hard time calling herself “The Master” after all. (She’s “The Mistress”, in other words.) Turns of the Afterlife is merely a database to upload into a new Cybermen army! Meanwhile in the “afterlife”, things are going haywire as the man trying to ‘delete’ Danny realizes time is up as minds are being uploaded into the new bodies.

The two-parter picks up as The Mistress leads the Doctor outside and it’s LONDON! The Cybermen begin to move out as crowds stare in awe and confusion, taking pictures with the upgraded abominations. As Missy and her army ready an offensive, the crowd is revealed to be UNIT; lead by Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (The UNIT head from “the Day of the Doctor”)! Not admitting defeat, The Mistress deploys her army to the skies and all over the world. The one that stays over London skylines hovers before exploding into a dark ominous cloud of grey smoke. Meanwhile, Clara is trapped in a room full of cybermen. All of them question who she is and she bluff that she is “The Doctor.” As none of them buy it, another cybermen breaks instructions and moves toward Clara. After they question the rogue cyberman, it destroys the rest of them. The camera pans to reveal it has Danny’s papers from the other room. Back on the streets, the Doctor tries to question Missy only to find out something about graveyards being important. UNIT them knocks out Missy and The Doctor and takes them aboard a UNIT aircraft. After the doctor comes to, he tries to figure out why they did that. UNIT head Lethbridge-Stewart explains that in times of global peril, they elect a global ruler to help the people… this leader, being the Doctor. Meanwhile, Missy tricks another UNIT scientist (Osgood) into releasing her as she kills Osgood and the guards watching the area. The flying cybermen from before assault the ship and kill the crew as the Doctor falls from the shattered plane. Fortunately, he managed to rescue his TARDIS in time so he manages to escape the fall… unlike Lethbridge-Stewart. Missy escapes as we turn our attention to a cemetery. Cybermen begin to emerge as Clara awakens from being knocked out, presumably by the rogue cyberman. She tries to bob and weave past the emerging foes, only for the rogue cyberman to find her.

It takes off its visor mask to reveal itself as Danny Pink! He urges Clara to delete his identity to end the pain he’s facing. The Doctor materializes in the cemetery to warn that if Danny’s deleted, he’ll kill Clara as a cyberman. Clara urges him to do it, as Danny says that he can’t access the cybermens’ plans otherwise. Reluctantly, the Doctor agrees as cyberman-Danny reveals that there will be another storm of cyber-particles that convert the dead into cybermen. Missy teleports in (while imitating Mary Poppins no less) and unveils her full plan to the Doctor. She wanted to assemble an army of cybermen for the Doctor as a truce between their long existing rivalry, because “The Mistress and The Doctor aren’t so different” (which is something the Master/the Mistress would probably think). The Doctor takes the cyberman control bracelet that Missy gives to him and gives it to Danny. Danny then gives one final solute and leads the Cybermen into the sky to destroy the cyber-particles and preventing more from being made. Even though the cybermen are destroyed, Missy offers the Doctor the coordinates to Gallifrey if the Doctor returns with her as an ally. Clara threatens to kill Missy for all she’s done, but the Doctor interrupts as he doesn’t want her responsible for murder. As he tells Missy that she has won (which is what she wanted to hear to begin with), another cyberman shoots Missy instead. Clara finds out Kate Stewart is still alive as the Doctor realizes the cyberman was actually a converted Brigadier Stewart. The converted old friend flies off after one final salute as the Doctor salutes back. 2 weeks later, a portal is opened by Danny thanks to the bracelet. He reveals that someone else has to come back in his place as a means of making amends for his past deed. The boy that Danny killed emerges through the portal and the device with him. Later, Clara meets up with the Doctor. The Doctor explains that the coordinate to Gallifrey were true and then asks about Danny. Clara lies and says all is well, to which the Doctor explains he needs to travel alone for a bit to rekindle his lost past. However, it’s revealed that the Doctor’s lying as Missy’s coordinates were a ruse. The Doctor parts, assuming Clara and Danny will be fine together and returns to his TARDIS. We’re then given a brief teaser for the Christmas episode where Santa Claus enters the TARDIS asking the Doctor what he wants for the holiday.

To start things off, the episodes were jam packed with so many ideas that in order to figure out everything, I had to watch each twice. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but it proves Moffat has an obsession with cramming details everywhere. Admittedly, I didn’t like the first episode too much when I first saw it. Watching it again after seeing part two, it built up a lot of suspense in preparation for the many answers ahead. So, after a second time through, I came to appreciate the set-up it was trying to create. And in terms of Moffat episodes, this is one of the better ones. While not as good as previous season endings created by him, these two episodes still held up pretty nicely. As always with Moffat, he tends to have a very thick and convoluted method of storytelling. At least here, it worked relatively well. The red herrings did their job of leading viewers to create all sorts of wild assumptions while the show left plenty of clues for people who weren’t convinced of their own theories. And for those who come back to the episode again, it becomes quite the treasure hunt to see how the episode leads up to its reveals.

To say this episode was a masterpiece would not be true. I did enjoy it and I felt it was a nice closing to the season, but I still have a lot of issues over all. There were some things that really made me scratch my head throughout the episodes. And these were random plot threads that either added nothing to story or felt downright absurd. The explanation of the cyber components in the cloud that could convert dead matter could have been handled better saying that it’s “cyber pollen” just sounds dumb, even by the show’s standards. And the hints for the cybermen became more and more heavy handed. If the cybermen weren’t revealed in the trailer itself, which makes me hope the person who made that trailer got sacked, the symbolism would have still been so forced that the audience would grumble at the final reveal of the cybermen. To make matters more frustrating, the pacing of part 1 was simply a mess. Losing Danny would have made a much better cliff hanger for the episode before the finale. THAT would have set the stage for the finale better, instead we just got the show trying to rush into the main story and destroying a potentially emotional moment. Also, the drama with Danny and Clara took a bit too much spotlight for my tastes, which felt like Moffat was falling back on his old tropes again. That send, if this is a sendoff for Clara, it’s certainly a lot better than the sendoff for the Ponds. I could argue it’s more sophisticated than most of the sendoffs from Davies’ era (especially if it involves Rose Tyler.) To be fair, the themes of this season have been quite intense within the confines of the show; deconstruction of the hero, examining the many relationships within the show, a rather macabre focus on death, among others. And instead of some overdramatic send off or even ending on a cheery note, we see Clara’s lying habits form into something that has helped her cope, while the Doctor uses it much in the same way. The two lie without trying to figure out if the other is doing the same and go on their separate paths.

In terms of acting and character portrayal, I was very pleased with Michelle Gomez as Missy/The Mistress. She helped to establish herself as the cruel and disturbed classic nemesis, while balancing it out with the chaotic instability of the last incarnation. From the moment where she lied about her identity in the beginning (and horrifying the Doctor in a slightly hilarious AND quite disturbing scene) to her exit in the end, she really made the episode for me. That said, everyone else did a pretty good to excellent job with their characters. To me, this might have been one of the best Danny episodes. His trauma of his own pain, as well as getting over his mistakes and misdoings felt real and quite touching. And while the end might have felt a bit melodramatic, you could feel that he wanted to do this to put an end to his suffering and the pain from those who’ve suffered around him. That said, if his character had more development in the beginning of Series 8, his final sacrifices would have had a much greater impact. Also, I’m still waiting how this ties into the Orson Pink storyline, because that thread still needs attending. Capaldi’s Doctor was just as sharp and awesome as ever. That said, I don’t think he was any better than some of the previous episodes. By no means is this a bad thing, but not too big of a deal. Despite Osgood being killed off, it was good to see her character in a role where she wasn’t just meant to be a joke about the fandom. From start to finish, she proved to be quite the badass! You could say that her death juxtaposed her as an absolute force for good to the end against The Mistress being the embodiment of a cold and heartless evil. That said, this was not a stronger episode for Clara. While her trying to bluff the cybermen was truly awesome, I felt that part two was trying to make up for part one. She felt much more like a panicked control freak in the finale and lost a lot of what made fans love her. To me, this wasn’t a fantastic Clara episode and didn’t utilize Jenna Coleman’s talents to her fullest. Granted, this whole season capitalized on the turmoil between Clara and the new Doctor. And this episode pays off Clara trying to deal with the Doctor’s stubborn tendencies and utilitarian focus of a greater humanity at the expense of the emotions of others. Although, this season saw Clara trying to fill the Doctor’s shoes. We saw it in Flatline and in Forest of Fear. In the intro, we even saw her face in place of Capaldi’s! So, I guess all of that is enough to stress someone out hardcore. Despite that, when her character wasn’t freaking out, she was still strong in many aspects. You could say she practically made a better Doctor than the Doctor when she was confusing the cybermen in the holding chambers.

While not the best finale, I liked it quite a bit. It was a wild adventure that brought with it more emotional feelings than thrills, but still delivered a solid experience. Overall, I’d say Dark Water/Death in Heaven deserves 7.5 Flying Cybermen out of 10.

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