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Doctor Who: Death in Heaven


Well, it’s finally happened. I’m in love with Doctor Who again.

Although it didn’t always make complete sense, Death in Heaven was everything a season finale should be: tense, emotional, dramatic, twisty, and focussed not on huge apocalyptic issues, but on the individual characters and their flaws and struggles.

Missy was a fantastic villain. I admit, I found her distinctly uninteresting as the mysterious figure at the end of episodes, but once her plan kicked off, she became deliciously fun. From her enjoyment of all the cybermen selfies to her murder games to her relationship with the Doctor, she was gleefully, wonderfully insane, and although I think she’ll be criticized for being another “femme fatale” villainess, I really think her characterization worked. She was the kind of villain you really love to see, and long to see return. I thought she kept a lot of the spirit of John Simm’s version of the Master, while also adding her own fantastic spin — like all regenerations should do.

She also sold the best twist of the episode, when she claimed that the cybermen army was a gift for the Doctor, to show him how alike they were. After a season where the Doctor emphasized again and again how much he hated soldiers, Missy handed him an army and told him it was what he had always wanted — a group of mindless soldiers to fight for him. An army he can use to protect the universe, because “armies are for people who think they’re right, and no one thinks they’re righter than you.”

After a really weak introduction, Capaldi’s Doctor became wonderfully complex, digging into the idea of the Doctor as a tyrant or a god with far more thought and subtlety than previous recent attempts. It all came together so well, and it worked emotionally, which is a rare enough thing in Who these days.

Missy also allowed the show to continue its season of super-surprising Bechdel passes, with a whole four named female characters running around and being awesome this week. UNIT weren’t really necessary to the plot in the end, but they did allow for some fantastic moments, like throwing a cyberman helmet to the ground and telling them that obviously humans have ways to fight them, because obviously they researched them after their last attack. Or like Missy threatening and then killing poor Osgood in one of the most creepily horrifically enjoyable scenes of the season.

Jenna Louise Coleman absolutely nailed it as Clara this week. She’s gone from a character who never felt real to one who reduced me to a mess of emotion, and I hope this isn’t the end for her. Although her “I’m the Doctor” pretence never really went anywhere, she showed just how smart and quick on her feet with her challenge to the cybermen, speaking their language — “incorrect” — and putting on the perfect act to keep herself alive. And although I hated her relationship with Danny, the show made me care about her enough to be heartbroken when she had to choose to erase any remaining trace of his personality.

And don’t even speak to me about that ending. If it wasn’t for the promise of the Christmas special, I might have a rant about how Clara is left sad at home with nothing — her boyfriend dead, her best friend gone, and no choice in any of it. But since we’ve got Santa and hopefully a fun and happy Christmas special where everything is fixed, I’ll just accept that Clara and the Doctor are both attempting to put themselves second to make the other happy, and continue to sob over the face-hiding hug of heartbreak.

Plotwise, some parts of this episode were a little odd, to say the least. A data cloud as a literal cloud, turning dead bodies into cybermen through magic pollinating rain… it was both heavy handed and kind of nonsensical, with a few plotholes to match. Why did the rain only transform dead bodies, when it supposedly affected all living matter? Were there cyberpets appearing in people’s gardens? And the whole Danny plotline had similar issues. A lot of the scenes just felt cheesy, with an added bonus of “wait, what?” thrown in. Danny is protecting Clara and cares about her because he didn’t delete his own emotions, but wouldn’t there be many other cybermen who made the same choice and were similarly unwilling to be mindless drones? Why did Clara spend an entire tense confrontation hugging a cyberman after she deleted his emotions, and why did we have to endure a cheesy “love is a promise” cyber-hug? If cybermen can still feel love they felt before they were converted, doesn’t that negate their entire MO?

And if all the cybermen burned, how exactly did the Brigadier save his daughter at the end?

So many questions. But I’m pretty happy to just handwave those away, since the episode otherwise managed to be tense AND emotional AND fun, like the best episodes of Doctor Who always are. We haven’t seen a season finale like that in a while. It hit all the right notes, and the ending had me in a capslocks typing, teary-eyed mess. Sure, it had its flaws, but a season finale that was really enjoyable to watch and was immersive and emotionally consistent? Yes please. This show is absolutely back on form.

Now excuse me. I’m off to petition for Missy to be the Doctor’s next companion.


Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

3 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Death in Heaven

  1. “If cybermen can still feel love they felt before they were converted, doesn’t that negate their entire MO?”

    I agree, there was even the episode with James Corden (cybermen under a shopping centre trying to make repairs to their ship, if memory serves) where the “power of love” was exactly what killed off all the cybermen…

  2. I assumed what had happened was that when Clara did the ‘just point and think’ with the sonic screwdriver, it found a way to get around the issue and make Danny a capable but still-feeling Cyberman. Maybe making the inhibitor only inhibit what was too painful for him to handle. He was certainly much calmer at the end.

    I was SO ANGRY when they killed Osgood though. I adored Osgood. Even though she’s only been in two episodes, her development is clear. At her first appearance she pulls off a confidence trick, talks back to the Doctor and is imperative in taking out Missy. She makes clever deductions which the Doctor acknowledges and also does Science Things! (Also she’s not pretty-pretty like they usually are.)

    I know the Doctor offered her a companion spot in the middle of the episode, which is usually a death sentence, but it was so casually hinted that I thought she might survive and that really excited me. All I could think through Missy’s mind games was ‘no, no, don’t do it’ and they did. I frowned for a LONG time. I was ready to flip my desk when they did it to Kate, but fortunately she survived. And I did tear up the second I realised it was the Brigadier.

  3. “And if all the cybermen burned, how exactly did the Brigadier save his daughter at the end?”

    She was thrown out of the plane way before the Cybermen burned, so he would have needed to catch her way shortly after she fell, which would have given him plenty of time. Even better question: Danny’s consciousness was data that was re-uploaded into his body with the pollen, so how could he have mentally survived after his body and consciousness were destroyed and how could he have both resurrected the kid and his consciousness after both would have been destroyed?

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