Death in Heaven Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Rachel Talalay Starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Samuel Anderson, Michelle Gomez, Chris Addison, Ingrid Oliver, Jemma Redgrave, Sanjeev Bhaskar Premiere 8 November, BBC One
Although not short on giddy action and a twist or two, this concluding episode to both the Missy/Cybermen double-header and Series 8 proper is fundamentally one about characterisation and interpersonal drama. It is not afraid to take risks, and manages to be distinctly memorable - if not the out-and-out classic that the best of modern Doctor Who has to offer the viewer.
Steven Moffat was emphatic in interviews that he and his team would make good use of the Cybermen on this occasion. The creepiness factor for the silver giants was dialled up very high in 'Dark Water', to the extent that many viewers were left quite upset and some even complained to the BBC. The tone alters somewhat here, and it is arguable that the use of some (re-done) voices for these creatures may take just a little edge away. But since Doctor Who was reborn 9 years ago, I cannot name a more solid outing for the Cybermen than this. They are not shown to be overcome by anything mundane or commonplace, and there is a good sense of poetic justice when cyber-converted-Danny commands his troops to end the crisis once and for all. Moffat believes in having these emotionless aliens as a persistent threat but economical in terms of screen-time, and this approach is pretty succesful.
And after all we have another villain who has plenty to offer, and every scene featuring her is an absolute triumph. I was left rather underwhelmed by Missy's previous cameos in Series 8 and felt the arc was not the most intriguing; now I want to go back to earlier stories to try and pick up on the clues that were set in place. Michelle Gomez is someone I myself have seen little of before, but once again casting an actress better known for comedy really works - much as was the case with Catherine Tate.
The main talking point with the audience is the sheer audacity of re-gendering the Master. Yet somehow this fully fledged appearance of a new and very different incarnation is right up there with all the best debut outings for the Doctor himself. Moffat is prepared to stray close to pantomime - especially evident when she channels 'Mary Poppins' by teleporting into a graveyard and falling gently to the ground with her black umbrella - and yet Gomez is able to convince us that there is something very sinister bubbling away underneath the kookiness and spectacle. But most crucially the inter-personal chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Gomez is unquestionable and leaves the strongest after-impression once the final credits flash on the screen.
And in general 'Death In Heaven' works pretty well, even with flaws like 'telling - not showing' - namely when the Doctor is briefed by UNIT on the global situation. Also the 'President' title given to a reluctant Doctor may be a deliberate nod towards long-term fan-favourite 'The Five Doctors', but somehow ends up falling flat. The choice of killing off Osgood conclusively is perhaps a little disappointing, as she has more facets to her than the rather dour Kate Stewart. And further to that, the way Kate is shown to survive is memorable for the wrong reasons entirely; her late father has been converted to a Cyberman, but then breaks free from Missy's control and catches her in mid-air. I do like the intention behind the Doctor's salute to the former Brigadier regardless.
Another talking point, but one that I myself find amusing is the glaring tease over whether Clara is not only a Time Lady, but in fact the show's lead after all. Maybe more humdrum is her fooling of the Cybermen when facing certain death if she were to say the wrong thing. Jenna Coleman is as reliable as ever though - clearly putting in that extra bit of intensity that is needed for a big finish to a year's worth of episodes. Once Clara gets to interact with Danny, the Doctor and Missy, then it becomes abundantly clear just how much of a personal journey this initially plot-oriented lead character has been through. And as of this date it appears there is still some more of her story to be told.
Danny Pink is given some of the strongest material in the script, building on all the foundations laid in place since the beginning of this season. His guilt over his accidental killing of a small boy is a bold theme to tackle for Doctor Who - but given how topical Britain's military presence abroad is, this is a commendable storytelling decision. It also is notable that we last met Danny when he was showing all sorts of panic, fear and apprehension. Now he feels emptiness but appreciates the sacrifice he (and Clara) need to make.
Although I found the Torchwood episode 'Cyberwoman' to be pretty unwatchable, this particular use of Cyber-conversion is both poignant and disturbing. Samuel Anderson seems to be written out now rather conclusively, but he really has made the most of his character's arc in the last cluster of stories. In the end my overall feelings toward this character are positive.
A further big highlight is Clara's brave pretence to her friend that she she has used Missy's techno-bracelet to have the 'normal' Danny restored to her. This scene of two people talking in an unremarkable cafe setting may seem low-key, but is acutely moving. The added dimension of the Doctor also covering his loss by lying that the Master for once told the truth is brilliant. I really doubt that Doctor Twelve will mellow out too much when he still has so much angst and loneliness to process.
Series 8 has been a sound season when taken as a whole, and there have been mostly winning individual entries. Peter Capaldi has proven virtually all doubters wrong and looks ready to raise his average performance yet higher. As fans of the classic series will attest, an actor with a good number of years under his belt is more than compelling enough. Lastly, the 'Santa' epilogue was amusing enough and brought an utterly hilarious bemused reaction from the Doctor. First Robin Hood, and now this? Let's hope the traditional Christmas episode will make strong use of the North Pole setting..