A Hug Is A Way to Hide Our Faces
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Season 8 of Doctor Who started out in a bit of a wobbly place with Deep Breath, which as entertaining yet seemed to be the continuation of a shaky second half of the seventh season. But then Into the Dalek seemed to give the impression that this season was not afraid of trying new things and challenging our deepest held perceptions of characters we already know. And then the series hit the sublime Listen, which for the first time in Capaldi’s run seemed to be an episode tailor made for the new Doctor. And from then on (excluding In the Forest of the Night), every episode has been a nonstop thrill ride. What hundred Moffat’s previous seasons despite our love for the Doctor, Amy, Rory, and River was his love for overarching thematic structures and plot schematics at the expense of actual character development. Here, some may complain about how much focus the relationship between Clara, Danny, and the Doctor received at the expense of the Doctor being at the forefront of everything, but nothing in the finale would have worked otherwise. Yes, this is a show called Doctor Who but the show isn’t just about him (or hopefully in the future, her). This is a show about friendship, courage, bravery, and believing in yourself. It’s a show that has just as much benefit from exploring its companions as it has from exploring the Doctor. This approach made Season 8 one of the richest, most character-driven adventure yet and it immediately cements its position for m as my favorite season of the entire show. I have loved every season with all the highs and lows but what brought this season above every other one is how much the relationship between the Doctor and Clara truly works.
The episode opens with a massive misleading twist where Clara utters “Clara Oswald has never existed.” It’s a ploy to stave off the Cybermen where she pretends to the be the Doctor, leading to the nice in-universe joke of Jenna Coleman appearing in the credits first and her eyes replacing Capaldi’s angry eyebrows. The Cybermen, now pollinating all over the earth, are conclusively recruiting the dead for their army before they continue to kill people and then take them over. It’s quite an ingenious plan, courtesy of the bananas Missy. This in turn leads to the most terrifying sequence of the episode where a Cyberman rises in the morgue but he doesn’t kill the man inside, revealing by a quick shot to be Danny Pink, stuck inside the body of a Cyberman.
The Doctor meanwhile is aboard the UNIT plane with a bow tie wearing Osgood and Kate Stewart, where he discovers to his relative pleasure that he’s been made the President of Earth in situations of global emergencies. Cybermen invading the whole world by way of grave robberies constitutes a global emergency pretty handily. Seemingly the inept UNIT hasn’t been able to put two and two together and I have to admit, they have the lousiest guards in existence. Osgood is the only one clever enough and that admiration from the Doctor is nice, a few moments before Missy gets free. That potential of an Osgood and Doctor team-up is literally obliterated by Missy, who ruthlessly kills off the brilliant scientist. It’s a neat bit of a shocker before Missy causes all hell to break loose and bursts the plane open, sending Kate plummeting to her seeming death.
Missy is undoubtedly the best incarnation of the Master we have seen in the Doctor Who reboot. Michelle Gomez has been an absolute ace in the entirety of the two hours, balancing the shrewd, crazy and ultimately emotionally desperate Master with absolute aplomb. Unlike her previous incarnations (including the great Utopia), Missy’s scheme is far more logical and it doesn’t end with conquering the world. Sure, that’s definitely a part of the plan and let’s be honest, we wouldn’t have a Doctor Who finale without the grand scheme of conquering the planet. But this time around, everything works in a much more grounded sense. Moffat abandons the penchant for grand finales and his own tendency to explain all the plot mechanics, whether or not in the long run they make sense. This is all grounded in Missy wanting more than anything else for the Doctor to realize that the two weren’t ultimately as different as they were assumed to be. There’s a degree of pathetic inferiority in Missy that she tries to fix the gap between the two Gallifreyans by using mass violence and plots that tear so many apart. She reveals that she is one that first rang the phone that brought Clara and the Doctor together way back last season in an attempt to use Clara and undermine the Doctor. Yet the Doctor manages to realize in a great montage that he’s not a hero or a villain, he’s an idiot, an idiot with a box, a screwdriver, and his companions who on occasion has brilliant, brilliant ideas. But what Missy forgets to calculate is the most obvious of notions, that love is a promise, not an emanation; and that promise is more powerful than any weapon.
This season seems to be determined to understand the complexities behind the classic Who villains in a manner that from time to time has been lost in previous episodes. The Cybermen have more often than not been presented as horrifying machines, which they are, but Death in Heaven seems to be determined to give these classic monsters the Dalek treatment from Into the Dalek and it works. There is an innate horror that exists within the very concept of a Cyberman that involves your body being mangled and your brain being taken out for the purpose of taking you into a horrifying place of endless violence. Yet Danny, in a heartbreaking twist of irony, is prevented from giving up his emotions by the very child whose life he unknowingly took on the battlefield. What a single Cyberman and one that is so compromised is capable of hasn’t truly been explored and this is my favorite incarnation of the classic monster this side of the reboot. Previously there wasn’t much left of the monsters’ victims and perhaps understandably so. Here there’s the pain, so much pain that it’s completely unbearable.
But what ends up being a truly ingenious move on the part of Moffat and everyone else involved with this two-part finale is how little in the end Missy and the Cybermen really matter. Make no mistake, those two (or billions, you get the drift) are undoubtedly integral to the plot, but what makes this finale truly tick is the relationship between Clara, Danny, and the Doctor that reaches its tragic conclusion this evening. In many ways, throughout the entirety of the trips through the Orient Express, the moon, the school, and the two-dimensional monsters, this triage of a relationship is what has been driving this entire season through. The episode plays like a consistent sequence of thrills, but when the hour arrives at the graveyard where Danny, now a semi-Cyberman, confronts Clara and the Doctor, everything clicks nearly seamlessly into place. The scene begins with a great misdirection where it feels like that the Cybermen are going to get Clara, but it’s so much more heartbreaking. Clara and the Doctor, as it has been eastablished, are two very good liars, especially to one another and the people they care about. As Cyber Danny comes closer and closer to Clara, she says the one thing that Danny would never be able to tolerate. He had already broke when she admitted that she was an incredible liar, his hands knotted around Clara’s Post-It notes. When Clara says “I would never give up the Doctor, the one man I will always trust and never lie to,” he collapses. The helmet comes off and Clara, horrified, stares at a Danny who is halfway between a man and a machine. “Help me,” he begs. “Please. I don’t want to feel like this.” He begs her to turn off her emotions, which would come with the added risk of Clara dying at the hands of a Cyberman.
Missy grants the Doctor the army of Cybermen so he can go around and impose his will of justice upon the rest of the world. Sure, Missy can grant the Doctor an army of Cybermen, but what would that ultimately accomplish? The Doctor doesn’t need an army when he has his trusted soldiers that he believes are his equals. A solider can be as valuable as an army. When Danny promises that “You will sleep safe tonight,” it’s a promise as powerful as the clouds of terror that Missy unleashed. The Doctor quietly approaches Danny, terrified of what would happen if Clara shut his emotions off. He gives an impassioned speech about how pain is a gift, how it separates the beings from the monsters. And then Cyber Danny makes a quick note of whether the Doctor would sacrifice Danny for the sake of the information he could only give if he was a Cyberman through and through. “All those beautiful speeches disappear for a tactical advantage,” he notes mournfully. He calls out the Doctor on him delegating the horrifying task to Clara, noting how he behaves like a typical officer, keeping his hands clean. Before he dies, Danny exchanges sorrowful, last proclamations of love with Clara. She shuts him off, embracing the metal shell that held the man she once so loved. Danny is dead but Clara’s soul is endangered as she brings herself to kill Missy for her beloved Danny’s fate.
Missy grants the Doctor the army of Cybermen so he can go around and impose his will of justice upon the rest of the world. Sure, Missy can grant the Doctor an army of Cybermen on his birthday, but what would that ultimately accomplish? The Doctor doesn’t need an army when he has his trusted soldiers that he believes are his equals. A solider can be as valuable as an army. When Danny promises that “You will sleep safe tonight,” it’s a promise as powerful as the clouds of terror that Missy unleashed. The Doctor quietly approaches Danny, terrified of what would happen if Clara shut his emotions off. He gives an impassioned speech about how pain is a gift, how it separates the beings from the monsters. And then Cyber Danny makes a quick note of whether the Doctor would sacrifice Danny for the sake of the information he could only give if he was a Cyberman through and through. “All those beautiful speeches disappear for a tactical advantage,” he notes mournfully. He calls out the Doctor on him delegating the horrifying task to Clara, noting how he behaves like a typical officer, keeping his hands clean. Before he dies, Danny exchanges sorrowful, last proclamations of love with Clara. She shuts him off, embracing the metal shell that held the man she once so loved. Danny is dead but Clara’s soul is endangered as she brings herself to kill Missy for her beloved Danny’s fate. The Doctor steps in, noting how he couldn’t allow Clara’s soul to be corrupted. “Who, my dear will save yours?” Missy notes. “Say something nice,” she croons right before Kate’s father, a Cyberman himself who had saved his daughter from imminent death, evaporates Missy into thin air, all of her pleas to see Gallifrey (even in chains) with the Doctor disappearing with her.
Clara finds herself all alone, sitting wistfully in her home. The bracelet from Missy allowed one return trip from the Nethersphere and she awaits Danny’ return in anxious repose. Quietly Danny’s voice comes in the form of an ethereal, white ghost. Clara’s face lights up up in jubilation as she hears Danny’s voice. “You need to find his parents,” he pleads and the pain on Clara’s face is absolutely heartbreaking. The child he had accidentally killed comes forward, the last sacrifice from a soldier. Clara meets the Doctor two weeks later in a café. The Doctor, who is under the assumption that Danny and Clara are happily together, lies about how he found Gallifrey in its original location even though in reality what he found tore him apart. Clara begins to tell him the truth about the child coming back in place of Danny and then she suddenly stops. “Good old P.E.,” the Doctor notes fondly. “He’ll make a math teacher yet.” She asks for a hug and the two embrace, even though the Doctor believes that one should “Never trust a hug. It’s just a way to hide your face.” Capaldi and Coleman shine in that moment, basking sorrowfully in the lies they so successfully tell one another. They say their good-byes and Clara walks off into the London streets alone. Thank you, Doctor Who, for an amazing and emotionally gutting season. I truly, truly hope that the Doctor and Clara don’t separate and Coleman isn’t leaving the show. The emotional bond between these two is stupendous and I hope we get to see more of it. See you at the Christmas special, Whovians, and thank you for a great, great season.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Nice meta-commentary with the Cybermen selfies
+The music was quite excellent as usual
+The data cloud concept
+“We’re going viral.”
+Osgood: “Bowties are cool.”
+“Might want to do the roots…”
+“Guard the graveyards.”
+“There’s been a bit of an upgrade…”
+“My confidence is growing every minute.”
+“Americans bobbing around? They will only start praying!”
+“Vote for an idiot.”
+“I graduated in the last century.”
+“Yeah, I chose that date. I’ve always liked it.”
+“Maybe we should be looking up.”
+Rachel Talalay’s direction was amazing, especially in the morgue and graveyard sequences
+Hatching, nice callback to Kill the Moon
+UNIT has been investigating 3W for a while
+“Hey Missy, you’re so fine…”
+“I’m going to kill you in a second.”
+“I’m accelerating for dramatic affect.”
+“Doctor, he’s crying.”
+“I wasn’t very good at it, but I love you.” Oh, I’m out of Kleenex.
+“This is our darkest hour. One Cyberman is not enough.”
+“The army of dead will now save the land of the living.”
Title: Death in Heaven
Written By: Steven Moffat
Directed By: Rachel Talalay
Image Courtesy: Nerdist