[Review] - Doctor Who Series 8 Finale, Episodes 11 and 12, "Dark Water" and "Death In Heaven"

Courtesy of the BBC.
And just like that, it seems, we're done for another series. We're actually an episode shorter than a usual series of Who, but an end is an end, and for the first time in a few years I'm sad to see it go. With a new Doctor and a refreshed creative philosophy (or at least, reoriented intentions), this series was a marvel. It felt well worn and comfortable, while being new and challenging. It paid homage without living too often in it's own shadow, and largely avoided tripping over it's own details. This is what Who feels like when it mostly works, when it almost completely comes together. This was Who done right.

I took last week off, and thus didn't review Dark Water by itself. But, I don't think I would have been particularly inspired to do so anyway. I'm conflicted with multi-episodes stories, as very rarely are they ultimately worthy of the additional episode. The one thing I did like about the last series so so was the decision to do away with them. And this series too avoided them, right up to the end, and I cant help but wonder if it really deserved it. The first episode of this pair felt like little more than a prolonged prologue, an overly wrought and detailed bit of exposition that might have been more succinctly dealt with in the additional twenty or so minutes that was afforded to the proper finale, which it too didn't put to the best use.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that aren't good or bad, just an idiot.

What is it about the Daleks and the Cybermen, that keeps making writers return to them, when all evidence suggests that their use will guarantee failure? Is it an indomitable desire to be the writer that finally cracks the nut after all these years, and writes the definitive story for a classic beastie? As a writer, I know I have personally frittered away perfectly good afternoons thinking of what I'd do if given the chance to script the Doctor, and every time my mind comes to the evil pepperpots or the tinmen, my mind turns rightly to sludge. Moffat especially seems to have difficulty with the most classic of the baddies, as did his predecessor. The Cybermen in particular seem to be a leach on the blood-filled organ of creativity.

Perhaps it is because, no matter how good the initial idea, it inevitably ends up getting bogged down in techno-babble and complex nonsense. Or, in this instance, distracting from the perfectly sound use of another classic villain. It wasn't enough for Mr. Moffat that these be the triumphant return of the Master, now Mistress? He had to add in the tin-plated Mondasians as well? Couldn't it have been better served with something of his own creation? Because it wasn't like he was overly relying on established knowledge with their use this time around. Most of what he had the Cybers doing was new to them and us. Flying? Able to somehow do full conversions based on previously establishment Cyber virus built in (which seems like, if true, the entire galaxy would have been over run during the endless destruction of the Cyber War).

The triumph, as I called it, of these episodes, was Michelle Gomez as The Master, making a return after being gone through the entire Matt Smith era, and making a return to lunatic form not since since the classic series and last we saw Anthony Ainley. All due respect to John Simm, but Robert T. Daves clearly had no interest or concept of the character. Moffat took her to wild extremes, with dialogue rushing across the line of camp but which Gomez successfully negotiated back over the line each time. Gomez and Capaldi were well matched, one manic, the other repressed, and both culling the core from these long standing characters. I hope that Gomez is given the chance to stick with the character for a while, as both Ainley and Delgado proved that consistency and longevity are more effective in standing threats than constant reintroduction.

So, the episodes were a reintroduction and a departure, as Clara left the TARDIS for good, and under different circumstances than she had threatened earlier this year. Danny too left the show, after having one of the better character arcs this show has done since the return, especially for the Earth-bound counterpart to a companion. I can't say I'm overly thrilled with how either turned out, but I was appreciative of how abrupt Clara's decision was, putting me in mind of the sudden and emotion-based departures the companions often took in the old days. Danny's death and rebirth and sacrifice seemed the strong part of Dark Water and the weakest part of Death in Heaven, especially the terrible speech scene he was given before the Cyber legion (why was he shouting - did the legions in Sri Lanka need him to speak up?).

But more than either of those two, I am well chafed about the pointless killing of Osgoode. And yes, I know it was meant to be pointless, but I fail to understand this series' theme of introducing potential companions in every episode if 1) it never meant to follow through with any of them and 2) Moffat felt it necessary to kill a perfectly likable and development-ready character like Osgoode. I understand not every secondary can be a Vastra or Jenny, but give it a chance, eh? Maybe there's a work around, like it was actually her Zygon duplicate. More maybe that's just me being wishful.

These episodes were limited in their ability to be effective because they fell for the two cardinal sins of the series since the return, one a Moffat sin and one a Davies sin. The Davies sin is that the finales all feel the need to be world wide catastrophes in which the Doctor is singularly responsible for turning a half-finished invasion around, often backed up by completely useless support. The Moffat sin is to keep piling on the ideas until the episode begins to buckle under it's own weight. that he had two episodes to spread it out over, and still ended up in a snarl in the last speaks to his own verbosity, and his need to rein himself in.

The themes of the series all came to a head, as the Doctor got over his extended regeneration crisis, and was finally shook into clarity the kind of man he is: the kind of man he's always been. He's alone, he's granted momentary reprieves, and he occasionally asks too much of himself and others. He acts in the best interests of those he is closest to, even if that means having them hate him, and he lies when it means others won't feel the pain he has to endure. Lying was the other theme of this series, and the necessity of it. Death in Heaven began and ended on lies, and both are told by Clara. She tells a lie to survive, and then tells one so that she can go on living. The first lie was necessary and the second lie was to limit someone elses pain.

With a wider lens, it would seem that the Doctor was right, the Master did win. If the Master was the one keeping the Doctor and Clara together all this time, she succeeded in getting the Doctor to destroy Clara's life. Clara leaves the TARDIS, despite having seen the wonders of the universe, a broken and lonely person, almost certainly with trust issues and a caught habit of being untrustworthy herself. The person she was when the Doctor met her might have a directionless leaf on the wind, but she was an innocent. Like Amy, like Rose, like Adric and Susan, her time with the Doctor made her a fuller person, but not necessarily a better one. And those are the scars the Doctor bares. At least, until Christmas.

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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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