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New Who 8.12 Death in Heaven

I'm still hideously busy for all sorts of reasons, including a new one which I may write about tomorrow if I have time and the inclination. But I did at least get to see Death in Heaven on live broadcast, which I think I've only managed for about 50% of this season. That evening on Twitter, I opined that it was "genuinely, and easily, the best New #DoctorWho season finale I have ever seen!" Not, you will carefully note, the best New Who episode ever - just the best finale. It was a hasty judgement, of course, but LJ offers the opportunity for a more considered appraisal against the competition, so let's take that opportunity:

  • The Parting of the Ways (2005) - classic deus ex machina ending in which Rose turns into a goddess and magics everything better. Didn't seem too bad at the time, because it was all new, but in hindsight it was the start of a very regrettable trend.
  • Doomsday (2006) - actually, I quite like this one. A bit hand-wavey, and the business of Rose and the Doctor being trapped in parallel universes gets mawkish, but it follows its own internal logic and delivers some thrilling moments.
  • Last of the Time Lords (2007) - a real let-down after *that* moment in Utopia. The solution to the problem essentially turns out to be that everyone on the entire planet really loves Doctor Who, which is pretty narcissistic, while the magic re-set button which then causes them to forget everything which happened felt like a cheat.
  • Journey's End (2008) - even if I could forgive the fact that new Who's best companion to date had her entire memory and everything which she had gained from travelling with the Doctor wiped arbitrarily, the awful spectacle of 10.5 and Rose kissing on the beach would utterly kill this episode for me. As far as I'm concerned, it never happened.
  • The End of Time (2010; I suppose this counts, since it concluded the 2009-10 specials) - yeah, not bad actually. Ten's extended death scene is a little self-indulgent, but the music is amazing and after 5 years both the characters and the production team of the RTD era had earnt it.
  • The Big Bang (2010) - altogether too timey-wimey and cheaty. Took RTD's magic reset buttons, dei ex machinis and Total Bollocks Overdrive and doubled all of them. I still don't understand how or why the TARDIS exploded, or whether that is going to matter again at any point in the future, either.
  • The Wedding of River Song (2011) - the time folding in on itself and parallel universe bits of this were quite fun in a cracky sort of way, but I've never liked River, and liked seeing her reduced to endangering the universe because she is so 'in love' with the Doctor even less.
  • The Name of the Doctor (2013) - a bit different, as its real job was to set things up for the anniversary special, so it didn't need to offer definitive plot resolutions in the same way as most of the others. As such, not too bad, especially for the presence of the Paternoster gang, although Clara hadn't yet been well enough developed for her decision to jump into the Doctor's timeline and become the Impossible Girl to really convince.

Conclusion - it turns out there are two previous season finales which I like better than I had remembered: Doomsday and The End of Time. But on the whole I'm right in my basic view that they collectively tend to stretch credibility too far with their cheaty magic reset buttons and dei ex machinis, and regularly end up trampling all over female agency to boot.

By contrast, the resolution to Death in Heaven really did feel quite plausible, and certainly followed the dramatic logic of the season as a whole to a T. It was, as pickwick pointed out elseweb, a 'Love Saves the Day' ending, in that CyberDanny's love for Clara was apparently so great that he managed to resist his inhibitor, even after it had been switched on, and resolve everything (surprisingly quickly and easily!) via a noble act of self-sacrifice. But even in that moment, Danny also got to call the Doctor on the mis-match between his principles and his actions, show some leadership, and excel in the role which he had chosen and trained for. And meanwhile all the stuff around it, with the Doctor finally achieving clarity on his good man / bad man dilemma by rejecting the dichotomy altogether, was both emotionally and logically a satisfying resolution of the season's main themes. I'm not saying it was entirely non-cheaty and handwavey, obviously, and pickwick is right that the notion of Love giving CyberDanny the magical power to resist the normal functioning of his inhibitor is top of the Cheat List. But as I said to her in response at the time, at least that story makes some sort of sense when written onto a Cyberman, given that they exist entirely for the purpose of thinking about what having - or not having - emotions means. So it could have been worse.

Meanwhile, we got some fantastic moments. Clara trying to convince the Cybermen that she was the Doctor, UNIT turning up and just knowing what was happening already, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart introducing herself as a "divorcee, mother of two, outstanding bridge player" and of course commander of UNIT, the protocol which makes the Doctor President in any moment of recognised global peril, Osgood being every shade of awesome, Missy using her umbrella to fly down into the graveyard, the Doctor saluting the CyberBrig, etc. And I loved the distinctly Gothic aesthetic applied to the scenes of the cyberwater welling up out of the sewers, the dead banging on the doors of the morgue, and Clara in the graveyard seeing things moving out of the corner of her eye as the Cybermen clamber out of their the graves all around her. Obviously all the cyberwater stuff was the final icing on the cake of the watery theme which I have been tracing all season, while the weaponisation of the (non-breathing) dead was pretty much the same for the breathing theme. Though the sight of Osgood puffing on her inhaler also made me wonder whether the breathing business had all along been nothing less than a kind of trailer for her, and her big moment in this story.

Of course, her death was a punch in the gut, but a) Missy's device may just have uploaded her to the Matrix, and b) actually I'm perfectly happy for her just to be dead anyway, on the grounds that I prefer a good honest death to "everybody lives!" (for the same reason that I'm not a fan of magic re-set buttons and dei ex machinis generally). In fact, I've noted in several of my episode write-ups this season that they have had high body-counts (take Mummy on the Orient Express, for example), so it looks like Moffat himself may have decided he needs to do more to acknowledge the likely consequences of some of the situations he puts his characters into. Certainly, the contrast between his treatment of Rory, whose returns from the dead literally became a running joke, and Danny, whom he presents with that opportunity but who chooses not to take it, looks like a very pointed statement of how he is doing things differently now. It may, of course, be a temporary change, made to suit the "Is the Doctor a good or a bad man?" theme of this season, but personally I hope Moffat sticks with it now he's got here.

Meanwhile, Clara was great, and although I liked the way she was apparently 'written out' at the end, I'm also not sorry to see from the Christmas special trailer than in fact she will obviously be back. I've seen people expressing unhappiness that she and the Doctor were still lying to each other in their final scene in the café, but for me it really worked. The whole point was that they were both trying to do each other a huge kindness - setting the other free to enjoy something good without feeling guilty about it. And because we as the audience know that in fact neither of them really has the good thing which the other believes they do, we can see how much bravery the lie took on on both sides, which in turn reveals the depth of their affection for one another. In other words, lying isn't simple - sometimes people do it for the kindest and best-intended of reasons, just as the Doctor sometimes lets his principles slip in order to save lives. That felt to me like a poignant and nuanced place to end the story.

Finally, the previous episode left me confused on a few points, but I think those have been resolved now. It became clear from the way we were shown the lights going out on the exterior of the Matrix data-slice right before seeing the same thing happening inside the Nethersphere that the latter was actually inside the former - hence the spherical shape. The Doctor also explained that Missy must have been using Time Lord technology to fit all the Cybermen inside St. Paul's without anyone noticing, and later on also that she clearly has her TARDIS somewhere, and has been using it to collect people from the past, present and future within the Mausoleum. In fact, it seems that Missy has been actively stalking the Doctor all season, since what we've seen is her deliberately collecting up the souls of people with a particular reason to feel resentful towards the him, on the grounds that they had died either at his hands (e.g. Droid man) or in his service (e.g. Dalek interior woman) and he didn't care. Obviously, we've still got nothing on how Missy escaped from Gallifrey complete with the Matrix data-slice and her TARDIS, or indeed whether both of those were left still inside St. Paul's at the end of this story, but that's fine - I'm sure more will be revealed when they, or other Time Lords, next crop up in a story.

On the whole, then, I am definitely happy to name this season finale amongst my top three, but would need to re-watch Doomsday and The End of Time to decide which is actually the best overall. In the meantime, though - OMG IT'S SANTA!!!!

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( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 16th, 2014 02:41 pm (UTC)
'I'm still hideously busy for all sorts of reasons, including a new one which I may write about tomorrow if I have time and the inclination'

If you need a vent/sympathetic ear/sounding board you know where I am xx
Nov. 16th, 2014 03:32 pm (UTC)
Oh no, don't worry - it's nothing bad. In fact, you already know about it. I'm saving the proper LJ 'announcement' until I've got time to write about it properly, but all I mean is my new Lib Dem commitment. It's just that, as I knew, it is quite time-consuming, is all.
Nov. 16th, 2014 04:29 pm (UTC)
Oh of course - I had forgotten but big phew it is nothing horrid.
Nov. 24th, 2014 09:00 am (UTC)
> that CyberDanny's love for Clara was apparently so great that he managed to resist his inhibitor

At least that's consistent: it's happened in Doomsday with the head of Torchwood, and with Craig (really mawkishly) in Closing Time.

With Doomsday, I had a hard time forgiving the way the Cybermen all shot up into the air due to the attraction from the dimension portal thing on the other side of the world.

With TPOTW, I think it's been so long that I just accept it as the way it happened. I think at the time my reaction was, 'well you can't do that to a companion EVERY season finale!'. But then: Donna's Time Lord brain...

I read once that the ST:NG writers would write the cliffhanger finale, but not the resolution. They'd come to it as part of the production of the new season, with (as I recall reading) no damn clue of how to resolve matters. Which sounds totally barmy to me!

But you'd think that with DW, where both parts are written together, that you could do without a deus ex machina.
Nov. 24th, 2014 01:52 pm (UTC)
Yes, true, it is consistent. I think I quite liked it the first time, with the head of Torchwood in Doomsday, but like the deus ex machina motif, something which you'll give a pass the first time becomes less and less forgiveable as it gets repeated.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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