Death in Heaven

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The Master’s plans come to fruition as the corpses of 3W emerge as Cybermen. The two Time Lords take to the air in UNIT’s plane and Clara must use her wits to survive.

This episode picks up directly from the end of Dark Water, which saw Danny struggle to convince Clara of his identity. Minutes later her role is reversed and Clara goes from convincee to convincer. In Flatline the Doctor congratulates Clara on her lying, calling it a valuable survival tool. She survives by using her skill at deception, while the more honest Danny ultimately perishes. The lies ultimately defeat Doctor and companion though, their friendship ended by the desire to fool each other.

The changes in the titles are fun, both referencing Clara’s ploy in the opening titles and then interrupting the closing ones with Santa Clause’s entrance. When I first watched Utopia I thought it would have been cool to follow the scene of Captain Jack grabbing onto the TARDIS with him clinging on through the credits.

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In the 1975 story Planet of Evil when Morelli is killed his crewmate Vishinsky says he has, “Joined the greatest army of them all.” It’s a poetic way of describing death, taken literally in this story. Every human (and clockwork droid trying to be human) in history has ended up here. It’s like the Doctor saving River Song and her crew to the library’s hard drive writ large. And it seems like a lively, bustling place to live, complete with the sound of traffic and sirens.

“How long has the human race had a concept of the after-life? turns out the after-life is real”.

Doctor Who has posited sci-fi explanations for mythology like that of ancient Egypt or Greece plenty of times in the past, and it’s satisfying now to do so to current major religions and superstitions. The notion of heaven is just the Master’s Gallifreyan hard-drive. The skewering of religious nonsense continues with the Master’s jibe about suicide bombers (“Cybermen don’t just blow themselves up for no good reason, dear. They’re not human.”) and the Doctor’s assertions that the Americans “will only start praying”.

Michelle Gomez’s Master continues to be deliriously evil. Unnerving for the sheer delight she takes in killing, making the audience somehow implicit by being laugh-out loud funny, with voices and accents for every occasion. Just as Russell T Davies tried to expand on the character, Steven Moffat reverses the usual scenario of the Doctor trying to rehabilitate his former friend, to the Master wanting the Doctor to join her in a mad, intoxicating power trip.

“I need you to know we’re not so different. I need my friend back.”

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The Doctor’s realisation when he gets the Master’s bracelet of who is ends the series-long examination of whether he is a good man. He says that he has lost sight of who is and has spent the first period of his new regeneration cycle finding himself again. The Doctor knows he must reject the power offered because this series has shown us that he is not always right. He’s been wrong many times

“I am not a good man. And I’m not a bad man. I am not a hero. I’m definitely not a president. And no, I’m not an officer. You know what I am? I am an idiot. With a box, and a screwdriver. Passing through, helping out. Learning.”

It’s reminiscent of Steven Moffat’s earlier attempts to reset the Doctor during the Eleventh Doctor era. By letting the universe believe he was dead, then the Daleks forgetting him, he dropped the legendary status to go back into the shadows. Series 8 has done much to return the series to it’s roots, and this feels like a another step in that direction; to an explorer and wanderer who does his best to help people wherever he lands.

The Cybermen attacking the plane and the Doctor’s 007-like free-fall after the falling TARDIS are comic-strip Doctor Who stories brought to glorious live-action life. Moffat is a big James Bond fan and peppered nods to the movies through the third series of Sherlock. The Bond references here go beyond the Moonraker/GoldenEye parachute-less skydiving and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s character going out of the plan window in a general’s uniform like Goldfinher. The Doctor and Clara’s farewell “Never again” echoes Sean Connery’s declaration when he finished filming on Diamonds Are Forever.

The number of sugar lumps the Doctor drops into his tea aboard Boat One reminds me of Tom Baker’s anecdote in Big Finish’s Tom Baker at 80 interview about putting fourteen lumps in a cup of tea to get a laugh in a play. I highly recommend a listen to this CD.

I’ve seen some rumblings on Twitter that the Brigadier’s return as a Cyberman was somehow disrespectful. The presence of yet another actor playing the Master reminds us, though, that following the death of the actor Roger Delgado, the series next featured the character as an undead desiccated corpse. The character of the Doctor himself is brought back time after time and re-cast in the case of Richard Hurndall in The Five Doctors.

The Cyber-Brigadier watching over the Earth is great tribute to the character. And he need never really appear again; much like the Doctor’s daughter Jenny, Christina in her flying bus, Captain Jack or, most beautifully, Sarah-Jane’s adventure ‘continues forever’ in our imaginations.

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Order Doctor Who – Series 8 from Amazon:

Doctor Who – The Complete Series 8 [DVD]

On Blu-ray:

Doctor Who – The Complete Series 8 [Blu-ray] [Region Free]

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