It’s here my little pudding brains! The grand finale of Peter Capaldi’s first season as The Doctor is finally upon us, and it doesn’t disappoint. Death in Heaven is a bright, rousing and bittersweet denouement that delivers satisfying answers to all our questions, and even some to ones we didn’t ask.
We pick up right where Dark Water left off with Missy unveiling herself as The Master, newly-regenerated with a Scottish brogue and a rather fetching crimson bonnet, and her burgeoning Cybermen-army flooding onto the streets of London.
Last week’s episode garnered more than 100 complaints from viewers who were disturbed by its dark themes on death and the afterlife, and thankfully for them, this episode is much lighter and less morbid in tone.
Rachel Taslany directs with the style of a sci-fi romp, keeping the plot rallying at an unstoppable pace and executing a steady stream of bombastic action sequences, such as a grand opening set piece which sees a horde of Cybermen rocketing out of St Paul’s Cathedral’s newly-retractable roof and a daring feat of sky-diving from Capaldi that would make James Bond himself think twice. This is an episode that could truly be defined as family-friendly entertainment in the best possible sense.
That’s not to say that Death in Heaven can’t be chilling and there are certainly a fair few moments that send a shiver down the spine. This almost exclusively comes from the presence of The Cybermen, whose invasion of earth becomes The Night of the Living Cybermen as dark, ominous clouds swarm over the world’s cemeteries bringing the dead back to “life” as mechanical hands burst through the sodden earth and “upgraded” corpses crawl out of their resting places.
It should be said that this is by far the best depiction of the mechanical menaces seen in the revived series so far. Not only can the look frightening, but they also have an emotional weight as Steven Moffat takes us beneath the cold, unforgiving exterior to witness the true body horror of their creation. The Cybermen’s presence in this episode ties-in neatly with the season’s themes of death and morality making them much more rewarding as characters.
But of course the Cybermen have to play second fiddle to the Doctor’s greatest nemesis, Missy. Michelle Gomez is clearly having a ball in the role, fully embracing this psychotic Mary Poppins and her sparky, teasing exchanges with Capaldi more than live up to anticipation.
My one complaint of Missy is that she is not nearly threatening enough to be the primary antagonist in a season finale. Even when she is seen cruelly vaporizing our beloved geek Osgood the act is depicted in a whimsical fashion as though it’s just a bit of fun without any consequence.
This is largely because the motivations for her actions are somewhat unclear – to anyone but the most ardent Whovians anyway. We learn that she gives The Doctor control of her Cyber-army to prove he can be just as evil as she is, but it is never revealed what drives her to do such a thing and as a result her character feels empty, despite Gomez’s charismatic performance.
Much more satisfying is the fate of Clara’s squaddie boyfriend Danny who is given a tremendously moving send-off as he finally gets to be Clara’s hero. Even having his consciousness transferred into the carcass of a Cyberman can’t stop him as he immediately goes rogue to rescue Clara from his new comrades’ clutches before leading a rebellion to save the day.
We always knew his relationship with Clara would not have a happy ending but their tearful farewell as she completes his transformation into an emotionless cyborg is genuinely moving and greatly rewarding of the arc’s gentle build up throughout the season.
Where this leaves Clara is still something of a mystery. Though she shares yet another touching goodbye with The Doctor we know she will return for the Christmas special and it seems we will have to wait a few more weeks to find out if she will survive long enough to appear in season nine.
Though he has been sidelined for the last couple of weeks as the writers built-up Clara and Danny’s story, Capaldi returns to centre stage this week for his first season finale as The Doctor and he continues to excel in the role.
Finding himself in the surprising position of President of planet Earth while aboard UNIT’s fancy Air Force One-esque plane, Capaldi is marvellous throughout, his entertainingly madcap attempts to thwart Missy’s mechanizations contrasting nicely with some powerful and bittersweet final scenes as both Missy and Clara put him in painful and impossible situations.
It has been a triumphant first season for Capaldi, disproving the theory that the role was now a young man’s game by imbuing his incarnation with a fiery intensity that gives the Doctor a bitter, unpredictable edge not seen in a long while.
Likewise, season eight has revitalised the series, a feeling epitomised by last night’s thrilling, darkly compelling finale that impressively combined blockbuster-sized spectacle with a poignant heart to make the countdown to Christmas much more unbearable. Until Christmas day my fellow pudding brained friends…
Click here to watch Doctor Who: Death in Heaven on BBC iPlayer