The BBC’s Doctor Who has been building to a big finale all season, as per usual. That ending is finally here in the two-part episode “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven.” As expected, this adventure pays off much of the story from not just season eight, but ties itself into past mythology as well, and it almost makes up for the overall-mediocre year. Almost.
In “Dark Water,” The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) takes a devastated Clara (Jenna Coleman) to find her recently deceased boyfriend, Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson). What they stumble into is Missy’s (Michelle Gomez) plot, which involves turning all of the deceased of Earth into Cyberman which she can then use to conquer the planet, or multiple planets. Or just give them to The Doctor, as she does in “Death in Heaven,” to try to repair their friendship, as she’s actually old frenemy The Master reincarnated as a woman.
“Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” are good episodes because they hit a lot of excellent notes. Any chance to see UNIT is delightful. Clara’s grief over losing Danny is palpable. Danny’s love overcoming the Cyberman programming is very moving. The Doctor finally giving a salute to old friend Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (played for many years by Nicholas Courtney, but seen here only as a Cyberman) is nothing short of amazing, giving long-time fans a much-deserved reward.
The goodbye between The Doctor and Clara is equally good. Neither gets what they want, and they each lie to the other to make it seem like things turned out OK. That’s a hanging thread begging to be explored, and it will be in the upcoming Christmas special. But for now, the scene in which Clara quits her travels, never really saying what she means to say to The Doctor, is terrific enough.
An unresolved mystery, that of where Galifrey is and how The Master found it, or if he/she really did, remains, tantalizing, sure to be picked up in season nine. We know The Master is a liar, of course, but since Galifrey is out there, somewhere, The Doctor needs to find it.
This finale explores the question posed earlier this year as to if The Doctor is a good man. He decides he’s not, but he’s not a bad man either. In doing so, he’s able to let go of some of his hangups and trust Danny Pink, a solider, something The Doctor detests. This is a beautiful, solid conclusion to the subplot, though The Doctor is far from done in his evolution as an individual, nor has he addressed why he now looks the way he does, surely connected to his internal turmoil.
Lastly, it’s no small thing that The Doctor is made President of Earth in “Death in Heaven.” He may not stay in the position full-time, but it means something, and since Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) survived, it will have to be dealt with again. It’s a post The Doctor doesn’t want, but it might be useful to him at some point. How much will he invest in the power and is his term finite?
Now, there are still quite a few holes, though, and that’s why “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” continue the trends of this season, rather than making up for them and fixing the series entirely. For one, Missy’s ability to capture the souls of deceased people and then transform their corpses into Cybermen is never adequately explained, nor is how she can control Cybermen in the first place dealt with. I do not understand her plot to win back The Doctor, either. She’s crazy, sure, but there has to be some reason she thinks her plan will work. We don’t know why she puts Clara and The Doctor together, not really. I doubt we’ve seen the last of The Master / Mistress, as Time Lords regenerate, and hopefully future glimpses will explain these things, but this two-parter doesn’t do a good job making itself cohesive here.
I also feel like Osgood’s (Ingrid Oliver) death is quick and cheap. Her presence is a memorable one, and I love how she references older versions of The Doctor in her wardrobe. Killing her should have affected someone and meant something, and instead, it’s just a throw-away moment, scary, but not worth it.
Doctor Who‘s season eight is, overall, the weakest since the show’s reincarnation in 2005. Yet, the season finale has enough wonderful tidbits to prove the magic is not dead, even if it skips over them too quickly instead of giving them the exploration they deserve. A refocus is in order, hopefully without Clara, playing on the strengths still running through the show and minimizing the inconsistencies and stand-alone tales that just don’t work. I’m cautiously optimistic season nine and a new companion can get the show back on track.
Doctor Who will next see a Christmas special on that holiday, and then (reportedly) return to the BBC and BBC America sometime in 2015 for season nine.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00OZVT2UE][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00OZVPU6E][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00IT3KQWM]