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  • Writer's pictureShawna Reppert

WTF? Review of Doctor Who: Death in Heaven (SPOILERS)

Published November 11, 2014 | By Shawna



OK, I’ve been watching Doctor Who a long time, so when I say that this was the worst episode of the new series, and very possibly the worst ever, old or new, that’s saying something.

It has nothing to do with Capaldi. I think he’s a fabulous actor and makes a great Doctor. Up to this point, (and with the exception of Robots of Sherwood) I loved this season. I thought it was deep, thoughtful and very character-driven.

I have to admit that the Master’s gender change threw me for a loop. Yes, I know the possibility is cannon, but the Master was/is my favorite villain, and his previous incarnations seemed so aggressively masculine. But I decided that the problem may well be my own latent hetero-normative blinkers, and decided to give it a chance. After all, I’ve often said that they’ve always found the right Master to match the various incarnations of the Doctor. Pertwee and Delgado. Davison and Ainley. Tennant and Simm. (Yes, I know Ainley worked with other Doctors, but I’ve always considered him the Fifth Doctor’s Master. Even if it was fun to watch Ainley’s Master and the Sixth Doctor bicker, especially with commentary provided by the Rani.) I could easily see Missy and Twelve play well against each other, especially when they allowed her to be all dark and elegantly sinister, rather than just comic-book crazy.

As a very minor point, I think it’s somewhat silly, though, to have the Master change her name just because she has changed genders. After all, our society has finally progressed enough to finally call women in the acting professions ‘actors’, not ‘actresses.’ You would think that a society as advanced and as gender-fluid as the Time Lords would call a master a master, regardless of gender. During my very brief stint working in college theater, I greatly resented being called ‘Prop Mistress’ rather than ‘Props Master.’

I do think it’s kind of a cop-out that the first time they allow the Master and the Doctor to kiss is after the gender change. If they are going to give a nod to the fans’ suspicions of unresolved sexual tension between those two, damn it they should be brave enough to do it without the gender change. They have, after all, slipped into cannon the possibility that the Doctor plays for both teams. (From The Time of the Doctor: CLARA: So, I may have accidentally invented a boyfriend.

DOCTOR: Yeah, I did that once and there’s no easy way to get rid of an android.)

I was also a bit disappointed that, after the Master’s seeming reform at The End of Time that he’s back to being purely evil and more than slightly deranged. I know he will never be all sweetness and light, and we wouldn’t want him to be. But I could think of other, better ways to go with this character (filed under Reasons They Should Let Me Write for Doctor Who).

Anyway, by the time Death in Heaven showed, I had gotten over the surprise and was ready to give the new scenario the benefit of the doubt and enjoy the finale.

It had its good points. A lot of emotional poignancy, with Danny’s love for Clara overcoming his cyber conditioning, with both the Doctor and Missy seeming almost nostalgic for their former friendship. A bit of hitting the Doctor below the belt emotionally (they do that a lot this season) both with Missy’s ‘gift’ of an army and her comments that she and he are alike, as well as Danny hitting him (again) with the comparison between him and other ‘generals’ that fight from behind the lines.

It had bad points that I might have forgiven the way I forgave the rubber monsters and occasionally stilted dialogue of the original series. Making the Doctor the emergency ‘President of the World’ felt over-the-top to the point of farce, unnecessary to the plot, and far more unlikely than time-travelling police boxes and oversized dinosaurs in the Thames put together. (When in the history of humanity have the leaders of the entire world been able to agree on anything?) Flying cybermen? And that whole thing with liquidy-stuff making instant cybermen out of corpses? Were the writers vacationing in Amsterdam during the story conferences?

But then we reached the moment that made me wonder whether, despite his assertions of prior fandom, if Moffat had ever watched the old series. Or, for that matter, the new series. Because the Doctor Does. Not. Kill. In. Cold. Blood. Not even with provocation. Not even to save millions of lives in the future. He couldn’t even kill Davros. Didn’t want to destroy the Daleks at their genesis, knowing for certain what would happen if he didn’t.

The end of the Time War was not in cold blood. There was a battle raging, and it was an act of war.

The end of Planet of Fire might be the closest he came to cold blood. And yes, he did stand by and watch the Master burn, though the emotional difficulty of it was evident thanks to Davison’s brilliant acting. But he did what he did to prevent the Master from emerging as an eminently powerful super-being. He was not merely appointing himself as executioner for past and imagined future crimes.

This point is further supported by the end of Last of the Time Lords, when the Doctor stops Francine from killing him and says instead that he will take custody of him. When Lucy shoots him, the Doctor cradles him in his arms and begs him to regenerate. This is the Doctor we know and love. The man who believes in mercy and values life.

The Doctor we know does not shoot an unarmed person who is not an imminent threat to keep his companion’s hands free of blood. The Doctor we know stops his companion from killing and explains why killing in cold blood is wrong. Yes, it was the Brig who killed Missy in the end. But the Doctor did not protest and seemed about to do the deed himself.

Yes, this Doctor is more emotionally vulnerable to Clara than any other Doctor has been toward any other companion in the history of the series. In some ways, that opens possibilities for interesting narrative depth. But when the Doctor becomes so weak as to not stand up against cold-blooded murder, especially of someone he once called friend, someone who fairly recently (on the Time Lord sense of recently) saved his life at peril to his own, this ceases to be the Doctor at all.

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