Upon watching the 2014 finale of Doctor Who I’ve never been so happy to have Nick Frost appear. He was the ray of weird that lifted Death in Heaven from being one of helluva Halloweeen-ish downer episode to something a tiny bit hopeful.
If previous series were about fairy tales, this series was solid SF ideas and the construction of identity and roles. When a person changes so completely (physically and in terms of personality) it opens up room to question how like The Doctor can this new person remain, while being so different. Of course Missy presents the same question too and indeed I think she answers it. Yes she is Missy, but she is also completely The Master.
This series The Doctor has spent a lot of time wondering what type of person he is and asking others who he is. Is he good, is he bad, does he care? In this episode he finally makes up his mind. It doesn’t matter who he commands, or what people think he is. Be it general or a president, Dalek or hero, The Doctor realises he is who he has always been: a madman in a box.
Despite the continued lies to Clara and justifiable anger over Missy and Gallifrey, hopefully now he is over his identity/psychological uncertainty crisis. Forget who, now it should be onto finding out …why the face…
Clara was magnificent. Her character spent the episode proving again that she learned her lessons. She is no longer Soufflé Girl, no longer a nanny or the teacher Miss Oswald, but a graduate. She has completed her Companion Apprenticeship and can be The Doctor at will.
The key is that as a character, first pretending to be The Doctor and then taking on his tasks (lying, running around, making big speeches, using technology, and sacrificing someone she loves) throughout she remains emotionally raw and honest – grieving and angry and hurt.
When you take a hero, give him heroic attributes, and add a touch of thoughtfulness gained through tragedy, you have Danny Pink. Of course he was too always too good to live. But he also too good to let go as a character.
Danny’s arc from troubled soldier, to bashful but heroic teacher to Commander of the Dead and saviour of the Earth, was powerful and yeah, heroic. But his forfeiture of return to gain redemption through his final personal sacrifice….was beautiful and tragic and entirely foreseeable. The plot made his death and experiences make narrative sense, while his refusal to return righted his wrong. It is almost too perfect in its symmetry and too, too sad for Clara. And me.
Adding to this vale of tears was the return of the Brigadier, who saved his daughter. For viewers of the earlier series it meant so many more tears. And he gets the salute he deserved.
The one character who had even more work to do was Missy. She had to fulfil her plans, wind up plot questions, explain her goal to everyone else and part take in a show down.
The Doctor and Missy manage to eclipse the world around them as they sparred, like they always did, and in an entirely new way and it will be interesting to see what happens next…
With all the work Missy was doing she was mesmerising. As the Mary Poppins stuff became more overt she became more diabolical and menacing in a ludicrous over-the-top way with her refrain of ‘say something nice’.
In terms of the plot. For all The Master’s bombast and theatricality, all this character ever wants is attention. All the armies she gathers, all the people she kills and deceptions completed are the culmination of plans that are but the ravings of a very powerful and sick individual. She possesses all the brilliance of The Doctor and all the self-control and propriety of a toddler with an ear infection on a Boeing 747 20,000 feet up and coming in to land.
Basically, once again, this attempt at attention grabbing is not about the power, or even the dead, but the relationship and the comparisons and contrasts between The Doctor and The Master….who just wants a play mate during her drive to conquer the universe.
And for the love of crikey every time anyone captures The Master can they 1) search her for weapons and technology and 2) continually ensure she is secure?
So, so tired of her killing characters that show promise out of a lack of basic bad guy control protocols. It’s lazy writing. Either don’t capture her, or make her escape more Houdini-like or compel her to help.
JACKIE: You’re always doing this. Reducing it to science. Why can’t it be real? Just think of it, though. All the people we’ve lost. Our families coming back home. Don’t you think it’s beautiful?
DOCTOR: I think it’s horrific. Rose, give us a hand.
So this story involves Cybermen and the dead. Basically this is Jackie Tyler’s notion of the dead returning realised. It is as horrific as it seemed then to The Doctor. Only, being a family program we’re spared most of the gruesome.
As in that Army of Ghosts The Doctor is kidnapped and held as a prisoner, only this time by UNIT instead of Torchwood. The idea of The Doctor’s horror at the return of the dead is also heightened by the ability of The Master to evade death and by the mere mention of the ‘resurrection’ of Gallifrey and what that could signify.
As a story, although it ends with how Clara leaves (?), it’s actually about the loss of Danny. Just as Army of Ghosts was about Rose’s supposed death, this episode is about how Danny lived and died and lived and died. Each episode too, explores the role of Rose and Danny and their relationships and how The Doctor changes people. Both Rose and Danny cross thresholds they are not meant to come back from. Rose, into Pete’s World and Danny from death and the Nethersphere. For both too, despite being given the grace for a final good-bye (via dream messages) in similar circumstances, in the end, there is no return.
ROSE/DANNY: But then came the army of the dead ghosts. Then came Torchwood UNIT and the war cyber rain. And that’s when it all ended. This is the story of how I died.
You can call this narrative cannibalism if you like, or thematic symbiosis, but this is a continuing story whose tendrils don’t need to obey the usual temporality of one damned unrelated thing after another. After all, the snake devouring its tail is an ancient symbol.
More on that next time:)