Review: DOCTOR WHO S8E12, DEATH IN HEAVEN (Or, Maniacal Missy And Her Cybermen)
While last week's "Dark Water" was patient and tense in ways Doctor Who rarely is, this finale reverts to the mode of rushing around while nothing that happens makes any sense. It has more than a few moments of brilliance, but the overall effect lacks excitement and interest. It's dark and action-packed, and it wants to be moving but it's undermined by an absence of logic in its storytelling.
"Death in Heaven" avoids focusing much on the Nethersphere and many of the ideas presented in last week's episode, it even manages to sideline Missy throughout. It competently builds the Cyberman invasion up, but then never really amounts to much. Nobody would dispute that the visual impact of Cybermen rising from graves is suitably creepy and unsettling, but it doesn't go much beyond being an interesting idea. It just feels like something's missing, and it isn't even an episode that holds anything back when it comes to the physical and emotional cost of this battle. Nobody is able to be happy when all is said and done, and many more people die than you'd expect to see on this show.
Anybody who had any concerns about whether Michelle Gomez would be able to pull off playing the Doctor's foe will be silenced by her excellent performance here. She exudes villainous energy, and is clearly having a great deal of fun with the role. The eventual reveal of her plan and the ease with which it is defeated by Danny Pink and the power of love may be disappointing, but there's nothing about the character that wouldn't make it fun to watch her face off against the Doctor again if she manages to avoid dying (and, as a Time Lord, that shouldn't be too difficult).
Expectedly, Clara and Danny's relationship is at the forefront in the finale. The resolution of the whole thing feels a little unsatisfying, but it is relatively consistent with how the characters have behaved in previous episodes. Clara pretending to be the Doctor and appearing in the opening credits feels a bit like the show taking a jab at the members of the audience frustrated with her increased importance within the series. It's a good example of how Doctor Who will toss aside its own internal logic (we all know the Cybermen can scan her to find out whether she has two hearts, for example) for a joke or some kind of emotional beat.
Structuring an episode around the resolutions to character arcs without being prepared to do the hard work to earn those resolutions is an approach that will always deprive those beats of the resonance they're meant to have. The Doctor works out whether he's a good man or a bad man, but that doesn't feel like a question that ever needed to be answered quite as much as Steven Moffat thinks it did. A number of lingering questions are answered, but very little is given enough focus to feel like it's driving the episode. It's enjoyable, but "Death in Heaven" is what happens when the show overreaches. It's overstuffed, both full of drama and devoid of it.
In the end, it's a bit of a messy way to tie up the threads of Series 8, which has been one of the strongest runs for Doctor Who in a while. Peter Capaldi's really settled into the role, Clara has become an outstanding character in her own right and the adventures have mostly found a way to balance their dark and fun impulses. Let's hope it has a little more control when it returns for a Christmas special where it would appear that Nick Frost is playing Santa Claus.