Monday, 10 November 2014

Doctor Who 'Death in Heaven' Review

Steven Moffat has a problem with answering questions raised in his scripts. This issue is never clearer than when he is resolving a cliffhanger. ‘Dark Water’ gave us a three pronged cliffhanger. We had Clara being menaced by a Cyberman, the Doctor being threatened by the Master and Danny potentially deleting his emotions; becoming a Cyberman in the process. All three of these cliffhangers are not well resolved.

Clara defends herself from the Cyberman by pretending to be the Doctor, that’s it. She doesn’t have the Sonic Screwdriver or some other way of convincing them, only her word. If you can trick an enemy so easily, how is it threatening? You can either depict the Cybermen as cybernetic zombies or depict them as evangelical bureaucrats. Each of these approaches can create a credible villain but you can’t mix them. Zombies that you can reason with and talk to aren’t scary.

The Doctor being held by the Master is also immediately resolved by the appearance of UNIT to save him. They have been closely monitoring the situation and immediately remove even more of the Cybermen’s credibility by explaining how easily they can kill Cybermen.

Danny Pink’s cliffhanger resolution is the most annoying. Last week we had the genuinely tragic idea of Danny choosing to remove his emotions and inadvertently becoming a Cyberman. When we rejoin Danny he is no longer making this decision, it has been taken away from him. We discover that his decision was completely meaningless as the Cyberman choice is now mandatory. For some reason the little kid he shot is also hanging around with him, despite having run away last week. To resolve a cliffhanger by changing the rules of it is cheap.

A cliffhanger shouldn’t be viewed as some magic story element that follows different writing rules. A good cliffhanger is only good if it could work as part of an ongoing script. If the two separate parts of cliffhanger/ resolution can be seamlessly edited together; the cliff-hanger will be strong.

A good cliffhanger should be like any mystery; the resolution should be obvious but hard to predict. For example in ‘Utopia’ the Doctor has his Tardis stolen and is stranded at the end of time with Martha and Captain Jack. In the opening of ‘The Sound of Drums’ the Doctor repairs Jack’s broken time watch and warps them to safety. Why this resolution works is that Jack made a throwaway comment to his time watch being broken in ‘Utopia’. The Doctor repairing it is the most obvious way to solve the problem.

Even looking at previous Steven Moffat cliffhangers he can do better. In ‘The Empty Child’ we are told that the gas-masked Empty Children originated from a small boy. When the Doctor screams at them to “Go to your room!” in ‘The Doctor Dances’ it makes sense, it works. Since that point Moffat’s Cliffhangers have become increasingly based on spectacle over any type of sense.

A cliffhanger, however impressive, is nothing without a decent resolution. This is particularly true in the age of Netflix and IPlayer, when a cliffhanger can be resolved within seconds. Aiming your entire show around the immediate reaction it will get on Twitter and Tumblr is not the way to make rewatchable quality drama.

So with UNIT threatening the Cybermen, one of the Cybermen takes off and explodes. It does this to release Cyberman “pollen”. As the Master puts it to Kate Stewart “Cybermen don’t just blow themselves up for no reason dear. They’re not human” Now whether you understand their justifications or not, people blow themselves up for reasons. Suicide bombers have motivation driving them. 

I appreciate that character motivation is something Moffat clearly doesn’t understand. Missy’s only motivation is that she’s “Bananas!” So I guess that explains that…I guess. This scene also features a throwaway joke to everyone’s favourite comedy mental health disability, OCD…

UNIT knock out Missy and the Doctor and take them to a hanger containing a specialist UNIT aircraft. The Doctor is woken up and asks Kate why he has been dragged along in such a way. To which she answers:

“I’m sorry, in the event of an alien incursion on this scale, protocols are in place. Your cooperation is to be ensured and your unreliability assumed…You have a history.” So the key word to take away from this quote is “Unreliability” More on that in a bit.

The Doctor wants Clara brought to him from St Pauls. Kate explains “The team’s still on site but they’ve been unable to gain access to the building.” Now the Doctor raises the quite pertinent question “You got the Tardis out though?” to which she answers “yes”. So can her team gain access or can’t they? If they’ve been unable to gain access how did they get the Tardis out? Seriously, this doesn’t make sense. I appreciate that it may seem a minor point but it really doesn’t make any sense.

It feels like Moffat realised that the Tardis needed to be on the plane so he added that the team had got it out, hoping nobody would ask how…but then decided the Doctor should ask, what with him being smart and all. Quick tip Moffat, if something doesn’t make sense don’t have your characters keep pointing it out. It would be like if I kept making spelling mistakes and put the corrected words afterwards (like this*) It wouldn’t be good writing and self-referential failure is still failure.

The Doctor is brought onto the plane amongst a barrage of awkward references to Thunderbirds/Captain Scarlet. He is made president of the Earth due to the Cyberman crisis. Kate informs him that:

“The incursion protocols have been agreed internationally. In the event of full scale invasion, an Earth President is inducted immediately with complete authority over every nation state. There was only one practical candidate.” Now I’m just going to ignore the latent idiocy of the Earth President thing for the most part and instead focus on the stupidity of the Doctor being selected for that role.

I like that the “one practical candidate” is the same man whose “unreliability” needed to be cancelled out using handcuffs and tranquillisers. So what if the Doctor wasn’t on earth when it was invaded? Who was second on the list to be Earth President? Was there a second choice? Having only “one practical candidate” suggest there wasn’t.

Also why did every nation in the United Nations select the Doctor to be their champion? The Doctor spends the vast majority of his time in the South East of England, how does the rest of the world know about him? If Kate Stewart was able to convince the entire world that he would be a good vote for Earth leader she should give up her UNIT career for a job in lobbying.

Before the Doctor discovers he was selected he says “That’s your answer for everything isn’t it, vote for an idiot.” So the Doctor hates democracy and more importantly Moffat just completely ignored me. DUDE I literally, LITERALLY, just told you not to have your characters point out your plot holes. It’s pretty rude to ignore me like this man.

So Danny Pink has been resurrected as a Cyberman and he saves Clara. He saves Clara from the other Cybermen and takes her to the safest place he can, a graveyard full of Cybermen. Why does he do this? I’ve been racking my brain on this and I can’t work it out. Possibly his Cyber programming made him do it or maybe he just thought it would be more dramatic? I don’t know why he did this and apparently it doesn’t matter. It’s a graveyard and people loved that graveyard based finale with Amy and Rory, so a graveyard finale is what we get.

I like that the undertaker where Danny was resurrected has written “Known as Danny Pink” with a giant marker pen on his official papers. Does he do this on his notes for every corpse?

Missy escapes from her extensive guard of two soldiers and kills fan favourite Osgood. As Osgood puts it “I promise to you, I’m much more useful to you alive” to which the Master retorts “Ah yes that’s true, that’s definitely true. That is a good point well made. I’m proud of you sister but did I mention BANANAS!”…Now Moffat, serious talk now. Three times….THREE TIMES IN ONE SCRIPT!! If you know it doesn’t make sense, rewrite it! Are you writing these on a typewriter?! If you are, get some corrector-fluid like Tipp-Ex, so you can do some editing. Or if you can make the time, write more than one draft ffs.

A Cybermen attacks the plane and Colonel Ahmed seems confused “What can one Cyberman do to a plane?” So for some reason in our world where a regular rocket powered missile can bring down a plane, a rocket powered Cyberman is no concern? In a world where an unexpected flock of birds can bring down a plane a, laser cannon wielding, rocket powered Cyberman is nothing to worry about?

Clara wakes up and confronts the Cyberman, Danny, who brought her to the graveyard. Clara, unaware that she is talking to Danny, gets angry and gives a speech about her friendship with the Doctor. “He is the closest person to me in this whole world, he is the man I will always forgive, always trust. The one man I would never ever lie to!” So this is another Moffat piece of dialog that doesn’t work.

“He is the closest person to me in this whole world” So the man you travel the universe with is the closest man to you in this one planet? “The one man I would never lie to” Well she would lie to him if she wanted to threaten his life at a volcano but I guess that doesn’t count? Even the parts about forgiveness and trust seem a bit insincere after the anger caused by the whole Moon abortion incident.

Now Danny reveals himself and he is understandably upset. He is upset that Clara basically just said that she likes the Doctor more than she ever liked him. Or more accurately this is what this scene should be about. Clara’s inadvertent insults towards Danny are completely forgotten about within seconds. She even forgets that he was almost willing to shoot her for saying it. This is forgotten quickly for a very good upcoming reason.

Cyberman Danny asks Clara to help him deactivate his emotional inhibitor, because he can’t deal with how bad he is feeling. Why create a Cyberman with emotions to inhibit? It seems a design flaw. “Help me, I need you to do something for me, I can’t do it myself” Danny asks while looking down at his chest and/or crotch.

Back on the plane the completely harmless Cyberman has been joined by his more rowdy Cyberman friends. While the plane is being destroyed the Doctor confronts the Master in the cargo hold. The Doctor is shocked to learn that the Master was the one who organised for him and Clara to be together. The Master is not only revealed to be the “woman in the shop” who put Clara in touch with the Doctor but she is also revealed as the driving force that has kept them together ever since.

“This is perfect!, The control freak and the man who should never be controlled”…You’d go to hell if she asked and she would….” Yeah that’s right, the above 24 words are the only explanation Missy gives for forcing Clara and the Doctor together.

Missy was relying on Clara having a boyfriend who would die young so that Clara would persuade the Doctor to go to the afterlife to rescue him, thus finding Missy. Given that Missy knows the Doctor’s phone number, couldn’t she have just called him up and invited him to St Pauls? This might have been a better option, probably about 100% more likely to work also.

"Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring Ring. Bananas Phone!"
If Moffat has caught this speech while skim reading for nonsense we’d have got a pity “Bananas!” thrown in to explain this plan. That being said the Master/Missy is written to be insane, not dumb. This plan is so stupid it could have failed due to the sheer stupidity of it.

Clara rings the Doctor and wants him to help Danny lose his emotions. “He’s hurting because I hurt him” Clara, I think any hurts you caused lying to him are probably third in line after being hit by a car and being converted into a Cyberman.

The Doctor points out that an emotionless Cyber-Danny would kill her “I’m not going to help you commit suicide!” he pleads. Clara angrily responds “Either you help me, or you leave me alone!” She’d always forgive him though, we remember that from earlier. We also remember Cyber-Danny threatening to kill her which is about to become quite important.

So Kate joins the Doctor and the Master in the cargo hold and the Master opens the door sucking Kate out of the plane. The Master throws in some casual racism towards Belgium and teleports moments before the Doctor also falls out and the plane explodes. The Doctor manages to ‘Buzz Lightyear’ himself into the falling Tardis and joins Clara in the graveyard.

Now the Doctor refuses again to help Danny and instead asks him for inside knowledge on the Cybermen. Danny reveals that the only way to unlock that information is to deactivate his emotions. “Clara watch this! This is who the Doctor is. Watch the blood-soaked old general in action… didn’t all those beautiful speeches disappear in the face of a tactical advantage” So the Doctor is blood-soaked if he sacrifices one DEAD man’s emotions to save billions of living people?

Clara deactivates Danny and Missy reappears to join them in the graveyard. Missy reveals that the Cyberman army she made was a birthday present for the Doctor, an army that he can control by using Missy’s bracelet. The Doctor doesn’t want his own army but Missy says;

“You don’t have a choice. There’s only one way you can stop these clouds from opening up and killing all your little pets down here…conquer the universe Mr President!” So the Doctor’s only choice is to conquer the universe. Either that or he could just tell the Cybermen to destroy each other and the clouds, that would also work.

The Doctor refuses to control the Cybermen. He says that he doesn’t need an army because he has people like Clara and Danny. “Love is not an emotion. Love is a promise and he will never hurt her” Firstly love is very much an emotion, that’s what it is. I appreciate that love is more than an emotion, speaking in a social/spiritual sense but it is still an emotion regardless of what else it might be.

Now if the line had been “Love is not JUST an emotion. Love is a promise” it would have been absolutely fine. Now I suspect it was made shorter, more catchy and ‘emotional’ for the sake of Tumblr. Not that I have any proof that Moffat would aim his show at the Tumblr crowd….

Secondly for someone who would never hurt her, Danny seemed pretty close to shooting Clara in the face earlier. Now Moffat wanted to have a scene where we questioned Danny’s humanity but he also wanted a scene where we didn’t question Danny’s humanity. So being sensible he used both ideas and put them next to each other and hoped for the best. Throwing some nonsense about the magical overpowering effect of love doesn’t hide inconsistent character writing. It didn’t work when Clara was threatening the Doctor in ‘Dark Water’ and it doesn’t work now.

So yeah, Danny sacrifices his death to save the world and humanity is saved. Clara wants to kill Missy and the Doctor stops her, offering to kill Missy himself to save Clara’s “Soul”. At the last minute a Cyberman shoots Missy instead and a million Doctor Who fans died inside. The brigadier has been resurrected as a Cyberman and flies off into the sunset.

I guess throwing in this scene in “The Wedding of River Song” honouring Nicholas Courtney and the Brigadier gives you a free pass to desecrate his memory later? I really hope that Cyber-Brigadier doesn’t return to the series but knowing Moffat he might well. I like that Moffat said the Rani would have been too difficult to introduce to new fans but at least 5 minutes of this episode are dedicated to explaining who the Brigadier is.

We jump ahead to two weeks later and Clara is woken up by Danny’s spirit. Danny has worked out how to send a single human through from the Nethersphere and sends the child that he shot. Clara meets up with the Doctor and tries to tell him that Danny has died and that she can’t travel with him anymore. The Doctor interrupts her, believing Danny to be alive and tells Clara that he has found Gallifrey and can’t travel with her anyway. “I’ve found Gallifrey. For once she (Missy) wasn’t lying”.

Ok when did Missy lie? I guess she lied about being a robot in ‘Dark Water’ but she was actually very honest throughout these episodes. I wouldn’t bring this up but we had that big scene where Missy was honest about intending to kill Osgood. So if you’re setting up Missy as psychopathically honest why does the Doctor treat her as a habitual liar?

The Doctor and Clara say their goodbyes, lying to each other about being happy. They go their separate ways, miserable but trying to hide it. This ending is really good, really strong and genuinely sad. Eight seconds, that’s how long Moffat takes to ruin this ending. Eight seconds into the closing titles Father Christmas arrives to save the Doctor and Clara’s relationship. 

Why would you even try to give your show a sad ending if you immediately intend to undermine it? Even putting this scene at the end of the credits would have been better. Eight seconds is clearly how much time Moffat is willing to risk on his fans switching channels.

This episode is really badly written. It has some interesting ideas but they are really poorly handled. The Cybermen raising the dead is an interesting angle but it isn’t explained at all. Why are Danny and the Brigadier immune to the Cyber-control? Is it because they were soldiers? It is because they knew the Doctor? In addition, once you start resurrecting dead companions where does that end? Are Cyber-Rory and Cyber-Amy walking around New York? Were they immune to the Cyber-control or were they not “Special” enough.

Even the best moment of the episode doesn’t make sense under scrutiny. The Doctor is distraught because Gallifrey is still missing but he obviously hasn’t spent any time looking for it. Maybe he’s annoyed that he was so easily tricked but it’s still odd that he only now seems to have remembered that he wanted to find Gallifrey.

Missy is a good Master, with some great lines. All the cast gave strong performances and the direction/music were fantastic. Even the best polish in the world can’t save this script however. Indulgent fan fiction is one thing but badly written fan fiction is another beast entirely. My immediate negative reaction to this episode was countered by a 'fan' who claimed that ‘Death in Heaven’ was the best episode of Doctor Who ever made…


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