Doctor Who: the Complete Series 8 Finale.

Death in Heaven

Danny Pink’s dead, he’s contemplating whether to delete himself, and Clara and the Doctor are facing Cybermen, the Master, and the beginning of the end.

Oh, but Clara is good. Faced with a Cyberman about to kill her, she puts one over on them like a pro. Like… the Doctor.

And then, there’s Osgood and Kate Lethbridge-Stewart to save the day. Well, almost because, get this, Cybermen can fly now. It’s like… evil silver Iron Man, with the propulsion in their heels!

“Where’s Clara?”
“Your assistant?”
“My friend.”

The Doctor, President of the Earth

Thus, the Doctor has been made Commander-in-chief. And when they say that, they really mean it. He’s been voted President of the Earth. And, right now, I am imagining Angela Merkel sitting at her desk, awaiting orders from a grumpy Scotsman.

Just as Clara is trying to convince the Cybermen that she really is the Doctor, another Cyberman walks in — albeit one that’s different. Danny didn’t press delete; and remember when Rory was an Auton and he was the most human he’d ever been? That’s because he wasn’t. And that’s why Danny is saving Clara now.

“Yes, [Gallifrey]’s in another dimension. Noo, it’s not lost.”

I love parts of this finale because, yes, it’s got a big villain plot and yes, it’s been leaving clues all over the series so far, but it’s relatively low-scale compared to the stunts that the show has pulled in recent years. A Cyberman invasion is nothing we haven’t seen before and, as such, I had feared it would get a little boring, but this time the Cybermen are the Master’s vehicle — and the Master returning is something that the fandom speculates on every bloody year, but we’re almost always wrong. This time, it really happened, and man, it’s good to have them back.

Cybermen zombies in a graveyard. Nope.

This is one creepy metal zombie apocalypse, let me tell you.

Wow. Bananas doesn’t even begin to cover it. She’s evil Mary Poppins is who she is.

Holy… I am shitting bricks. Have we ever seen a Cyberman take off the mask? Because I haven’t, and holy crap. Telling Danny Pink that the Doctor is the one person closest to her was probably a bad idea. (And, Moffat, really, what were you thinking? Shame on you, creating drama like that for no reason whatsoever, that’s not storytelling, it’s cheap. It didn’t work when Amy said something like this and Rory thought she meant the Doctor when she meant him. Argh.)

And hearing that, the pain he’s in, physically, emotionally, is why he asks Clara to flick that switch, inhibit his emotions, complete the upgrade.

The woman who gave Clara the number for the computer helpline, the person who put the advert in the paper, the one who made sure that Clara and the Doctor would always find each other again — that was the Master. But why?

And that’s when the episode unexpectedly turns into Air Force One… and then into GoldenEye.

“Doctor are you gonna help me, ’cause I can’t do this alone.”
I’m not gonna help you commit suicide!”

A doctor — or an officer?

“I had a friend once. We ran together when I was little, and I thought we were the same. But when we grew up, we weren’t. Now, she’s trying to tear the world apart, and I can’t run fast enough to hold it together, the difference is this. Pain is a gift. Without the capacity for pain, we can’t feel the hurt we inflict.”
“Are you telling me, seriously, for real, that you can?”
“Of course I can.”
“Then shame on you, Doctor.”
“Yes! Oh, yes.”

Has the Doctor ever even seen this? Yes, he’s switched on the inhibitors on people upgraded before, he’s done it, but he’s never… never seen someone like this, not someone he knows. Not with the mask off, not someone who Clara loves, not someone he thought he was going to hell for. And that’s why, even in the midst of this invasion, this catastrophe threatening the entire world, this feels so… small. So close. Because it comes down to these moments, when the narrative decelerates and just puts three people in a graveyeard, and lets the Doctor admit how much he feels, and how much those feelings are worth.

And when Danny tells him that, if he wants Danny to look into the hivemind, he has to activate the inhibitor, when Danny tells Clara that this is what the Doctor does, that who he is is a commanding officer pushing his troops too far, when he dares the Doctor to do it, when he tells him that his pretty speeches can do nothing to cover up who he really is and what needs doing…

the Doctor recoils.

Because, again, this is what it comes down to. The Doctor, and a choice. And this, this is Clara coming full circle. This is what’s been started in Flatline, this is Clara being the Doctor. She’s going to take that decision off him, make it easier for him. The Doctor makes those decisions largely so other people don’t have to.

This is, she’s making so he doesn’t have to. This isn’t just about the power dynamic. This is about responsibility.

“Do it, Doctor. Do as you’re told.”
“Typical officer. Got to keep those hands clean.”

And that’s when the Master gives the Doctor a birthday gift — a terrible choice. Make those clouds open, or make sure they don’t by taking that Cyberman army to do his bidding, fight the wars he can’t fight alone. Oh boy.

“Or don’t you trust yourself?”
“Thank you. Thank you so much. I really didn’t know, I wasn’t sure. [Unintelligible] sometimes, thank you! I am not a good man! I’m not a bad man. I’m not a hero, and I’m definitely not a president. And no, I’m not an officer. You know what I am? I am an idiot! With a box, with a screwdriver. Passing through, helping out, learning. I don’t need an army, I never have, because I’ve got them. Always them. Because love is not an emotion. Love is a promise. And he will never hurt her. P.E., catch!”

The Doctor’s not a hero. His friends are.

This is the big hero speech, and it’s so different from the others we’ve heard before, because this one is not about him. It’s about Clara and Danny. They are the heroes in his story.

Also, the Doctor has now canonically kissed the Master. Look at that.

“The rain will not fall.”
“Oh? Why won’t it?”
“The clouds will burn.”
“And who will burn them?”
“I will burn them.”
“I will burn.”
“One burning Cyberman is hardly gonna save the planet.”
“Correct. (turns to the Cybermen) Attention! This is not a good day. This is Earth’s darkest hour. And look at you miserable lot! We are the fallen. But today, we shall rise! The army of the dead will save the land of the living. This is not the order of a general. Nor the whim of a lunatic.”
“Excuse me?”
“This is a promise. The promise of a soldier! (turns to Clara) You will sleep safe tonight.”

It wasn’t the Doctor who saved the world by doing something clever. It was Danny, by sacrificing himself for Clara.

The two hardly have time to mourn before the Master drops another bomb on them. Gallifrey, she says, has returned to its original location and she’s asking the Doctor to go with her, to see them. Just like the old days.

But Clara isn’t having it.

“If you let that creature live, everything that happened today is on you. All of it, on you. And you’re not gonna let her live again.”
“Clara, all I’m doing, is not letting you kill her. I never said I was letting her live.”
“If that’s the only thing that will stop you — yes.”
“Seriously? Doctor… to save her soul? But who, my dear, will save yours? Say something nice.”
[the Doctor shrugs, what is he supposed to say?]
“You win.”
“I know.”

The Brigadier. That’s who saves the Doctor’s soul. He caught Kate, and he saved the Doctor from having to kill his childhood friend. But we’re never getting Osgood back. Or Danny. Because that note of the bittersweet at the end, it doesn’t even belong to the Brigadier and the Doctor. It belongs to Danny, who’s using the remaining capabilities of the Master’s bracelet to bring back one person. And it’s not him. It’s the little boy he killed in Afghanistan.

A finale full of so many things — and yet, some missing pieces

That ending packed a punch, but it was a bit… full. We hardly had time to process everything as it was happening. The Master being killed was subsumed by the moment the Doctor had with the Brigadier and it was beautiful, but it took away from the reality of the bond between the Doctor and the Master. Every time they meet, it’s a thing of love and hatred intertwined. Ten couldn’t cope with losing the Master after the events of Utopia, and then the only meaningful moment of the entire The End of Time debacle was when they told each other to “get out of the way.” It’s always about that bond between them, and these two episodes didn’t bring that out at all, so it feels like something is missing. John Simm and David Tennant sparked off each other, Peter Capaldi and Michelle Gomez… they tried, they did, but the narrative didn’t afford them an opportunity. She was bananas, he was frightened, and that was it. And then the Master just… disappeared.

“I found Gallifrey. For once, she wasn’t lying.”

No. The Doctor is lying to Clara. To distract her from her guilt, to make it easier for her, he lies about finding Gallifrey. He lies about having a purpose, about it being ok that she won’t travel with him anymore, ever again. Just as Clara lets him believe that she’s with Danny, that he came back, that they’re happy and together.

The truth in the hug

But we see the truth behind that. Clara’s loneliness. The Doctor’s fury, the rage, their shared disappointment, their grief. He has never treated the TARDIS console like that, and she’s not even angry with him. She just lets him let it out — those nobs can be replaced later. Just for that moment, he did look. He did… well, he didn’t trust the Master. But he had to look. Because, of course it’s occurred to him to look there. He just never did, because he was frightened of what he’d find. But now that she’s planted the seed, he can’t not check. And look where that got him. And Clara will… live on. Move on, maybe. Live life on the slow path. Take care of the people she loves.

Doctor Who has gone to some very dark places this series. It has allowed itself not to make everything ok. People have died and not come back, people have made choices that were hard and irrevocable, and the way that things have been described as ok afterwards were not in terms of, “they died for a good cause.” The brave faces that we’re seeing now — we know they’re lies, we’re explicitly being told so. It’s not alright. And it’s allowed to be. It’s allowed to hurt.

“Never trust a hug. It’s just a way to hide your face.”
“Doctor. Travelling with you made me feel really special. Thank you for that. Thank you for making me feel special.”
“Thank you for exactly the same.”

It’s not the ending for them we might have wanted. But it’s an ending, as things stand. The end of Clara Oswald’s life on the TARDIS.

“Doctor! It can’t end like this! She’s not alright, you know! And neither are you. Now… what do you want for Christmas?”

Except, you know. Santa Claus has a different idea.

Next on Doctor Who: the Christmas Special 2014, introducing Nick Frost as Santa Claus.

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