Every week Tor Books UK rounds up the thoughts of author and Whovian Paul Cornell on this week’s episode of Doctor Who. This week: 5 brilliant things about “Death in Heaven,” the finale to Peter Capaldi’s first season of Doctor Who.
1.) The arc of the season turns out to have been about the Doctor’s sense of identity, with him opting to discard all grand descriptions and powers and recognise his own limitations. Alongside that, and complementing it, he’s again reminded of the worth of soldiers. The Master is once again given a justification for his/her eccentric plots, although this one had more logic going for it than most. The Master desperately trying to haul the Doctor back into emotional closeness, an explanation formulated in the Tennant years, is here given new life, and feels real, meaty, interesting, the confrontations between the Master and the Doctor crackling with energy. The Master lives to test the Doctor, with the conceptual depth of, for instance, the Joker, and their relationship has some similarities with the Batman/Joker relationship too.
2.) Apart from Michelle Gomez’s fabulous turn as the Master (perfectly continuing John Simm’s characterisation and adding all sorts of excellent readings of her own), let’s take a moment to recognise the decisions of Jemma Redgrave as Kate. She downplays, giving a grounding and sense of reality to these enormous events. We also get to see Jemma Coleman putting on a Doctorish swagger, which is her own, and not entirely an impersonation. Three wonderful actors all being given great stuff to do.
3.) The final scenes between the Doctor and Clara are Steven Moffat doing what he does best, using reversals of expectation and an assumption of viewer cleverness to convey a powerful emotional impact. The characters lie to each other in order to be kind to each other, and only we as an audience know both truths. Clara walking off is deliberately undramatic, leaving us thinking “is that it?” when the credits start for just the right time to stop anyone turning over, before Santa walks in and says what we’ve all been thinking. If Clara had gotten the Sarah Jane Smith freezeframe ending, though, that would have been a fine farewell. Excellent that it’s not the last we’ll be seeing of Coleman, mind you.
4.) With an hour to play with, this episode included some big action movie moments to cheer, and let Seb cheer for them too, because, with Chris Addison playing him, the production knows we’ll end up liking him.
5.) The Cybermen are finally located within the gothic, fixed to what in some ways has always been their most apt location, the graveyard, and turned into ghouls of the machine age, something entirely fitting, which, apart from them walking through one in winter once, hasn’t been done before. The darkness in this script isn’t just in the concepts or the challenges facing the characters (the Doctor is lost almost throughout, saved by who he is to those around him, not by what he does, a leaf on the wind), it’s in the genres it plays within.
Thanks for reading these columns. I’ve been delighted to commentate on what turned out to be the best season of Doctor Who since it returned to television. For my final words, I’d just like to say: Osgood, I’ll miss you terribly. (Sob.)
This post originally appeared on Tor UK.