TV Review: "Doctor Who" 8x11/12: "Dark Water" / "Death In Heaven"

Written by: Lord Gremlin

This review contains spoilers.

Considering this a 2-parter, reviewing both installments as one long episode is my preferred way getting all my thoughts down because as brilliant or bad one half may be, it all comes down to the whole piece instead of the parts.

Welly-well, we’ve finally made it to the end haven’t we? I’ve been spewing praise from my mouth for Season 8 ever since it started, patting Moffat on the back for reeling things in, letting things breathe and all around seeming to have a better handle on the overall tone and arc than he has in the past. A lot was riding on this season finale and I was crossing my fingers they would pull it off. Who finales are usually a mixed bag with the fandom. The only ones so far that seem to get universal love since the show came back would be “The Parting of the Ways” from Season 1, and “The Big Bang” from season 5. Everything else fans have been split on, or down right loathed.

So, did The Moff win me over or let me down? Let’s find out:

“Dark Water”, our first part of the finale is a total and utter win in damn near every way. It comes off the heels of the turd that was “In the Forest of the Night” and gives us surprises, chills, effective emotional and characters moments with a slow burn approach that builds expertly to the big reveal at the very end of the episode. The Doctor’s and Clara’s relationship and everything that has been brewing under the surface for the two of them come to a head early in the episode, and it’s a very powerful dramatic moment for the two of them-revealing a softer layer to 12 we haven’t seen yet.

The death of Danny Pink was a total “what the!” moment in the best of ways and Clara’s reaction to it is some of the human and natural a Companion has felt in NuWho, and it’s a testament to Moffat’s skills and evolution as a writer that he can wring raw emotion out of these characters in such an outlandish show.
The tone and atmosphere of “Dark Water” is one of slowly mounting dread. If the advertisements didn’t ruin the surprise of the Cybermen’s involvement, the reveal at the end would have been a total howler. Even with that said, the script and directing is so strong the build up to the Cybermen is STILL pretty suspenseful, even when you know they’re coming!

Speaking of the Cybermen, I’ve never been a big fan of them. In the Classic era and NuWho alike, something about them just doesn’t float my boat. There are only a select few Cybermen stories I feel totally utilize their potential, and this 2-parter is one of them. The metal monsters are back to being freaky and unsettling again, with a nice dose of squirmy body horror to boot.

As most of probably know by now, the mystery of Missy is finally dropped, and all I could say when it happened was “Ha! I knew it!” Yea yea, it’s easy for me to lie and say I had it all figured out, but I swear it did! I had the biggest feeling she would turn out to be The Master and I was RIGHT! Points for the Lord Gremlin! While I won't get into it here, do yourself a favor and check out some of the more heated reactions to the Master now being a woman. It’s hysterical.

Anyway, back on topic. Most of Missy’s big plan and the nature of Heaven is revealed and it’s beautifully straightforward. I was hoping Moffat wouldn’t pull out a last minute “timey whimey” trick and get all clever on us like he has in the past, but the man seems to have learned his lesson (for the most part at least) and made me proud to say that I am indeed, a fan of Steven Moffat’s take on the Doctor. Bravo.

“Dark Water” is a pitch perfect finale kick-off. It knows exactly want its doing and never misses a beat. Moody, suspenseful, well-acted (duh), proper drama and unpredictable. A superb first half…..

…..slightly let down by a lumpy second half. No, “Death In Heaven” is not as strong as “Dark Water”, but it is pretty freakin’ satisfying overall, just with a handful of nagging issues.

First off, the pacing which was so self-assured in the first part is lacking a mite here. It’s not terrible, but it is uneven from time to time. And by Jove, much of the CGI is godawful! I’ve been flipping my shit over how good this season has looked in terms in cinematography and CGI effects for 11 weeks, only to have them screw it all up in the damn last episode! Who is never going to be an effects powerhouse. We all know this, but I’ve been spoiled by this season and seeing CGI Cybermen flying into the air like a bad videogame cut scene is a real mood killer. And this happens too damn often for me to just shrug it off. I’m usually easy on CGI, but this was bad.

And lastly, while 90% of the drama was just as effective as in “Dark Water” the other 10% took a page out of the Russell T. Davies Book of Who and went into saccharine melodrama. There is “love conquers all” bit towards the end NuWho really needs to stop doing so much, but thankfully the chemistry and performances helped sell it.

Whew, it sounds like I hated “Death In Heaven”, but I really didn’t. There is loads to love. For one, the stakes feel like real stakes. I love it when The Doctor is always the man with the plan. He always has a trick or idea up his sleeve to wrap everything up and save the day…but at times that can undermine the threat. Here though, The Doctor and the rest of our heroes are behind The Master and her plan for the entirety of the runtime until the very last minute. This echoes the Classic Era of the show in the way that The Doctor is not always immediately knowledgeable with the goings-on and all the answers. He had to investigate first and slowly unravel the truth. It’s thrilling and makes The Doctor all the more compelling when he’s put through the ringer and tested.

And howdy doody does Missy/Master put The Doctor through the ringer here. I love how 12 is so perfectly confused as to why The Master is doing what’s she’s doing. And her reasoning is delightfully bonkers and fits the ever so complicated relationship between the two like a glove. Before I go any further, let’s take a moment to applaud Michelle Gomez for her wickedly fun turn as our new Master? She’s just the right amount of cuckoo and threatening-unlike John Simm who was just nucking futs without the sinister edge. When Missy/Master wants to get nasty, she gets nice and nasty. She’ll charm the pants off of you beforehand just for a laugh, too.

“Death In Heaven” also manages to keep much of the creepy factor from part 1 going strong with geek friendly scenes of Cybermen rising from graves and reanimating dead bodies. I totally love it when Who gets scary, and moffat is the king of scary Who. You also haven’t lived until you’ve seen The Doctor falling from a plane as he sky-dives toward his TARDIS. That sounds stupid, but it SO isn’t.

The ending(?) between The Doctor and Clara is a bittersweet one and much more nuanced than I thought Moffat would go for. They part ways on good terms, but they STILL held things back from one another. I loved seeing a Doctor/Companion relationship like this. They both lie to each other, challenge each other and push each other. This is a dynamic we haven’t seen played out quite like this in the shows history and it worked wonders. The Doctor revealing why he’s not into hugs was a real Doctor-y thing and shows that underneath that harsh, gruff Capaldi exterior, this 2,000 year old Time Lord is still a creature of heart and emotion.

So overall, despite some wonky pacing, frustrating bits of horrid CGI and little too much hokey melodrama, the second part of Season 8’s finale is a success, and one I think may get better with a re-watch or two.

So there you have it, folks. Season 8, a season I was betting may topple 5 as my absolute favorite of NuWho comes in at a close, close 2nd place. If only that damn “Forest” episode didn’t gum up the works, I’d call Season 8 damn near perfect Who. I can’t wait to see what Season 9 has in store. 
Share on Google Plus

About The Damn Beast

Pre-op trans-minotaur, sci-fi/fantasy/horror author, metal singer, videogame journalist, pop culture blogger. I also lift heavy things and put them down again repeatedly to occupy more space.
    Blogger Comment
    Facebook Comment


Post a Comment