Well, here it is. And, woah.
Let’s start with the headlines, shall we? It’s good. Actually, it’s very good. In order to say anything else, we have to invoke whats quickly becoming a cliche even in spoiler-free review: if you really don’t want to know anything – stop reading now. Seriously.
In this past week, it’s been reported that a total of nine viewers complained to the BBC about the themes raised in Dark Water. Those people will have plenty to complain about in this episode, as well, since the dead – particularly loved ones who are dead – are treated in a reckless manner, with an almost total lack of respect. It’s by the far the most upsetting concept the show has dealt with in recent years. When there is no more room in hell (or heaven) the dead really will will walk the earth.
There are a couple of moments in this finale that you are likely to have a very strong reaction to. In fact, it’s reasonable to assume that by the episodes end, you’re going to feel fairly angry. Not in a it’s-time-for-Moffatt-to-go-he’s-destroying-my-programme kind of way. In fact, this might be the finest season closer he will write for Doctor Who. No, this is the kind of anger expended when you’re genuinely invested in the characters and care about what happens to them. The stakes are very high, and it is clear that we cannot put good money on who does – and does not – get their happy ending.
Moffatt and director Rachel Talalay are at their best here with a very tight script peppered with excellent jokes (like the reaction to The Doctor’s changed appearance, and a eyebrow raising gag about suicide bombers), to genuinely terrifying scenes where the show is channelling anything from Air Force One to George A Romero, to the point that you expect a cyberman to stalk the Doctor’s companion with “They’re coming to get you, Clara ..”
Since they appeared in the trailer, we’re probably safe in telling you that Kate Stewart and Osgood return, and they’re every bit as fan-pleasing as you would hope. Stewart, in particular, gets a good few one-liners that deserve to find themselves on Whovian T-Shirts by the end of the year. There’s also a great line that appears to gently damn the write-it-large elements of the Russell T Davies era.
Yes, we’re dancing around the edges. No, we can’t say anything. If this preview was in anyway accurate, it would be a page of thick black lines, with maybe the occasional ’REDACTED’ screaming at you. What we will risk saying is that this story is about souls and promises. A number of characters fight desperately to save souls (crucially, not necessarily their own),and at one point (we can’t even risk telling you when) a promise is half-made. And if we are paying attention, we can guess exactly how that promise will turn out. Elsewhere, Clara continues to channel her inner Doctor, at one point even invoking a familiar line from the Tennant era.
We should say one last thing, and we’ll say it very carefully and slowly, because if you’re a real ’traditional’ Who fan, one who doesn’t much like change, then we have to say that a) you’re really watching the wrong show, and b) you might want to sit down, because what we want to tell you might really annoy you. Michelle Gomez? She’s extraordinary. So extraordinary, in fact, that (you are sitting down, right?) there is an excellent chance she may obliterate the memories you have of any previous actor inhabiting the role of The Doctors’s arch-enemy. Yes, including that guy. Like the best power-mad crazies, there is a magnetic steely dead-eyed attitude to her that for her is clearly very sane indeed (it’s not even clear that power really is her objective). She is entirely in command of every scene she’s in. One sequence, which basically consists of her just saying numbers, is a exercise in supremely upsetting tension. Electric eyes, electric performance. Gomez has breathed new life into a show that didn’t know it needed it. She has, to coin a phrase, upgraded Doctor Who.
If you want to see such things, there may be a bit of frisson between The Doctor and The Mistress, but honestly? That’s in your perception rather than the performances. Interestingly, it’s The Doctor that feels the need to prove his manhood, but it’s good that nobody really cares about about The Master’s sex-change. That’s important for the show as a whole, and not just within the remit of sci-fi. Sure, The Mistress is still a white Cis straight(ish) character, but it’s telling that no-one focuses on the fact she used to be a man, not even stammering over he/she pronouns. And yes, The Doctor appears to tacitly acknowledge that such a possibility is open to him. As you might have guessed, we’ve spent more time in this paragraph on the subject than all the characters do over the course of two episodes. For everyone else, it’s entirely irrelevant.
In short, this is an excellent episode. Sure, as is traditional around these here parts, there are a couple of moments around the resolution that wobble slightly, that may give you pause and make you look around awkwardly if there are non Doctor Who fans in the room. But otherwise, this is breathless, thrilling drama, and there’s the real sense that the show is going up several notches for season 9. In this season, a major theme has been lying. That reaches a high point in this episode, with two very significant lies being told. And for once, we understand precisely why.
“Say something nice”, The Mistress has a habit of saying in a disturbingly menacing manner. Since we’ve said quite enough nice things about this episode, we’ll say something helpful. If you can’t see Death In Heaven as it airs, stay well away from the Internet. Trust us on this. You shouldn’t have even read this, and listen: we don’t lie.
A slightly edited version of this review appears at http://www.cultbox.co.uk/reviews/episodes/doctor-who-s08e12-spoiler-free-review-death-in-heaven