Doctor Who Recap: Death in Heaven
By Edwin Davies
November 19, 2014
Freed from having to pretend that she is someone else, Missy unleashes her inner lunatic on her captors by picking the lock on her handcuffs, taunting Osgood, then killing her. Michelle Gomez has been doing good work with Missy over the course of the series, and it was fun seeing her get to let loose and be diabolical and insane, but her characterisation basically followed the standard model of trying to make every villain into The Joker from The Dark Knight (there were also strong shades of Andrew Scott's version of Moriarty from Moffat's other show).
Missy's repeated claims that she and The Doctor were basically the same really underlined that connection, since "we're not so different, you and I" is pretty much the default approach to making someone into a character's nemesis in one easy step. The episode eventually took it to a more interesting place by having The Doctor doubt his sense of self when presented with the chance to control the Cybermen army and use them to solve every problem in the Universe by effectively conquering everything, but that doesn't stop the basic premise from being pretty stale.
Meanwhile, the saga of Clara and Danny takes another heartbreaking turn. Having had his consciousness uploaded into a Cyberman, but still having access to those troublesome emotions of his, Danny is able to exert control over his body, which allows him to rescue Clara from other Cybermen, then confront her in a graveyard. After goading her into saying that The Doctor is her best friend and the only man she would never lie to, Cyber-Danny reveals himself to Clara and asks her to turn on the inhibitor that would delete his emotions (making him basically the anti-Data). It would stop him from being in pain, but it would effectively kill the Danny that Clara knew and loved.
While I was unengaged by the Doctor/Missy part of the episode, I found the Danny/Clara stuff really very sweet and affecting. The great thing about the limitless possibilities of Doctor Who is that they can force characters into impossible situations while remaining grounded in heightened yet distinctly real emotions. Clara's choice is between keeping the man she loves alive but in a state of constant suffering, or ending his pain but losing him forever. Take away the robot suit and the laser cannon, and that's a situation that most people will experience at some point in their lives, but the fantastical accoutrements allow the show to engage with that subject in a way that is more openly, almost operatically emotional.
Considering how much effort the show put into depicting their relationship as a warm and loving one, Clara's choice had a lot of weight behind it. It also tied into her development over the course of the series, and hearkened back to what The Doctor told her in "Mummy on the Orient Express": Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose.
That was more successful than the attempts to draw together The Doctor's experiences from these last 12 episodes to make a cohesive point. (Maybe that's because it was subtle, and did not rely on intrusive clips from previous episodes hammering how the idea that The Doctor has doubts about whether he is a good man.) As I suspected, his disdain for soldiers did ultimately have a point, since his ability to look past it and hand control of the Cybermen over to Cyber-Danny, who in turn orders them to self-destruct, was what ultimately saved the day, but it still felt like a lot of effort expended on a trait that was antithetical to pretty much everything the character has done in the past.