Monday, 10 November 2014

DOCTOR WHO: DEATH IN HEAVEN review, 8 November 2014


You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll punch the air. In it's tenth year back on television, Doctor Who remains unique, stylish and is better than ever.

Go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I
am not mistaken in mine. (Image: BBC)

Christ it’s brilliant.
‘Death in Heaven’ is a textbook example of why Doctor Who will always be an important part of my life. No other TV series can have you open-mouthed in shock, shedding a tear and laughing out loud, sometimes in the space of one scene. This year’s finale is so focused, hard hitting and life-affirming, that it’s hard to believe it’s written by the same Steven Moffat who let through the indulgences of the Matt Smith years.
Cybermen have always been walking dead men, something that was very apparent in their first design but got rather lost in their remodellings over the years. It’s great to see the original idea put centre stage and alluded to through the gothic, Judgement Day symbolism of graves giving up their dead. What gives this concept extra dramatic punch in November 2014 is the metaphor that Cybermen are soldiers. Beginning as mindless drones of Missy – the ‘exits to the rear’ scene was hilarious and disturbing at the same time – and then reclaiming their humanity through ex-soldier Danny Pink (a never better Samuel Anderson), is very poignant in an episode transmitted the night before Remembrance Day. When Danny soared into the sky to save the Earth and the Brigadier was revealed as the saviour of his daughter Kate (Jemma Redgrave), I had the same lump in my throat as I did watching the Remembrance Day parade on Eltham High Street.
Delightfully, Michelle Gomez’s Master is absolutely barking – where else will you see a super villain riffing on Toni Basil’s 1980s hit ‘Mickey’? Moffat’s interpretation goes back to the original idea that the character is a mirror image of the Doctor; Gomez has similar physiognomy to Peter Capaldi and speaks with a Glasgow accent that becomes stronger when the two are together. I love the twisted psychology that she’s set up her scheme to corrupt the Doctor so she can ‘[get her] friend back’ because, the implication is, she’s lonely. It gives emotional depth to an idea going all the way back to ‘Colony in Space’ (1971).
Gomez really is sublime. Come back soon, darling.
There are some loose ends. Why were Danny and the Brigadier the only Cybermen able to retain their identity and memories? And Missy selecting the one potential companion who was essential to protecting all the Doctor’s past lives was a bit contrived (unless that’s the point). However, minor quibbles only.
The Moff has obviously been watching a few Hollywood blockbusters recently, not to mention the James Bond 50th Anniversary Box Set. ‘Death in Heaven’ is an entertaining riot of pilfered imagery, taking in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Airforce One (1997), Iron Man (2008), Goldfinger (1964) and, astonishingly, the pre-titles sequence of Moonraker (1979). Cybermen ripping apart an airliner in flight is a delightful nod to The Twilight Zone story ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet’ (1963) and it made my heart sing to hear references to Thunderbirds (1965-6) and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-8), Doctor Who’s teatime rivals in the ‘60s. Something so sweet and geeky amid all the havoc and angst was delightful, not to mention an amusingly clever way of pointing out where UNIT comes from. (There’s a whole book about the Doctor Who/Gerry Anderson crossover, Simon Messingham’s dark, enjoyable novel Doctor Who: The Indestructible Man (2004).

‘Me and Sylvia Anderson – you’ve never seen a Foxtrot like it.’
Without a doubt, Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are the best Doctor/companion duo since Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. Capaldi has the lion’s share of screen time, effortlessly demonstrating how his Doctor has finally come into focus after a year of working out what his character’s about and where it’s going. Lying to Clara (and himself), confronting Missy, saluting the Brigadier (unforgettably) and belting the TARDIS console with such raw anger it’s almost hard to watch – the Master wins again – shows how completely this man has reclaimed the character of the Doctor from the ‘romantic leading man’ it’s been since Paul McGann turned up. After being the focus of last year’s concluding story, Coleman has less to do but was fantastic in all her scenes, particularly when she sold the idea that Clara was really the Doctor, a great cliffhanger into the opening titles.
For me – finally – after ten years, they’ve got Doctor Who right: moral dilemmas, relationship drama, symbolism, surrealism, comedy, razor-sharp dialogue, over-the-top performances, moving, understated performances and a particular kind of English weirdness that, once again, makes ‘Doctor Who, the children’s own show that adults adore.’
From ‘Deep Breath’ onwards, Peter Capaldi has given me back my childhood. In this context, it made sense that Santa Claus (Nick Frost) dropped in to see how the Doctor was doing.
I can’t help smiling when I think what might be in store for all us children on Christmas Day. 

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