New Who Finales in Perspective: Series 8
Connor Johnston and Mark McCullough team up to conclude the series looking back over all the New Who finales
The finale to Series Eight is less than ten days old; as such it is rather difficult to do a proper In Perspective article which is going to present a balanced opinion as emotions are still raw. For this reason we’ve had to team up in order to give the episode a fair representation, and to bring you what is in fact a very special article for both of us… By crazy coincidence it happens to be both of our 50th article for the site! Cue fireworks. Basically, today we will be covering some of the areas we both agreed were flawless (The Brilliance) before splitting to debate different areas we disagreed on (The Divergence). In these sections, Connor will be taking to the finale’s defence whilst Mark will highlight some of his minor issues with the episode. Hopefully the end result is a nice 50/50 balance (see what we did there?). Here is “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” 50/50.
“I am not a good man! I am not a bad man. I am not a hero. And I’m definitely not a president. And no, I’m not an officer. Do you know what I am? I am an idiot, with a box and a screwdriver. Just passing through, helping out, learning.”
One of the undoubtable highlights of the episode was Peter Capaldi’s performance as the Doctor. Whilst this could easily be said of the series as a whole, nowhere is it particularly as evident as here. There are numerous wonderful moments for the Doctor, but there is one stand-out scene in each episode. In “Dark Water”, unquestionably his greatest scene is where he makes clear his intention to help Clara despite how she treated him just moments before. This showed us just how highly the Doctor holds his friends in that he is willing to let slide what was potentially the worst possible betrayal she could have dealt him. The humanity exhibited by this decision was in complete contrast to the face this Doctor wore throughout the series and provided a sense of completeness that Clara was the only one capable of getting him to lower his veil.
On to Death in Heaven and the Doctor’s greatest moment here is another rather simple one. Upon realising that he was tricked by Missy and that Gallifrey was not really where she said it was, we see him react angrily. The emotion Capaldi is able to convey in those short scenes is a testament to his ability as an actor. Whilst on the topic of the Doctor, it would be an error of judgement to omit his character arc of the series. Much of the focus, and most of it was actually self-perpetuated, was upon whether the Doctor was a good man. The ultimate answer to the question was that it doesn’t actually matter, he tries to be and he helps where he can. The suggestion that this is enough is spot on and avoids the assignment of moral labels to the character as such making him a little bit more unpredictable.
“I’ll never say those words again. Not to anybody else, ever. Those words, from me, are yours now… I love you”
Series 8 saw the developing relationship between Coal Hill High School teacher’s Danny Pink and Clara Oswald transition from a budding attraction into a blooming romance between two individuals that have such a genuine and obvious level of care for each other. It’s hasn’t been an easy ride for the pair to say the least, but their troubles culminate in the shocking and unexpected death of Danny in the first minute of the story. The plot definitely caters for Moffat’s early descriptions of death being depicted as” shocking, uncompromising, gruesome and surprisingly grown up” in the finale. The lack of spectacular crescendo to Danny’s death is so realistic, and the effect and grief it imposes on Clara as it leads her to act in incredible ways to get Danny back is insanely good drama and performed exceptionally. Danny’s return sees yet another defining chapter in the pair relationship through the hurt, the pain and the love that is so emotionally draining (in a good way?) to watch. Danny’s final sacrifice brings a heartbreaking, yet deserving end to a dynamic we’ve grown to become so invested in.
“Oh, yeah, that’s true. That’s definitely true. That is a good point well made. I’m proud of you, sister. But did I mention bananas!”
This finale, as most tend to do, brought with it the boiling over of looming mysteries – most prominently the identity of Missy as the Doctor’s age old enemy… The Mistress. I can’t do anything else, but praise Michelle Gomez for her remarkable performance as the Master. She brought so much intensity, complexity and most of all insanity in a whole new way without decreasing the effect that John Simm, Roger Delgado or any of her predecessors had before her. There is a perfect balance of comedy, class and horror to her portrayal. She exudes villainous energy, and is clearly having a great deal of fun with the role. From adapting the lyrics of Toni Basil’s 1982 hit ‘Mickey’ to make a funny moment, to showing her hunger to kill everyone the Doctor considers a friend, Gomez was just an absolute blast. Her partner in crime, Artificial Intelligence Seb mirrors her insanity, hilarity and cruelty and makes for some stunning one liners. We’ll delve more into Missy’s motivations a little later in the piece.
“There is one simple, horrible possibility that has never occurred to anyone throughout human history.”
The Cybermen’s conversion of the dead was just the tip of an iceberg of adult themes featured within the episode. Death formed much of the central focus of the narrative and as such most of the dark concepts centred on this. Given that Doctor Who is a family show, it is very important that it remained tactful; most families have suffered a loss of some sort, so it is going to be a sensitive area. To scare someone against cremation, organ donation or donating their body to science is an unsettling idea which perhaps takes the show close to crossing that fine line between entertaining and downright disrespectful. Despite the fact the episode warned us in advance it was going to be distressing (who was really going to turn it off?) and the rest was a fabrication in order to make the dead click ‘delete’, I can still see how it could be taken badly. The choice to delete your emotions to spare yourself the pain is another cruel concept plucked from the mind of the Moff. It’s one which really makes you think: What would I do? And that’s exactly what a good concept should do.
“Oh! Permission to squeeeee-“
Director Rachel Talalay gets it. As bluntly as I can: she just gets “Doctor Who”. Every setting is perfectly utilised, every reveal suspended for dramatic effect and every action shot delivered with a punch. Rachel’s work in “Dark Water” and “Death in Heaven” contain quite possibly the most diverse and risky decisions in Doctor Who’s directing history and in my view most, if not all of them, paid off to deliver a crisp and refreshingly dark set of episodes. Murray achieves Gold once more (sorry) in a powerful and moving score with highlights including the updated “I am the Doctor” theme and some chilling variations on the Cybermen’s theme of old. For such a serious episode, there can afford to be no gags in the special effects of the episode that could distract from a viewer’s personal investment in the story. Luckily, both parts of the finale feature technical victories with examples ranging from the incredible Nethersphere, CyberDan’s disturbing prosthetics, Missy’s “Poppins Pop’in”, to the burning of the clouds. Finally, in a story where so much of the rising tension relies on the subtle hints in the architecture of the plot, one cannot ignore the genius behind the art design team and their “Cyber-Scented” decoration of the 3W Institute.