Critiquing Capaldi: “Death in Heaven”

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If Doctor Who has only one flaw, then it is inconsistency. While the show’s ability to change genre and focus each week certainly makes the show exciting and unpredictable, it can also be a cost, as there is no guarantee that just because you liked the last episode, you’re going to like the next one. Obviously, I think it’s great that Doctor Who can appeal to a ridiculously large bunch of people, it certainly makes talking about the show with others a great experience, and I certainly wouldn’t swap that for a more consistent tone, even if it is an annoyance. Though I must say it does suck that an episode as original, deep, and interesting as Listen gets followed by the master of mediocrity Time Heist. It also sucks that my two favourite episodes this series are sandwiched between the two weakest. Of course, quality of an episode is a very personal thing, particularly with a show as broad as this one, though I must also note that I can’t think of many other shows where I adore it one week and can’t stand it the next. As I said, Doctor Who’s inconsistency can be a good thing, if we had episodes like Listen every week then they wouldn’t be special, and it definitely keeps the show fresh and interesting. But it can be annoying that the show’s greatest strength can also be the biggest flaw.

Inconsistent would be the word I would use to describe Death in Heaven. In terms of quality: When this episode is good, it’s absolutely brilliant. When it shines, it shines brightly and reminds me why I love the show in the first place. But when it’s bad, it’s really really bad, and I don’t enjoy it at all. But it’s also inconsistent in terms of content, so much so that I don’t really know what this episode wants to do. Death in Heaven seems to throw mud at the wall and sees what sticks. And while some ‘mud’ definitely does stick, you’re still left with a messy wall.

Let’s get the positives out of the way first. As with most episodes this series, the strongest strength of Death in Heaven is the characterisation of its two leads, the Doctor and Clara.

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Let’s start with Clara. Throughout this entire series, Clara has been characterised less as your typical companion role, and more as a female equivalent of the Doctor. Each week, she has shown to be more like him in personality, making the character an extremely interesting one to watch. So, it does feel like a natural progression to have Clara declare herself as the titular character, and have Jenna Coleman billed first this week. While it could be argued the opening scene is in it “just for the trailer” and is very provocative (both I would agree with to an extent), what’s important is not the what the action says but what it actually is. A lie. A lie which was thought of very quickly and is admittedly a tad stupid, to try and save her skin and get her out of the mess she was placed into. You can’t really get more like the Doctor than that. There’s definitely some cockiness and arrogance to that scene as well, both characteristics shown by Clara previously.

As the episode progresses you also get some more interesting content with Clara. The scene with Danny in the graveyard is a highlight, as it places Clara in another moral dilemma, where she has to make the impossible choice of letting her boyfriend suffer, or giving him what he wants and risking her own life. It’s fair to say Jenna acts that scene beautifully. Emotion is a strong point of her talents, and she really reflects that on the viewer. It’s always a good thing when you feel what a character feels, and here I did want to reach into my television and give Clara a hug.

The final scene is also lovely, my personal favourite of the episode. It bookends the series quite nicely, 12 and Clara’s story both properly starts and finishes in a restaurant (or cafe in this case), giving a nice sense of closure to the story. I’m glad it wasn’t Clara’s ending, as she’s my favourite companion and I am glad to have had another series with her, but I must say if it had been I wouldn’t have minded. It’s a really sweet moment, where the two best friends lie to each other to make each other feel okay. It’s a perfect character moment, one which did admittedly begin to make me tear up.

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Despite opening with a heavy focus on the Clara, this story is probably more about the Doctor, and it’s fair to say that Peter Capaldi probably gives his best performance to date, stealing every single scene he is in. The amount of emotion Twelve portrays in this story is excellent, really pushing Capaldi’s capacities as an actor, and it’s fair to say he pulls them off almost effortlessly. The good man arc is resolved nicely, with the Doctor realising he is not a good man, but an idiot who passes through and helps out people when he needs to. There probably hasn’t been a more accurate description of the Doctor to date. The scene where he stops Clara from killing Missy is also a highlight, as it does show the care he has for Clara brilliantly, that even though he believes Missy shouldn’t live, he can’t face his best friend killing her.

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Now we get onto Missy. Controversially, I’m not a fan of the character at all, finding her admittedly irritating and annoying. I wouldn’t go as far to call Michelle Gomez a bad actress, as I don’t think she is, there are times where she is really good, however, she is far too over the top for my personal tastes, so much that she gets on my nerves. She certainly captures the proposed insanity of her master, but the numerous different accents and the hammy delivery get stale after a while. I can’t really pay attention to what this character is trying to do because she’s giving me a headache. I also don’t think she’s written particularly well. This Master is portrayed as being insane and evil, but instead of using those characteristics together, both of them are fighting it out to be the dominant emotion. Instead of an even balance, both are turned up to eleven, to the point where the character is just noise. She also gets some really bad dialogue. The Belgians line particularly strikes me as odd, it’s not funny nor is it relevant, and it’s delivered in a way so painfully, I felt like taking paracetamol after hearing it. Michelle Gomez is having fun with the role and certainly has a screen presence, but it’s just one which really annoys me. It’s like The End of Time John Simm on steroids, just without the charm. She has potential, but I can’t see it here myself.

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UNIT aren’t great in this story either. Particularly the character of Osgood. Now, I love Osgood. She’s far from the most interesting character ever, but she’s sweet and likeable, and Ingrid Oliver does a really good job with the role. I was thrilled to see her back originally, but she does nothing except make an incorrect Supermarionation reference and gets killed by Missy. Which to me makes no sense. She’s shown one minute as being a genius, as expected, working out that Missy is the Master, and then is seen falling for a trap a four-year-old could have said: “hang on a minute”. It’s not like Missy hypnotised her or anything, she walks into death here, and I’m still baffled by it. I do enjoy their entrance scene, where they walk in like badasses, though. It’s a fun little scene, and it’s the only time this episode they’re shown as being a competent force.

Not too keen on the Cybermen here either. After nailing them in the previous part, here they’re presented more like Iron Man clones, than Cybermen. The body horror stuff with Danny is cool, though, the first time you really remember that they were once human for a long time. Just not too keen on the cyber pollen myself.

Other things to note: Rachel Talalay is brilliant again, using some really interesting and appropriate shots to capture the emotion of the scene. Gold’s score is good too, though admittedly a tad unnoticeable at times. The pacing is kinda weak, though, and there are some iffy special effects at times, but that’s nothing major.

Overall: Some really good bits, and some not so good bits, but probably enough to keep me entertained throughout.

Previous Score: 2
New Score: 5

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