This review contains spoilers.
I arrived home on Tuesday, 4 November. After a day of unpacking and forcing my body not to sleep, I went straight back to work. Let me tell you, friends, trying to type legal jargon for three days on a jetlagged brain is not easy. But now it’s the weekend and hopefully my poor body will let me readjust to this hemisphere at least partially because I’m going to be up early tomorrow morning for the DOCTOR WHO SEASON 8 FINALE.
In an attempt to rewrite history, the Doctor and Clara follow a trail all the way to the Promised Land and finally encounter Missy in person.
Clara is ready to tell Danny the truth that he asked for last episode. She has post-it notes everywhere prompting her on what to say, and most of it seems to just be the story of her travels with the Doctor. I suppose it makes sense. I mean, when Danny found out about the Doctor in The Caretaker, he seemed annoyed that Clara didn’t share that with him but not all that keen to actually learn about it. Clara’s current frenzied state could probably have been diminished if Danny had just turned off the TV for a while five episodes ago.
This huge conversation is all going to take place on the phone, by the way. But before Clara can do anything more than say that she loves him, and pretty much that she’s ready to spend the rest of her life with him, Danny is killed.
No, seriously. He’s run over in the street. Before the opening credits.
Fast-forward past Danny’s funeral, and Clara only has one thought: make the Doctor rewrite history. Her elaborate plan involves stealing all seven keys to the TARDIS, dosing the Doctor with a sleeping patch, throwing all keys into lava to destroy them when the Doctor refuses to help.
I love this sequence. I love Clara rocketing through shock, denial, grief, and fury at the ‘boring’ and ‘ordinary’ way in which Danny died, and how she is owed better. I love her preparation and commitment to the plan (and the fact that one of the TARDIS keys was stowed in a copy of The Time Traveler’s Wife). I love the Doctor’s response and the way he and Clara struggle for control in their argument. Jenna Coleman delivers some heart-wrenching acting here. Her already admirable crying face soars to new heights and, in the same breath, she manages to portray a coldness that I never thought I’d see from Clara. For me, this entire sequence is the kind of character-driven perfection I’ve been craving for Clara since the dawn of time. Yeah, it’s not what I expected to happen and I’m still not sure I like the way it’s heading but this part, guys. This part.
Unfortunately, it was all a dream because the Doctor switched the sleeping/dream patch to Clara at the last second. TARDIS keys saved. The Doctor tells Clara to go to Hell.
He means that literally. He, like everyone else, cannot say no to Clara’s big Puss in Boots eyes. So they’re going to Hell or wherever people go when they die. If it’s at all possible to bring Danny back, they will. Hell is probably not the best or gentlest term but the double meaning wouldn’t have been nearly as foreboding if the Doctor had said, ‘Go to Heaven.’ He’s not immune to Clara’s crying face. I actually really love the Doctor’s line here: ‘Do you think I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?’ I’m not saying it’s a solid life plan, because it sounds extremely unhealthy, but I do like that line.
Using the timey-wimey goop in the TARDIS console that I haven’t noticed since Listen, they find out where Clara’s timeline will next intersect with Danny’s. Apparently they’re going to be reunited in a giant mausoleum run by a company called 3W. Apparently this company thinks it’s the epitome of good marketing to have decaying bodies displayed in individual aquariums. And they move when no one’s looking. Fantastic.
Missy emerges from the shadows, claims to be a welcome droid, pashes the Doctor, and then makes sure he cops a feel of her chest to prove how lifelike she is. For a second, Missy seems to be insinuating that she (and perhaps 3W) is maintained by the Doctor. But she’s being a little shit and purposely using a definite article when it’s not needed. The doctor to whom she’s referring is actually Dr Chang. Missy allows him to explain the 3W weirdness and hopefully connect them with Danny. She stays behind in the aquarium/mausoleum to stare at a weird disco ball/Death Star.
Meanwhile, Danny is already in the Promised Land and getting the welcome speech from Seb, who we saw back in The Caretaker, and who is definitely Ollie from The Thick of It. I wasn’t sure after his first cameo but, while watching this on the plane to LAX, my sister nudged me hard enough that I accepted it as fact.
Despite his strong suspicions, Danny is not willing to accept that he’s dead until Seb spells it out for him. The scenery of the Promised Land is probably not the best indicator either, since it looks more like Coruscant than any depiction I’ve seen of the afterlife. But the iPad of Death is at least explained by the fact that the Promised Land has Steve Jobs in residence. (Is it too soon? I felt guilty for chuckling.)
As Seb puts it, if babies could talk to each other in the womb, they would think life was only nine months long. Therefore this Promised Land/Nethersphere isn’t technically afterlife. It’s just more life than we expected. The explanation is all right by me. But I don’t think it’s true. I think they’re all being kept inside the giant disco ball/Death Star that Missy was smirking at earlier. It might explain why parts of the Promised Land seem to have been built up the walls and on the roof.
To top off an excellent day, Danny gets a visit from the boy he killed when he was a soldier. Maybe this is supposed to be a shocking thing but I always kind of suspected it was going to be a kid based on Danny’s complete disillusionment with the army. The boy stares at Danny in silence and eventually (understandably) flees the room when Danny tries to initiate contact.
So here’s the deal with the aquariums: the skeletons remain intact because they’re all encased in exoskeletons that are invisible in the water—Dark Water, it’s called. Only organic matter can be seen through it. Just in case that wasn’t clear, they purposely put the rotting corpses on view. Marketing genius.
It takes a very long time for Dr Chang to explain exactly what 3W means. So long, in fact, that the Doctor threatens to hit him with his shoe (and I’m inclined to follow suit). Once upon a time, a dude heard voices in his TV static, translated it and came up with three words (3W): ‘Don’t cremate me.’ Then he realised that people must be completely aware of what’s happening to their bodies after death. Whether or not it’s true (and I’m still not sold on that), I can see how people would flock to this company out of fear for their loved ones.
Just as the Doctor calls bullshit on the whole set-up and says that the dead don’t come back, two things happen: (1) unseen by others, Missy claps her hands in the hallway and the aquarium skeletons all rise to attention; (2) Danny’s voice starts coming through on Dr Chang’s computer. After scanning Clara telepathically for connections to their clients, they came up with Danny and gave him a call.
While a tech glitch gets fixed, the Doctor warns Clara that this might still be fake. Clara is left to ascertain whether Danny is real. Of course, we know that he is because we can see him. If Danny’s real. If he’s not locked in a Death Star disco ball. The Doctor goes off to investigate who would want a bunch of human bodies. As the door closes, our question is answered: the 3W logos look exactly like the EYES OF A CYBERMAN. And one of the skeletons in Dr Chang’s office has woken up like a stealthy little gazelle. DELETE. DELETE. DELETE.
The aquariums outside begin to drain of Dark Water. Missy reveals she’s lying scum the boss, not a welcome droid. Then she kills Dr Chang because he can’t say something nice. Or because he says something nice. It’s hard to tell. The Dark Water drains enough to reveal the HEADS OF THE CYBERMEN.
Missy reveals that the Death Star disco ball is Galifreyan technology, and all the dying minds have been uploaded and edited while their bodies have been upgraded to Cybermen. (That’s confusing but I’m pretty sure it means I’m right about the disco ball.)
Missy keeps making confusing comments to insinuate that she’s River Song, and then reveals herself to be a Time Lord Lady. The Doctor tries to escape and, instead of finding the stairs back to Dr Chang’s office, emerges from St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Back in Dr Chang’s office, Clara is still quite boringly trying to determine if Danny is real. Unfortunately for them both, they don’t have any in-jokes that could act as ID. Danny can’t even remember the restaurant they went to on their first date. He can only offer repeated proclamations of love. Clara is determined to be with the real Danny Pink, even if it means dying. Danny is determined that Clara isn’t going to die because that’s really quite stupid.
When Clara swears that she’ll hang up if Danny says he loves her once more, Danny sees his opportunity and says it again. Clara makes good on her promise and ends the call. Once again, she’s been outwitted while trying to give an ultimatum. Try again when you’re not consumed by grief.
Clara finally realises that she’s been trapped in this office with a recently-awakened Cyberman. Today is just not your day, girl.
Missy’s identity is finally revealed. Her name is short for ‘Mistress’. She couldn’t very well keep calling herself the Master, could she? Well, no. Especially not after all those purposely misleading references to River Song.
The Master is like a bloody Dalek. It doesn’t matter how many times you think you’ve gotten rid of him, he keeps coming back. Or she, I guess. They? I’m going with ‘they’ from now on. Maybe the reason the Master keeps coming back is because, all along, they’ve had a big crush on the Doctor. But I don’t think destroying Earth is the best way to prove your affections so maybe they should work on that.
Six Cybermen stride out purposefully, ensuring that they create a nice visual parallel to the Cybermen from Classic Who’s Invasion. (The internet informed me of this parallel. This is reason #394 why I need to watch Classic Who.)
In the Nethersphere, Danny sobs over his death and his dissatisfying goodbye to the woman he loves. Seb offers him an option: get rid of all those pesky human emotions by simply pressing ‘Delete’ on the iPad. DON’T DO IT, DANNY. DON’T BE A CYBERMAN. But will he have any choice? In the reflection of the iPad, we see the boy that Danny killed. Maybe he’ll press ‘Delete’ out of revenge. Or maybe he’ll talk Danny out of it. Or maybe the boy doesn’t exist at all and he’s not going to do anything.
Oi vey. This episode is hectic. I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m in love with most of the first half. But the second half kind of fell flat for me. Maybe it was because of all the exposition. Or maybe I’m just annoyed at the seemingly intentional misleading clues about Missy’s identity. I’m not sure.
I thought my mind was going to be completely blown with awesomeness and it kind of built up to the brink of explosion and then just fizzled out. The last half of the season finale had better be something absolutely mammoth. I want an episode to make up for all the times this season that I’ve wondered why the narrative arc wandered off course and Clara’s character development teetered on the brink of brilliance and then sat down heavily on its arse. Will I get that satisfaction? PROBABLY NOT. But I will continue to hope.
SEASON FINALE. IS DANNY GOING TO DELETE HIMSELF? OR WILL HE BE SAVED SO CLARA CAN LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER WITH HIM? CYBERMEN EVERYWHERE. THE MASTER’S BACK, FEMALE, AND POSSIBLY IN LOVE WITH THE DOCTOR.