by William Hohmeister
I think sometimes I’m too hard on Doctor Who. Series 8, for all its flaws, is so much better than series 6 and 7 that there’s really no comparison. And while the finale did not meet my expectations, I think it was good. I had a few problems, which I’ll deal with right now, in several open letters to people both fictional and real.
Guards. If the woman currently locked in the cargo hold of the plane talks about killing people soon, openly displays that she is no longer restrained, and then saunters over to take a hostage, at some point you need to shoot her. Maybe even just look surprised as you’re murdered.
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi). You saw the Mistress (Michelle Gomez) melt Dr. Chang only a short time ago. Take the weapon she used far away from her. Do not leave it within easy reach. This is what gets great supporting characters like Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) incinerated.
Steven Moffat (writer/showrunner). Maybe I’m wrong for wanting the Doctor to grow and change. I think the Companion is supposed to experience a character arc. But Clara doesn’t change until the end of the episode. I think you’re trying, but we need reasons to care about these people. Even Danny Pink.
Dan the Cyberman (Samuel Anderson). Let go of your death certificate. We only need one shot to establish that it’s you (and really, not even that). You’re also unreasonably angry at the Doctor, but I think you’re just adjusting to life as a soulless automaton. What an Afterlife, right?
Clara (Jenna Coleman). You did really well this episode. You learned and changed more this episode, as a minor character with nothing to do, than you have during all of series 8. I’m incredibly glad you’re gone.
The first twenty minutes are all set up. The Mistress uses “cyber-clouds” to infect all of earth. UNIT takes the Mistress and the Doctor prisoner, then swears the Doctor in as President of Earth. Danny rescues Clara and takes her to a graveyard. The Mistress wrecks the plane, the Doctor starts to plummet to his doom, and Seb (Chris Addison) geeks out when the Doctor escapes.
The Mistress’ casual violence is spooky throughout the episode, as she kills Osgood and Seb on a whim. Despite the utter failure of the guards, and the Doctor’s brain fart (mentioned above), the Mistress seems capable and forceful. I expected her to kill Clara after the reveal that she kept Clara and the Doctor together, but… huh.
Okay, new letter. The Mistress. Why did you bother to get Clara and the Doctor together? Because she’s a control freak? Why go to the trouble?
Dan the Cyberman and Clara argue about their relationship until the Doctor lands. They all argue, Dan the Cyberman reveals the Mistress’ plan, and she appears like a psychotic Mary Poppins.
I said in my review of “Dark Water” that the personal in the middle of the grand makes Doctor Who appealing to me. Dan the Cyberman gives a big speech, there are a lot of explosions, but the short conversations between the Doctor and the Mistress make the episode work. On the plane, she tries to gain control over the Doctor by teasing him with Gallifrey’s location. He responds by telling her how easy ruling the world is.
I know only a little about the past relationship between the Doctor and the Master. I know they’ve always been antagonists, except for a hinted-at past as children on Gallifrey. I know the Master wants to conquer everything, but the Doctor most of all. The Mistress demonstrates her complete control of the Cybermen (except Dan), wishes the Doctor a happy birthday…
And the Mistress gives control of the Cybermen to the Doctor. She has two explanations, one cliché (“We’re not so different, you and I”) and one true, when she says:
I need my friend back.
The Mistress can’t change. Even if she no longer hears the drums, she’s still crazy and deadly and effective. It’s possible she arranged for the Doctor to be elected President of Earth as well, to give him all the power he wants. He can, as she says, save everyone. He can make the universe exactly as he wants it to be. She’s saying: Be the Master. You don’t know if you’re the Doctor anymore, so be the Master.
I guess that the Doctor’s response, that he is not a general, a hero, or anything but an idiot in a big blue box, is Steven Moffat speaking through him. I wrote about Nine and Ten’s transformation into a Satan-like character, and I think Eleven was meant to be a mix of gallant fairy-tale hero and old monster under the bridge. Twelve lets all of that go, and reestablishes his identity as the Doctor.
After Danny destroys the clouds, the Mistress gives the Doctor the coordinates for Gallifrey, and offers to go with him. Clara is about to kill her, but the Doctor offers to do it. The Mistress seems surprised, but delighted. She poses. Before the Doctor can pull the trigger, The Brigadier, Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart (originally played by Nicholas Courtney) resurrected as a Cyberman, disintegrates the Mistress and flies off.
Danny has a chance to return to life, but sends the kid he shot instead. The Doctor checks out the coordinates the Mistress gave him for Gallifrey. I’m not certain that the Mistress lied, but we see the Doctor destroy part of the Tardis console in rage, so it’s likely. At the end, Clara and the Doctor meet up in a café and lie to each other.
It sounds simple, but it’s tricky with their relationship. The Doctor thinks Dan the Cyberman returned from the dead and Clara lets him. Clara thinks the Doctor found Gallifrey restored, and he lets her. They both lie to give the other a chance to move on, which finishes the characters’ history together. If they got back together they’d have to admit the truth, and neither is capable of that.
The Doctor leaves, but the final shot is of Clara. She was special and now she merges back into the crowd, part of the mundane again. It’s a quiet, strong end to a “meh” relationship that needed to end. I wish the Mistress had lived, but I doubt it’s the last we’ve seen of her. And I’m interested now in series 9.