The Doctor Who season 8 finale continues to deliver terrific performances from its increasingly adept cast, which perfectly punctuates the impressive transition its crew and new Doctor, Peter Capaldi, have made throughout this season. Unfortunately, the story is soulless, its purpose is purely referential, and everyone is better off pretending these two episodes don't exist.
In the Doctor Who season 8 finale, “Death in Heaven,” written by showrunner Steven Moffat and directed by longtime A Nightmare on Elm Street producer Rachel Talalay, the Master (Michelle Gomez) continues her plan to populate the Earth with its dead in Cybermen form, while UNIT takes control and establishes the Doctor as President of the Earth. Meanwhile, Clara’s (Jenna Coleman) faux Time Lord persona is uncovered by an unlikely cyborg, which leads to a grave encounter. As the power once again shifts from rivals, two fallen heroes each make one final decision for the future of humanity.
This week’s conclusion to the two-part finale had nothing but hope going for it. The once again forced Cybermen and Master storyline has previously been revealed and, unless creativity is something which is sparked in the final act of a feature-length adventure, one simply would be happy with any fantastical twist to such tiring, redundant storytelling. This, however, did not occur.
The Master is dead, or momentarily gone, again; the Cybermen are dead, or momentarily gone, again; and Gallifrey might be out there somewhere... again. Outside of the “just because” death of Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), nothing that occurred in the finale held any importance or meaning. There is no reason for Missy to be The Master other than… Cybermen, and there’s no reason for there to be Cybermen, because out of 800+ episodes of a 50-year-old television series, very few actually included them.
What we have instead is a strong cast continuously evolving these characters we once thought were deadlocked, while also successfully establishing another world known as The Neithersphere, all for the purpose of finishing it off with “[insert here]" finale storytelling. That, in and of itself, is not the issue, as ingenuity can conquer all. Perhaps it’s the fact that this lackluster adventure ends with a disjointed and careless plug for a story its writer appears to be far more interested in telling, as if what’s occurring currently is simply in the way of a better idea – and maybe it is.
In spite of this, Capaldi, Coleman, Anderson, Gomez, and Chris Addison all continued to carry the spirit of what this season once was, and it is through them and their performances that the episode is worth watching. They’ve all earned these monumental moments, no matter how muddied they become with Cybermen and Master. It’s difficult, but there’s still room to be able to appreciate their accomplishments.
Even so, it’s fair to say that this season would be better off if these two episodes never happened; all of the storytelling and development occurred throughout the season, which in and of itself is strong. The finale accomplishes in only revealing two things – Master and Cybermen – which does nothing but belittle the strength of the world and its characters. If you’re comfortable with how HBO’s Deadwood abruptly ended, then skipping these episodes will feel quite similar – only Doctor Who will, in fact, continue.
At this moment it’s anyone’s guess as to what the Christmas special and subsequent seasons will bring. After all, the core episodes of this season were some of the strongest the series has seen in years. But to what extent does a lackluster finale impact such successes? What if it happens again next year? No matter what, it’s unfortunate that these questions need to be asked.
Doctor Who returns December 25 on BBC America. You can check out a preview of the 2014 Doctor Who Christmas Special below: