‘Doctor Who’ finale review: ‘Death in Heaven’

It’s not hard to ‘say something nice’ about ‘Death in Heaven’.

It’s that rare episode under Moffat’s tenure: a Part 2 (this is the first since May 2011). It’s also that even rarer thing in 21st century Who: a finale as exciting as it is satisfying.

Satisfying not simply in terms of the immediate plot, or the longer-term storylines of its characters, but also in the tremendous amount of soul and poignancy supporting the cinematic action. There’s a plot-relevant fondness for the show’s past without sacrificing the dramatic immediacy of the Cyber-present.

And what a Cyber-present Missy has gifted The Doctor. An army of the dead clanking around planet Earth, and what’s the first thing that humanity does? Take selfies. ‘The end comes, as it was always going to, down the end of a videophone’, a Time Lord with a floppier haircut once said.

Doctor Who Dark Water 4

Clara Oswald’s channelling that same floppy-haired Doctor. Did anyone spend the title sequence – with its big inflatable Oswald eyes instead of the attack eyebrows – wondering if the show was about to pull off a gender-switch more daring than that of The Master’s? No, of course you didn’t. But it’s one last piece of impossible cheekiness for the Impossible Girl.

There have been accusations that Moffat’s female characters are all interchangeable, like lady Lego, bricked into the part. But that’s a disservice to the people playing those characters. Not just to Jenna Coleman. Look at the gusto Jemma Redgrave puts into defending the planet, or the bravery Ingrid Oliver imbues the late Osgood with.

Doctor Who Dark Water Kate Stewart

And then there’s the (Time) lady of the hour…

Michelle Gomez continues to astound; her portrayal of Missy oh so fine she blows our minds. Watch her even when she’s not saying anything and you can see the talent bursting out of her. The amount of effort Gomez puts in to make something look effortless is extraordinary. You really believe there’s over 40 years of madness behind the lipstick; she has redefined The Doctor’s definitive nemesis.

Against her insanity Capaldi beautifully executes the weariness of a man eternally fighting someone he’d rather love (take that as you will). Even with the aero-antics, there’s space to explore the rivalry and friendship that have kept them best of enemies, and for Moffat to make a satisfactory case for 40 years of enmity: Missy just wants her friend back, on her own terms. Psychiatrists, start your engines.

Doctor Who Death in Heaven

Capaldi remains the perfect Doctor, but living up to what he growled in ‘Robot of Sherwood’, he’s still not the ‘old-fashioned hero’ we think of him as. Hero duties fall to Cyber-Dan the tin soldier man, saving the day with his undead Iron Man P.E squad. We leave him exactly as we met him: giving orders. It hasn’t been Samuel Anderson’s fault that Danny has not been the most interesting chap this season, but his final scenes vindicate his character’s place in the show, and actually place Danny’s whole run in a more favourable light.

You’d have to have a heart of steel not to feel something as he gave his final farewell to Clara, just as you would to witness The Doctor’s first and final salute to the Cyber-Brigadier without feeling a nostalgic pang. A perfect soldier’s farewell. At ease Brig, you earned it.

Doctor Who Death in Heaven Brigadier 3

But the most resonant departure is left to last, as the Time Lord and Impossible Girl, brought together by mysteries and Master-plans, each depart on a lie. Because it’s easier. Because it makes them and the other person feel better. It’s sad and sweet, and if it was Jenna Coleman’s farewell to the show then it was pitch perfect.

Though some fans’ hearts may remain on the beach of Dårlig Ulv Stranden, or in the Noble family’s front room, or on a suburban street in Dundee that’s meant to be Croydon, it’s possibly the best goodbye since a young-old man lied to his granddaughter about returning one day. Yes, one day.

There’ll be plenty of time to autopsy Season 8 now it’s over. For now though, let’s savour an episode that epitomises what we always hoped Peter Capaldi’s opening season would be: something that made The Doctor, Clara, and best of all, our Saturday nights, feel special again.


Aired at 8pm on Saturday 8 November 2014 on BBC One.

> Order Season 8 on DVD on Amazon.

> Order Season 8 on Blu-ray on Amazon.

What did you think of the finale? Let us know below…

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  • Stephanie

    This one got me right in the feels. Moffat really pulled out all the stops. I got all choked up when Clara and Danny said goodbye, and then the Cyber-Brigadier showed up, and cue the waterworks. This is the second time Doctor Who has made me cry (the first being Eleven’s regeneration).
    Plot-wise, nothing to add; this was excellent. Missy was beautifully, outrageously bananas, and I’m almost hoping she shows up again, just for the sheer entertainment value.
    Any chance Danny and Osgood might find their way back to the land of the living?

    • The Doctah

      Hey! what ever happened to the Zygon Osgood, Kate and scientist? The Doctor(s) simply left in the Day of the Doctor

      I hope that’s a way to bring Osgood back, she was basically thye fandom inside DW, I felt I was killed

      • Stephanie

        It’s a thought, though I suspect the Zygons have gone off to some other planet by now.
        And yeah, Osgood really was just like the fandom. I suppose Moffat killing her off makes sense, then, since he likes to scare us to death/kill us with the feels. 😉

  • osymandus

    Truly disappointing . Glad Clara is going , Danny got to the stage where I was glad he went (good send off mind ) . And the Brigadier did what many of us have wanted to do .
    Season 8 has been an attempt at the old school horror/suspense . It failed . UNIT and teh Dr have evolved passed many of his threats . Cybermen arnt a serious threat anymore (why didn’t unit just fire into them ?) . And why not taser missy ? I really hope The masters story is done , if so he deserved that end .

    • Seventh Reign

      Clara isnt gone yet. She will be in the Christmas Special. After that, no one knows yet.

      • osymandus

        Wishful thinking…. . Plus get Osgood in .

  • Confused

    Why didn’t Missy/The Master regenerate after being shot by cyber-Danny?

    • confused

      cyber-Brigadier, my bad, i’m tired…

    • Cédric Theys

      She didn’t get shot, she teleported away, just before being shot by, Cyber-Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart 🙂

      • bowtiesarecool

        she definitely got shot

        • Grand Poobah

          Everyone else that Missy killed with that thing had a red effect. When Missy was hit by it, it was blue. My money’s on her setting the thing to teleport her (say to her TARDIS?) before she suspiciously threw it away.

          • godmcgarvey

            Missy wasn’t kiled by her own weapon, she was killed by the Brigadiers/Cybermans weapon

      • Guest

        She got “shot,” but it looked like she disintegrated and her atoms dispersed.

        • Cédric Theys

          She’ll return anyway 😛

    • Nick Weston

      She teleported

    • Krista

      I don’t think they can regenerate from disintegration

    • Rev

      If you have any classic master episodes to go by, you’ll notice that every time they think the master is defeated or killed, he ends up alive and well in his next episode. 3rd Doctor had many episodes of the Master.

  • Jim Ryder

    Wonderful in places, awful in others…you seriously can keep the feels, they are way to saccharine and contrived for me. But I guess the twilight brigade and the American audience will dig them though. I am so angry that they killed the ‘bow-ties are cool girl’…I thought she was worthwhile. As for Missy…well yeah she was ok if ham is your thing…but then the master always was a bit over the top. The Mary Poppins reference will also warm the hearts of many an American….perhaps the series could be sold to Disney and set in Manhattan. It did almost bring a tear to this callous old buggers eye when he saluted Lethbridge-Stuart…but even that was contrived. I dislike it when a writer so obviously tries to manipulate my emotions…but I’ll let that one go. Now that’s settled might we see some stories that aren’t about how the Doctor should be ashamed of being heroically on our side against the universe.

    • Guest

      Stop watching it if you are so fed up having your emotions manipulated. Simples.

      • jonny

        How about you respect the guy’s right to have an opinion!

        • crumb

          not every episode manipulates and so we wait out for those ones.

        • Meekrob

          I respect everyone’s right to have an opinion. That doesn’t mean I have to respect the opinion.

    • pseudo

      Tv exists to manipulate our emotions, in fact any work of fiction.

      • Black Knight

        But not in a contrived, gimmicky, very obvious way.

        Moffats writing has the subtlety of a world war 2 tank.

    • Tonya Gammill

      Don’t blame that mess on American viewers. This season has been a hugh disappointment. Worse use of a great actor (Capaldi) ever. The whole Danny/Clara storyline was pointless.

    • Erik Setzer

      “But I guess the twilight brigade and the American audience will dig them though.”

      Doctor Who will never try to cater to Americans over Brits, so the British audience clearly is who it’s intended for, and they believe (accurately) that the British audience will “dig them.”

      If you want emotionless meh with no fun or humor or anything… well, you could try watching The Big Bang Theory. That seems right for you.

      • Becca

        Surely if you want emotionless … You want a cyberman?!

      • Les

        There is a heck of a lot more money in syndication on American TV, not to mention the vast amount of memorabilia that BBC America can sell. Dr Who is “the doctor for the world”, and, like Torchwood, if UK interest in the show drops, they will move it to America.

    • Samuel Mansfield

      You… really are an ignorant mess, aren’t you?

  • Guest

    I believe Jenna Coleman is still going to be in the Christmas Special so Clara is not out just yet.

  • Deina Jameson

    Am I the only one who cried a little, when the Doctor saluted the Brigadier? I truly hope not.

    • Seventh Reign

      The tears started well before that point actually, but they definitely increased there.

    • Erik Setzer

      I have to admit, I held it without a problem for pretty much the entire episode, but that one moment… that was a great tribute.

  • Cynical Classicist

    He didn’t lie, as Big Finish listeners will know. But this is still better then saying goodbye to the “perfect companion” who was willing to risk two worlds to get back to him.

  • Sev

    So, is Osgood dead, or was that her Zygon double?

    • Seventh Reign

      The Zygon would have gotten its memory back well before then, so unfortunately it was Osgood.

  • Victoria Mattas French

    This was the type of story I have been waiting for all this season. I wish I had more of them to look forward to as opposed to this being the season finale. Peter Capaldi has grown into the character, but the stories have not presented him with the opportunity to own it. This episode did. Damn, we need more now.

  • Teresa Whaley

    I was bored by it. The so-called “feels” were over contrived and the script writing let it down. I still get the feeling that it’s being written for a totally different audience these days. Peter Capaldi still has to convince me that he can make a good Dr because personally I don’t like him in the role.

  • Christopher Tkachuk


    • Tabitha Tomlinson

      Yes but this happen before that special in a way if you recall the pictures on the wall.

      • Black Knight

        That makes no sense.

    • Black Knight

      She may be the Zygon copy.

  • Boom boom

    AM I the only one who wonders how Clara meets her great grandson!?

    • Erik J

      She could be in the early stages of pregnancy and carrying Danny’s Son.

      • KB

        I believe she is, definitely.

      • Zoltán Buka

        Maybe that’s what she tried to tell him at the beginning of 8×11 when Danny died.

  • Grey

    ug…which finale did you watch? This finale, just like the rest of the season just fell flat…Its really bad when the doctor had more chemistry with missy than he has shown with Clara. I give this episode 2 stars

  • Nancywhogirl

    This falls easily into ‘instant classic’ territory. Moffat judged the balance between epic story telling and beautiful intimate moments wonderfully well. Needless to say, Peter Capaldi continued to be astonishingly good matched by the wickedly funny and plain wicked Michelle Gomez.
    The beautiful salute to the Brigadier was one of a number of poignant moments in the story which made most of our family reach for the tissues.
    And as the reviewer says, we have the most simple and perfect ending in Who history since an old man said goodbye to his granddaughter. Simply perfect.
    I have adored this series for so many reasons. A perfect end to a near perfect run of episodes and without any doubt, the greatest Doctor we have ever had.

  • YellowFlower

    As close to perfect a finale as we have ever had, topped off by a couple of moments thatwill live on in fans’ hearts, most particularly the beautiful farewell to The Brig. That moment alone would have earned this five stars but the rest of the episode was equally rich in action, wit and inventiveness. As Rob says in Peter Capaldi we finally have the perfect doctor and this entire series has been a tribute to his genius in the role. I have enjoyed this series more than any Who since the high water mark of Tom and Liz.

  • Black Knight

    Moffat is an inept seducer. Seventy percent of his individual story’s are good and then he adds little unnecessary “clever” touches that just jar the viewer and take them out of the moment. This screams of insecurity as a writer.

    Claras eyes in the opening titles and the smarmy speech at the beginning to be “clever”

    The Doctor jumping into the TARDIS to be “clever”

    Missy floating down on an umbrella to be “clever”

    The jarring Father Christmas scene 5 seconds into the end titles to be “Clever”.

    I could go on. These are not clever. These are cheap gimmicks.

    I refuse to apologize for this man any longer – he is a hack

    Capaldi is a frickin genius.

  • SizzleB

    I agree whole heartedly with this review. I cried a little tear when Danny said goodbye to Clara, then again with the brigadier, even when I coud see that Missy might win out with the Doctor having to be the one to ‘do the honour’ so to speak, then I cried AGAIN when Danny had the chance to return but gave it up for the sake of the little boy.
    But none of that had me crying the way the parting between the Doctor and Clara had me crying!!! A superb ending to a very strong series in my opinion.

  • thedailycrumb

    think you were maybe slightly too kind

  • IndyfromAZ

    In brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil’s
    might, Beware my power, The Sonic Screwdriver’s light!!!

  • WML

    I thought Jenna Coleman was lovely. Has Clara ever been more interesting when she ceases to be a pretty face but becomes a complete person, warts and all. I hope they bring Osgood back. She is fantastic. Jemma Redgrave. Wow. Michele Gomez? A BIG BIG set of hand clapping and yelling WOW at the top of my lungs. Capaldi – incredible choice as the Doctor. What an actor. I liked Matt Smith but Capaldi! The next season can’t start soon enough. And thank you Steven Moffat for one of the best stories on television anywhere in the world this year. Tremendous story writing. And what a way to give honor to those who gave their lives so that many of us can live. To Danny, who chose duty and honor before his own life. To the Brigadier, a reminder that duty and honor saves us all. Thank you, BBC, for this great, great Who episode.

  • Bear

    Even better than I hoped (or expected) – although some part of me still expected Missy to have lied about being the Master and actually be Romana! I get everything Moffet has done EXCEPT the sexual context of Missy. If a real-life guy gets a sex change, then their future male partners would be their boyfriends – they wouldn’t suddenly refer to their historic male friends as previous boyfriends. Sorry Moffet – epic fail there. Trying too hard to make us guess Missy was River Song perhaps?

    A touching moment for fans of the Brigadier – and a nice touch that his helmet was that of a Cybercontroller (black helmet handles). Loved it.

  • terrigal65

    Agree with reviewer. The most beautiful and perfect finale in new Who and the farewell between Clara and the Doctor was superb and the most genuinely heartfelt probably since Susan left the first doctor. Hats off to the actors who have performed at levels not expected in this show (if Peter doesn’t win the BAFTA this year, there is no justice. Not only by a country league the best actor in the role, also by some distance, but the best acting in the role.).
    This entire series has been a spectacular success – not just because of the great ratings and gushing reviews in all of the newspapers, but because Moffat for the first time has really put his heart into this. We have gotten rid of the glibness and let’s add something cool in here because we can plotting which marred the last couple of series of Matt Smith’s. Good old fashioned story telling, beautiful understated dialogue plus the best actors ever assembled in the history of the series have resulted in a completely satisfying year topped off by a completely satisfying finale. The story arc of whether the doctor was a good man, also was paid off in those wonderful scenes in the graveyard where the doctor acknowledges his basic goodness and then that magical moment when the brig signed off. I adored Steven Moffat for that subtle little touch – I am sure I was not the only only starting to sniff by then, but followed by the lovely scene when Danny speaks his last to Clara (sob) and then the brilliant farewell (howling by now), this was the most poignant and genuinely moving minutes the show has ever given us.
    I am looking forward to where Peter takes the character now. He has established himself in just one series as the best doctor we have ever had and with Moffat back at his best, plus the wonderful Missy to hopefully return to match wits with him, series 9 might just about top the fantastic, fantastic series 8.

  • Lara Harris

    Clearly we were watching different things. There were brilliant moments, like there were brilliant moments in all of this season but on the whole it was completely underwhelming.

  • Dave Nichols

    As someone who has turned his home into a Doctor Who shrine, I am sad to say that I hated the final episode of the season. Hated everything about it. It is normal to suspend your disbelief while watching the show but this one was almost as bad as telling us that “The Moon’s an egg!” Somehow Cyberman cells can be sprinkled on the dead and instantly reanimate dead corpses in the form of complete, metal Cybermen. I just don’t buy anything about this premise. Plus, there have got to be SOME kids who still watch this show and turning a beloved character such as Danny Pink into a Tin Man was absolutely horrific. Though I am a Doctor Who fan through and through, this finale made me want to rewatch episodes of Sherlock and not think about the Doctor for a very long time.

  • Mary

    Man. This whole series fell flat for me. The chemistry between every character seemed nonexistent all the plots seemed reused and frankly overdone.

  • stuart1001

    Anyone who uses the term ‘the feels’ should be exterminated. Ghastly phrase.