Saturday, 15 November 2014

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Once again I find myself extraordinarily late in posting a review. This is, you may have noticed, becoming a bit of a trend lately. The reasons for this are fairly straightforward. I've always had something of a struggle with depression, and lately it's one that I'm losing. I was all set to get this review done in a timely fashion. I was actually hoping to do it last Sunday. And then my head went a bit wrong and here we are a week later and I've only just managed to pull myself together enough to actually watch the episode again.

I mention this not in a desperate plea for sympathy and attention so much as because it's actually thematically relevant to the subject at hand. Because at long last we've gotten a REALLY good Cyberman episode, finally dealing with some of themes that I've long felt they should be tackling. I'm not sure if I actually managed to discuss this during last episodes review, what with all the excitement of the Master coming back, so let's get down to it now.

I've said it before, and I can't help but think I'll say it again, but I really do love it when stuff I've been thinking about as good for a Doctor Who episode for ages suddenly turns up in some form in the actual show.

In this particular case we have a little idea that I've been thinking about for a long time that I called The Cult Of The Cybermen. The basic idea comes from my ongoing struggles with my malfunctioning sanity. The simple fact is that there are times when I would give anything, literally ANYTHING to make it stop hurting. When I'd gladly sacrifice all other emotions if it would take away the bad ones. And then, in my more lucid moments I can't help but think that this is the something the Cybermen actually offer. That if only they had the right marketing they would have no end of volunteers for conversion. There are any number of vulnerable people looking for a way out, if only someone would offer it.

Of course, this would involve the Cybermen being slow and subtle, which is not something I thought I'd ever witness in the TV show with it's 5 minute conversions and emphasis on stomping. But nevertheless, even retaining those less subtle aspects, here we are.

Last week part of the cliffhanger was pretty much exactly what I was talking about before. Put someone in a bad enough place and they'll quite probably give up on their emotions willingly. And then we have it reiterated again in a different way with the sheer abject horror of Cyber-Danny.

Just look at him up there. Something else that has been missing from the Cybermen in recent years is some way to convey the full body horror aspect of the upgrade process. It's always been too quick and clean. But then Danny removes his face plate and, well, it ain't pretty. I'd say he looks like he was in a car crash, but then that's rather the point. HE WAS.

Of course, what's doubly awful is the fact that it's not just the trauma of being converted into a Cyberman that's pushing him over the edge. It's Clara. He kinda seems to holding it together until she finally confronts him with just how awful she is to him, at which point he pretty much has no choice except to break down completely and beg for someone to put him out of his misery.

This is something I can totally relate to.

To be fair to Clara she did think he was dead at this point, and she was TECHNICALLY correct. But she's still a cow, so why start being fair to her now?

Anyway, point is we're scoring the Cyberman portion of the plot very highly. They're finally doing something new and interesting with them. Although I must say that in regards to the flying part it does rather seem like somebody looked at some of those posts comparing the new Cyber design to the movie Iron Man armour and figured "fuck it, might as well go all the way".

And just so we're keeping in theme with the rest of the series, there's something naggingly familiar about that whole Cybermen stomping around in graveyards thing they'd got going on.

Can't quite place it though...

Still, it's not like they've been bossed about by a super intelligent evil lady done up in Victorian clothes before or anything.

Certainly not with an umbrella anyway.... oh.

So, okay, fine. We're doing the Next Doctor crossed with Return Of The Living Dead.

Well... Kind of.

No points of for a twisted stab at originality. Some of the best Dr Who stories of all time have been homages to classic horror movies.

Of course, we COULD get a little pedantic and point out that Cybermen still need certain portions of soft tissue to convert, such as the brain, which are not likely to be present in 100 year old corpses. Or wonder where it is all the metal actually came from for doing all those upgrades. But that would be somewhat churlish is easily handwaved by mumbling something about Time Lord Tech and quickly changing the subject.

And speaking of Time Lords, isn't the new Master just absolutely BRILLIANT? She's got the charm, and she's definitely got the crazy. A good blend of the Roger Delgado and John Simm ends of the spectrum, but with a whole lot more thrown in as well. Because in addition to being a really good Cyberman episode, Death In Heaven is also a really good Master episode.

I guess some might the feel the big twist reveal of the Masters plan is kinda random and comes out of nowhere, but for me it makes perfect sense.

And anyway...

See, we've long had a theme of the Doctor trying to save the Master in some way. Wanting to find some way that he could be redeemed, or at least stop being homicidally crazy. A strong desire to go back to them being friends again, like they used to be. What we've never really had is the Masters point of view on this. So it's really fun to have the roles switched around, and having the Master trying to bring the Doctor over to her side for once.

And yes, gendered pronouns ARE going to become somewhat confusing now. Deal with it.

But not only do we have the fun of the Master trying turn the Doctor to the dark side, we also get an oddly vulnerable side of her character as well, as she also wants her friend back. Albeit in a rather twisted fashion. And the fact that she's unleashed this whole horrifying scheme in an insane attempt to somehow impress the Doctor is perhaps actually the most disturbing part.

If anything the only problem with this incarnation of the Master is that she's almost too likeable. It's kinda hard to be down on anyone who's clearly having as much FUN as she is. Even when she kills Osgood, I was far more cross at the writers than the character. And let's be clear, I ABSOLUTELY wanted Osgood to live.

I mean, aside from being a really cool supporting character she could have been an AWESOME companion given a chance. Aside from the obvious comments about anything being better than bloody Clara (with the obvious exception of Rose), she was a fun nerdy female character who relied on intelligence rather than coming prepackaged with model type good looks.

And when I say model I mean that quite literally. Whoever assembled Amy Pond must have done it wrong, because there is NO WAY those legs are in scale.

You wanna talk positive role models for girls then Osgood is who we want. None of this be pretty and treat people like shit business. She could have been the next Romana, albeit a little less glamorous. But sadly it was not to be. Quite obviously I regard this as a waste of a good character. That's one of the main drawbacks of the current series format though, we never really get to spend as much time with particular characters as we'd like as everything has to trot along at a great pace. Good ideas and characters are swallowed up faster than they perhaps should be.

I will say though, that whilst some creators get a lot of stick for killing off beloved characters, is there really any point killing off anybody else? If you don't care to start with then the death means nothing.

And whilst it's nice that they at least managed to save Kate Stewart for later, I do kinda have to question the method.

Now, we can't really question the particulars. It's already been well established that a strong will is able to overcome Cyber-Conditioning after all. And it's quite in character for the Master to make a dumb mistake such as uploading the Brigadier to her Cyber-Army in some sort of vengeance blinded denial of what doing such a thing would actually result in. But it also seems a little... disrespectful somehow. Like they're super keen to put the Brig in now that Nick Courtney is dead, but they weren't in so much of a hurry when he was still alive. It's a bit nasty to take one of the great heroes of the Doctor Who universe and then turn him into a soulless zombie. Albeit a soulless zombie with rocket boots.

Still, maybe I'm just squeamish. I mean, I though it was a bit off having a severed cyber head as a funny companion. And look how wrong I was there.

Incidentally, THIS is what Handles insides look like.

So, overall I was really pleased with this episode. I thought it did a lot of really good stuff. I do think that, after having the Doctor being so vehemently anti soldier all series it would have been good to make a little more about his association with UNIT. And the magical return from the depths of the matrix thing was a bit cheesy and unnecessary. Although I do like that they used it to just further demonstrate Danny Pinks moral superiority to ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE EVER rather than going for a ghastly happy ending.

In fact, the marvelously downbeat ending is one of the things I liked best. We don't get that very often. It gives a bit of weight to what happened, the sense that scars have been left. The Doctor and Clara lying to each other about happy endings that aren't happening is great, and leaves us in a really interesting place for the next series.

And then they go and spoil it by having Santa turn up.

FUCKING SANTA. All that effort spent in creating a tense doomy atmosphere of dramatic gloom? Fucking ANNIHILATED.

It's really amazing just how misjudged this is. Because the first time I watched the episode I came away with a rather poor impression. There was something just OFF about it. But as it turns out it wasn't the death of Osgood, or the specter of the Cyber Brigadier that was causing it. It really was just this 30 seconds teasing the Christmas special. It really went and spoiled things, utterly wrecking the tone.

Now, I'm reasonably confidant that we won't be subjected to having Doctor Who meet the real Santa, what with Santa not actually being real.

Also your parents never really loved you.

Maybe he's a robot or something. And the trailer proper suggests a riff on The Thing pretty strongly, so it's probably going to be a remake of The Seeds Of Doom.

Possibly excluding the bit where the Krynoids humps the architecture.

But just think how much more effective it would have been if we had Santa turn up at the END of an otherwise doomy and scary trailer. Then it would have been more confusing and intriguing, rather than working to ruin the mood the episode had spent so much effort constructing.

And, needless to say, one thing I definitely DO NOT want for Christmas is more Clara. Never mind my own personal distaste for the character. She just had a good exit. As ways to write the character out, that was actually a really good one. Dramatically and thematically consistent, a good close to her story arc of the preceding series. But then again Rory and Amy went out perfectly in the God Complex, only to be dragged back to hang around until the lackluster at best Muppets Jason Angels Take Manhattan, so what do I know about anything?

So, yeah, going out a sour note, but overall a very good episode, and pretty good conclusion to the series. Whilst the overall quality of individual episodes was a bit variable I think we've had a lot more successes than failures. And the general trend does seem to have been upwards from the rather shaky start. Definitely some room for improvement, but that's not really a bad thing when you're talking about an ongoing series such as this. It gives you something to build on. I just hope that the next series won't be giving me quite the same sense of Deja Vu. I have a DVD collection if I want to revisit past episodes after all.