SPOILER ALERT: Don't read ahead if you haven't watched Doctor Who series 8, episode 12: Death in Heaven
After last week's disappointingly shocking revelation, The Doctor finally squared off with his long time friend and nemesis The Master... I mean Missy. The season finale was an interesting combination of brilliant and utterly frustrating, much like the entirety of the past season.
Things That Worked
Most of season 8 was focused on the emotional turmoil between The Doctor and his companion. Both Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman delivered stellar, gut wrenching performances in 'Death In Heaven.' Clara Oswald's character went through an evolution unlike any companion we've seen before. While she started the season functioning as The Doctor's moral compass, her own True North became warped as they traveled together. The more time Clara spent with The Doctor, the more she understood and justified his actions. She eventually began thinking as The Doctor would, so much that in 'Flatline' we saw her stepping into his shoes to save the day. We practically saw Clara and The Doctor becoming the same, as the companion successfully fooled an army of Cybermen into thinking she was the time lord, not to mention Jenna Coleman getting first billing in the opening credits ( did you spot Coleman's eyes, in place of Capaldi's famed attack eyebrows?).
There were three crucial moments that really tied the emotional arc together very neatly. First was Clara's confession to Cyber-Danny that The Doctor is the only man she'd never lie to. Having realized how much she had hurt Danny, Clara agreed to turn on his emotion inhibitor. At that exact point Clara found herself in the moment where The Doctor pushed her too far, the same moment that Danny warned her about in 'The Caretaker.' The tragedy of this revelation was that Danny was the casualty.
The second moment was The Doctor's decision to kill Missy, in order to spare Clara from becoming a murderer. This goes back to Clara thinking as The Doctor would, forcing him into the much dreaded role of a general, just as Missy had planned it. If this season had not focused on Clara as much as it did, this conflict would hardly have as much of an emotional weight as it did. The Doctor is finally confronted with a devastating truth that he and Master are the same, but The Doctor just doesn't like to get his hands dirty having his companions do the work. That revelation fit very neatly into the companion/Time Lord dynamic we saw growing over the last few years.
The final crucial moment came in the lies Clara and The Doctor successfully told each other. On one hand we saw The Doctor confiding himself to a life of loneliness to allow Clara to be happy and on the other Clara reneging on the claim that she'd never lie to The Doctor, finally choosing Danny even though he is no longer there.
Michelle Gomez's portrayal of The Master stole the finale (Mary Poppins anyone?). Her performance had impeccable comedic timing, weaved with heartbreaking insanity. The scene where Missy threatens and subsequently murders Osgood was the most chilling exchange since we first met the Weeping Angels. It is astounding that she was given so little screen time up until the finale. Which brings me to a number of problems I saw with the episode.
What didn't work.
As much as I loved Michelle Gomez portraying The Master, bringing The Master back into the story didn't quite work for me. Considering that the Great Intelligence narrative was left fairly unfinished, and that we never found out how Doctor and Clara escaped from The Doctor's timeline, this resolution felt like it went off track into a completely random direction. If the goal at the end of the last Christmas Special was to set The Doctor on the journey of returning to Gallifrey, what has he been wasting all this time on? Why was he waiting on The Master to show up to start caring about the fate of his home planet again. As much as the character arcs were fantastic, the narrative arc this season really faltered. It's time for new stories and fresh voices.
One thing that could have made the finale stronger was a larger focus on Danny in earlier episodes. While his story had a lot of potential, his sacrifice at the end of the episode didn't feel as heartbreaking as it should have. Based on fan reactions alone, more people cared about Osgood's fate than Danny's.
Hopefully this is not the last we've seen of Danny Pink, especially considering that the Orson Pink storyline is a glaring loose end at the moment. Jenna Coleman is also officially confirmed for the Christmas Special, so don't give up all hope for a sensible resolution just yet.
I can't even comment on the Santa Claus thing, I don't think my brain has the capacity to foresee how Moffat will make explain that one. The only thing I can do is join the ranks of fans calling for a new show runner.