It has taken me a really long time to get this post out. I am pretty sure at have been in denial about the end of the season and finally writing this post….
Yet, there are decades of Classic Who to watch, and 8 years New Who to re-watch, and Christmas is a mere 6 weeks away. I just keep telling myself it’s all going to be OK. LOL! So, Allons-y!
This is why I keep joyously returning to Doctor Who. This week, and really this season, (because I am finding it impossible to think about Death in Heaven without considering the entirety of Season 8) we have the Doctor’s fiercest, most beloved foe mobilizing Earth’s dead in order to conquer it, Cybermen, a resurrected Brig (!!!!), and the Doctor as President of the World, all in the service of asking humanity’s favorite question, “Who am I?” Doctor Who is cool.
It has been a terribly psychological season and these two finale episodes lasso the human psyche as the focus of the season’s story arcs, as well as a plot device to move to drive them forward.
Dark Water and Death in Heaven (henceforth to be re-named Dark Heaven) bring closure (as much closure as we every really get on Doctor Who) to both the Doctor’s and Clara’s journeys. They find themselves at the “end” of their travels together, (one of the coolest things about this show is how each end always serves as a new beginning) as well as coming home to themselves intra-psychically.
The Doctor began this season tired, confused, alone, and (I believe), sad and hopeless. As I have written before, he had just spent 900 years fighting an utterly pointless war, truely and definitively faced his own mortality and, while he came out alright due to intervention by the lost Time Lords of Gallifrey, he did not come out undamaged. Gone were both Eleven’s joyful, boyish naïveté and his ancient, compelling wisdom. As a result, he began the season asking Clara, “Am I a good man?” (aka “Who am I?”)
Each episode in the season offered the Doctor an opportunity to explore and ultimately embrace or discard one of his traditional personality characteristics. I already wrote about this in my post Moffat’s Grand Plan. And I must admit, when Moffat gave us the montage of character defining moments from the past season, I whooped out loud because it was confirmation of this very theory. Then, the Doctor turns to Missy and says, “I am not a good man! And I am not a bad man. I am not a here and I am definately not a president. And no, I am not an officer. Do you know what I am? I am…an idiot, with a box and a screwdriver. Just passing through. Helping out. Learning.”
Clara, on the other hand, has also been struggling with her identity, but differently than the Doctor. We see Clara utterly shaken and forlorn after the Doctor’s regeneration in Deep Breath. She had experienced her own set of regenerations, literally and figuratively finding herself within her relationship with the Doctor. Then, he left her and she was bereft. Only at the request of Eleven did she stay with Twelve. Gone was their defining relationship, and she faced the task of self-definition without HER Doctor.
By the time we get to Dark Heaven, Clara has (again literally and figuratively) found herself via her equality with the Doctor. Obviously, Clara hasn’t become delusional and come to believe she is actually the Doctor, but I do believe that she has redefined their relationship as one between equals-equal best friends, as she states to cyber-Danny.
And, so by the end of Dark Heaven, we see them “doctoring” each other, making the ultimate sacrifice for the well-being of the other.
Of course, they do it with the same dysfunctional, controlling, strategies they have been using all along. So human!! Lying. There be a lot of lying goin’ on ’round here! Man, these two are such control freaks!
Before I go further, I want to give a shout out to Verity! Podcast for helping me get clear about all this. If you don’t listen to Verity! you are missing out. This week, Deb, Erika, and Kat all proposed different themes for the season (lying, control, and power) which I believe are all correct. However, I would add that each of these strategies were used by Moffat in support of engaging the characters in the process of self-discovery and definition.
Clara and the Doctor were both a mess at the top of the season- tired, overwhelmed and feeling out of control. It is utterly normal for us to begin to assert control when we feel like we don’t have any. We assert control over the outside world and the people in it because our inside world is a tornado and we just can’t handle any more chaos.
The lying, so very prevalent during the season, served to increase control by enabling the characters to create false selves, pleasing the outside world while serving their own personal agendas. Clara lied to Danny because she believed he would end his relationship with her if she kept traveling with the Doctor. She lied to the Doctor because she thought the Doctor would stop the traveling if he found out about Danny. The Doctor just lies. I still maintain he lied about knowing Danny Pink was Clara’s love interest during The Caretaker, and I think he lied about why he abandoned her during Kill the Moon, both attempts to be the person he believed he was supposed to be. Neither Clara nor the Doctor spent a great deal of time this season being real with themselves or anyone else. (I am wondering if this choice on their part will drive the story-arc during the Christmas episode.)
Then, in Dark Heaven, they both return to their true selves. The Doctor comes home to being a mad-man in a box, an arc that has been building for years (think of River telling the Doctor off for becoming to big and important). I think when Clara turns Cyberman Danny “on,” she is returning to an earlier self who sacrifed to the two pieces of her mother she had left (her ring and the leaf) to save the people of Akhaten. Both the Foctor and Clara home home to themselves.
This is the story of Dark Heaven and of Season 8. Well done, Mr. Moffat. Are you sure you aren’t a very clever shrink?
Enough for now. More to come.
2 thoughts on “Dark Heaven: A Mash-up”
Great commentary! I’m happy you got validation of your personality characteristics theory. 🙂 There’s so much to this episode, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around much of it. I haven’t listened to Verity, but have been thinking a lot about the lying/power/control themes. This thought isn’t completely formed yet, but the big takeaway for me is acceptance of the gray areas between black and white.
For instance, lying is a huge thing for me and I was supremely annoyed all season by how much the Doctor and Clara were both lying. Yet, their final lie to each other elicited a completely different response. Missy pointed out how perfect it was to have control freak Clara paired with the Doctor, who should never be controlled. It turned out, though, that Clara’s over-control was a strength in many ways, and the Doctor’s frequent relinquishment of control eventually allowed him to find and actually see his true self. Power corrupts in the wrong hands and can save the world in the right hands—but how is wrong/right defined and who defines them? Just as the Doctor learned that soldiers aren’t necessarily all bad, this season showed the moral ambiguity that lies within around issues like lying, control and power.
The Doctor’s graveyard speech about being “just an idiot with a box and a screwdriver” was, I think, a recognition of that ambiguity. He is neither good nor bad, hero nor villain. Even Missy, in a twisty kind of way, shows the truth of this. Crazy, cruel, ruthless, vengeful? Yeah. But also smart, funny, and lonely for her best friend. I actually found myself feeling more empathic toward Missy than Clara and the Doctor at the end. (Well, at least until the hug.)
Perhaps this is an example of each of us taking from the show what resonates most strongly within us, and the black/white theme has always been a struggle for me. I liked seeing the gray play out as it did.
Yes! I think Moffat did such a good job of playing with lightness and darkness to reveal the truth of the characters.