Doctor Who, Death in Heaven, review: The Doctor’s inner Malcolm Tucker comes to the fore but can he master Missy?

Like Hannibal Lecter in a Mary Poppins outfit, Missy was an unsettling mix of prim and predatory

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The Independent Culture

Is the Doctor a good man? We finally got our answer to that question, first posed in the series eight trailer, and it was worth the wait. “I’m not a good man and I’m not a bad man,” he concluded. “I am an idiot with a box and a screwdriver.” Aren’t we all, Doctor, aren’t we all? Only minus the box and the screwdriver.

“Death in Heaven”, the last episode in this series of Doctor Who (Sat BBC1), was the first finale of the weekend (Downton also wrapped up on Sunday) and it had its disappointments – the zombie-cybermen weren’t scary enough, the “love conquers all” resolution was a cop-out and the full-on Thick of It reunion snog between Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison never quite came to pass. It also had its triumphs, namely Michelle Gomez as Missy – the Doctor’s nemesis, The Master, reincarnated into female form.

Like Hannibal Lecter in a Mary Poppins outfit, Missy was an unsettling mix of prim and predatory, even while shackled to an upright gurney. Gomez’s native Glaswegian accent also made the childhood friendship with the Doctor believable and recalled happy memories of Channel 4’s Green Wing, in which she also starred.

This was an episode filled with flashbacks to sitcoms past, in fact. Sanjeev Bhaskar from Goodness Gracious Me played a UNIT officer, whose fawning manner brought out the Doctor’s inner Malcolm Tucker: “Oh, don’t do that,” was his snappy response to a salute. “You look like you’re self-concussing... which would explain all of military history, now I think about it.”

Yes, the Kate Stewart-led UNIT was back to help the Doctor battle Missy and her army of dead souls, recently returned from the dead. From a dramatic point of view, the danger with all this toing and froing between dimensions is how it robs death of its proper impact. We’re never too sad when a favourite character snuffs it, because there’s always a fair chance they’ll be back again. In “Death in Heaven”, however, that assumption led to a surprisingly downbeat ending for the Doctor and Clara. Some things, it seems, really are gone for ever.  Or at least until the Christmas special.