Doctor Who: 911 “Heaven Sent” Review
Reviewed by John Hussey.
Series Nine started off, for me, as a bit of a let down with the first half of the series parading between good and bad episodes. Come ‘The Zygon Invasion’ we have had nothing but outstanding narratives and top-notch performances, especially from Peter Capaldi. I will admit Steven Moffat has certainly redeemed himself with this one.
Like with ‘Sleep No More’, ‘Heaven Sent’ went an experimental story featuring a unique concept/structure. In this case, we had a narrative featuring only the Doctor. And this worked nicely. The focus on the Doctor was perfectly executed and justified. We saw his slow decent into terror and despair after the loss of Clara and how he would ever see the light of day again.
The setting helped display these emotional factors. A lonely, medieval castle that made you feel uneasy, especially since it moved like it was sentient. It was isolated, empty and without escape. This made the Doctor’s journey hard and unusual. There was no battle to face. No usual obstacle. Worse of all, there was nobody around to hear him exclaim his brilliant schemes, or help him when things got tough.
The only thing the Doctor could do is run and never stop. It was chilling seeing the Doctor frightened. We have seen this before, like within ‘Hide’, but in the past you knew someone would save him or give him encouragement. This time round the Doctor was completely defenceless. The creature stalking him, the Veil, was a masterpiece for a monster. It said nothing. All it did was stalk the Doctor through the castle in the creepiest way possible. What made this week’s monster all the more sinister was its personal connection. The Veil was a manifestation of the Doctor’s childhood nightmares, now placed before him to force him into confessing.
As we all know by now the Doctor has plenty of secrets and none of them should ever be answered. To be forced to confess or die is a challenging obstacle to be faced with, especially for the Doctor. What made matters interesting was the confession that was brought up. The “Hybrid”. This has been a reoccurring statement throughout this year’s series and finally we are seeing the truth unburied. What is this “Hybrid” and what does it have to do with the Doctor?
It was great to finally hear the Doctor state that he didn’t run away from Gallifrey due to boredom, like he had previously made us believe, but in fact because he was scared. This revelation makes you think carefully about everything you knew about the Doctor. It makes you look at the 52 year old show in a different light. The Doctor lies, we know this. But for the first time it has made me truly question him. The War Doctor reveal back in 2013 was the first taste of this bitter treatment.
As I have stated over and over again in my reviews this year, Capaldi is a phenomenal actor. One could say we never, ever thought he would find himself beating his performance as the infamous “Malcolm Tucker” but here he is now, two years into his dream job nailing every second of it with his charm, his wit and his explosive ability to capture our hearts with his many different faces. ‘Heaven Sent’ showed him performing an episode that not many actors could pull off. It is easy to steal the spotlight from fellow actors but to capture that spotlight when you’re the only actor on set is a massive task, and Capaldi pulled it off.
I found myself glued to the screen because of his performance and to observe closely his emotional journey from start to finish. And it was a journey unlike any other as the Doctor faced imprisonment in this torturous environment that tested him to the core. I loved that Moffat used his tricks from Sherlock by having the Doctor think his way out of a situation using pure intellect. This was done through the Doctor entering his own “mind palace”, something Sherlock Holmes does on a regular basis.
These scenes really reflected his journey and how he felt at the different stages. It also showcased how much he missed Clara and how he still needed her to guide him. By visualising her and asking her questions to help him on his quest really demonstrated how broken and desperate he was. It also showed how he needs someone next to him to showcase his dominance over a situation. He always likes to be the teacher and right now he lacks a student. It is actually heart-breaking when he wishes to give up, realising the fundamental truth that no matter what he does he will never get Clara back. But of course, like always, Clara is on hand to give him the nudge he needs to stand back up again, even beyond the grave.
There is a moment which left me worried for the Doctor because it seemed like he was to be trapped in a time-loop for eternity. This I suspected from the very beginning when it appeared that a future Doctor brought the present-Doctor to the castle, and in the end he repeated this action. In fact, the Doctor had already repeated this act. The skulls in the water, the “7000 years into the future” comment, and the clothes left in the room, they all led to the conclusion that the adventure we saw wasn’t the Doctor’s first time in the castle which made the episode all the more tragic.
Over and over again the Doctor repeated himself and came to same conclusion, only to start all over again. It was painful to watch as his sentence got longer, to the point where he had been there for billions of years. It was Trenzalore all over again, essentially. Luckily, the Doctor turned things around in a clever way and used the cycle to get himself closer to the exit. By leaving himself the same clue each time, “BIRD”, he was reminded about the story of the Bird vs Diamond Mountain. Because of this he was able to keep punching at the wall blocking his exit until finally the Veil couldn’t kill him no more.
Last year Moffat declared he had already come up with the cliff-hanger for this very episode. So it was exciting to finally see it play out. It certainly was a cliff-hanger to end all cliff-hangers. Not only do we find ourselves back on Gallifrey (would’ve been a bigger surprise if it wasn’t for the BBC spoiling things left, right and centre) but we also discover that the Doctor is the “Hybrid”. Where that leaves us is a completely different question. All I know is I can’t wait for next week’s instalment because it is going to be a whopper.
‘Heaven Sent’ was an outstanding episode and a nice little indicator that Series Nine will end will an explosive bang. It was experimental, clever, full of twists and turns, and kept you engaged from start to finish. Capaldi was at his best and deserves all the praise he can get. Moffat deserves another award to showcase his creativity. Rachel Talalay once again gave us another superb spectacle with her directing skills. I also think it has been a crime that I haven’t brought up how wonderful Murray Gold and his music has been this year. He really has outdone himself. Doctor Who is back at the top of its game and next week looks to be a game-changing experience that will redefine the show forever.