Trapped in a world unlike any other he has seen, the Doctor faces the greatest challenge of his many lives.
One final test. And he must face it alone.
Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in Heaven Sent.
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The Doctor – Peter Capaldi
Clara – Jenna Coleman
Veil – Jami Reid-Quarrell
Written by: Steven Moffat
Directed by: Rachel Talalay
Gifs by: J-Ru
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Heaven Sent finally gives this season of Doctor Who the classic episode it’s been lacking. A hands-down smash, this story achieves its success through a very simple method – handing Peter Capaldi a great script and then getting the hell out of his way.
After the events of Face the Raven, the Doctor finds himself in an abandoned castle that changes its layout at a moment’s notice. Cameras and flatscreen televisions are placed in strategic locations to allow him to see his oncoming fate – the unstoppable force known as the Veil which pursues him from one end of the castle to the other, always moving, always reaching, always hunting for him. A giant puzzle box with a foe meant to unnerve and break him? It would be Christmas for the Doctor, if not for the fact that all this has happened before, and will happen again…
The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. The Girl in the Fireplace. Blink. The Eleventh Hour. Let’s Kill Hitler. Last Christmas. Steven Moffat has turned out some of the best episodes of the revival…and a few that weren’t. But there’s no denying that when Moffat is on, he’s ON. The script for Heaven Sent has all the classic Moffat trappings – a unique location, an incredibly creepy villain, and timey-wimey shenanigans. But instead of embracing grandiose concepts and jamming everything and the kitchen sink into the story, Moffat for the most part strips the story down to its barest components. There’s the Doctor, there’s a villain, and there’s a mystery to solve. What makes this story unique is that for the first time in the show’s televised history, it’s JUST the Doctor in this episode, aside from the looming and mute presence of the Veil and an appearance by Clara Oswald at a crucial juncture. Now, you could have Peter Capaldi walking around for 55 minutes and there’s a damn good chance it would still be amazing, and for the most part Heaven Sent IS the Doctor talking to himself as he explores the castle. But Moffat takes a page out of his Sherlock playbook for some of the more critical moments by utilizing the Doctor’s ”store room.” Several times during the episode, the Doctor is placed in a situation where it appears that there’s no way out. At this times, the scene suddenly switches to the TARDIS. The Doctor explains it as a very brilliant man thinking quickly in order to slow down time before going on to outline just how he’s going to escape his current situation to Clara, or rather a mental construct of her. She spends the episode with her back to him, but that doesn’t stop him from explaining his thought processes to both her and by proxy the audience. While it does feel like a bit of a cheat to introduce the memory palace to a character who’s never been shown using it before, it makes perfect sense in the narrative context while also avoiding the “character talks to themselves about EVERYTHING” that can plague these “one-hander” type of stories. It also makes for the scene where the Doctor finally, after hitting rock bottom and realizing he only has one way out, see Clara’s face, which gives him the strength to go on.
Oh, and it helps that this story has a few incredibly unnerving moments. Because Doctor Who is at its best when it’s scary.
And it also helps that the Doctor figures out what exactly his captors want…and then decides to take the long way around.
It’s the Doctor to a tee – figuring out what his enemies want and doing whatever it takes to not give it to them while getting what he wants.
The first rule of being interrogated is that you are the only irreplaceable person in the torture chamber. The room is yours, so work it. If they’re going to threaten you with death, show them who’s boss. Die faster!
Moffat, when he’s on point, GETS the Doctor. The Doctor is the man who would grab at the thinnest strand of hope, or the tiniest bird of determination, in order to defeat the bad guys. The actual “plan” his captors use to break the Doctor is disturbing, crafted specifically for the Doctor with the Veil being a representation of a fear from his childhood and meant to guide him along the path they wish – for him to confess to the deepest secrets in his hearts to them. But it’s funny…if you know the Doctor well enough to design the ultimate torture chamber for him, then you know the Doctor well enough to know he’s going to do what he does best – find a way to win. The “twist” is one that’s easy to see coming, but props to Moffat for putting all the pieces there for the big reveal to actually make sense.
The strengths of Moffat’s script are enhanced by the direction of Rachel Talalay, who helmed Dark Water and Death in Heaven, and Murray Gold actually using an understated score for once. The actual “HOLY CRAP IT’S MURRAY GOLD MUSIC” moments work because they’re paired with moments that actually called for emotional and impactful music. I have to admit however having a bit of a problem with the whole Hybrid nonsense, but my MUCH bigger problem is that once again Moffat is rewriting the Doctor’s past. For nearly 50 years, what the Second Doctor said during The War Games has rung true – the Doctor left Gallifrey because he was bored. But now, he left Gallifrey because he was running from the concept of the Hybrid and the early prophecies of the Time War. To me, the Doctor should always have an air of mystery and an alien nature. The more Moffat defines and codifies him, the more the Doctor loses that aura. Though to be fair, the Doctor did say during The Sound of Drums by saying he looked into the Time Schism and decided to never stop running. Perhaps the Hybrid and its future is what he saw?
But for this episode, I can easily overlook those flaws because of how Peter Capaldi just absolutely nails his performance in this episode.
Flatline is still my favorite Capaldi episode, but Heaven Sent became a strong silver medalist the instance the episode ended. Watching the Doctor’s confidence slowly fade away as he realizes the trap he’s in doesn’t involve interrogation but confession is mesmerizing. We’re all used to Capaldi’s Doctor always managing to pull out some kind of win…in a way, perhaps Sleep No More and Face the Raven were set-ups for this episode…and seeing the Doctor try to put the pieces together over an undetermined period of time, while fitting in eating and sleeping, is reflected in Capaldi’s performance, with his sheer drive, determination, and just plain stubbornness in refusing to give in to his surroundings. It’s also reflected in his use of Clara’s presence in his memory palace. Clara was always the conscience for the Twelfth Doctor, the one who cares so he never had to. Without her, it would be very easy for this Doctor to become as lost as Ten did during his final days, but even after her death Clara still represents the very best in him.
Even at the very end, where the Doctor is presented with an impossible task, a task that would take millions, even billions of year, to finish, Capaldi’s heartbreaking realization is mixed with grim (no pun intended with the Brothers Grimm) determination to finish the task. Even when he realizes at the very end just how many times he’s been there before, and how many times he’s going to be there again, and how he’s going to have to spend hours dragging himself back to the teleportation chamber to do it all again…that’s the Doctor. To spend billions of years not just punching his hand against a wall harder than diamond before being burned to his very soul, but to spend billions of years mourning his lost companion over and over and over again as she tells him during his moment of ultimate despair to get up and do it all again…
…is it any wonder that the Doctor, once he realizes where he is and who is behind his interrogation, is taking the long way, and all hell’s coming with him?
Heaven Sent is hands-down the best episode of this season. It’s got a great script, some grand direction, a few top-notch and a performance that makes me ask my wife to forgive my poor grammar and say “All the BAFTAS” to Peter Capaldi. The season finale might falter or it might soar, but that won’t change the fact that Heaven Sent is the closest to “instant classic” this season has seen.
– If Peter Capaldi wants to have a telepathic union with a door, Peter Capaldi can have a telepathic union with a door.
– The Doctor knowing how to throw a punch goes back to the Third Doctor story Carnival of Monsters where he proclaims John L Sullvian taught him how to box.
– The story the Doctor is reciting while punching the wall is The Shepherd Boy by the Brothers Grimm.
– What did the Doctor really say at the end? ”The Hybrid destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins… is me?” Or…”The Hybrid destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins… is Me?”
Cobi’s Synopsis – It’s either Doctor Who meets Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Doctor Who meets Groundhog Day, but Heaven Sent is an instant classic that shows just how brilliant and determined the Doctor is thanks to a fine script by Steven Moffat and Peter’s Capaldi’s brilliant performance carrying the entire episode.
Next up – If you took everything from him, and betrayed him, and trapped him, and broke both his hearts… how far might the Doctor go?
Peter Capaldi is the Doctor in…Hell Bent.