RECAP & REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘Heaven Sent’

So what happened?

After we see a bloodied hand belonging to a mysterious stranger turning to dust, The Doctor finds himself re-materialising in a chamber inside a clockwork castle that can rearrange the rooms inside at will. Talking to whoever is holding him there, he vows to wait until the stars come out and find out where he’s been transported to, before realising that several screens around the bizarre building are tracking his movements through the eyes of a sinister, veiled creature that appears to be out to get him. After being backed against a stone wall by ‘The Veil’, it’s only when he admits that he’s afraid to die that it stops reaching for him, allowing Twelve to escape to a room with a seemingly very old portrait of his dearly departed friend, Clara, hanging on the wall. He’s not on his own for very long, however, and the monster once again corners him, leading The Doctor to feel his only choice is to jump out of the window, and during the fall his mind retreats to the safety of the TARDIS where he tries to solve the mystery of where he is, what he’s doing there and if he’ll survive by trying to answer the questions that a silent Clara has written on the chalkboard. When he finally drops safely into the ocean surrounding the castle, a worrying number of skulls litter the sea bed.

TARDIS
The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) in the version of the TARDIS that resides in his mind.

Managing to get back inside, Twelve finds exact copies of his clothes warming by the fire, which he changes into as he muses that what he’s experiencing has been pulled from his worst nightmares, and is specifically designed to frighten him. As he continues to walk around the castle, he happens to come across a courtyard with a freshly filled grave that he believes has been left for him to dig up. As the hours pass and day turns to night, an anomaly regarding the position of the stars and the range of the teleporter he was sent there in becomes clear, but he nevertheless keeps digging and eventually uncovers a stone with an inscription that reads ‘I am in 12’. Suddenly The Veil bursts out from underneath it and threatens to envelop him, but again it’s honesty that saves The Doctor as he admits that it was fear not boredom that lead him to flee Gallifrey, allowing him to escape once more as it freezes.

Resolving to search amongst the numbered rooms for number 12 in the extensive, ever-changing building, which reset themselves regardless of how he tries to change them, his search is fruitless, but he does find the transporter room where he started off and finds both a skull and the word ‘bird’ written into the dust on the floor. Taking the skull to the castle ramparts he pushes it and lets it fall into the ocean to rest alongside all of the others, before finally finding the door to the room he was looking for and coming to the conclusion he will have to tell the truth to The Veil yet again if he’s to penetrate the dead end behind it. In light of this, he admits to it that he knows the identity of ‘The Hybrid’, the mythical creature in Time Lord folklore that was feared by those on Gallifrey, and a new corridor with yet another wall appears, this time made of a substance called Azbantium that’s 400 times stronger than diamond. As it becomes clear to him that the word he saw scrawled on the floor was a reference to the Grimm Fairtale, ‘The Shepherd Boy’, where a bird slowly grinds away a mountain with its beak, Twelve once more retreats to an imagined version of the TARDIS and sees Clara, who places a hand on his cheek and urges him to not let her death stop him from going on.

Wall
Twelve discovering the azbantium wall he has to break through to get back to Gallifrey.

Finding the will to continue his mission, he starts to punch the wall and creates a tiny crack, but is caught by the creature stalking him and sustains a mortal wound when it touches him. Clawing his way back to the chamber with the teleporter in it, he realises that because the castle always resets itself after he leaves a room, there’ll be a copy of him in there that retains how he was when he first arrived, which he can access if he uses the remainder of his regeneration energy, something which he’s already been doing for 7000 years. As he goes through with the process he writes bird on the floor and disintegrates into the floor, only leaving behind a skull, as his younger self is ‘reborn’ in the teleporter. After the cycle of The Doctor’s death and rebirth is repeated again and again for two billion years, he eventually manages to punch his way through the wall, allowing the light from the other side to kill off the creature that has been hunting him for so long. Stepping out beyond it, he finds himself in the middle of a desert with Citadel of Gallifrey reposing in the distance, and tells a young boy to let the Time Lords know he “took the long way round,” soon after proclaiming that, “The Hybrid, destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins, is me.”

Monster of the Week

Marieke: A veiled being surrounded by flies, which previously appeared in the Doctor’s nightmares. Hearing flies buzzing indicating he was around was a masterstroke. Never have flies buzzing freaked me out so much as in this episode. The Veil being slow and its vision shown on the screens throughout the mansion were even scarier than the moments The Doctor got caught. I always thought slow zombies were way scarier than the newer fast ones, because of their stamina. You can run, but you definitely cannot hide. They will continue to pursue you. The Veil also just kept going and therefore the Doctor had to plan out his meals, sleep and time his exploring of all the chambers. A very agitated and rushed sensation occurred through the existence of the slowest monster ever. After The Doctor had no confessions left to save himself with, or at least no more he was willing to part with, all he could do was slowly die and reform. In the montage the Veil lost its menacing power somewhat. At that time it wasn’t even important any more, it was just an annoying bouncer who didn’t want to the Doctor to make it through the wall. It had served its purpose. Wait. Do I hear a fly? Be right back…

Danielle: With ‘The Veil’, Moffatt definitely tapped into our cultural relationship with death by creating a monster that bears more than a passing resemblance to The Grim Reaper and, in line with folklore dating back to the Middle Ages, seeks out his prey at a slow, steady and unrelenting pace. In many ways the creature was a metaphor for the guilt and sorrow that was hanging onto The Doctor after Clara’s death, and the personification of his need to face and stand up to his demons before he’d be ready to go home. There was no greater indication of this than the writing that was scrawled across the stone he unearthed in the grave which read, ‘I am in 12.’ To put it another way, the room he wished to find and unlock wasn’t literal. It represented the barriers he was slowly breaking down to find the courage to go back to his home planet after running away so many years before.

The Veil
‘The Veil’ catches up with The Doctor countless times before a version of him finally punches through the wall. 
Creep Factor

Marieke: This could have been the title of the episode. It was made for creep, to scare us and and to scare The Doctor! A monster from his own nightmares from when he was little, an eerie environment, a mystery and a musical score to enhance that feeling of discomfort. It was a haunted house, personally adapted to The Doctor’s fears, where death in a veil loomed around the corner. Might have been a corner on the other side of the house, but it was always there, in pursuit. The atmosphere was fantastic, keeping both the terror and mystery up for a long time. This has been by far the scariest episode this series and I am glad to see that the Whorror still exists.

Danielle: The sight of all those skulls lying at the bottom of the ocean was absolutely terrifying, especially in light of the fact we now know they all belonged to thousands and thousands of different versions of Twelve. It truly was a haunting thing to witness. As was the sight of him dying slowly as he dragged himself through the corridors of the castle in the knowledge that this particular version of himself’s death would facilitate the arrival of another copy. There’s always something creepy about the idea of being watched and followed as well, isn’t there?

Mystery

Marieke: Did The Doctor know he was in the confession dial? It was easy to work out for the viewer. I also kept wondering how it worked with the skulls and the clothes. There had to be a first…? Or maybe this was the ‘just go with it’ part. The Gallifrey ending was partially ruined because of all the unavoidable spoilers surrounding this series, but the Doctor didn’t even look surprised. Did he expect to end up there? Also, talking about hybrids, when the Doctor exclaims that ‘the hybrid is me’, does he mean himself or Me? Bring on that finale and lay some of the questions we have had throughout the series to rest. Oh and since we are on Gallifrey… Will we see Missy again???

Danielle: I’d really like to know who put The Doctor inside his confession dial in the first place. We know Me/Ashildr was involved with him being teleported there, but we weren’t told who she did the deal with to keep the peace on Trap Street in ‘Face the Raven’. It is interesting that Missy was so keen get her hands on it earlier on in the series, but perhaps it was something Twelve imposed on himself because he knew on a subconscious level that it was the only way to find his way back to Gallifrey? Hmmm.

Familiar Face
Clara
Jenna Coleman briefly reprising her role as Clara.

Low and behold! Jenna Coleman was neither entirely gone, nor entirely forgotten as the episode hinged around Twelve’s grief at Clara’s passing, and his own psyche finally gave him permission to carry on without her. Judging by the trailer for the finale it won’t be the last we see of her either.

The Verdict?

No doubt this would have been one of those Marmite episodes of ‘New Who’ for viewers: either you loved it or hated it. Fortunately, we’re in the former group. There hasn’t been such a Doctor-centric episode before, and it hinged on the beautiful cinematography, the exquisitely conceived high-concept idea behind, but most of all on Capaldi’s magnificent tour de force performance. In fact we’d go so far as to suggest that had he not been the at the helm of ‘Heaven Sent’, it may not have worked at all. That’s not to say that we haven’t admired the performances of Ecclestone, Tennant and Smith in their own very different ways, however it’s hard to imagine a piece of television more attuned to showcasing Peter’s considerable acting talents than this.

Gallifrey
Gallifrey! \0/

Of course there were minor niggles. The atmosphere was fantastic throughout, nevertheless, the montage which depicted how long he was trapped in the castle maybe dragged on a little too long. The idea was set in motion and the audience already knew what was coming, but in that instance it felt like Moffatt was doing more telling than showing as The Doctor followed through with his version of the bird’s actions in the Grimm fairytale. There’s also perhaps a fundamental flaw in relation to who wrote the word ‘bird’ on the ground in the first place, but as we’ve already established earlier on in Series 9, causal loops and the bootstrap paradox are fair game in the Whoniverse. Either way we decided to just go with the flow and give the writer a free pass because, unquestionably, this was the strongest outing in what’s largely been a stretch of mediocre episodes so far this year. We’re pretty gutted that we knew we’d end up in Gallifrey by the end of the series because of the spoilers that have been casually floating around, but that doesn’t necessarily lessen the excitement of the fact that we’re finally there. We really hope the finale will redeem some of what’s come and gone before, and answer a few of the questions that this marvellous outing set up.

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