Sunday, November 29, 2015

Doctor Who Is NEW!: Heaven Sent

Hi there, Whovians! Dave-El here about to put down in words a reflection/recap/review of last night's new Doctor Who episode, Heaven Sent

One word that could best describe this episode is...


Last night's episode was ground breaking in that it starred just one person, Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. Yes, there are a few exceptions (and we'll discuss them shortly), but for all intents and purposes, Capaldi carries this episode solo. How well did that go? And where does the episode's end leave us? We'll look at that and more after the spoiler caution.

And we'll begin in 5...




Heaven Sent
by Steven Moffat  

A badly burned hand pulls a lever then disintegrates as the Doctor appears in a teleporter, all filled with anger and hurt over the death of Clara Oswald. In case anyone is listening, he makes it known that whatever awaits him in this place, he will not be stopped. 

The place in question looks a standard issue castle with flat screen monitors here and there. The Doctor finds himself pursued by an ominous looking veiled creature swarming with flies (guest star #1 who will simply refer to as The Veil), the very image of grim death itself. The Doctor is actually scared of this being and says so which causes the creature and its attendant flies to freeze. It seems the Doctor can hold back death for a little while by making a confession, saying a secret he has never said before.  

The Doctor also works out some of the logic of how this strange place works but the Veil is always there. The Doctor escapes once with a reckless dive out of a window and...

He's back in the TARDIS. Well, not really. Let's steal a page from Sherlock and call it the Doctor's mind palace where he works out the very clever things he does. He patters on really fast, still talking to Clara as his audience even though she's not there. Back to the plummeting Doctor who survives his plunge into the ocean but, wow, that's a lot of skulls down there. Later the Doctor adds one to that collection when a skull he picks up in the castle gets knocked off a turret.  

Another encounter with the Veil is escaped with another confession: the Doctor didn't leave Gallifrey because he was bored. That was a lie. He left because he was scared. 

Other things about where the Doctor is come to light. The stars in the sky do not make sense. He hasn't time travelled yet the position of the stars are about 7,000 years in his future. 

Then there's the word "BIRD" written in the sand. What's up with that? 

Then the Doctor finds the wall made of substance like diamond but way, way much harder. Briefly in the diamond like wall, the word "home" appears. The Veil appears but the Doctor has only one confession he can give to same himself. But it's a secret he can never tell, the secret of the Hybrid, a terrible legend of the Time Lords. 

Back in the TARDIS/mind palace, the Doctor faces a crisis. He knows what he needs to do but he's tired of doing it. Can't he just lose this one time? But this is when Clara appears (mental image Clara but still...and guest star #2) and tells the Doctor to get off his ass. Or "arse". This is a British TV show. 

So back to the wall where the Doctor starts punching it with his bare hands. And it hurts but he keeps doing it until the Veil overtakes him and kills him. 

So here's the deal with Time Lords. Even when they're hurt so bad that they can't regenerate, Time Lords still take a long time to die. In the condition he's in, the Doctor has about a day and a half to crawl up the steps of the castle tower back to the teleporter room where the system has a pattern of the Doctor's body. Badly burned by the Veil's touch, the Doctor struggles back to the teleporter which he activates using his own electrified body as an energy source. 

A badly burned hand pulls a lever then disintegrates as the Doctor appears in a teleporter, all filled with anger and hurt over the death of Clara Oswald. In case anyone is listening, he makes it known that whatever awaits him in this place, he will not be stopped. 

Yes, this has happened before. And it will keep happening. Each time the Doctor works out how far the stars are out of alignment with his own time line, it's a bit further in the future. Tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of years. The years number into millions and then billions. Over and over, the Doctor goes through the loop, each time dying to bring himself back to life using the teleporter.  

But through all this, something else is happening. Back at the diamond wall part of this cycle, the Doctor keeps punching the wall and through each pass of the cycle, the Doctor gets a little bit farther. After 2+ billion years, the wall finally shatters. 

The Doctor walks through a portal and appears in a desert. On the ground is his confession dial. It appears the castle in the ocean was in the dial the whole time. He sees a small boy (guest star #3) and tells him to go to the city, find someone important and let them know the Doctor is here.      

So the boy runs off towards the gleaming spires of the capital city of Gallifrey. And the Doctor says the Hybrid was never a Time Lord/Dalek combination. "The hybrid," says the Doctor, "is me!" 

Back in the classic series, 4th Doctor Tom Baker got a story without a companion in The Deadly Assassin. And there's an extended sequence in the last two chapters of the 4 part serial where the Doctor is in battle with the Master inside the Time Lord matrix. There are long stretches where Tom Baker has to hold the screen on his own, fighting against surreal threats. And Baker makes it work.  

Heaven Sent repeats this concept with Peter Capaldi who is on screen virtually every step of the way and Capaldi delivers a tour de force performance in the process. Capaldi's 12th Doctor goes through a gamut of emotional states as he brings every skill and resource at this disposal to work out where he is and what he needs to do, not just to survive but to win. 

Still, it helps to have someone to talk to and in the case of the 12th Doctor, that's Clara even though she's not really there. Clara is still his audience to show how clever he is. But the Doctor's facade breaks down when he realizes the loop he's caught in and through it all, Clara is still dead. So that's when Clara turns up on screen with a mental kick in the pants from Ms. Oswald for the Doctor to do what he always does.  

It is very much a surreal episode but once all the pieces fall into place, the story is fairly easy to grasp. 

  • Where are the skulls coming from it it's the Doctor's private hell? Oh, they all belong to the Doctor!
  • Where do the dry clothes come from to replace the wet clothes the Doctor is in when he climbs out of the ocean? Oh, he left them there before. (Of course, one must then wonder if the Doctor was naked for part of his first pass through the loop.) 
  • Why is the Doctor punching a diamond-ish wall with his bare hands? Oh, over time...say, two+ billion years, those blows will bring the wall down. 

Steven Moffat's script, much like last year's Listen, ventures into new territory. It's good to see that after over 10 years writing for Doctor Who, 6 of which he's served as head writer and executive producer, Moffat is still capable of surprising us. 

So the episode ends with the Doctor back on Gallifrey. It also brings back the concept of the Hybrid we heard about in The Witch's Familiar and name checked in other episodes this season. And the episode ends with a particularly dramatic statement from the Doctor: 

"The Hybrid destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its me!" 

So what does that mean? We'll find out next week in the finale of Doctor Who Series 9, Hell Bent. And I'll be back here next Sunday to write about it. 

I'll be back with another post tomorrow. Until then, remember to be good to one another.  

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