Doctor Who episode 840: Heaven Sent (28/11/2015)
‘How long can I keep doing this, Clara? Burning the old me, to make a new one?’ A dry run for Twice Upon a Time, touching on many of the same themes – this Doctor’s weariness, wondering why it’s never someone else’s turn and he isn’t allowed to lose just once; dealing with the grief of losing Clara, of being the last one standing on the battlefield, and of having to take the long way round. It’s also a bit of a party piece for Capaldi, marrying Moffat’s love of an unconventional narrative with the chance to write what’s mostly a monologue (although in reality a lot of it is dialogue with a largely absent Clara).
It’s ostentatiously good. Capaldi rises to the script with a performance that makes the audience feel the Doctor’s pain, fear, regret and anger. This is about the Doctor, not in the slightly tedious sense of revealing bits of previously undisclosed personal history, but a window into his methods. There’s a very Sherlock moment when he’s leapt from a window to escape the shuffling horror that’s pursuing him through the clockwork castle, and he explains how in a split second he works out how he’s going to survive. Without needing to spell it out, this is why he lives and Clara dies (although, of course, later in the episode that point is made). Fine as she was, she was never the Doctor.
Back directing, Rachel Talalay brings a true grasp of the horror aesthetic trailed in the cemetery scenes of Death in Heaven. The first glimpse of the Veil is genuinely creepy, and throughout the episode there’s an oppressive sense of emptiness and dread, helped by sets which are claustrophobically narrow, with no turning back without walking into the arms of the monster. The denouement is protracted – but that’s the point; it needs to be to signify the grind of two billion years passing. The cliffhanger returns the Doctor to Gallifrey at the point when he’s lost something much more important to him. Setting up the Time Lords as his tormentors and the confession dial as his prison is a good surprise. Whether it can offer a satisfying resolution to the nebulous Hybrid plot remains to be seen.
Next Time: Hell Bent
Really appreciating your thoughts on Doctor Who! Been with you since the middle of Matt Smith and I check every morning for an update. Your writing & reflections are really well considered.
Thank you very much! Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday – until I finish up in August with The Power of the Doctor!