WARNING: This review contains spoilers
Season 9 of Doctor Who could be defined in many ways, but one thing is for sure: this season has brought us a lot of interesting, thought-provoking episodes. ‘Heaven Sent’ is no exception, as it has already managed to find a place among Doctor Who all-time classics.
When I started this episode, the one thing that was on my mind was how would an episode with just the Doctor (a supposedly angsty Doctor) would work out. Yes, we have had this scenario before, but Twelve is a particularly grumpy and cynical Doctor. I was also skeptical on how the episode could keep the viewers interested for nearly one hour of just the Doctor. Having a one-man show is always risky because there’s always the possibility that it will turn out to be boring and, especially in this case, repetitive. Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat were there to make sure this didn’t happen.
Let me talk first about Clara. After she made the Doctor promise that he wouldn’t seek revenge, I couldn’t imagine a better way to handle the aftermath of her death than what we got. Clara was still there, in a way. She was in the Doctor’s mind and, as always, she was the voice who kept him on the right track. What made it even better is that it was actually him who was talking to himself. Having Clara “communicate” through a blackboard given her past job as a teacher was also a nice touch.
On the other hand, ‘Heaven Sent’ was all about the visual experience and the Doctor’s inner speech. And, even though that’s not really what it was, I couldn’t help but to also compare it to how the subconscious plays with us when we have a nightmare. Being trapped in some sort of maze with such a creature following you, and even being forced to repeat the whole thing over and over again sounds like something out of some disturbing dream in which you’re locked in a mental prison. The Doctor said it himself: “this whole place is designed to terrify me”. There was also many metaphoric elements: the sand, the TV, the flies, the birds, digging in the garden… There’s something for the meta writers.
Besides that, this episode was the point where many of the themes that we have been dragging this season came to play, from the confession dial to the hybrid talk. The Veil wants the truth, and we know there are some truths that the Doctor will probably never tell us. At least one question we all had for this season has finally been answered: the Doctor does go back to Gallifrey.
The big twist of ‘Heaven Sent’, though, was that the Doctor was living in a loop… for 2 billion years. Having characters waiting or being alone for more than thousands of years is something that Doctor Who has done several times before, but it never fails to give me that uneasy, depressing feeling. How lonely could it get? How much has the Doctor changed? What does Clara mean to him after all this time? I wonder if the show is going to be able to show that change in the Doctor for next week. For now, he’s dropped a pretty big bomb on us:
“The Hybrid destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins is me”.
Despite my initial fears, ‘Heaven Sent’ was able to keep the viewer’s attention by presenting an interesting scenario, a very well-edited episode with wonderful music, and some really brilliant acting by Capaldi. It was confusing, but it felt so personal that you couldn’t really take your eyes off the screen. The growing tension and the temptation of finding out more about our beloved Doctor, the time lords and the time war is, after all, what’s kept us watching all these years.