Doctor Who: Heaven Sent Review

Heaven Sent by Steven Moffat

Warning: Major Spoilers!

Normally companion exits occur in the final episode, so we have to wait till the following series or Christmas special for the Doctor’s reaction to them. Not this time. Following Clara’s death in Face the Raven, the 12th Doctor is clearly damaged here – while he’s mellowed a bit this year you have to wonder if Capaldi’s performance is about to take a much darker turn. We’ll find out next week – but first here’s my view on ‘Heaven Sent’.

Speaking of Capaldi’s performance he again knocks it out of the park this week. And he’s not the only one. Back from Dark Water/Death in Heaven last year, Rachel Talalay’s direction again delivers, and Murray Gold’s score is equal to the task as well. But maybe sharing highest praise with Capaldi is Moffat, who delivers his most complex episode to date. It’s a single hander for 95% of the running time (which at 55 mins is no easy feat!) and Moffat keeps everyone invested with some marvellous concepts, jump scares and tantalising revelations that change the very heart of the Doctor Who mythos. Anyone who’s still a Moffat hater… how? He might of screwed up a few times (Matt Smith’s final episode, series 6 and 7’s format) but that’s because he takes risks as showrunner and as a writer. And this series nearly all of them have paid off – for every episode this series I know at least 1 friend who really likes it. That’s never happened before. It’s why I’m glad he’s staying next series – who else writes for Who that could have come up with an episode like this?

The Veil was a properly creepy (silent) villain, slowly stalking the Doctor through a castle littered with lures and traps, only stoppable by making confessions. I’m sure plenty of younger viewers would have been pretty scared at certain moments in this episode. The Doctor’s Sherlock esque mind palace sections worked well to give us an impression of just how complicated and fast the Doctor’s mind is, while his conversations with an imaginary Clara felt predictably poignant after last week. The revelations were very surprising and I hope we get answers to some of them next week (Why was the Doctor so scared he left Gallifrey? What makes the Hybrid so Dangerous? Why did the Time Lords (or whoever else) send the Doctor back to Gallifrey? The fact that the Doctor was actually trapped in the confessional dial for most of the episode was neat, and I’ll admit that for once I didn’t see that twist coming. Thanks to some spoilery promos, I knew the episode would finish on Gallifrey, but the revelation that ‘The Hybrid is Me’ sets things up intriguingly. (This also has a potential double meaning – while it seems to be referring to the Doctor, we know from the trailer that Maisie Williams is back in the next episode – and her character is referred to as Me…’ just a thought for all of you there)

I singled Capaldi out for praise after his speech in The Zygon Inversion. But most of the actors who played the Doctor are capable of such knockout moments – remember Smith’s Pandorica speech or Tennant’s Timelord Victorious or Eccleston raging against the Daleks? Every one of them has a stand out moment. But here’s an opinion that might cause some controversy: I don’t think any of them could have made this episode work the way Capaldi did. Some Doctors just don’t have the kind of personality needed for this sort of episode (couldn’t see Hartnell or Pertwee or Eccleston faring well) whereas some actors are far better at bouncing off other people (Troughton, Davison, Tennant etc.). While I’m sure Smith or McCoy or Colin Baker could have given their all (they all had a mad energy that might have held the screen for 55 mins) only Tom Baker might have come close to Capaldi here (he’s the only Doctor to have had a similar episode – The Deadly Assassin Part 3 for those who are interested) – they both have a truly magnetic screen presence that makes them watchable on their own for 55 mins. If there’s an argument for Capaldi being the most talented actor to play the role (and there is one) – this episode and this series as a whole has strengthed it considerably.

Overall a mind-bending, high concept episode of Doctor Who that might just be the cleverest thing Moffat’s written. Can Hell Bent finish off this superb three part finale in style? I certainly hope so.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Next Time: The Doctor faces the Timelords and the series draws to a close…

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