One of the greatest episodes of Series 8 was Listen. One of the reasons that episode was so great was the fact we got to see the Twelfth Doctor on his own, and what he’s like whilst nobody else is around. I think Steven Moffat heard that feedback and thought it would be a great idea for a whole episode, instead of just a pre-title sequence. Did the Moff pull it off? Only one way to find out, by reading on…
Trapped in a world unlike any other he has seen, the Doctor faces the greatest challenge of his many lives. One final test. And he must face it alone. Pursued by the fearsome creature known only as the Veil, he must attempt the impossible. If he makes it through, Gallifrey is waiting…
This is the first time I’ve started a review on GallifreyArchive by reviewing the synopsis, but I feel I must. Part of running a site based on Doctor Who is that I have to find synopses, spoilers and any bit of information that I think will interest or inform my readership (Hello, by the way, glad you’re here), but I thought that this official synopsis, released by the BBC was very out of character. A synopsis is supposed to build intrigue for the episode, it’s supposed to lure people who would maybe not watch a show and try and persuade them to watch. This synopsis is great; short, sharp, punchy sentences that make you want to know more; then that last line. “If he makes it through, Gallifrey is waiting…” There is no need for the G-word to be used here. At all. To me, knowing the synopsis demeans the episode, it left me knowing what the conclusion would be with no idea what the main story would entail. The synopsis seems backwards. A better ending would have been ‘If he makes it through, the Doctor will have to confess….’ or something similar…
Anyway… onto the episode itself.
For the uninitiated, Heaven Sent could easily be considered another experimental episode in Series 9, along with Sleep No More. Whereas Sleep No More was more experimental in terms of how the episode was shot (and most would argue, a failure of an experiment), Heaven Sent is an experiment of storytelling. At the heart of it, this episode is 55 minutes of Peter Capaldi as the Doctor. It says something about Capaldi as an actor that, after writing for four different Doctors, show running with two versions of the Time Lord, it’s taken writer Steven Moffat until this incarnation that he felt comfortable enough to let him be the sole focus of the episode. I have to admit, I adore every actor that has played the Doctor, and when the news broke that Heaven Sent would be what’s known in the business as a ‘single-hander’, I found it very difficult to imagine any other Doctor being given this task. Capaldi, in my opinion, has proven himself worthy of being one of, if not the best Doctors ever twice during Series 9. The first time in The Zygon Inversion with his ten minute anti-war speech, then again in Heaven Sent with this, what is essentially a 55 minute monologue. I thought Matt Smith was the ‘Speech Doctor’ with his rousing speeches in The Pandorica Opens, The Rings of Akhaten and his pre-regeneration speech in The Time of The Doctor. Should Capaldi continue with this great form, Smith will be relegated to second place.
The thing in this episode that made me fall in love with this episode was just how injured and tortured the Doctor appeared to be after The Veil kills him. Now, I’m not saying I enjoyed seeing this character in such physical pain, but I like seeing just how far everyone involved in making the show are willing to go on what is essentially a family show. I thought that the BBC would get complaints about Rasmussen’s reveal in Sleep No More but I have a feeling that the BBC will get more complaints from parents who’ve had to cover the eyes of their young ones once we see the Doctor slowly decaying in front of us.
That and the fact that Clara said ‘Arse’ pre-watershed.
I’m going to start this paragraph off by saying I am so glad we never saw The Veil’s face. I admire the work that the art departments that work on Doctor Who do, however in this case, the air of mystery added to the characters insistent looming. One thing I like is when Doctor Who lets the viewer imagine instead of handing them every detail on a platter as our twisted imaginations will often conjure up something far more terrifying; this is why the Big Finish story The Red Lady worked so well in my mind.
It’s not often I talk about music, as even though I always appreciate Murray Gold’s contribution to the Whoniverse, I’m not musically inclined enough to talk about how the technicality of the music relates to the episode. One thing I did thoroughly enjoy in Heaven Sent though was the score; especially the piece when the Doctor first sees the Clara painting, it uses electronic music instead of the orchestrated music of New Who. Personally, I thought the electronic music could be a reference to the first ever companion death in Earthshock when Adric sacrificed himself, but that’s just a theory.
Even though this episode was a chance for Capaldi to flaunt every atom of his amazingly talented acting ability, he is not the only hero of the episode. I would like to thank Steven Moffat for being on top form in Series 9, as he has not written a single subpar episode (yet, there’s still Hell Bent next week for him to cock up). Even if some of the scriptwriting he does is a little predictable at times, he still manages to lull you into a false sense of security before pulling the rug out from underneath us when he wants to.
The other person we should praise for this episode is Rachel Talalay as she had arguably the hardest job in directing this episode. It’s hard to think that previous to this episode, Talalay had only directed two episodes of Doctor Who; last years two part finale Dark Water and Death In Heaven as she seems to have a gift for directing Who, especially big set pieces. The ending montage of the Doctor going through the loop time and time again could have been so boring, so laborious, but her direction along with the editors made it fascinating and captivating to watch.
For me, the ending was great, I’m glad that our archive can leave the Citadel’s dome and we can stretch our legs now that Gallifrey is found. We see the Doctor arrive on his home planet of Gallifrey, which is something I’ve wanted to see since Rose over ten years ago, but after he tells a boy to warn people he’s coming, he reveals to the audience and whoever teleported him into his Confession Dial that the prophecy of the Hybrid has always been wrong, the prophecy is ‘me’. That’s something I’ll talk about in slightly more detail here.
Overall, Heaven Sent took risks. Those risks payed off. Massively. This is one of the best episodes of Doctor Who since the revival, one of the most genius scripts, one of the best performances, one of the best directed episodes. Well done to all involved. Was it perfect? No, there were a few niggles I still have, like why didn’t the Azbantium room reset along with the rest of the castle? Apart from these inaccuracies and the unneeded Clara cameo (for me, her blackboard writing was enough), this episode is absolutely a work of art.
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is achieved on a scale of 1-10.
For Heaven Sent, I will give a rating of: