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...
Breaking Bad: "I have to tell truths I've never told before..." Totally engaging, is what I'd say about Capaldi in this episode. Well, Capaldi is always engaging to me (maybe not in The Woman Who Lived, though), but here I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. Getting a full episode of Doctor Who where my favourite Doctor isn't upstaged or overshadowed by any other character, getting to see him up close all the time and getting into his head is insightful and entertaining, especially as I love character pieces. Speaking of character, seeing as there are no other characters in the story to work with or have to think about, this must be Steven Moffat's safe haven.
Capaldi is in total command of this story, totally wanting to beat the shit out of whoever set this all up for being involved in killing Clara. He really means it when he says he will find whoever is responsible and he will never, ever stop. As he's backed into a corner, unable to see a way out, and about to be killed by a monster, he admits he's actually scared. According to him, the only irreplaceable person in the torture chamber is you. You've got to make it yours. The Doctor locks himself in an imaginary storeroom, which he always imagines he's in his TARDIS. You've got to assume you're going to survive, act like you've already survived. The Doctor does look as though he's gone a bit mad in this story, or just in denial of Clara's death, as he talks to a dream version Clara in his own little mind TARDIS. And he tells her to ask him questions, the right questions contradicting his wrong questions. The Doctor is being interrogated, but it doesn't just want truths, it wants confession. He must tell truths that he's never told before. The day you lose someone isn't the worst, at least you have something to do. It's all the days they stay dead. This is how the Doctor's world works. He ticks off the seconds as they pass. His life is a countdown. The Doctor remembers each time he revives himself, and Clara will still be dead. No matter how hard he tries, she'll still be gone. How long can he do this? Burning the old Doctor, to make a new one.
Being Aware of the Writer at hand:
* How come only the Head Writers, Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat have been allowed to have episodes that go on for more than 45 minutes? Voyage of the Damned ended up being an hour and 10 minutes, Journey's End ended up an hour and 5 minutes, The End of Time was a painful 2 and a half hours. The Eleventh Hour was an hour long, so was Death in Heaven and Hell Bent. Some of these stories suffered from being far too long, or even an hour wasn't enough to fully flesh out the story. Yet how come some of the episodes written by the regular writers that have good ideas and potential are cut down to just 45 minutes? Why does the actually interesting episodes get only three quarters of an hour to work with? How are you supposed to build a world, set the scene for your characters, set the tension running, with an antagonist, possibly a piece of the series arc and have a satisfying ending within 45 minutes? And no, you haven't fixed this by bringing back more two parters. It's not as simple as just sticking another episode onto a story. Standalone scenes generally need more time to build the tension. I don't watch Inferno, The Deadly Assassin or The Robots of Death and think "Oh, that was very rushed, that clearly needed more time to have a proper impact on me." or "These characters are quite unexplored. They haven't really set the scene for me yet. I can't find anything relatable about them." These are all exactly what I think about every other New Who episode I watch. With some notable exceptions such as The Empty Child, Blink, Silence in the Library, Midnight, Turn Left, The Doctor's Wife, Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline, but these stories were either written in a very small-scale setting or were written by 100% dedicated writers who never had responsibility to anything else. Most television series these days appears to come in hour long episodes, why makes so Doctor Who different that makes this current television format obsolete in your eyes? Your box standard filler episode of Doctor Who could be just as good as Heaven Sent any day if it was given an hour to play with. My point is... perhaps Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a trend setter, and you got their format from them, but maybe that series wasn't perfect. Buffy is set in a town where monsters spawn every week, Doctor Who is set all across time and space that can spawn monsters every week. Do you see the difference?
* Does Moffat think he's writing Sherlock? The part where the Doctor jumps out of the window and uses the information of all the surroundings to predict whether or not he'll survive his fall was great, but it made the Doctor feel like a certain famous detective we all know who exaggerates his five senses.
* You're trying to become the most important writer in Doctor Who's history, aren't you Moffat? Good luck with that, because no one will ever be more important to me than Robert Shearman or Bob Holmes. You had Clara become the most important companion ever twice by having her save the Doctor's lives all throughout his life, on one occasion even helping him choose which TARDIS to steal in The Name of the Doctor, as well as comforting the First Doctor as a child and telling him fear makes companions of us all in Listen. You've made the Matt Smith Doctor the oldest Doctor ever by having him stay in one place for 900 years (Yeah, The Time of the Doctor sure was epic, wasn't it?). And now... even though it was all a lie in the end, the Doctor apparently ran away from Gallifrey not because he was bored, but because he was the Hybrid. Please Steven, for as long as you remain on the show, leave the touchy continuity alone. Create the newest most deadliest race in the universe ever again, but leave the Doctor's backstory alone.
* It's quite genius on Moffat's part to have not shown us the Doctor's first arrival at the Castle of Confession (as I shall now call it) and instead one of his many visits. It's a great way of hiding the key plot points of the episode and how the Doctor gets out later on.
* A great big castle in the middle of the sea filled with a monster and a load of tests for the Doctor is definitely a great setting for a Doctor Who one-hander.
* Moffat still has it with the small creepy moments when the Veil is seen in one of the windows directly opposite the Doctor. Chilling.
* The Veil is a well-designed and well-thought out monster. It's a creature comes from one of the Doctor's childhood nightmares. There once an old lady who died, and she was wrapped around in veils, but it was a very hot day, so a load of flies came and swarmed around her. Of course it would be an appropriate monster to use as one of the many devices to make the Doctor confess truths! The Doctor can also see where exactly it moves from it's POV on screens around the castle. It's slow, but what makes it scary is that it's always coming for you. It never stops.
* For the most part, I'm on Murray Gold's side in this episode. Apart from the lighter side of "A Good Man?" as the Doctor nearly drowns, I think the music in this episode is appropriately used and tonally correct. As the Doctor inspects the painting of Clara, we get to hear some truly awesome synthesiser music. More synthesiser music, please!
* The castle moves around with it's structure with open and blocked off doors every time the Doctor makes a confession.
* The image of the Doctor floating in the sea and the seafloor covered in skulls was very grim and felt very Harry Potterish.
* The graveyard scene was tense. Not only do we get a partially scary jump scare when the Doctor opens the door (one that was kind of ruined in the screenshots for this episode), we get fooled by it and the Veil gets another (and actually scary!) jump scare that I certainly wasn't expecting. The Veil's hand jumps out of the grave and attacks the Doctor!
* If the Doctor can run from one extreme of the castle to another extreme, he has about 82 minutes before the Veil catches up with him. Enough time for him to eat, sleep and work.
* There are two moments in your life that nobody ever remembers. Being born, and dying. Is that why we stare into the eye sockets of a skull? Because we're asking "What was it like? Does it hurt? Are you still scared?"
* Who's been playing about with the stars? The Doctor knows he didn't time travel, so why are the stars in the wrong position for this time period?
* Long before the Time War, the Time Lords knew it was coming, like a storm on the wind. There were many stories and prophecies, legends before the fact. One of them spoke of a creature called the Hybrid. Half Dalek, half Time Lord - the ultimate warrior. But whose side would it be on? Would it bring peace or destruction? The Hybrid is real. And the Doctor knows where and who it is.
* The climax was truly powerful. It's got to be Moffat's best gut punch since the reveal of the death of Madam de Pompadour in The Girl in the Fireplace. We think the Doctor has died, but Time Lords can apparently survive for days when they die. Even if they're unable to regenerate, all the cells in their bodies keeps trying to heal itself. The Doctor, covered in blood, and barely able to walk, crawls up to the top of the tower for a day and a half for him to burn himself to make a copy of the version of him when he first arrived at the castle. There weren't any other prisoners, because this is his own torture chamber. The stars haven't moved, he's just been there for a very long time.
* What makes the climax more powerful is that we get a repeating montage of everything the Doctor has gone through the entire episode, but repeated again for over two billion years to really hammer home the effort and dying the Doctor goes through in order to break the azbantium wall.
* The last scene of the Doctor arriving back on Gallifrey was amazing. The bright, orange skies, the wind blowing in the Doctor's hair, the quietness of the Doctor as he gently holds the Confession Dial, the beautiful CGI shot of the Gallifrey Citadel, the Doctor sending the little boy off to the city with a message, and the Doctor calmly puts on his sunglasses as he reveals he is the Hybrid who will conquer Gallifrey and stand in it's ruins. What a hooking cliff-hanger. It almost makes me want to watch the train wreck of the episode that comes after.
* I did think that the part where the hallucination of Clara talks to the Doctor in his mind felt a bit forced. I wouldn't say it doesn't do anything to the plot at all. That would be very unfair of me! It motivates the Doctor to get back up and break the azbantium wall. Moffat was already stretching the one-hander structure with a non-speaking monster, and a non-speaking child at the end. But... with the promise that Heaven Sent is a one-hander, Clara's appearance felt a little unfaithful to the story archetype. Not that it was necessarily bad, it's just that seeing as I don't like Clara so much, I personally didn't appreciate it. That's my only gripe about this episode.
* "As you come into this world, something else is also born. You begin your life, and it begins a journey... towards you. It moves slowly, but it never stops. Wherever you go, whatever path you take, it will follow. Never faster, never slower, always coming. You will run. It will walk. You will rest. It will not. One day, you will stay in the same place too long. You will sit too still or sleep too deep... and when, too late, you rise to go... there will be a second shadow next to yours. Your life will then be over."
* "What sort of a person has a power complex about flowers? It's dictatorship for inadequates. Or to put it another way, it's dictatorship."
* "I've finally run out of corridor. There's a life summed up."
* "Or maybe I'm in hell. That's okay. I'm not scared of hell. It's just heaven for bad people."
* Look! Moffat is reusing his old tropes AGAIN! And he's used the bootstrap paradox! 'Cause you know... time travel! - Look. There is no time travel involved whatsoever. I will admit it's a similar set up to the one in Blink, but not really. The set up was set up by the Doctor himself. It's just that we never saw the Doctor's first visit to the Castle of Confession. The Doctor punches the wall every time he comes, dies by the hands of the Veil (literally), climbs up to the top of the tower, burns himself to make a new copy, and repeats the whole thing again. It isn't time travel because the Doctor set this all up for his future copies to go through so he could survive and break the azbantium wall. We just never see the Doctor setting this up for his future copies. Also the Doctor will have walking around the castle in his pants the first time around, and I don't think anyone wanted to see that!
"It's a killer puzzle box designed to scare me to death..." A one-hander archetype (a kind of story that hasn't been done in Doctor Who before), featuring my favourite Doctor and written by the writer who knows how to best write this Doctor. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing, apparently. Heaven Sent definitely deserves to go in Moffat's list of writing achievements. More so than The Day of the Doctor does anyway. For being a Doctor Who version of a one-hander, you'd expect this one to be quite deep. It's not that deep at all. It's less focused on being deep and more focused on being clever in a robust way. There are a ton of ideas in this episode, but it doesn't just throw them at you and moves on to another without having any time to explore it. It definitely sticks with the ideas long enough, and ends up creepily connecting them all together. Thankfully, we've struck gold with this one. Unlike some of Moffat's previous episodes where he connected most, if not all plot points together, you don't go "Huh? Erm... okay. That was connected to that. That's cool. I don't really care." you go "Oh, I get it now! Man, that was so clever! Wow." Heaven Sent is full of tension, intrigue and contains some very powerful material for Capaldi to work with. Go on then, give him a BAFTA. 10/10. Heaven Sent is one of the incredible classics of the New Series we shall look back on in years to come.