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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Doctor Who 9-11: Heaven Sent

Episode:824|Serial:261|Writer:Steven Moffat|Air Date:28-Nov-2015

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm back to Doctor Who again. I'm still watching series 9, though not for long as I'm in the middle chapter of the final three-parter! Though the TARDIS Data Core wiki says it's part one of the final two-parter and Wikipedia currently reckons it's just the penultimate story of the series. Either way it's carrying on from a cliffhanger ending and setting up the finale.

Which means that this is the second series in a row to end with an episode featuring 'Heaven' in the title, written by Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay. It worked out pretty well the last time though, so I'm optimistic.

There will be massive SPOILERS for Heaven Sent, the episode before it and probably other stories too. But only older episodes, never later ones.

The episode begins with the Doctor reaching his destination after being teleported away against his will during the tragic conclusion of Face the Raven. Actually that's not entirely true, as before his arrival there's lots of moody shots of this mysterious empty castle with a monologue by the Doctor about a creature that stalks you tirelessly from the moment you come into this world.

Plus it shows the teleporter operator collapsing, though all we really get to see of them is their hand melting away.

So now the Doctor's here all by himself, but that's never stopped him coming out with a speech before, and right now he's got a lot to say on the subject of how screwed the people who set up the trap that brought him here and killed Clara will be. He promises that he's coming to find them and he will never ever stop.

'No friends, no TARDIS... the Doctor happy', as Missy said in The Witch's Familiar. Shows how little she really knows him.


I love POV shots looking out of windows, they really help to sell the fact that there's a world outside the set. In this case there's a big empty castle out there.

From the technology in the room he's deduced that he's been teleported just a single light year from Earth, which seems a bit improbable considering he's on a habitable planet, but that's way down on the low end of the implausibility scale for Doctor Who.

He's interrupted mid-monologue when he finds a shovel, sending him on a rant about how he hates gardening, calling it dictatorship for inadequates. The poor guy's only been without a companion for 5 minutes and he's already going crazy.

Then he comes across… a monitor.

It's a spooky monitor too, as the screen's showing black and white security camera footage of himself. Well that's what it looks like, but a glance through the window reveals that it's actually creepy monster eye-cam. This is a bit of a misstep for the episode I reckon, as it's reminded me that Sleep No More exists.

Also if you look in the background his entire opening monologue is written on the wall, which is kind of weird. It's also weird that there's a fly buzzing around the set, because when do you ever see that on an indoor shot?

Oh hang on, now there's more flies. They must be with the shambling monster that's stomping through the hallways. The Doctor decides that this is probably one of the things you run from rather than talk to and leaves the tower through a walkway.

Oops, the walkway was a dead end as the door at the other side is locked.

The Doctor claims that "I used to know a trick, back when I was young and telepathic," which kind of confuses me because he's still telepathic, isn't he? I mean he's more Mr. Spock level than Professor X, but that's still telepathy. Then again I can't remember him putting messages into minds since he was Matt Smith, so maybe he lost during his centuries on Trenzalore.

Anyway he explains that he knows a trick which lets him psychically convince the door to... unlock... itself... WHAT?

Even worse, it works.

Okay I could point out that this is dumb because he just asked an inanimate object to open and it worked, but Doctor Who's made it absolutely clear these last two seasons that it's a fairy tale which only intersects with reality when it feels like it, so I suppose I can't judge it on that any more. But I can and will judge it on the fact that he's been stuck behind locked doors plenty of times before without ever trying this, including the time in Day of the Doctor where his clever alternate trick to get out eventually inspired him to save Gallifrey from the Time War. Though to be fair he didn't think to try just pushing it open either.

The dumbest thing is that it doesn't even change anything, as there's a stone wall behind the door and he's still trapped here with a monster closing in on him.

"Finally run out of corridor, there's a life summed up," he says as the monster closes in.

Then he admits that he's scared of dying and that makes it pause. In fact it freezes perfectly motionless, the flies too.

The castle on the other hand springs into life, with the floors rotating at different rates around the central tower! You'd think this would lead to the bridge he's on becoming aligned with a door giving him a chance to escape... but the wall blocking his path ain't rotating. It does eventually slide open though.

Inside the next room he finds a comfy bed, some flowers, another monitor screen...

...and an ancient painting of Clara. There's one of those jeweller's magnifying loupes next to it so he sticks it in his eye and examines the details, giving the monster a chance to slowly shuffle over to him.

Though that just gives the Doctor an audience to exposit to, even though he's explaining things to a monster pulled from his childhood nightmares. He reveals that when he was a little boy he saw a old lady that had died and been covered in veils. But it was a hot day and there were flies around the body, and it freaked him out so much that the memory of it has haunted him to this day. Though I doubt the body got up and very slowly chased him around a castle.

The Doctor admits he's scared now, and the way he's nervously de-petalling the unfortunate flower in his hands seems to back that up, but if this is meant to be a torture chamber for him like he suspects then he refuses to give up his secrets.

First he drops the eyeglass from his eye, then he drops a table through the window and follows it out.

Hmm, looks like he's fallen about six stories so far and he hasn't even hit the mist yet. As plans go it doesn't seem like one of his better ones.

But then he ends up safe and sound in the TARDIS control room! Because he's the Doctor and he's just that good.

Then he starts talking to no one again, just like in Before the Flood when he explained the concept of a bootstrap paradox. Or at least it seems that way before we see Clara, still standing with her back to him like she was the last time he saw her alive in Face the Raven.

She's not very talkative right now, in fact she's entirely motionless, standing transfixed by a blackboard, but he continues talking regardless and that's good as he's got some great lines here:
Rule one of being interrogated - you’re the only irreplaceable person in the torture chamber.
Rule one of dying - don’t. Rule two - slow down. You’ve got the rest of your life. The faster you think, the slower it will pass.
Turns out that this is all talking place inside the Doctor's mind mid-fall, as he imagines being back inside the TARDIS, showing off to Clara how he solved this. Missy wasn't actually too far off the mark in The Witch's Familiar after all, as he starts by assuming that he's already won and then ducks into his mental 'storm room' to work on figuring out how he's going to have survived.

So this is a peek behind the curtain at all the ultra-fast calculations he's going through in his mind whenever he appears to be flippant and disinterested. He smelled salt so he suspected the castle was standing in the sea, then dropped the petals, eyeglass, and table to measure the atmospheric density, gravity and wind resistance to either figure out how to survive the fall or if he'd survive the fall, I'm not sure. I'm also not sure how he knew that the sea water was within the castle's outer wall, but at this point I'm willing to assume something gave it away.

The impact with the water knocks him unconscious, but he survives, and when the TARDIS lights come back on he notices that Clara's left him couple of messages on the blackboards. He's tempted to just give up here, drowning in his sleep, but he's ultimately driven to find answers to her questions and wakes up... discover that the sea floor is entirely covered in skulls. No other bones, just skulls. So that's slightly ominous.

So the Doctor climbs out of the salty skull water and re-enters the castle.

Fortunately he finds a fire going and some dry clothes on a rack to change into. Plus they're not just his style, they're an exact copy of what he's already wearing, even down to the a button that's the wrong colour. So he changes and puts his own clothes back in the same places he took them from. That's pro time-traveller behaviour.

I hope he remembered to empty his pockets first though, as he must have all kinds of useful stuff in there. I mean he was apparently carrying around his confession dial around with him all series until Mayor Me took it off him and he didn't even seem to know what was in it. The guy just likes to hold onto things.

He can see on a monitor that the creature's coming after him the long way and will eventually get him unless he keeps moving. After a bit of a walk he also finds a room with a octagonal paving slab missing, surrounded by chalk arrows highlighting its absence. They're just laying on the mysteries this week.

Next he comes across a garden so foggy I had to boost the contrast on the screencap, and deduces from a nearby spade that he's meant to dig. But he doesn't know if it's a clue from his captors... or from one of his predecessors currently lying in the water outside.

An hour later he's got a hole going, but he becomes aware that there's flies buzzing around. There's no monster though, and the monitor here's showing it's currently standing still in front of a wall. So he opens the door and... whoops it was actually standing still in front of a door. He quickly uses the spade to jam the door, waits for the creature to get bored and go off, then continues his digging until he hits the absent slab... which has 'I am in 12' etched into it.

And then the monster comes back while he's stuck in his grave-shaped hole.

In the split second before it gets him he returns to his TARDIS storm room and works out that what stopped the monster earlier was a confession of fear. He has to tell it something he's never told anyone before if he wants to survive this.

I don't think the guy's ever looked smaller in that TARDIS set than he does here; the room looks absolutely huge. I've seen photos of the set in bright lighting and it doesn't look too convincing, but lit right it can look great, and the lighting here makes it looks amazing. Plus all the changes they've made since Matt Smith lived here make it a lot more dramatic. Not just the new lights, glowing circles and the bookcases lining the perimeter, but also the stairs the Doctor's sitting on right now.

He comes back to the real world and yells that he didn't leave Gallifrey because he was bored, that was a lie! He ran because he was scared. The creature's satisfied by this, but I'm not. I liked that he left because he was bored!

The Doctor slips by the creature and escapes the garden, only to find that to get out of this prison may take a fair bit of swimming.

Also the walls are spinning again. Every time he confesses the castle gets reconfigured.

So he goes back to the Clara painting and sits for a while, to contemplate how much he's suffering right now. Not just because he's still trapped in this castle, but because she's still dead. Plus he's also calculating the time it takes the creature to get from one side of the castle to the other.

He decides that he's got at most 82 minutes to eat, sleep and find room 12. So he really does sleep!

Plus every room eventually returns to the condition it was in when he arrived, so the hole in the garden has filled back in, the flower got its petals back and the window has been un-tabled. So I guess the painting of Clara started off ancient and the other room was always missing an octagonal paving slab then.

Then again the skull of the man who operated the teleporter is still here, so maybe only certain things reset. The message next to him didn't disappear either, though 'BIRD' isn't much of a clue. Unless... he could make wings out of his infinite supply of flower petals and fly away!

A door slides open and a breeze blows the message away, so he goes to investigate and discovers a staircase to the roof. He also finds the door to room 12! But it's blocked by another wall.

Well that's a cheerful transition.

The Doctor has returned to the roof to be with his skull and the stars for a bit. He knows how to move the wall, but it'll cost him a confession to do it. What he doesn't know is what's up with the stars above him. He knows he hasn't time travelled so it should still be 2015(ish) but the positions of the stars are telling him it's more like the year 9000.

He stops the creature with by confessing that he knows where the Hybrid is and what it is and then makes a run for room 12. Then he walks inside really slowly to discover...

...a 20-foot thick block of azbantium, a substance 400 times harder than diamond. On the plus side it says HOME behind it, so at least he knows he's going the right way! And really there's no other way to go, as this is a dead end with one exit and the monster's right behind him.

It reminds me of The God Complex, where he the Eleventh Doctor found his worst fear inside room 11. Now the Twelfth Doctor's trapped by his inside room 12. Also The God Complex was the episode where he decided to drop Amy and Rory off for good as he was worried he'd get them killed and this episode is about him mourning a dead companion.

He thinks back to the word 'BIRD' and is suddenly hit by a realisation... or something worse. He goes back to his storm room and starts yelling that this is when he remembers, always right here. He rushes down the stairs to hide under his console and gives serious consideration to the idea of finally just giving up and telling them everything about the Hybrid.

But the blackboard says NO!

And Jenna Coleman makes an on screen appearance to tell him to get off his arse and win!

Actually it's been Jenna Coleman playing Clara the whole time her back was turned, even though it looked like a body double. They cleverly made it seem like they were working around not having the actress any more to give her appearance more impact.

Well, they did film a double for some shots, but she was replaced with Jenna in front of a green screen.

So the Doctor gets off his arse and starts punching the wall with enough force to break his hand, while the monster closes in. If only he'd had more of a head start, he could've gone back for one of the shovels.

But the creature's blocking the exit and slowly closing in. Really slowly. The Doctor doesn't want it to get bored though, so he starts telling a story by the Brothers Grimm.

He gets a line and a half into it before the monster gets him, and then vanishes. The monitors turn to static and the Doctor collapses.

But the TARDIS in his brain starts to light up again, though not all the way. He's dying, and has at best a day and a half left.

Just enough time to drag his burned body all the way back up to the top of the tower.

He knows now that there were never any other prisoners here and the stars aren't in the wrong place; he's just been here a while. Every room resets to its original condition, including the teleporter, so by now the device's hard drive will have returned to the point where he was stored in it.

He just needs to add a bit of energy to fire the machine up and get himself beamed out of the buffer. So the Doctor's the one who died operating the transporter at the beginning of the episode, and left his skull behind next to the message 'BIRD'! Well not him exactly, this isn't a time loop, this is deliberate choice to repeat the same thing over and over with a fresh new self out of the teleporter.

But who exactly is the guy coming out of the teleporter? Was time in this room rewound during the reset or is he a copy of the Doctor 3D printed from restored information?

The Doctor was freaked out enough by the thought that his excessive regenerations had left him as a new person with nothing remaining of his original self back in Don't Breathe so I can't imagine he'd be ever be okay using transporter tech that basically kills you and then constructs a clone on the other end to carry on with your life. Plus if he really was a fresh copy out of the transporter and not a continuation of the same consciousness, then how did he remember all his past lives when he reached the space-diamond wall?

Anyway, the Doctor gives the same speech from the start of the episode in the exact same way, except this time that threat about never ever stopping seems a fair bit less hyperbolic. He's been doing this for 7000 years now and there's not even a scratch on that wall, but he's still going.

So then we get see scenes from the episode replayed over and over again, as he repeats the same actions each time for three minutes. 12,000 years. 600,000 years. 1,200,000 years. 2,000,000 years. 20,000,000 years. 52,000,000 years.

Dude, a tiny tunnel would've worked just as well, you didn't have to get the walls so square! And what's with all that headroom? Did you spend a few centuries punching upwards just to make it a more comfortable fit for the creature trying to kill you? I'm glad he wore through that bit under his feet though, because it means you can see that the stuff keeps going beneath the floor level. He'd feel real dumb if he spent eternity punching a wall when he could've punched the floor instead and gotten through in just a few hundred years.

He keeps going and eventually the tunnel's so deep that he can finally finish his entire Brother's Grimm story before the creature catches up.
According to them, there’s this Emperor who asks this shepherd’s boy, “How many seconds in eternity?” And the shepherd’s boy says there’s this mountain of pure diamond, and it takes an hour to climb it, and an hour to go around it. Every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on the diamond mountain and when the entire mountain is chiselled away, the first second of eternity will have passed. You might think that’s a hell of a long time. Personally I think that’s a hell of a bird.
But he missed out the important bit about the boy getting to live in the Emperor's royal palace as his son for answering his questions! Not that it's even slightly relevant.

With one last punch the remaining bit of wall shatters, letting the doctor walk out into a desert, the creature behind him collapsing into a pile of cloth and gears. So it really did lead to freedom! I guess it made the designer feel more smug to know that he'd provided a genuine exit, even if it was basically impossible to reach.

With its prisoner gone, the prison collapses to form a device on the desert floor.

Wow it's like the opening titles in there with all those cogs.

Hang on, it's that bloody confession dial! It didn't have the Doctor's last confession in there, it had a personalised torture chamber built to make him confess! So basically this is all his fault for carrying the thing around with him the whole series for no reason.

But has he been stuck in a metal disc in the desert for the last billion years or so, or was the disc elsewhere until he took the exit marked 'HOME'? Was it all real or a simulation like Missy's Nethersphere last series? Is the Doctor the last of a billion clones or the real deal? We're never going to find out are we?

I'm going to go with the option that puts him at the least risk of really dying though, as like he said, the only irreplaceable person in the torture chamber is the one being interrogated.

He soon meets young Anakin Skywalker just roaming around the desert and tells him to go to the city, find someone important, and tell them "I'm back" and that "I came the long way round".

Who tells an eight year old they just met to 'go to the city'?

I mean look how far the kid has to travel to get there! And it's not as if he can just get on a bus.

Oh hey this is Gallifrey! When the wall said 'HOME' it didn't just mean the last square on the board, it meant his home planet!  Last series ended with him smashing his TARDIS console in despair about not being able to get back to his people. Now he's in a whole different kind of despair and it seems like he's about to take it out on his own people. Man it'd be jarring watching this after seeing all the Doctors at the end of the 50th anniversary special, hopeful about finding their planet again and going back home, "the long way round".

And the episode ends with him talking to the confession dial, telling anyone that's listening that the Hybrid destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins... is "me". Or maybe he meant Mayor Me. The script has it capitalised for what it's worth.


I mentioned last month that Sleep No More was everyone's new favourite episode to hate on, claiming a spot for itself near the bottom of Doctor Who episode rankings across the internet (or across the first page of the search results at least). Well Heaven Sent has become its exact opposite, usually winning a place at the top next to episodes like Blink and The Empty Child two-parter. But is it actually any good?

Well... yeah it kind of is, but man I had some problems with it. First up, the Doctor makes a psychic connection with a wooden door? The fuck? Second, the episode is built upon a mystery and the ending pay off is awesome... the steps along the way though, maybe not so much. If you look at what actually happened here, the Doctor finds a shovel in a hallway. Then he finds a room with a missing paving slab and a lot of chalk arrows. He finds another spade in a garden and digs up the slab which says 'I AM IN 12' on it. He eventually locates room 12 through the ingenious method of 'looking for it for a while' and there he comes across the wall of ultimate demoralisation. And that's it, puzzle solved. It's all a bit disappointing, especially after that scene in his storm room during the fall which shows just how clever he actually is.

Also why bury a paving slab with a message on it and then leave chalk arrows to point out that it's missing? If you think the chalk is going to survive the reset then don't draw arrows, write the bloody message with it! Write everything you've learned so far in chalk! Better yet, write it on a piece of paper and put it into your old jacket pocket for when your damp future self puts it on. Paint it onto the ancient painting of Clara that hasn't reset for some reason. Etch it into all the shovels that aren't lying where they should be! And if you really have to bury it, maybe don't dig a six foot deep hole for it.

Plus I'm not impressed by the Time Lord's interrogation technique. For one thing they send their interrogator out to murder him and they don't ask any questions! He only survives long enough to figure out he needs to confess because he's got a habit of talking to himself when he's alone and he happened to inadvertently admit something it wanted to hear. The nightmare creature kills him off after learning practically nothing, and the only reason it gets another shot is because the Doctor claws onto life just long enough to resurrect himself! Maybe his resurrection was intended from the start, but if that's the case then that's even worse, as the torture chamber is continually bringing back someone who'll repeat the same answers every time!

But that's not a huge issue when everything else about the episode is fantastic. The story here isn't the Doctor solving a spooky castle, it's about what the Doctor's going through emotionally as he solves the spooky castle, and neither Doctor nor castle disappoints. Most episodes this series have looked great, but this might look just a little better, with all its creepy shadows and its... production design. I suppose it helps that they had an actual castle to film in for the overly ostentatious rooms. Plus probably helped that they had a bit more cash on hand than usual due to the bold decision to not hire actors. This is the ultimate evolution of Capaldi's epic speech in The Zygon Inversion, as he dominates the screen for the entirety of the episode's extended runtime, mostly talking to himself. Fortunately he's a really good actor so it works really well.

I'm a little disappointed though that the search for Gallifrey has been skipped entirely, as it seemed like they were setting something interesting up with the 12th Doctor's mysterious appearance in Day of the Doctor at the time of Gallifrey's disappearance. Plus I'm concerned about the Doctor having a secret reason to leave his homeworld in the first place and having him be so stubborn that he withstands a billion or so years of torture and solitude without cracking seems a bit too much. A billion seconds would've been ridiculous enough! With this episode they've established that the Doctor has infinite determination, just in case he wasn't sufficiently unstoppable already.

But hopefully now that Clara's died her final death and the Doctor's died eleventy billion times more the series is finally ready to move past the theme of death and onto something brighter. There's been a rain cloud hanging over the whole year and it's made it kind of miserable to watch at times. This was a good ep though, would recommend.

Doctor Who series 9 will conclude with Hell Bent. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures I'll be watching DS9's Vortex.

Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for writing in case you decide to leave a comment of your own about the episode or whatever.


  1. I like this one a lot, although it does feel a bit like an episode of Knightmare.

    1. That's what you said about Gabriel Knight 2!

      Though I see your point.

    2. Maybe everything reminds me of Knightmare. Perhaps I'm going through a phase.