The Good: Mood, Performance, Initial cleverness
The Bad: Virtually devoid of plot, Character does not genuinely develop after the first revelation
The Basics: "Heaven Sent" takes a moody, philosophical approach that places The Doctor in a hopeless situation that mirrors his sense of loss.
As fans race to the end of yet another season of Doctor Who, many are feeling a bit stabbed in the heart by the events of "Face The Raven" (reviewed here!). Given that it is the first part of the story continued in "Heaven Sent," it is impossible to discuss the latest episode without some allusions to events in "Face The Raven." The climactic event of "Face The Raven" was, supposedly, the death of Clara Oswald. I write "supposedly" because the whole ridiculous notion of the Impossible Girl precludes a full and complete death of a Jenna Coleman character. When Clara Oswald became the Impossible Girl, she went all along The Doctor's timeline to save him from the Great Intelligence in The Doctor's past, present, and future. The only way for that to truly work would be for other versions of Clara to pop up from time to time. Perhaps, next week Clementine Ozark will save The Doctor's life on one of his many adventures through time and space. Regardless, just as Clara popped up in other iterations prior to The Doctor officially meeting her, the show would lack a certain symmetry if she did not surface again to keep guiding The Doctor through his adventures.
That, however, does not happen in "Heaven Sent."
Indeed, "Heaven Sent" reminds viewers that the climactic event of "Face The Raven" was not necessarily the apparent death of Clara Oswald, but rather the fact that Mayor Me had been employed by some heretofore unknown person or force to abduct The Doctor after cutting him off from his access to the TARDIS.
Opening with The Doctor materializing in a chamber that has Gallifreyan control panels set in what appears to be a castle, The Doctor vows to find whomever it was who abducted him, if they had anything to do with Clara's death. He then begins exploring the castle. The Doctor reasons that he is in the same time frame and only a light year away from where he was with Clara and Rigsy. There are screens throughout the hallway The Doctor finds himself in and he quickly realizes that they are transmitting what the wraith (or Grim Reaper without the scythe) is facing. Backed into a corner, The Doctor admits he is afraid and time appears to stop (as evidenced by the flies that precede the Wraith freezing in front of him). The entire castle reconfigures itself and The Doctor finds himself safe in a bedroom.
When the Wraith appears again, The Doctor realizes that his tormentors have read nightmares from very early in his life and they have planned this for a long time. Leaping out a nearby window, he goes to a safe place in his mind and constructs a scenario for surviving, diving into water below the castle. Leaving the water, The Doctor finds a room with clothes drying by a fire. The Doctor continues through the rooms of the keep, pursued by the spectre, interacting with an unseen version of Clara in his mind. He makes a few discoveries until he reaches an impenetrable wall, is zapped by the spectre and restarts the nightmare. And he just keeps going through it, chipping away at the wall.
"Heaven Sent" relies entirely on the performance of Peter Capaldi and he pulls it off. The Doctor mumbles to himself and gears himself up for a conflict before anyone or anything else appears to him. The result could be crappy and expository, but Peter Capaldi completely lands it as organic; his character working through his analysis and challenging his unseen adversary. Throughout "Heaven Sent," The Doctor is on his own and returns in his mind to the TARDIS; he interacts with the Clara in his mind to deduce what is happening to him. The chalk boards are instantly reminiscent of the way someone on the outside communicated with a sleeping person in "Last Christmas" (reviewed here!). The technique manages to stay fresh for the duration of "Heaven Sent."
The effects in "Heaven Sent" are decent, up to and including the music. "Heaven Sent" is a mood piece. The Doctor is living his nightmare as his fear of death and underlying insecurity about not being clever enough is expressed through conflicts with his own nightmares. The visual and sound effects help establish and enhance that mood.
The Doctor realizes very early on that the whole purpose of the place his is in is designed to frighten him. The Wraith pursuing him, the time loops that take him back to the beginning, they are all supposed to play upon his fear. He realizes this fast (where was that cleverness an episode earlier?!) and the rest of the episode is spent with him chipping away at the "diamond wall" where the Wraith catches him and sends him back to the beginning. The episode then is more about mood than plot and, for a change, the mood carries the episode well-enough to be watchable.
It says something about how low the bar has been set for episodes this season when that is enough. "Heaven Sent" eventually sets up the next episode, the season finale, but it takes a hell of a long time to get there.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Doctor Who - The Complete Ninth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the sophomore season of Peter Capaldi as The Doctor here!
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© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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