Doctor Who - Series 9, Episode 11

Doctor Who

The Doctor is trapped and facing his own death but does the show earn a chance at a resurrection? Our own Heaven Sent, Reece Morris-Jones, reviews...

I’ve been somewhat critical of this season of Doctor Who. With more downs than ups, this season has been disappointing. But fair is fair – Heaven Sent lives up to its title, delivering one of the best episodes of the season and an acting masterclass from Peter Capaldi.

The episode opens with a mysterious burnt hand summoning The Doctor to a water locked castle of unknown origin or place. In it, the Doctor has to solve the mystery whilst evading the pursuit of a relentless specter with the power to kill with a touch. The Doctor then undergoes a grueling ordeal that is part interrogation, part self imposed penance.

What impressed me the most about this episode was how it managed to weave some powerful themes together within the plot of the episode, but not make them too overt. Whilst there were the requisite ‘Look at me aren’t I clever?!’ moments in the script, it wasn’t too overbearing or else subverted a lot of the problems with the use of these in the past few seasons. For example the regular visits to the Doctor’s own version of Sherlock’s Mind Palace could have been grating but instead was used to show not just how quickly The Doctor’s mind always works but also to tie into the themes of this episode; coping with loss.

The episode’s themes of death, bereavement and the endless cycle it plays upon the people closest to such events was powerful. With the literal personification of death stalking his every move, the episode to start with took on an aura of claustrophobia, before opening out into a much larger thematic stage. Capaldi was excellent in every way, his traversal through the five stages of grief played masterfully.

Be it the initial sense of denial and anger at his opponents, attempted bargaining with a creature that exists to extract truths from him, depression at his circumstances followed and eventual acceptance of his role, Capaldi was great. Conveying each stage of grief in a unique way that made the Doctor his, I’m hopeful that this may mean the end to a recent spate of shitty scripts.

In an overarching sense and taking the loss of his companion into account, this episode showed us just what she meant to him in a way that the series hadn’t managed to up to this point. It’s just sad that it wasn’t until Clara died that we got to know how much he means to her. That’s a failing of the scripts both this and last season and, as a standalone episode, Heaven Sent was powerful. It’s just didn’t reflect the Clara we knew.

With such highly allegorical concepts in play, I’ve seen many science fiction fans going mad on the internet pointing out the plot holes and how emotions came into play too much. I think for those people, it’s the inability, or unwillingness, to grasp that sometimes, a plot isn’t the most important thing in a show. Whilst there were a few obvious inconsistencies with the internal logic of the episode that stood out to me, I let them slide because that wasn’t really the point of this particular episode. Something to be tightened up perhaps that would have made it a truly brilliant episode instead of ‘merely’ an excellent one.

Overall, whilst the last few moments were a bit of a brain fart in comparison to what had preceded it, I enjoyed the episode a lot. Whilst it’s impossible for a single episode to ‘redeem’ an entire series, nonetheless it doesn’t detract from what is one of the better ones of the past few years. It also acted as a fitting sendoff to a companion that has been around since this incarnation of the Doctor was birthed to the world.

Now that a faction long since teased has been brought into contact with our titular character, let’s see how well next week caps off the season.

Image - BBC