In the eleventh episode of the ninth series of Doctor Who, we discover where the Doctor was sent by the teleportation bracelet. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor Who.
I really don’t know how to talk about this episode because I feel like it’s trite. Like, I actually feel silly sitting here and saying things that I’m sure many of you and many other critics have already said. I know I’m being repetitive. That’s a strange thing to feel, y’all! I want to be entertaining and I want to be insightful. Yet I’m certain, more than I have been for all of series 9, that this is one of the very best episodes of Doctor Who ever. Flat-out ever. Hyperbole intended.
How do I quantify how much I love this? I’m a fan of surrealism in fiction. The weirder, the better. I’m a fan of metaphorical stories that have layers of meaning, and “Heaven Sent” is packed to the brim with images and dialogue that are full of depth without feeling ridiculous. And I love that this is such a non-traditional episode of the show, one that eschews a narrative we’re used to so that we can get a story that matters.
“Heaven Sent” is inherently about grief. Yes, there’s a larger plot at work here concerning the Time Lords and the Hybrids, but I’ll get to that later. I think I have to accept that Clara’s death was real, y’all. This whole episode features an ingenious method that allows us to see inside the Doctor’s mind. On one level, it’s great because now I can imagine how he repeatedly gets out of hair-raising situations. But the Mind TARDIS also demonstrates how sad the Doctor is and how unwilling he is to truly let go of Clara. She’s the one at the chalkboard, feeding questions into his consciousness, and it’s a sign of how much the Doctor had come to rely on Clara. But what happens now that she’s gone? How can he let her go?
Unbeknownst to whomever set up the castle puzzle, the entire experience helps him to move on. I don’t think the Time Lords anticipated or intended that. An examination of that place reveals cruelty. There’s no other way to describe it. The Confession Dial was created specifically to torment the Doctor with his worst fears in order to compel him to confess his secrets. If he didn’t, that creepy THING would steal his regenerative power, and there was only one way to survive: give up his life to power the transporter, which would deposit another copy of the Doctor, fresh from Clara’s death, into the castle.
Rinse. Repeat. Rinse. Repeat.
And that cycle is so treacherous and scary because the idea of getting to wash one’s self clean over and over again might have been appealing to the Doctor, who lost someone he loved, and he could still remember her. Could remember her voice, the way she smelled, the way she cracked a joke when things got tense. She was fresh in his memory every single time. Indeed, that might have been the exact thing that kept him going. He would die and a new copy would awake, and Clara would be that much closer to him all over again.
The Doctor repeats this cycle for billions of years worth of time, and it’s all out of spite. A man after my own heart, first of all. But the invocation of “The Shepherd Boy” is appropriate because the Doctor willingly chooses to suffer for billions of years just so he can take the long way home to Gallifrey. He refuses to give the Time Lords what they want. (I’m still operating under the assumption that the Time Lords are behind this.) He chips away at the Azbantium wall for BILLIONS OF YEARS rather than let his willpower die.
To say that’s empowering or emotional just feels like an understatement. Moffat commits so wholly to this premise and its violence, its horror, that it’s difficult to convey just how immense it felt. It’s a love letter to the tenacity of the Doctor, but it’s also a chance for the show to demonstrate just how important Clara was to this man. And now Clara’s gone. Holy shit, I have to accept that now, don’t I?
Wow. Suffice to say, I adored this episode. It is perfectly filmed and edited, and Peter Capaldi manages to carry the action for over fifty minutes while almost entirely by himself. And now, we’re back to Gallifrey, and the Doctor has revealed the true identity of the Hybrid: Me. Yeah, I don’t think it’s the Doctor; it’s got to be Ashildur. Right??? She’s immortal, has been slowly gaining power, and was responsible for the Doctor being trapped by the Confession Dial.
LET’S SEE IF I’M RIGHT.
The video for “Heaven Sent” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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