Heaven Sent was, if nothing else, a visual and aural treat and something to be watched on a very big screen. But as a story, it was so-so nonsense to watch the clock to. It really didn’t need to last an extended 55 minutes.
The TARDIS-less Doctor found himself in the middle of nowhere with an opening monologue that makes him sound like he’s dead. This tower, an apparent prison, was like a giant edition of The Crystal Maze. It’s a medival-style fortress with modern technology, and The Doctor ascertaining he’s in the same timezone and no more than a light year away from the trap street in Face The Raven. He describes it as “a fully-automated haunted house… a mechnical maze… a puzzle box designed to scare me to death. It must be Christmas…” (No, mate, you’ve still got to suffer River Song again at Christmas!)
Cue lots of running about in corridors as ‘The Veil’ comes towards him, the mysterious creature played by Jami Reid-Quarrell who was previously seen as ol’ snake-face Colony Sarff in this series’ first two episodes, The Magician’s Apprentice and The Witch’s Familiar.
The trouble with Steven Moffat‘s scripts is that as he’s progressed (in the loosest definition possible), he just paints his characters into a corner and then throws a dice to see what bollocksy way he can make up to get them out of it without the solution making a lick of sense. And in this, as The Veil approached and The Doctor gets to a dead end, he concludes, “I’ve finally run out of corridor. This is a life summed up”… at which point everything freezes, then the entire tower switches all around in sections like the roof of his TARDIS, and suddenly there’s an exit. Oh, how fortuitous!
That said, there were some nicely delivered lines but which felt more like soundbites, and all delivered by The Doctor since he was the only person onscreen which spoke, some of it addressing his silent foe and some of it just his own thoughts:
- “Make no mistake. I am the Doctor. I’m coming to find you. And I will never, ever stop.”
- “Clara said I shouldn’t take revenge. You should know I don’t always listen.”
- “I just watched my best friend die in agony. My day can’t get any worse. Let’s see about yours.”
- “The day you lose someone isn’t the worst. At least you’ve got something to do. It’s all the days they stay dead.”
- “If they’re going to threaten you with death. Show them who’s boss. Die faster!”
- “There are two momnents in life that nobody remembers – being born and dying. Is that why we always stare into the eye sockets of a skull?”
- “The Brothers Grimm. Lovely fellas. They were on my darts team.”
There was also some neat sound FX as flies buzzed all around the speakers in Dolby Digital 5.1, but while such audio enjoyment is something that home cinema fans will enjoy on a regular basis with Blu-rays and DVDs, it’s nice to see some effort applied in a TV drama.
Go to page 2 for more thoughts on the episode including a very special guest cameo from… well, you’ll only find out by going to page 2!
And to hammer home the point that Clara’s death is a sore point he struggles to get past, there’s an ancient painting of Jenna Coleman hanging up within his incarcerated abode. And most of the time he’s talking to her – well, not TO her, but making her ever-present in his mind, rather like Stellan Skarsgård’s imaginary manifestation of Nicola Walker in River. He imagines he’s in the TARDIS, talking to Clara (who’s only seen from behind), telling her early on how he survived an initial big fall, even though he was still working that out at the time.
And on a blackboard appears three questions in turn, the answers coming as the episode went on:
- “What is this place?”
“What did you say that made the creature stop?”
“How are you going to WIN?”
And then, we had a River-style cameo when an uncredited (in the opening credits, at least, but not in the closing ones) Jenna Coleman popped up as a figment of The Doctor’s imagination. So she’s still dead. Don’t get too excited!
In the end, the revelation was that the Doctor was working his way through the maze, arriving at a wall of Azbantium – 400 times harder than diamond and 20 feet thick. But the Veil would catch up with him, sort-of electrocute him and then half-kill him off to the point where he was constantly ‘burning’ his old self to make a new one who arrives and goes round the maze again. So when you saw a load of skulls in the water near the start, it was only ever him who’s been there and all those skulls were his, constantly replaying it all until he got it right.
There was also talk of a Hybrid, which he stated was half-Dalek and half-Time Lord, but then later corrected himself as having no Dalek involved, since they’d never allow that. And as he found himself back on his home planet, “The Hybrd destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins…. is me!”
That was it??! It took him 2 billion years to chisel through the Azbantium. It almost felt as long in the telling. Capaldi did the best he could, but he’s been hampered by appallingly weak scripts this series.
I’ll also lay blame at the door of director Rachel Talalay, who previously directed last year’s two-part finale, Dark Water and Death In Heaven, and I’ve never forgiven her for her godawful feature-length debut, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, from 1991.
And if Beethoven was alive, he’d be suing Murray Gold for bastardising his 7th Symphony, time and again to drum up the tension!
Next time: Ashildr’s back yet again – well, The Doctor just passed her task; there’s more Hybrid talk and the words “the regeneration is in progress” are heard… but we know it won’t affect The Doctor because Capaldi is in the Christmas episode.
Heaven Sent is available on the BBC iPlayer until December 27th.
Doctor Who Series 9 Part 1 is available to buy on Blu-ray and DVD, you can also pre-order Series 9 Part 2 on Blu-ray and DVD ahead of its release on January 4th 2016, and individual episodes can be bought in HD and SD here.
And click on all the images in this review for the full-sized version.
Director: Rachel Talalay
Producer: Peter Bennett
Screenplay: Steven Moffat
Music: Murray Gold
The Doctor: Peter Capaldi
The Veil: Jami Reid-Quarrell
Servalan: Jacqueline Pearce
Clara Oswald: Jenna Coleman
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.
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