The current series of ‘Doctor Who’ aired it’s penultimate episode this Saturday, and, well… “Heaven Sent” was a head scratcher and a mind twister of a story set in a gloomy old castle that would make Bela Lugosi green with envy.
(I suppose here’s where I warn you about “spoilers”. Warning: Spoilers.)
Actually, spoilers aren’t much of an issue in this episode. Something Big happens at the end, but, really, if you’ve any connection to social media of any sort you already know what that is. Yes, in this episode we see the return of Gallifrey and all the mess that no doubt entails. And yes, The Doctor makes a few pointed references to the reason why he ran from his homeworld all those years ago, (hint: it wasn’t because he was bored) but… mostly? Mostly this episode is The Doctor doing some serious grieving.
Written by show runner Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay, (whom I’ve decided should direct the last two episodes of every series of “Doctor Who” from now until the ice caps melt) “Heaven Sent” certainly starts off with a bang. We see The Doctor arriving via teleporter and immediately issue a challenge to whatever unseen force has brought him here. It’s a classic Moffat Doctor speech; full of bravado and righteous fury. All of which makes it that much more unsettling when we realize some 40 minutes later, that it wasn’t the first time The Doctor had given that speech.
At first, however, it just seems like we’re in the middle of some giant puzzle box/torture chamber. (And we all know how good The Doctor is at solving/escaping those.) The Doctor is pursued by an implacable, shrouded Thing that he must always stay one step ahead of. (Nothing he can’t handle, even if it is directly modeled on a particularly nasty childhood memory.) He realizes that if he tells it a truth about himself the Thing is temporarily halted and he can make an escape. (Ah. Yes. Trickier. The Doctor never likes to give away his secrets.) The castle shifts and moves, seemingly providing him with food necessary to keep him alive for his torment, but also resetting and “cleaning up after itself”. (In a sense, Time here is meaningless! Um, where IS here exactly?) He finds evidence of thousands, possibly millions, of prisoners having been here before him. (Funny. All those skulls look a bit familiar…) He finds clues pointing him to a room 12. (Probably just a coincidence.) And when he finally puts all the pieces together… He has to go back and start all over again. (Bugger.)
So. One part “It Follows” and a big chunk of “Groundhog Day”. Add in the Myth of Sisyphus and a dash of Prometheus. Oh. Also The Brothers Grimm for the perfect finish. That’s “Heaven Sent” in a nutshell. Well, that plus a truly perfect performance by Peter Capaldi. Honestly, are there still sad cases out there who haven’t warmed up to him as The Doctor? I keep hearing these rumors, but… I just don’t see how that’s possible…
I’m being a little snarky here, yes. It’s a defense mechanism. As a Whovian, watching “Face The Raven” and “Heaven Sent” back to back was an emotionally unnerving experience. Clara’s death (which, honestly, I initially dismissed as yet another in Moffat’s long line of fake deaths) had been telegraphed all season, but I’d decided that it wouldn’t happen (if it really ever would happen. Again, Moffat and those fake deaths…) until the series’ final episode. I had 2 more episodes to go after “Face The Raven”. And, possibly, even up to the Christmas Special! Plenty of time to prepare!
Nope. Sorry. Clara’s dead. A needless death as it happens, but a heroic death; she goes out trying to save not only innocent Riggsy but also the person indirectly responsible for her death. Clara Oswald, who began life on the series as an irritating puzzlebox – constructed of pure cliche and “manic-pixie-dreamgirl” moonbeams – left it a fully-fledged, utterly brilliant character. Damnit, Jenna Coleman. No one will ever be as good as Rose Tyler, and frankly, Rose Tyler was almost beaten out by Donna Noble, but YOU, madam? You are very nearly almost as good as Rose Tyler.
Then into “Heaven Sent”. But, there isn’t really any satisfaction to be found when The Doctor finally manages to figure out the “what” of his predicament and the “how” to get out of it. (Incidentally, how brilliant is it that a character famous for thinking his way out of problems is forced to actually punch his way out of this one?) Because there’s still the questions of “who” and “why”. Given that we see The Doctor literally step out of his own Confession Dial at the episode’s climax, I had to wonder… Was this all set up by The Doctor himself? Was this some perverse sort of penance for not protecting Clara? Or…
Hear me out.
What’s the biggest “Who” Baddie that has, so far at least, not been seen in the New Series? Daleks, Cybermen, The Master, Sontarans, Autons, Silurians, even the bloody Macra have been featured. But this one? Arguably the most important one of the bunch? Not a peep.
Actually, there was a mention… Back in “The Name Of The Doctor”.
What if next week we see New Who actually dare to tackle the biggest question mark of the Original Series? I realize that this is utter fanboy wibbling right now. I realize that I am probably way off the mark here, but, what if…
We finally meet The Valeyard?
As I have so completely gone off the rails into hopeless Anorakdom, let me mention that back in 1986 when “Doctor Who” was first put on “hiatus”, it returned with a season-long story arc called “Trial Of A Time Lord”, which supposed that at some point, between his 12th and 13th incarnations, The Doctor went bad. He took the title “Valeyard” and set about trying to destroy himself in the past. It was supposed to end in a dramatic cliff-hanger with The Doctor literally fighting his Dark Self. Not unreasonably, the producer at the time sensed that such an ending would give the BBC a perfect excuse to end the show once and for all, so a less-definitive ending had The Valeyard slink away into the shadows… possibly to return one day.
I know. Crazy, right? There was actually a time when the BBC actively wanted to cancel “Doctor Who”! Can you believe it?
So there you have it, comrades. I’m officially calling it: next week sees not only the return of Gallifrey and the Time Lords, but also The Valeyard is stepping out of the shadows.
How wrong will I be? Time will tell. It always does.
(I am probably SO wrong about this… Ah whatever.)