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Doctor Who: Heaven Sent (Review)

“I’ve finally run out of corridor. There’s a life summed up.”

Heaven Sent is a masterful piece of television, a reminder of just what Doctor Who is capable of.

The ninth season of Doctor Who is a very ambitious season of television, largely eschewing standalone episodes in favour of multi-episode storytelling. This was quite the gambit, particularly in the context of a twelve-episode season. Doctor Who would essentially be cutting back from between ten and thirteen stories in a year to a more modest six stories in a season. In some ways, it felt like the revival was consciously harking back to the approach of the classic series, favouring multi-episode narratives. After so many years of standalone storytelling, it was a bold move.

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That bold move has not always paid off. The ninth season of Doctor Who has been short any major embarrassments, but the season seems to have lacked the sort of ambition necessary to pull off a gambit like that. Indeed, the most successful two-parter of the season has been The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion, the episode with the least structural trickery or nuance. Other efforts to justify the decision to run with a season of two-parters have not really worked; the season has often struggled to fulfill all the promise and ambition offered at the start of the year.

Heaven Sent is a spectacular effort, one that manages to fulfill all of that ambition and then some. It is a genuinely bold episode of Doctor Who, one that feels utterly unique in the show’s fifty year history, but executed with incredible confidence and self-assuredness from a production team utterly convinced of what they are doing. It is an instant classic, a season highlight, and easily the best episode of the season by quite some margin.

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Heaven Sent is effectively a one-hander focusing on Peter Capaldi. That is not quite true. Although his name is the only name to appear in the opening titles, Jenna-Louise Coleman does have a brief appearance advising the Doctor to “get up off [his] arse.” There is also the mysterious monster stalking the Doctor through the castle, and a small child who appear in the final scene of the episode to warn the Time Lords that their prodigal son has returned home after all these years.

Still, the bulk of Heaven Sent is carried by Peter Capaldi. The actor is on-screen for most of the episode, over and over again. Without a companion, without a supporting cast, the character is required to convey to the audience exactly what is happening and what is going on. That is a considerable demand on the actor. Capaldi does phenomenal work. The episode is very much a showcase for the leading man, at least as much as the guitar solos in The Magician’s Apprentice or Under the Lake.

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The episode is very much an off-format story. It is hard to compare it to any story in the programme’s long and distinguished history. However, Steven Moffat’s script very coyly and effectively draws from the show’s long history of off-format stories. The use of the blackboard, and the mysterious prompts, call to mind Listen from the previous season. The idea of the Doctor stranded in a hostile environment without a companion conjures up memories of Midnight. That said, the episode most consciously harks back to even earlier stories.

The idea of a self-reconstructing castle harks back to Castrovalva, the first story to feature Peter Davison. That particular story focused on recursion, with the Doctor and his companions getting trapped inside a castle that was constantly rearranging itself. While the special effects of the early eighties could not properly realise all the cool effects, it was a very clever concept and one worth revisiting. As the Doctor climbs to the top of the castle in Heaven Sent, he finds a structure that is shifting and rotating.

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It initially appears like Heaven Sent might be offering a castle that is recursive in time rather than space; that the castle in not just about spaces folded back on one another, but also about time looping around itself. Emerging from the ocean, the Doctor finds his own clothes drying by the fire; putting on his warm clothes, he leaves his wet clothes drying by the fire for the next iteration to pass through. “Every room resets,” the Doctor deduces, suggesting that every room is stuck in some sort of temporal circuit. Of course, the reality of the situation is more complex.

Murray Gold’s score for Heaven Sent is a thing of beauty. It is very easy to take Murray Gold for granted; indeed, there are legitimate debates to be had about the relative merits of the show’s approach to music and emotion. The Moffat era has actually been more restrained in its use of Murray Gold’s music than the Davies era had been. The music at the climax of Heaven Sent is beautiful, adding an epic scale as the centuries (and millennia) breeze by. It is genuinely breathtaking, particularly when coupled with Rachel Talalay’s direction and Peter Capaldi’s performance.

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However, the most interesting musical cues occur early on, as the Doctor explores the mystery of the castle. When the Doctor discovers the painting of Clara, with its surface cracking and the paint peeling, Heaven Sent offers a decidedly synth-heavy score that feels like a slightly more orchestral and bombastic version of the incidental music of the Peter Davison era. Those music sequences feel like more meticulously orchestrated and generously funded homages to the work of composers like Paddy Kingsland or Peter Howell.

Castrovalva is not the only classic episode evoked by Heaven Sent. The idea of the Doctor on his own is interesting, if only for the fact that the show has so rarely indulged it. Even when David Tennant and Russell T. Davies hung around for a season of specials, the production team were careful to provide a convenient “guest” companion for each of the stories. Over the entire history of the show, there have been very few episodes carried by the Doctor without the support of the companion. Midnight is one, but The Deadly Assassin is perhaps the most obvious.

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Heaven Sent evokes The Deadly Assassin in a number of ways. Structurally, it is a story without a companion. The show has a very hard time without that obvious structural support. While there are all sorts of arguments about the proper function of a companion in classic or contemporary Doctor Who, they do work very well as a vehicle for exposition. At their most basic level, the companion provides somebody to whom the Doctor can speak and explain all the information necessary to understand the plot. As such, removing the companion causes a problem.

Heaven Sent and The Deadly Assassin work around this problem in a relatively straightforward manner. Without providing a temporary companion for the Doctor, both episodes resort to having the Doctor talk to himself for extended periods of time. Indeed, the Twelfth Doctor even concocts an imaginary Clara to serve as an audience for his tricks. “I can’t wait to hear what I say,” he boasts. “I’m nothing without an audience.” However, both Heaven Sent and The Deadly Assassin just have the Doctor talk to himself for extended periods.

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It takes a very particular performer to pull off something like that. Although they are arguably two of the strongest actors ever to play the role, it is difficult to imagine Peter Davison or Christopher Eccleston from carrying a one-hander like Heaven Sent or The Deadly Assassin. In contrast, Tom Baker and Peter Capaldi have a theatrical style that lends itself to the sorts of solemn profundity that the Doctor must offer with po-faced seriousness. (It would have been interesting to see David Tennant wrestle with a script like this.)

Capaldi is one of the strongest performers ever to inhabit the title role. He has the dramatic bona fides of veteran actors like Davison or Eccleston. However, Capaldi also has the more exaggerated screen persona that defined Pertwee or Baker’s interpretation of the iconic role. The result is a surprisingly effective one-two punch of dramatic credibility and impressive swagger. As played by Peter Capaldi, the Doctor is simultaneously a grandly tragic figure and an iconic character. That is a very tough balance for any actor to pull off, but Capaldi makes it look easy.

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The Deadly Assassin is a handy point of comparison in other ways. Most notably, both Heaven Sent and The Deadly Assassin are largely about reintroducing Gallifrey back into the show’s mythos, and doing so through the framework of gothic horror. Heaven Sent is a delightful macabre piece of work, and probably the last thing that anybody would have expected when it was announced that Gallifrey would be returning. While the episode feels of a piece with The Deadly Assassin, it feels quite removed from Arc of Infinity or The Mysterious Planet.

Appropriately, then Heaven Sent deals metaphorically with the challenges presented by the return of Gallifrey. It acknowledges the inevitable tendency of long-running properties to revert to form, where the iconic serves as a form of narrative gravity exerting an inescapable pull upon stories being told. Despite the care that Russell T. Davies took to write Gallifrey out of the mythos, the Time Lords were too important to stay dead. All things being equal, the most iconic status quo eventually reasserts itself.

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This is perhaps the truth of the infamous “illusion of change” argument often credited to Stan Lee. With any suitably long-running property, the pull is always towards the restoration of the classic status quo. Any changes often feel temporary, serving to create a story about returning to the most defining and memorable status quo. It might be great that Dick Grayson has become Batman, but Bruce Wayne will always claim the mantle back. Sam Wilson and Jane Foster might shake things up as Captain America and Thor, but those roles will revert given enough time.

Gallifrey was always going to come back in some form or other. That was the central point of The End of Time, Part I and The End of Time, Part II, even if Davies backed away from actually committing to it. The Time Lords have been inching closer and closer with stories like The Day of the Doctor and Listen, to the point where a scene like the final scene of Heaven Sent was all but inevitable. The Doctor was always going to stand on Gallifrey once again, even if it never seemed like it would be quite so soon.

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As such, the castle itself becomes a metaphor. It is more than merely “a fully automated haunted house; a mechanical maze.” The Doctor reflects, “It tidies up after itself.” He supposes that it must be a “closed energy loop” that is “constantly recycling.” In some respects, the castle seems like a metaphor for the show itself. It is a framework that will always revert to something approaching a familiar structure. The Third Doctor era remains perhaps the most striking deviation in the show’s history, and aberration in the context of Doctor Who.

At this point, Doctor Who has been running over fifty years. Even allowing for the sizable gap in the middle, that is a phenomenally long time for a television show. It might not be enough to punch through a wall of diamond or peck through a mountain, but it is effectively forever. It is entirely appropriate to reach the trap as a metaphor for the show itself, a repeating journey that plays out over and over again with minor changes and reworkings along the way. Things always go back to what they were, but the show always inches forward.

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There is every possibility that Doctor Who could run forever. While billions of years might be enthusiastic, Moffat has talked about how the show is a fixture of the BBC schedule for the foreseeable future. Given that Moffat has been in charge of the show for the past five seasons and seems to be in charge for the future, it is possible to read the Doctor’s exhaustion and frustration in Heaven Sent as possibly anxiety on the part of the showrunner. “Can’t I just lose?” the Doctor wonders at one point. “I can’t do this. I can’t always do this.”

It is perhaps churlish to paint the show’s continued success as a grand tragedy, but there are moments in Heaven Sent where it seems like the production team are acknowledging the difficulties of the daily grind of producing Doctor Who on the tight production schedule. After all, the last three actors in the lead role (David Tennant, Matt Smith, Peter Capaldi) have required surgery either during their time working on the show or in the immediate aftermath. “How long can I keep doing this, Clara?” the Doctor asks. “Burning the old me and making a new one?”

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Renewal and reinvigoration are very much part of Doctor Who. Indeed, The Witch’s Familiar suggested that the Doctor’s capacity for reinvention was the key to his constant victories over the Daleks. The Doctor is the very embodiment of evolution and progression. The character and the show are constantly pressing forward. This is incredibly draining for anybody working on the show day-in and day-out. It is no surprise that the tenth season might find itself pushed out by a few months to make room on the production schedule for Sherlock.

Heaven Sent plays out this metaphor in a very harrowing and effective way. Moffat has admitted that he wrote the forthcoming Christmas special as if it were the last piece of Doctor Who that he would ever write. Some of that bleeds back into the central imagery of Heaven Sent. Working on a television show for years must feel quite similar to punching a diamond or pecking away at a mountain; the work gets done, but it is very hard to appreciate the actual momentum in the context of the moment.

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The Veil is a fantastic creation. As with a lot of the Moffat era monsters, the Veil is powered by a delightfully uncomfortable metaphor. The fact that all the gears and cogs wear the skin of a very particular nightmare is incidental; the fact that the Veil has taken the form of an old woman from the Doctor’s childhood is arguably the least interesting thing about it. Instead, the Veil serves as a literal embodiment of death and decay. The flies hovering around it are a delightfully macabre touch.

It is a powerful metaphor, tied to the fear of cancellation that will never leave Doctor Who following the trauma of the show’s decade-and-a-half long absence from British television. However, it also hits upon a more primal fear of death as an unstoppable and inescapable force; its inevitability being the only aspect completely predictable. “As you come into this world, something else is also born,” the Doctor relates. “You begin your life, it begins a journey. Towards you. It moves slowly but it never stops.” He notes, “Never faster, never slower. Always coming.”

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It is very easy to overlook the sheer craft on display here. Moffat’s script sparkles. There are any number of great lines and wry observations contained in the script. The Doctor ruminates on gardening, “It’s dictatorship for inadequates. Or, to put it another way, it’s dictatorship.” When considering his options as he faces the monster stalking him, the Doctor offers, “The first rule of being interrogated is that you are the only irreplaceable person in the torture chamber. The room is yours. So work it.” Capaldi has great fun with them.

Rachel Talalay does great work with the direction. Special mention must be made of the montage towards the end of the episode. It might just be the most affecting sequence of the year, if not the Peter Capaldi or even Steven Moffat era. There is a tendency to suggest that the Moffat era is overly intellectual or conceptual, that it lacks emotional weight and substance. This is perfectly valid criticism of some character choices during the Matt Smith era, but the climax of Heaven Sent demonstrates just how much emotional power the Moffat era can pack.

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The construction here is remarkable. The Moffat era has largely been defined by puzzle-box storytelling, by narratives with moving parts often separated by time itself and destined to click into place at just the right time. Stories like A Good Man Goes to War and The Wedding of River Song will always be impressive on a level of sheer craftsmanship, the meticulous detail that goes into putting the story together and the joy taken in the various red herrings or distractions.

In many respects, Heaven Sent is the logical endpoint of this sort of narrative. It is the definitive puzzle box of the Moffat era. Over fifty-five minutes, Heaven Sent is constructed as an elaborate riddle with as many moving parts as the castle itself; the gears that reconfigure the environment might as well be the gears turning in the heads of the writer, the character or the audience. There is a lot to process through, a powerful central mystery that makes a lot of sense on its own term.

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However, Heaven Sent is remarkable for playing entirely fair with the audience. All of the pieces necessary to solve the riddle are laid out in front of the Doctor and the audience. It plays entirely fair. The fact that the Doctor is trapped in his own “bespoke torture chamber”, but there have been countless former occupants. The skull in the control room. The fact that centuries has passed despite the fact that the Doctor can confidently assert that he has not travelled in time.

Indeed, the biggest reveal hinges on the basic truth of how teleporters work in popular culture. “There’s a copy of me still in the hard drive,” the Doctor reflects. “Me, exactly as I was when I got here seven thousand years.” Although never stated by the episode as a pre-condition of the Doctor’s confinement, it is a common enough genre element that the mystery still seems fair without a line of expository set-up; what was once an esoteric hypothetical discussed by Star Trek nerds, but now so mainstream that even Breaking Bad has explained the thought experiment.

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All the little details point towards one singular possibility. It is entirely possible for the audience to put it together on their own terms, before the Doctor handily explains it. That has not always been the case with Moffat-era puzzle boxes, with The Impossible Astronaut remaining essentially unsolvable until the introduction of the Teselecta in Let’s Kill Hitler. Part of the joy of rewatching the episode is seeing the Doctor slowly put it all together, to figure out when exactly the character worked out the nature of his prison.

The episode suggests that the Doctor himself does not work it out all at once. The realisation seems to creep up on him. As he evades the monster stalking him, he seems to hit on a horrifying possibility that is eventually born out. “How long will I have to be here?” he asks himself. “Forever?” The question is immediately followed by a shot of the Doctor dropping his spoon; initially, it appears to be a response to the arrival of the monster, but the montage takes the image out of that context to suggest something different. However, the Doctor is still confused by the stars.

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It is little elements like this that help to establish Heaven Sent as perhaps the strongest “puzzle box” of the Moffat era. The episode might be built around a very clever high concept, but it remains anchored in the character. More than that, there is enough depth and nuance to the character drama that the story sustains a second (or even third) watch. The construction of the episode is so clever that the Twelfth Doctor reveals more of himself to a viewer returning to the story already knowing the ending.

The Doctor’s big moment of existential crisis hits once the pieces click into place for the Doctor, but before he explains it to the audience. On initial viewing, the audience reads the scene as the Doctor’s emotional exhaustion after a few days trapped in this personal hell. It seems like an existential crisis about the character’s nature. However, once the audience realises that the Doctor understands the true nature of his bespoke torture chamber, the scene takes on an entirely different meaning.

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“I can’t keep doing this, Clara,” the Doctor remarks. “I can’t.” It initially appears to be a broader statement about the character’s extended history of adventuring and intervening, exhaustion after fifty years of stories. However, subsequent viewings reveal that it is a much more specific comment on the nature of this particular situation. It turns out that “this” is not “adventuring through time and space”, but that “this” is “living out this same cycle for eons upon eons.” Of course, if the torture chamber is a metaphor for the churn of production, it can be two things.

So much of the Moffat era is anchored on context; on the way that particular scenes and phrases are read by fandom. This is perhaps most obvious in the double-meaning of The Name of the Doctor, a title that is used within the episode in a context wildly different than most fans would have believed. While this can occasionally seem like clever plot games, Heaven Sent invests this attribute of the Moffat era with a sense of pathos and tragedy. (Of course, the episode concludes with another line that can be read in two different contexts. Is the hybrid “me” or (Lady) “Me”?)

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Heaven Sent even offers genuine concrete answers… or at least appears to. Much of the Moffat era has been spent teasing big revelations, only to back away or subvert expectations; the show has repeatedly threatened to reveal the Doctor’s name, only to pull back at the last moment. Heaven Sent offers exposition tied into the season-long arc of the “hybrid”, in ways that seem logical and organic. “The Hybrid is not a half-Dalek,” the Doctor states. “Nothing is half-Dalek. The Daleks would never allow that.” That is an entirely rational revelation.

However, Heaven Sent also reveals that Davros’ most important question in The Witch’s Familiar did not concern the nature of the hybrid. The biggest question, the one with the greatest impact for the character outside the context of this season, concerns the character’s departure from Gallifrey. The ninth season has circled around to that particular question repeatedly, teasing out possible answers through allegory and metaphor in stories like The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived.

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Confessing his own fears and insecurities, the Doctor admits why he initially ran all of those years ago. “I didn’t leave Gallifrey because I was bored,” the Doctor confesses. “It was a lie. It’s always been a lie.” He acknowledges, “I left because I was scared.” This is fairly seismic piece of retroactive continuity, one easily lost amid the season’s fixation with the “hybrid” and the return of Gallifrey. However, it does not come out of nowhere, particularly in the context of the revival. Episodes like The Parting of the Ways and Listen have emphasised the Doctor’s cowardice.

It is also worth nothing that the season finalé has arguably offered more experimental multi-episode storytelling than most of the season around it. One of the challenges of a season based entirely around two-parter stories is in trying to find interesting ways to structure the cliffhangers and stroybeats across two forty-five minute episodes. The show often struggled to balance set-up and pay-off across the two parts, with stories like Under the Lake and Before the Flood or The Girl Who Died and The Woman Who Lived swapping settings and premises at the half-way point.

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However, the most successful story of the season to this point has been The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion, perhaps the most conventional “one story across ninety minutes” approach to two-parter storytelling. As such, Face the Raven and Heaven Sent each offer radically different settings and storytelling modes. More than that, Hell Bent offers a completely new setting on top of the previous two. Indeed, the three-part finalé feels like three separate episodes linked through a series of cliffhangers.

Heaven Sent is very much a classic episode of Doctor Who, by just about any measure.

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14 Responses

  1. This episode was beautiful. Honestly, though, the end horrified me. I spent just a few minutes petting my dog and thinking after ending it. Honestly, I know it’s hyperbole, but I think this is a strong contender for Best Moffat Written Episode of Doctor Who, and by extension Best Episode of Doctor Who ever.

    • That’s a fair point. I think we’re still in the afterglow phase, but I can see it making my top ten or so. It only gets stronger with re-watch.

  2. I expected this at 1:16 sharp. You’re slipping Darren! 😛

    I read another review which said that Heaven Sent was just, you know, Moffat sticking two fingers up at fanboys who want the Doctor to lose; I hope he is thinking more long-term than that. As much as Moff irritates me, him and his acolytes are still the only ones with enough juice to kept this show interesting. In terms of power, I think of them as Bill Gates, a person with maxed-out fame and influence, who can lobby for things that the existing order can’t.

    • That’s a fair point. I really like the Moffat era, even though I can see why it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. I suspect that whatever follows will be a lot less experimental and more conventional, which fans probably think they want right now, but which will be less interesting to me. Then again, the nicest thing about Moffat no longer running the show will be watching the internet’s opinion of him galvanise into sainthood, like it did (deservedly) with Davies after years of hearing people rant and rage against it on-line.

      • “Then again, the nicest thing about Moffat no longer running the show will be watching the internet’s opinion of him galvanise into sainthood”

        Ha!

        But then again, fatigue may set in. The next showrunner will announce a “back to basics” (ugh, that phrase) approach, to cleanse the palette after too many years of challenging, postmodern self-analysis.

        The path of least resistance? It depends on who takes over, Dollard or Gatiss.

      • Is Dollard considered a contender? Does she have the writing experience? (I know she’s worked as script editor on a lot of shows, but she doesn’t have too many actual writing credits.)

        Then again, I remember when Toby Whithouse was a serious contender to run the show. (Which, admittedly, I’d be more interesting is seeing than most other commentators.) I do dream that Neil Cross’ Sapphire and Steel is an audition piece for showrunning Doctor Who, even though I doubt he’d be interested in the job. The prospect of a Neil-Cross-driven Doctor Who is perhaps the best possible answer to “how to follow Moffat?”, even if I’m not delusional enough to think it has a chance of happening.

        I think Gatiss has repeatedly ruled out running the show. At this stage, I kind of believe him; I think Moffat would gladly have handed it over to him by this point if he could. As wonderful as the eighth season was (not to mention Heaven Sent), I think Moffat is reaching the point where he’d happily go back to watching the show weekly like Russell T. Davies and David Tennant. Now there’s a fun texting group to imagine on Saturday night. (Also, the fact that Gatiss had difficulty extending Sleep No More into a two-parter suggests that perhaps Gatiss might be right that he’s not ideally suited to showrunning the series from a logistical perspective.)

  3. “Status quo eventually reasserts itself”.

    Very perceptive and wise in some ways.

    I spend as much time guessing at Moffat’s intentions as I do following the story these days. Is he a bomb-thrower who wants the show to question its own motivations and cliches? If evolution is impossible, can we only go backward, or venture to realms unexplored…?

    Well, here’s what I’m fairly certain of. You need a man like Capaldi to give this weight, otherwise we just laugh; the very notion of a Twelfth Doctor dying a billion times over over billions of years, it’s a parody. How are we supposed to take any regeneration story seriously after this, I honestly dunno, man. You couldn’t air this episode unless the future of DW was enshrined, because it’s cutting the legs off every showrunner to follow.

    If true, and we’re giving the writers the benefit of the doubt here, than all the continuity — the Great Intelligence, the M&M Daleks, Coal Hill, the TV Movie, Gallifrey — bringing all of that back, just to stymie future writers from doing anything novel with it? It may be just the medicine the show needs.

    (Of course, speaking as an American, we’re witnessing the opposite with the third reboot of Spider-Man…)

    • One of the things I liked about The Time of the Doctor, which I suspect is one of the things fandom disliked about it, was the decision to avoid playing the epic “final regeneration” arc for angst. The episode just slips the whole “this is my final regeneration” plot point into the same episode where it is resolved, robbing the show of the chance to do some later “the Doctor desperately hunts for more lives” story in the next few years. It did feel like Moffat was rather cheekily (and brazenly) taking that option off the table in the most flippant manner possible.

      One of the interesting aspects of The Deadly Assassin, which I didn’t get a chance to touch on here but might next week, is the idea that the episode codified the death drive within Doctor Who fandom. The “thirteen regenerations” limit was a necessary storytelling decision for that individual episode, seen as Robert Holmes needed to kill off a Time Lord, but it quickly became this ticking clock to Doctor Who fandom. It was “death” for the show, with fans fixating on what would happen when those lives ran out.

      In its own way, Heaven Sent touches on that idea with the Veil serving as a metaphorical version of the Valeyard, the darkness and death following the Doctor. As the Doctor measures how long he has to sleep and eat, he mentions how he keeps track of time counting down, and The Deadly Assassin marks the point at which the show really started that clock ticking. A lot of the Moffat era, particularly The Time of the Doctor and Heaven Sent, seems to be about trivialising that ticking clock within Doctor Who. The Doctor can spend two thousand years in the Pandorica, and billions of years in the Confessional Dial, without missing a second. The Doctor can live to the end of his regenerations or die billions of times, but he will always endure.

      Given that the death drive ties into the show’s own insecurity about cancellation, through the metaphor of the Time War which connects back to Gallifrey, the Moffat era feels like it is largely about trying to heel the wounds of that death drive and that fascination with the end.

      But I’ll probably offer a tidier version of this argument next week, depending on what Moffat does with Gallifrey.

      • Yeah, I’ve taken issue with Moffat’s “steal everything that’s not nailed down” approach to canon, as though he wants every future story to be measured his own, but “Time of the Doctor” was handled very adroitly, I think. We got a satisfying cap to the Doctor’s long life, followed by the inevitable ‘reboot’. Now we’ve gotten all that out of our system.

      • Yep. I wonder if that’s part of what he’s doing with Hell Bent, writing around another “epic” storyline by just dealing with it directly. (“The search for Gallifrey.”) Of course, part of me also believes it’s Moffat genuinely challenging himself; given the disheartening success-to-failure ratio of stories featuring Gallifrey, closing out the season with such a story is certainly a bit of a gambit. Next week, there’s every chance we could discover that punching through a twenty foot diamond wall is more enjoyable than returning to Gallifrey.

  4. “The episode might be built around a very clever high concept, but it remains anchored in the character.”

    I think that nails it on the head. I’m generally skeptical of Moffat’s puzzle-box stories because I rarely find a “clever” concept satisfying without some sort of plot or character payoff. After 50 years of Doctor Who, as well as Star Trek, Babylon 5, Farscape, etc, I think so many of the best high-concept ideas have already been used. I find that the true beauty is getting a great concept and a great character and a great story.

    That’s a big reason why the Matthew Smith era left me cold. Even after 3 years, I felt like the 11th Doctor was still a generalized archetype rather than a developed character. I felt like too often the show was too intent on playing tricks. I just didn’t find myself caring if the 11th Doctor got shot. By contrast, I really found myself empathizing with the 12th Doctor. It’s a high concept, but one designed to push the Doctor emotionally. Overall, just wonderful.

  5. The idea of forcing the Doctor to suffer for billions of years over and over seems a particularly fitting form of torture coming from Ashidlr, who of course is doomed to immortality because of the Doctor’s actions. I’d imagine Ashidlr – if she’s in on the plan – is pleased with herself. However, the episode also sets up an important juxtaposition. Ashidlr simply complains about her immortality and can’t see it as anything but a curse. She doesn’t influence the world for the better so much as cloister herself off. By contrast, the Doctor finds a way to make the most of each moment, even a tiny deny in a diamond wall, that over time can lead to larger change.

    • That’s interesting. I am curious as to exactly what Ashidlr’s role is to be in all this. How much of a stooge/accomplice is she? I suspect all will revealed come Saturday.

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