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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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