This week on Doctor Who things got a bit dark. The episode, “Heaven Sent,” acted as sort of a mourning period for The Doctor. Directly following the death of Clara Oswald, The Doctor was driven by rage for the majority of this week’s outing.
This episode was very much a mini horror film, or maybe just the show’s attempt at a Twilight Zone episode. Throughout the hour things are not quite what they seem. The writers kept us in a state of confusion much like The Doctor is in himself.
After being teleported away last week, without the TARDIS, and with no clue who orchestrated the entire affair, The Doctor finds himself in a mysterious clockwork castle. With a rotating and ever changing structure, the castle holds many mysterious clues that The Doctor must use to figure things out. Unfortunately we find out that The Doctor is not alone. A mysterious cloaked figure with flies buzzing around it is slowly making its way to The Doctor, the only way to temporarily stop it is to confess things he has never said to anyone.
As soon as I saw this the film, It Follows popped in my head. Similarly featuring a mysterious creature that casually walks toward its prey. A simple concept that can be quite nerve-wracking. The idea that some ominous force is slowly but inevitably making its way to you and your end is enough to drive someone mad. A nice little added touch to this idea, the creature chasing The Doctor has some sort of camera that shoots its POV and displays it on monitors all around the castle. I couldn’t help but think of playing a multiplayer first person shooter. A common cheat in those games is to look at your opponents quadrant of the screen and see where they are. I think The Doctor would make a pretty good gamer considering how well he employs this same tactic.
This episode was, for lack of a better word, the trippiest I think I’ve ever seen. A strange but clever and unique storytelling device was employed this week, one that was a bit confusing at the start. After diving out a window, the next thing we see is The Doctor back in the TARDIS alive and well. It’s then we find out he did not escape his fate but we are getting some insight into how his mind works. By thinking incredibly fast, The Doctor can, in his mind’s eye, work through complicated problems in mere seconds. This is represented by him in the TARDIS asking Clara questions and her asking them back through a chalkboard. A clever way to get us one more adventure with the impossible girl while not undermining her death. We see just how reliant on her counsel The Doctor has become. While seen from behind or not at all for the majority of the episode, by the end we do get one last real appearance from Jenna Coleman, a sweet little cap to their relationship.
There are hints as to the awful truth behind this mystery but once the truth is revealed it’s truly horrifying. We get the idea that maybe there is some repetition occurring: The Doctor finds a set of clothes waiting for him after getting drenched. Plus there is a moat full of human skulls telling us this place has been the death site for hundreds of people. But when we finally get the truth, the real what’s what about this place, if you didn’t find it deeply disturbing, well, you may not have a heart.
As we learn, The Doctor has been there for thousands of years, dying time after time after time. Using strange technology to copy himself and reset the loop in a twisted Groundhog Day scenario. The answers to his questions lying behind a diamond wall which we see The Doctor punching, over and over again, lifetime after lifetime, each cycle punctuated by his assessment of the stars. Fifty thousand years, two hundred thousand years, millions of years. The Doctor copies himself over and over endlessly reliving the same day, always ending with him pounding away at the same wall of diamond.
A poetic touch comes into play, a quote from the brothers Grimm, about a little bird who sharpens its beak on a mountain of diamond and eventually chisels the whole thing away in the first second of eternity. It’s then The Doctor’s plan comes together. Slowly but surely he is chiseling away at this diamond wall. Years and years of executing the same cycles over and over just to chip away the tiniest bit each time, then painfully killing himself to generate a new copy. The idea that he has knowingly killed himself millions of times is one of the most disturbing ideas Doctor Who has ever had, and done in a way that is both clever and simplistic in execution.
Seeing as how Peter Capaldi is more or less alone for most of this episode, the actor rose to the occasion, taking what could have been a boring or lackluster episode and making it frightening, disturbing and thoroughly engaging. A real example of talent, being able to carry a show squarely on one man’s shoulders.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Davros and Missy were not behind recent events. Instead, it appears that the Time Lords were bringing The Doctor back to Gallifrey, I assume to help return it to the universe. There are still a ton of questions though. They cleverly had the castle and subsequent gateway to Gallifrey be The Doctor’s confession, the one that was willed to Missy at this season’s start. Whether what we saw this week is really its intended purpose is still up in the air. Also The Doctor declares himself the hybrid this week, and tells us the prophecy says the hybrid will be a destructive force on Gallifrey. With one episode left there is much to address and mysteries to answer. Here’s hoping next week’s finale will stick the landing to a top notch season!