Heaven Sent was a risky proposition - the idea of an episode starring only the Doctor could so easily have backfired. Thankfully, that's not the case, and the episode we got was absolutely terrific thanks to the work of three hugely talented individuals. The first is Steven Moffat, who delivers a dizzyingly inventive, superbly constructed script bursting with huge ideas and rife with little moments of foreshadowing that take upon unexpected significance upon rewatches. Then there's Rachel Talalay, who surpasses her already sterling work in the Series 8 finale with direction that enhances the script's ideas and delivers several unique visual flourishes that make even the quieter moments really pop. And, of course, there's Peter Capaldi, who seems to improve every week - he carries the episode with panache, conveying the Doctor's wrecked emotional state better than ever before. Capaldi has come on leaps and bounds this series, and it's an absolute pleasure to watch his tour de force performance here. All three elements intersect in a final montage that's utterly disturbing yet triumphant at the same time, mixing hope with a concept that gets more chilling upon further thought. Topped off with a stunning reveal of Gallifrey, and Heaven Sent becomes an episode for the ages - one I've just about run out of superlatives for. 9.5/10
Ben (Assistant Editor)
Could any other television show tell such a fascinating story with only one character for 55 minutes? I very much doubt it. Yet in Heaven Sent we have Peter Capaldi at his very best telling us this extraordinary - and often quite confusing - story. He feels more like the Doctor now than ever before, talking to himself, outwitting the enemy and performing heroic feats. As we began to piece elements of the story together to make sense, we saw the Doctor stuck in a loop for billions of years, and the repetitive montage really got this across. By time I realised the sea of skulls was the Doctor's own, the true torturous nature of the events really hit. The direction was once again outstanding, with some beautiful imagery and truly scary moments. The reveal that the Doctor was trapped in the confession dial was utter genius. Of course, this episode was also a great build up to the return of Gallifrey, which still looks amazing! Although I'm still a bit confused about the hybrid, I cannot wait to see the return of the Time Lords next week! 9/10
Another venture with the experimental once again this week as Peter Capaldi dominates as the only speaking part throughout an entire episode. This strategy may prove divisive but once again the show that is over half a century old attempts something new and fresh. It is a risk but fortunately Peter Capaldi is such an incredible actor that the episode is gripping and thoroughly engrossing. Once again there are concerns of it being too scary for younger viewers, the creepy Veil and some classic horror film surprise frights no doubt had adults, let alone children, across the country jumping out of their skin. Following on from the loss of Clara we get an alternate insight into the Doctor grieving from his sulking in The Snowmen.
Talking out loud to someone who is no longer there demonstrates his despair, although that is perhaps too human an emotion for an alien. However this is a brilliant continuation from last week, as requested, proving that there are repercussions. It is a skilful follow up to 'Face the Raven' and possibly one of Steven Moffatt's best ever stories. The resolution of the episode is particularly brilliant. Initially you conclude that it is simply a sci-fi homage to the movie 'Groundhog Day' but when you think they've overemphasised the point realisation hits. For it to be a plan and not just an eternal cycle was brilliantly executed and the icing on that cake was the Doctor returning to Gallifrey. The anticipation for the series finale is now palpable. 9/10
Doctor Who entered an unknown gear on Saturday and took the quality to light speed. Heaven Sent is an episode that should stay in the minds of true Doctor Who fans for a lifetime (which, after watching, feels like an extremely fleeting amount of existence). Firstly, for me it feels right to see Heaven Sent as a stand alone episode in order to appreciate what a flawless work of art it is. To realise it as the midway point of a longer story is kind of another thing altogether - and yet it mustn't be ignored that the climax to Series 9 is making the legend of the Doctor a better reality than ever. One thing that feels abundantly clear, Peter Capaldi is most definitely The Doctor. So I can only give my take on it, the episode deserves to be enjoyed in hundreds of different ways and interpreted in whatever best way suits you (some theories are going to be more accurate than others, but who cares). What I saw were three big themes - loneliness, fear and experiencing the infinite. Heaven Sent wrote a great verse for all three, but the important sense to gain is how a single being, the Doctor, endured these three torments simultaneously - loneliness and fear, for an eternity.
The Doctor refers to his location as a ‘bespoke torture chamber’ which turns out to be a dimension within his confession dial. Without alluding too heavily to religion, I guess you could see this a place of penance, some kind of purgatory, a prescribed ordeal of an immensely vast scale. And one which only the fear and pain of confession and truth can conquer (That and a pretty impressive two billion years of punching through twenty feet of Azbantium, a substance 400 times stronger than diamond). It’s hard to know exactly how the atmosphere of this insanely long period of existence was so well conjured up in just over fifty of our earth minutes. The soundtrack is magical although it’s easy to be completely unaware of it, but when you find yourself towards the end listening to cheerful, hope filled music whilst watching millions of years of an individual’s brutal suffering being played out, well, you know that you are watching Doctor Who, and at its best.
With so much horror and confusion, we need the relief as much as the Doctor when he is able to reach his one comfort, the mentally generated Tardis, complete with the spirit of who he loves the most. In this shelter he is able to find some respite, albeit in a droplet of time existing just outside his consciousness. Here he knows Clara again, and it’s some kind of beautiful madness that he can so accurately (and conversationally) generate her thinking as well as his own whilst working out the impossible. It’s vital he had reached complete understanding of his recently deceased soulmate. As the Doctor collapses in shock at having become terrifyingly aware of how long he has been trapped, it is some awesome tribute to the character of Clara Oswald that she is the one and only inspiration that allows him to ‘win’. 10/10
There are moments in any medium, be it TV, film, game or literature, that can only be described as monumental. Think back to Ozymandias in Breaking Bad, the episode that ultimately cemented the show as one of the greatest of all time and established an unprecedented legacy. Heaven Sent feels like one of those moments. Not that Doctor Who needed its position as a classic rectified, but HS is the episode which will define Peter Capaldi's era as The Doctor. This is a tour de force of exquisitely nuanced writing, a truly tense horrifying atmosphere light years ahead of behind the sofa cliches but crucially of all, an acting display of such grandeur by Peter that stands as the greatest in the show's history. Without hyperbole, this is undoubtedly award winning. HS comes together so perfectly because every single element works together in unison, a far cry from the tangled mess we ultimately got with Sleep No More. Series 9 has been praised for pushing the boat out when it comes to experimentation; HS is the culmination of this endeavor, bold, confident. Steven Moffat has crafted some of Who's greatest episodes from Blink to last year's Listen, all of each carried an earnest confidence in their writing with Moffat's signature snappy dialogue and web-like narratives at their cores. HS is nothing but a perfection of the kind of viewing experience Moffat has crafted for years, his magnum opus. At its heart HS is a story of vengeance following on from the death of Clara in Face the Raven. Ashildr's vague references to an unknown party have set the stage for a titanic clash, but not before The Doctor is suddenly teleported to a mysterious castle like structure in an endless sea.
The setting of HS is only one of so many meticulously constructed parts in play here; The Doctor alone in this twisting and turning maze is a display unlike anything ever seen on the show. Never have we been offered a clearer microscope into The Doctor's mind, particularly one shattered by raw torment. Truth be told it is the audience that serves as the new companion as he journeys through this remarkable setting, every step, every waking moment he suffers is tangible. The progressive pain we see build is amplified by masterful direction by Rachel Talalay, whose long drawn out camera shots and world class eye for the manipulation of darkness craft a perfect image of The Doctor's Hell. Talalay's understanding of Moffat's script and Capaldi's performance is present in every single shot, a synergy of artists truly at their best. The complex craftsmanship that forms HS makes this an episode of Doctor Who at its intellectual best; this is dark, deep, meaningful science fiction drama, the kind that has been in the making since the arrival of Capaldi as the Twelfth Doctor. The extent of HS's success for me elevates Doctor Who to a class many shows dream of. To top it off with the true return of Gallifrey lays the foundation for a groundbreaking finale. It is a shame then that the only criticism I can have for HS is the bar it now raises going forward. 10/10
And the episode's average totals out at 9.5/10, a massive seal of approval from our team. With that high score, Heaven Sent finally topples The Magician's Apprentice from its perch at number one on our TGT writers' leaderboard:
- Heaven Sent - 9.5/10
- The Magician's Apprentice - 9.25/10
- The Girl Who Died - 9/10
- The Witch's Familiar - 8.92/10
- The Zygon Invasion - 8.7/10
- Face the Raven - 8.6/10
- The Zygon Inversion - 8.21/10
- Under the Lake - 8.2/10
- Before the Flood - 8/10
- The Woman Who Lived - 7.5/10
- Sleep No More - 6.3/10
Our final spoiler-filled team review of the season, Hell Bent, will be up next Thursday.