Saturday, 5 December 2015

"Heaven Sent"

Doctor Who in the 21st Century is a very polished product and every story, no matter the quality, has something remarkable about it. It is still rare, however, to find a story in which every single aspect of its conception and execution is first rate and to this elite list must now be added "Heaven Sent". Steven Moffat has crafted a tale that is, at its simplest, the Doctor being chased by a scary monster. It is this that will suck in and keep the terrified attention of the small child that remains (and should always remain) a key part of the programme’s demographic. However, we have musings on facing one’s own death, of facing oneself as a person. It is a story set in a fairy-tale castle and, indeed, can be seen as a Doctor Who version of a fairy-tale as it channels (and acknowledges) the Grimms’ tale of the Shepherd’s boy. It is a time-bending sci-fi tale with a truly shocking twist. It is a way of showing the Doctor being tormented in a truly horrible way, without showing any violence whatsoever. Steven Moffat’s script manages all of this, leavening the grimness with his uniquely pitched humour in one of his best scripts for the programme.

The episode is especially unique for its cast. The episode is, for the most part, the Doctor talking to himself and Capaldi tops his considerable best in an unforgettable performance. The Doctor starts off vengeful over the death of Clara, but as time goes on, as well as his own perils, he muses on his sense of bereavement. Capaldi never loses the fire and the feelings of loss, of despair and anger are all combined to devastating effect. We are shown the thought processes of the Doctor in times of peril, so mush faster than a human’s, where the Doctor’s ‘mind palace’ appears to be his perfect display of ‘showing off’ in the TARDIS. As we find out the Doctor is in his own personal Hell, we find the Doctor fighting to turn it into Purgatory, refusing to take the easy way out.

Helming the show, we have the best work Rachel Talalay has done in any medium. Each shot drips with atmosphere and the episode has to be seen more than once to take in all the information fed to the viewer. The Veil is a genuinely terrifying threat and there is more than one genuine ‘jump’ moment. There is a slight disconnect between scenes, which begs the question as to whether we are seeing multiple pecks by the bird on the mountain. The production team make the castle look beautiful, spooky and scary and the cinematography by Stuart Biddlecombe is first rate. A special mention must be made for Murray Gold’s finest score to date, one which has influences ranging from the best of Roger Limb and Paddy Kingsland in the Davison Era to Beethoven.

The first second of eternity passes, though and we find ourselves somewhere where we never thought we would be. The Doctor finally reveals the secret he was hiding for aeons ‘The hybrid is me’. Whether it is ‘me’ or ‘Me’ remains to be seen…

NEXT: "Hell Bent"

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