Heaven Sent

14-episode
full season set
6-episode set
Region A/1
6-episode set
Region B/2

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(Doctor Who Story No. 266, starring Peter Capaldi)
  • written by Steven Moffat
  • directed by Rachel Talalay
  • produced by Peter Bennett
  • music by Murray Gold
  • 1 episode @ 56 minutes
Story: The Doctor materializes in a large ocean castle, burning for a confrontation with those who have conspired against him and his friends. But staying alive long enough to put all the clues together will test his concentration and perseverance far more than ever before....

DVD Extras for this story on the 14-episode box sets include:

  • Doctor Who Extra featurette segment (5 min.) with Peter Capaldi (The Doctor), writer Steven Moffat, director Rachel Talalay,
    and spoilers for the next episode...
  • "Sublime Online" featurette segment (approx. 2 min.) with Capaldi, Talalay, and the director's artwork...
  • Deleted Scenes (6 min.)
  • Trailers

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program.
To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide to the season instead.


Here we have one of the most bizarre and unique entries ever seen on Doctor Who, in ways that are slightly reminiscent of "The Deadly Assassin" (story no. 88), where the Doctor is without a companion, and without therefore a ready-made "Sprechhund". This one goes even further - we don't even really get anything of a guest cast either.

But writer Steven Moffat, director Rachel Talalay, and star Peter Capaldi do stellar work in this one to make it all hold together with superb clarity and even to make it compelling for a good portion of the run. This is one of the more solid stories of the season, all things considered, but it still has a few significant drawbacks.


I thought I was going to be able to pull down some of this episode's logic with the Second Law of Thermodynamics - that this universe should show more signs of decay each time the Doctor comes back through the loop. But cleverly, Steven Moffat has the Doctor notice this and postulate that the environment is in a "Closed Energy Loop". The reference is both vague enough and just scientifically intriguing enough to paste over the objections enough to allow us to go with the concept, even if we are still a bit puzzled by the selectivity of what is in or out of the loop, or what is or is not affected by natural decay.

Perhaps the most puzzling thing about this entire setting is the fact that the Doctor is basically confessing the exact same things to this creature each time through the loop. If it is still satisfied to hear the same things over and over, why would anyone ever get around to confessing anything juicy or important? The fact that we can even ask that question is indication of yet another problem...

The one critical thing that really wasn't explored well enough for me to go along with it was the nature of the episode's creature, and specifically its apparent invincibility. Yes, we know it's taken on the form of one of the Doctor's boyhood nightmares, but what in fact is it? Specifically, why is it taken for granted that, should the Doctor touch it and enter into a physical struggle with it, the creature automatically wins and the Doctor dies? How is it that the Doctor has available to him his sonic sunglasses and an operational teleport, and with those devices can't come up with a way of dematerializing the creature and leaving its molecules in a disembodied state? The supremacy of Moffat's often recurring half-dead creature chasing the protagonists while they run around putting clues together isn't valid as automatically as he seems to think. It's a good archetypal device, but this example feels like a bit of fluff because it never truly has an opportunity to withstand proper scrutiny during this adventure. It's quite common for creatures fulfilling this story function to get a chance to demonstrate what they can do on someone else in front of the protagonist's eyes, but today's creature can't really get any such chance because the Doctor's the only one here.


That said, I think this episode started off quite well, with a very atmospheric opening, and some good exploratory scenes featuring our favourite sci-fi explorer protagonist. I liked the architecture of the castle he found himself in. I liked the concept of suddenly appearing in an unknown setting and having to figure out where it was, and who brought him here, and why. Incidentally, there is quite a bit of POV footage in this episode, yet it finds better ways of integrating itself into the main story than was managed back in "Sleep No More" (story no. 264), so we end up with cinematography that is far superior - another element I heartily appreciate and enjoy.

One of the great backbone strengths of this episode is its focus on the Doctor's problem-solving abilities. The episode thrives on the details of his clever solutions, the means and speed with which he comes to them, and also the emotional struggles he has to maintain his motivation and concentration. Additionally, this is being brought to the screen with all the tricks and craftsmanship that cinema can take pride in, making it a treat for the eye and the ear.

One of the best devices here is the use of the TARDIS console room interior as the Doctor's virtual thinking space, in addition to Clara's blackboard scratchings to help get around the "Sprechhund" problem. This is very nicely introduced early in the episode, and used quite well later on. Many meditational techniques actually recommend that participants imagine similar safe comfortable workplaces with supercomputers providing all information at the participant's fingertips, so this does seem like a natural fit to be the Doctor's version of it all.


The Boredom Factor

I think the biggest caveat of the story is just one simple small thing. Around about 25 minutes in on my first viewing, as my hopes for the appearance of a guest cast or a change of scenery collapsed and died, I noticed I was getting kind of bored by the episode. It felt like I was stuck with watching Capaldi poke around with this formula without anything truly interesting to do for the rest of the "TV hour". And I'll stand by that instinct and wonder why Rachel Talalay didn't compress this episode a little better in the editing room. As designed for a 45-minute slot, this one probably should have naturally rung in at about 42 minutes - on the shorter end of the scale. Instead, it's been overblown to a whopping 56 minutes, and I really can't think why. I don't think it deserved that.

At any rate, this is an episode that can win back its audience in its final 7 or 8 minutes, even after losing them, because the magnitude of the ideas as they come together at the very end is so potent. I love the energy of the editing and sound and images in the final sequence, which I have to rate as one of the most satisfying moments of the season. Indeed, as I look back on the last three episodes of the season proper, this is really THE big victory for the Doctor right here, far larger and with more primacy than anything he accomplishes in the others. And this episode really does stand apart from the others, as a complete story on its own, with a clearly motivated goal of escape for its protagonist.

The coda is of course one of the best cliffhangers of the season, once again making it very hard for any viewer to stop here and not watch the next episode straight away. But one of the big questions I have here is... How did the Doctor's confession dial get from Ashildr's pocket in present day London to the desert outside the Capitol city on Gallifrey? Granted - it's had plenty of time... And if this entire gruelling experience has been part of the confession dial the whole time, exactly what was the Doctor's participation and motivation in helping to create it and take care of it all season? Why would he not have recognized the interior for what it was sooner?


This story doesn't really tackle the high philosophy that many earlier tales did, but sticks more solidly to a simple idea and plot and runs with it, doing justice to the ideas while getting a bit overblown. It's a good one, but it'll only take a middle rank in the season because I'd rate its ambitions a bit below par and its pacing problematic, even while it delivered very excellently on most of its ideas.



This story is available on DVD and Blu-ray:


Season 35 Box Set
11 stories in 14 episodes
U.S.


NEW for
April 5, 2016.
Canada


NEW for
April 5, 2016.
U.K.


NEW for
March 7, 2016.
Blu-ray U.S.


NEW for
April 5, 2016.
Blu-ray Canada


NEW for
April 5, 2016.
Blu-ray U.K.


NEW for
March 7, 2016.



This story is also available in a 6-episode volume with only some of the special features.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:


half-season volume
6 episodes
DVD NTSC
Region 1 U.S.


NEW for
Jan. 26, 2016.
DVD NTSC
Region 1 Canada


NEW for
Jan. 26, 2016.
DVD PAL
Region 2 U.K.


NEW for
Jan. 4, 2016.
Blu-ray U.S.
Region A/1


NEW for
Jan. 26, 2016.
Blu-ray Canada
Region A/1


NEW for
Jan. 26, 2016.
Blu-ray U.K.
Region B/2


NEW for
Jan. 4, 2016.



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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "Hell Bent"



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