Heaven Sent (Doctor Who)
"Heaven Sent" is the eleventh and penultimate episode of the ninth series of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. It was first broadcast on BBC One on 28 November 2015. It was written by Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay.
|261 – "Heaven Sent"|
|Doctor Who episode|
The castle in which the Doctor is imprisoned
|Directed by||Rachel Talalay|
|Written by||Steven Moffat|
|Script editor||Nick Lambon|
|Produced by||Peter Bennett|
|Executive producer(s)||Steven Moffat|
|Incidental music composer||Murray Gold|
|First broadcast||28 November 2015|
In the episode, the Doctor (Peter Capaldi), in the wake of Clara Oswald's (Jenna Coleman) death, has been teleported to a strange waterlocked castle, and is there pursued by a shrouded creature that is trying to kill him. The episode received universal critical acclaim, with many labelling it one of the strongest episodes of the new series and of the show overall. Special attention was given to Capaldi's acting, Moffat's writing, and Talalay's direction.
After witnessing the death of his companion Clara Oswald ("Face the Raven"), the Doctor is teleported into a glass chamber within an empty castle which is surrounded completely by water. He finds himself inexorably pursued by a cloaked figure called The Veil, which evokes the Doctor’s childhood fears; the Doctor is able to monitor the Veil’s movements through television monitors mounted throughout the castle. When the Veil corners the Doctor, he admits he is afraid to die. The Veil halts and the castle reconfigures itself, allowing an escape; he jumps out a window into the sea, finding a vast sea of skulls under the water. The Doctor concludes that the castle and the Veil are an elaborate trap to elicit fear. The Doctor takes advantage of the Veil’s slow reaction time to explore the castle, finding several strange remnants of his predecessors, such as dry replacement clothes, as well as a skull connected to the transportation chamber and the word "bird" written in a pile of dust. He uses the imagined environment of the TARDIS to stage inner monologues, answering questions that a silent Clara writes on a chalkboard. He investigates clues left in the castle, ultimately directed to the inscription “I AM IN 12.” As night falls, he notes through astronomical measurements that he has apparently traveled 7000 years into the future. He delays the Veil by alleging knowledge of the Hybrid and goes in search of Room 12; the movement of the reconfiguring castle causes the skull to fall into the ocean.
Inside Room 12, the Doctor discovers a wall of Azbantium, a mineral 400 times harder than diamond, behind which he theorizes the TARDIS to be. He realises that "bird" refers to "The Shepherd Boy", a fairytale by the Brothers Grimm. The Doctor experiences an epiphany which causes him to temporarily despair, but, revitalized by a vision of Clara, he punches the wall, reciting the fable of the shepherd boy. The Veil touches him, mortally injuring him and disabling his regeneration process, whereupon it teleports out of the castle. An agonized Doctor crawls back to the teleportation chamber, repeating his epiphany in the environment of the imagined TARDIS: the prison was made solely for him, and thus the skulls were not his predecessors but himself. The Doctor burns his body as a catalyst to restart the teleport, aware that due to the resetting rooms, the system will still contain a copy of himself. He then falls to the ground, writes "bird" in the dust, and disintegrates, reduced to the skull which the Doctor had seen earlier. A new Doctor appears, starting the cycle anew.
After four and a half billion years, the Doctor finally breaks through the Azbantium, having finished his recital of the fable:
There’s this Emperor who asks this shepherd’s boy, “How many seconds in eternity?” And the shepherd’s boy says, “There’s this mountain of pure diamond, and it takes an hour to climb it, and an hour to go around it. Every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on the diamond mountain, and when the entire mountain is chiseled away, the first second of eternity will have passed.” You might think that’s a hell of a long time. Personally, I think that’s a hell of a bird.
A bright light vanquishes the Veil, revealed to be a clockwork automaton. The Doctor steps through to find himself on Gallifrey; he had been trapped in his confession dial (the supposed “last will and testament” of a Time Lord.) A young boy approaches and the Doctor tells him to let the Time Lords know that he has returned, having "taken the long way around". The Doctor then proclaims "The Hybrid, destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins, is Me."
The Doctor tells himself "Assume you're going to survive. Always assume that." This is what Clara says of the Doctor in "The Witch's Familiar": "he always assumes he's going to win. He always knows there's a way to survive".
The Doctor confesses that he ran from Gallifrey because he was scared, and that the pretense of being bored was a lie. Originally, in The War Games (1969), the Second Doctor admitted to his companions that "Well, I was bored".
Once he arrives on Gallifrey, the Doctor tells the young boy to announce that he "came the long way around", echoing the Eleventh Doctor in "The Day of the Doctor" (2013) saying that he was going "home, the long way around".
This episode primarily features the Doctor, with the non-speaking Veil portrayed by movement artist Jami Reid-Quarrell (who also appeared as Colony Sarff in "The Magician's Apprentice" / "The Witch's Familiar" earlier in the series). Former companion Clara (Jenna Coleman) and an uncredited Gallifreyan child also make brief appearances.
Before series 8 began, Moffat promised a cliffhanger for series 9, and teased in Doctor Who Magazine Issue 475, "I've figured out the cliffhanger to the penultimate episode of series 9. And it's a whopper. Ohh, I don’t think you'll see this coming!"
The read through took place on 18 June 2015 and filming began on 24 June 2015. Filming for the Castle interior scenes took place in Cardiff Castle and Caerphilly Castle, in addition to constructed sets.
The episode was watched by 4.51 million viewers in the UK overnight, a 20.7% audience share; the consolidated figures were 6.19 million viewers with a 24.9% share. It received an Appreciation Index score of 80, despite receiving acclaim from critics and fans.
|Rotten Tomatoes (Average Score)||9.81|
|Rotten Tomatoes (Tomatometer)||89%|
|The A.V. Club||A|
|New York Magazine|||
"Heaven Sent" received universal critical acclaim, with the majority of critics declaring it the greatest episode of the current series, and possibly one of the greatest episodes in the show's run. Many instances of extremely high praise were aimed towards Steven Moffat's script and Rachel Talalay's direction. Peter Capaldi's performance received universal widespread acclaim. The episode currently holds a score of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average score of 9.8, by far the highest average score of the series. The site's consensus reads "Peter Capaldi turns in a one-man command performance in this episode's exploration of grief, and a surprise turn of events sets up an explosive season finale".
Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times awarded the episode a perfect five star rating, saying that "Peter Capaldi's one-man show is an instant classic". He continued "This is Peter Capaldi's hour and he has earned it...but this brilliant, bold, extended episode is a one-man show – a tour de force from the magnificent Capaldi. This year he has made the role his own" and said that the episode's structure "works perfectly without ever seeming contrived". He further stated that "[Steven Moffat] has structured the narrative with his trademark intricacy. Capaldi plays it to perfection – in the moment, every moment. Rachel Talalay steeps the production in atmosphere and sustains the momentum right until the final revelations". Calling the episode a "mind-bending masterpiece", Morgan Jeffery of Digital Spy stated that it was also "one of the most surreal episodes to date". He further stated "Writer Steven Moffat cleverly subverts the expectation that this'll be a low-budget escapade, with a surplus of Capaldi awkwardly expressing his inner thoughts aloud. There's plenty of the Doctor 'talking to himself', true enough, but there's always a reason", before closing his review by saying "'Heaven Sent' is brilliant, but it's also about as far from big, broad, family-friendly entertainment as you can get. The show's been obtuse and a little odd before, but nothing quite like this, and its rejection of the standard Doctor Who trappings might be too much for some. But if you're willing to see past that and embrace the weirdness, then you'll end up captivated. Because this is demanding and intelligent science-fiction, the likes of which BBC One should be commended for airing".
Alasdair Wilkins of The A.V. Club gave the episode an 'A', for the fifth time this season, writing "This season has been a remarkable achievement for the show, and, pending next week's finale, it's got a real chance to go down as the best season of the revival, topping even Matt Smith's debut in season five. And hey, maybe "Hell Bent" will be the perfect capper to this season, or maybe it won't. But the genius of the construction of this season's endgame is that "Hell Bent" could be an unmitigated disaster and it still wouldn't really undo the genius of "Heaven Sent" or "Face The Raven" before it." Mark Rozeman of Paste Magazine also awarded the episode a perfect score (10.0), labeling it "a masterpiece of the highest order", whilst Ian Berriman of SFX Magazine also awarded full marks, saying "Heaven Sent stands as the best episode of the season so far: madly surreal, ingeniously baffling, immensely creepy and downright gruelling in its latter stages, with a tremendously impactful payoff".
Awarding the episode a score of 9.5, deemed "amazing" and the highest of the series, Scott Collura of IGN particularly praised the episode's conclusion by saying "It's a thrilling, brilliant twist to this episode that sends the whole affair cascading into a barrage of images and sounds that won't soon be forgotten. The realization that the sea of skulls is actually a sea of Doctor skulls while the gentle guitar-driven score picks up and broadens beautifully is amazing". He further praised the "hybrid reveal" as well as Capaldi's performance, and closed his review by saying "A great episode of Doctor Who that serves to bring this mostly excellent season towards its finale, "Heaven Sent" features a breathtaking one-man show from Peter Capaldi and a twist-ending that makes this one of the best episodes of the modern series' run". Referring to it as "an epic one man show", Tim Liew of Metro also acclaimed the episode, saying that he "loved it". He particularly praised Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi, saying "Steven Moffat takes a bold step by stripping his story back to its bare bones and putting the burden squarely on Peter Capaldi's shoulders. And Capaldi delivers 100%, carrying every scene and showing every facet of his Doctor. It's a beautifully textured performance, underpinned by a superb new musical score from series composer Murray Gold. Many fans, myself included, had initial doubts over whether Capaldi could succeed as the Doctor. If there were any remaining concerns, this episode surely puts them to rest". He also praised the episode's structure, saying "As a story, the episode builds slowly, making a virtue of the Veil's slow-moving gait with a knowing wink about all those enemies who the Doctor is always outrunning. But it's only in the closing minutes that the pieces of the puzzle fall into place and the episode's epic scale is finally revealed".
In 2016 "Heaven Sent" received a nomination for Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) but lost to Jessica Jones "AKA Smile". "Heaven Sent" is also the first episode of Doctor Who to be submitted for nomination for a Primetime Emmy Award, due to BBC America being one of the series' co-producers. The episode was submitted to support Capaldi for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Moffat for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series, and Talalay for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series, in addition to several other Creative Arts Emmys. However, the episode was not selected by the Emmy committee for any of these award categories.
Selected pieces of score from this episode, as composed by Murray Gold, comprise the entire third disc of the ninth series' 4-CD soundtrack, which was released on 27 April 2018 by Silva Screen Records.
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