The penultimate episode of Doctor Who this week wasn’t so much a television programme as a barn-storming showcase of BBC talent. Picking up where last week’s episode left off, after the tragic death of companion Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), Heaven Sent saw Peter Capaldi’s Doctor tele-ported to a mysterious prison castle.
Pursued by a terrifying yet slow-moving cloaked monster, known as The Veil, The Doctor’s only escape is to confess truths to the beast just before it kills him, although this only really serves to buy him more time to try to solve the mystery of his surroundings. Heartbreakingly, in between run-ins with the creature and the discovery of clues, he imagines himself back in the TARDIS, telling Clara about his adventures whilst she kept her back to him, writing questions on the blackboard, in a fitting tribute to what had been her day job. Despite the fact that this was a solo Capaldi episode, Heaven Sent was as much about Clara as it was about The Doctor.
As a companion, her character came across as quite two dimensional at the start, but her final series with the show has been no less than a tour de force. Coleman and Capaldi created something very special together, in a welcome move from the slightly-almost-romantic-but-not-quite relationship of previous Doctors and travelling partners. This episode allowed us to see The Doctor grieve – something we’re not always privy to as an audience, as companions have often departed in the final episode, with The Doctor returning a series later damaged, but very much on the mend. Heaven Sent showed us the anguish and mental torment usually glossed over.
Steven Moffat always writes his best work in single setting, claustrophobic environments, and this fantastically imaginative personalised hell allowed him to fully explore The Doctor’s emotional instability, as well as being one of the most inventive plotlines I think we’ve seen a while. As it slowly dawned on us as an audience that The Doctor has been stuck in this loop for a very long time, and the skulls at the bottom of the sea took on an eerie new significance, watching the Time Lord forced to take ‘the long way round’ to such an extreme gave the show a scale and emotional depth beyond compare.
If Peter Capaldi doesn’t win some sort of award for his performance in this episode, let alone this series as a whole, we’ll eat our collective hat. Equal parts angry, resigned, guilt-ridden and defiant, Capaldi’s performance here was an intense emotional journey, carried off with trademark ease. Between his extraordinary talent, Rachel Talalay’s able direction and Moffat’s stunning concept, all supported by a gorgeous score and fantastic set design, this episode could happily have been feature length.
Series 9 of Doctor Who has been one of the best in a while, with Capaldi settled into the role, and his companionship with Clara going from strength to strength. The two-parter structure has really helped, and I for one hope that it continues into the next series.
Although past follies remain unforgotten, the show seems to be on a role at the moment.
And frankly, te fact that television of this calibre is available as regular Saturday night entertainment serves as an excellent two fingers up to recent criticism of the BBC licence fee, and is reason enough to keep the Beeb going for many years to come.
This is me signing off on Series 9, as Becky will be here with you next week for Hell Bent – it looks like it’s going to be a cracker.