Sunday, 29 November 2015

Review: Doctor Who - Heaven Sent

The Doctor is without hope and trapped in an inescapable prison in 'Heaven Sent' which sports a masterclass performance from Peter Capaldi...

'It's a killer puzzle box designed to scare me to death and I'm trapped inside it. Must be Christmas!'

Over the Twelfth Doctor's two series, there has been an increasing emphasis on the drama of dialogue rather than action. Where other series, or even this series in other eras, would have a big set piece, the show will draw back and focus on the words - think the Doctor's terrific speech about war in 'The Zygon Invasion.' 'Heaven Sent' felt like the culmination of this as the show delivered a hugely brave installment which basically consisted of an hour-long monologue from Peter Capaldi.

And what a performance he gave! The end of 'Face the Raven' suggested we would get a vengeful Doctor with nothing to lose but instead Capaldi explored the whole canvas of the character. Genius. Fury. Dry wit. In fact, this episode is the perfect example of what I think is the defining feature of the Twelfth Doctor - you can really believe he has experienced a dozen different personalities. You can just see that he was once William Hartnell or Tom Baker or Peter Cushing (oh, come on. he counts!).

Yet you cannot make bricks without clay and Capaldi's performance would have been nothing without Steven Moffat's impressive script. 'Heaven Sent' was really less of a television episode and more a broadcast piece of theatre - with minimalist sets and a very simple plot, one that stripped Doctor Who down to its fundamentals; just the Doctor being chased through corridors by a monster. There was also a lot of fun and cleverness to be had here with trademark Moffat timey-wimeyness and Sherlock-like 'Mind TARDIS' scenes. Moffat was also up to his old tricks by messing with the Doctor's numbering. Is Capaldi still the Twelfth Doctor, or is he now the Two Billionth Doctor? Or is he even the same man anymore, not just a clone?

A mention must also be given to director Rachel Talalay who delivers a completely different aesthetic to the action-adventure feel of her work on last year's finale. Also, the soundtrack by Murray Gold was beautiful this week, exploring as many different rhythms and rifts as Capaldi. And the sinister Veil is a great piece of design a la the Grim Reaper and Dickens' the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. The talk of the inexorability of death recalled 'Dark Water' but where that episode potentially pushed the boundaries, personifying it in the form of a marauding monster kept it at the right level here.

Some are already calling this an instant classic (well, obviously. It wouldn't be an instant classic if people didn't call it that instantly) and it isn't hard to see why. Somewhat surreal and dripping with melancholy but also the Doctor's indefatigable spirit and hope, this was an ambitious and powerful episode that after putting us through the emotional ringer, engages our fan-brains. How is Gallifrey back? And is the Doctor really the Hybrid? Is he is half-human after all, just as the Eighth Doctor claimed? Or did his 'the Hybrid is me' actually refer to Maisie Williams?

The Doctor might have been in Hell this week, but we are in Doctor Who heaven.

Beyond the Veil - Death stalks the Doctor in 'Heaven Sent.'
Next week: The Doctor is finally back home on Gallifrey - but an ancient prophecy states that it is his destiny to destroy it. What will come to pass in the series nine finale 'Hell Bent'? Saturday 5th December. 20.00PM. BBC One.

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