In the second to last episode of the season, Doctor Who finally gives us a glimpse at the Twelfth Doctor’s first solo adventure. In fact, he couldn’t be any more alone. Except of course for his biggest fears that keep following him across the prison he’s managed to find himself in. What a wild place it is, indeed.
Let’s just go ahead and get it out of the way now. This is probably, hands down, the best performance Peter Capaldi has done as the Twelfth Doctor, to date. I say that only because if the season finale is half as good as “Heaven Sent,” then he might have outdone himself there.
Every Doctor goes through his grieving period and we get to see just how each one deals with the enormous amount of pain, anger, and grief. Capaldi’s Twelve is not only spot on in showing just how deep the Doctor’s passion and patience for winning goes, but also does so in a manner that is unique to Twelve and all in all completely brilliant. As we’re going through the Groundhog Day sequence, we witness Twelve’s vain attempts at punching a wall that is 400 times harder than diamond. FOUR HUNDRED TIMES. Before the loop it seemed silly to me, almost as if it was his last final tantrum before he dies. But, alas, he discovered the secret of the personal hell — rooms reset. He can be re-downloaded and start the process over again. And again. And again. And again.
Not just years, not just hundreds of years, not even thousands of years, but BILLIONS of years later. Billions! He finally breaks through this wall to get to the other side and wreak havoc on whomever stands in his way. The perseverance, the absolute enormity of being able to follow each of those actions in such a way to set himself up in almost exactly the same scenario for several millennia. We won’t question why the wall doesn’t reset but everything else in the room does because that ruins the sentiment of the whole thing, but holy cheese balls Batman, that is mind blowing.
So many things in the episode were mind blowing — the piles of skulls in the water actually turning out to be the Doctor’s skulls as he carried on his impossible mission, how he managed to lure himself throughout the puzzle, how he figured it out exactly right each time (or at least enough to respawn again and again), very especially the bird clue.
In case I haven’t said it enough: Capaldi was awesome. He announced his presence with power and authority and left no doubts about his ability to lead this show with or without another person on screen. This processing of Clara’s death is fresh and unique to the show thus far — a perfect way for Twelve to differentiate himself while still staying true to the man we know and love. Clara constantly having her back turned, him not being able to face her until the end, her finally turning around when he’s got everything worked out, every moment between them was so symbolic and a fantastic way to process his grief without wallowing or lashing out.
And the Doctor has a mind palace! I was so tickled to see him pull a Sherlock and mentally escape to a place where he could think. Naturally it was inside the Tardis, and there is almost an intimacy between Twelve and the Tardis in his mind palace. Of course, going to his mind palace to escape his own fears was brilliant.
A few things didn’t seem to quite add up, like how old is the Doctor now? Is he really him since he’s technically a hard drive back-up of Twelve? Why didn’t the wall reset when the rest of the room did? How did all that writing stay after resets, and how did he make it through the original time without any clues? Why didn’t he use that shovel or some other instrument to chip away at the wall? A lot of loose ends, but nothing so detracting from the story to ruin the suspense of disbelief. Of course before this episode we were all starting to head down the path of calling for Moffat’s retirement but I think he went above and beyond in delivering this episode, especially it being a middle episode of three. “Heaven Sent” was spectacular both in the writing and acting, hopefully the season finale “Hell Bent” can wrap things up just as powerfully and spectacular as its predecessor.
What did you think of “Heaven Sent?” Are you happy Clara is gone? What kind of companion would you like to see the Doctor get next? Hit us up in the comments or on social media!
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