TV REVIEW: Doctor Who, S9, E11: Heaven Sent

Steven Moffat’s pen returns for the final two episodes of this year’s Doctor Who. This episode is one that I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard about the concept. A Peter Capaldi one-hander story. Following on from the encounter with The Mayor and The Raven last week, this promises to be a powerful performance in a powerful story. Let’s see if it measured up.

 
 
 
 

Trapped in a world unlike any other he has seen, the Doctor faces the greatest challenge of his many lives. One final test. And he must face it alone. Pursued by the fearsome creature known only as the Veil, he must attempt the impossible.

NOTE: The preview version I watched was stamped with a “Work in Progress” notice.

Doctor Who this week can be summed up in three words: Performance, performance, performance. Peter Capaldi rules the screen this week and the fact that he is on screen alone (with the exception of the eerie Veil) is secondary to this. In Heaven Sent, our Time Lord Hero is trapped in a personal prison. A maze-like castle in a vast ocean stalked by a slow but inevitable creature. The intrigue, strength of writing and Capaldi’s performance – all aided by Rachel Talalay’s superb direction are plenty to drive this episode along.

It’s a testament to the talents and confidence of the production team that an episode like this could be made. With over forty-five minutes of screen time every element needs to be perfectly (or as near to perfect as is possible) pitched in order that an audience doesn’t become distracted from proceedings. With a single character present, the audience has little to distract them from any flaws in the production. The episode certainly succeeds at this.

The concept is a wonderful notion. One that improves with each passing revelation. Okay, there is a moment of “what the heck?” towards the end (one that I can’t go into for spoiler reasons but suffice it to say it’s the actual escape) but otherwise this entirely personal trap is crafted by both a foe and indeed a writer that has an intimate knowledge of the Doctor and how his mind works.

Capaldi’s performance is nothing short of legendary. I have been in the same room as the actor at a press round table and his presence filled the room. Such a wonderful, charismatic man and it’s this trait that helps sell the story. Capaldi fills the screen with his presence and is a joy to watch throughout. The element that I found most odd, with hindsight, is that at no point did I find the Doctor’s monologue and out-loud thinking odd. Usually I don’t like to see characters talk to themselves out loud, but in this case I barely noticed it. Such is the strength and power of the performance provided.

The nature of the “prison” that the Doctor finds himself in is a neat device that lends an air of intrigue to proceedings. The revelations are drip-fed to the audience in a manner that builds … builds and then … full realisation about what the prison is and what The Doctor is having to achieve. At this point, the one element of possible concern I noted above kicks in but the power of the performance, and the slow, dawning realisation of what is actually happening to the Time Lord is such that any perceived issue I have is minimized if not nullified completely.

Heaven Sent is one of those episodes of Doctor Who that seems to hit all the right marks and achieves exactly what it set out to do. It has a complex but easy-to-follow plot and is executed faultlessly. Every element of the production came together in a seamless fashion. Wonderful stuff. Now … will the finale measure up to this?

Rating: 5 /5
Reviewer: WedgeDoc

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