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Review: ‘Doctor Who’ Season 9 Episode 11, ‘Heaven Sent’: Groundhog Doctor

Review: 'Doctor Who' Season 9 Episode 11, 'Heaven Sent': Groundhog Doctor

PREVIOUSLY: Review: ‘Doctor Who’ Season 9 Episode 10, ‘Face the Raven’: Death Wish

“I’ve just watched my friend die in agony. My day can’t get any worse.”

With two more episodes to go this season, Clara’s death in “Face the Raven” was a shock for viewers and Time Lords alike. He’s still grieving, still raging and seething and vowing the kind of vengeance he knows she wouldn’t approve of. He’s a danger to the universe, so it’s probably a good thing that he’s trapped in a castle in the middle of the sea, and being chased by a veiled creature straight out of his nightmares.

“It’s a killer impossible box and I’m trapped inside it. Must be Christmas.”

This is a “bottle episode,” an episode that takes place entirely in one small space the characters — or in this case, character – can’t get out of. Normally slotted into a series for budget constraints, that’s probably not the case here, with a glorious CGI’d castle straight out of “Game of Thrones” and some incredible special effects, but it’s deeply claustrophobic and unsettling.

The Impossible Girl

We may have said goodbye to Jenna Coleman last week, but Clara does make an appearance of sorts here, as the Doctor retreats into his mind to work out what’s going on.  It turns out that whenever he’s stressed, “I always imagine I’m back in the TARDIS, showing off.” This isn’t Clara, it’s just a composite of her borne out of grief and loneliness, but it’s still nice to see her one last time.

“Rule one of dying: Don’t.”

For an episode where the Doctor states emphatically that he doesn’t want to die, he does it a lot. Whilst it’s a way of tricking the malevolent forces that have kept him there, there’s a part of him that just wants to give up. “Can’t I just sleep?” he begs, later wishing he could lose just this once. Being a hero is exhausting — being a hero when you have to sacrifice yourself over and over again for millennia takes a toll on him that he might not quite recover from. It’s rough on the audience as well — not only are we faced with an ocean bed full of his bones and floors covered in the ash of a self-cremation, there’s something uniquely horrible about seeing the Doctor’s charred skull immediately after he essentially kills himself. Will he be able to pull himself out of this dark spiral in time to save the universe in the season finale?

All That Glitters

In this case, very definitely is gold. In this case, Murray Gold, whose orchestration for this episode is sublime. Haunting and melancholic, it almost functions as a separate character. Gold deserves many, many awards for this episode alone.

Quotable Who

“I’m not scared of Hell. It’s just Heaven for bad people.”

“How long can I keep doing this, Clara? Burning the old me to make a new one.” This hits home painfully — because isn’t that just what regeneration is?

“I hate gardening! What sort of person has a power complex about flowers? It’s dictatorship for inadequates.” Try telling that to Kate Stewart, Doctor.

“I can’t actually see a way out of this. I’ve finally run out of corridor.” The classic era was known for its action set primarily in corridors or abandoned quarries – all cheap places to film that can be repurposed episode after episode.

“Just between ourselves, you got the prophecy wrong. The hybrid isn’t half-Dalek, nothing is half-Dalek … The hybrid destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins is me.” In a season that already stepped up its game considerably, things just got real.

Questions [Which Aren’t “The Oldest Question”]

If the castle was creating the confession dial, how did he have it at the start of the season?

Is the Doctor really the hybrid? And if he is, a hybrid of what? The 1996 US-made TV movie starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor caused fan outrage when the Doctor said he was half-human, and that’s never been mentioned since. Still, the hybrid is meant to be made up of two warrior races, and humanity does not have the best track record of not killing people. It would be a gutsy move on Moffat’s behalf, but if anyone likes to put the cat among the pigeons, it’s him.

Who put the Doctor in the castle/portal/maze, and how did they know to stock it full of the things that scare him the most? There are two people who know the Doctor well enough to know how to drive him mad but also understand his logic enough to work out how he could rescue himself. One is Missy, the other is the Doctor himself.

Grade: A+

READ MORE: ‘Cucumber’ and ‘Banana’ Creator Russell T. Davies on the Importance of Global Television

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