Still reeling from the death of Clara in the last episode, we start ‘Heaven Sent‘ with the Doctor having just been transported by Ashildr. It’s technically the middle episode of a three-parter that will take us to the finale next week, but it seems that the Doctor is going to be spending some time alone before the big finish.
We move through what looks like an empty castle, with spiraling stone staircases and corridors. The Doctor narrates that death is always following, and that it’s really only a matter of time before it catches up. We see a hallway filled with a trail of blood, as a shadowy figure moves into what looks like a transporter room. The figure reaches out a hand and activates a lever before turning to dust.
Then the transporter activates and it’s the Doctor. We flashback briefly to Clara’s death, and the Doctor speaks to whoever orchestrated this, telling them that regardless of what he said to Clara, he is coming to find them and he will never, ever stop! Cue titles.
Leaving the room, the Doctor roams the halls looking for clues of where exactly he’s been taken. He peeks out a window to see that he resides in some kind of tower, connected to what appears to be a very twisted looking castle. He speaks aloud that he knows the transporter wasn’t strong enough to carry him that far away from Earth and that it’s only a matter of time before nightfall, and then he’ll be able to pinpoint exactly where he is.
Along the hallway he comes across a dirty shovel, and while expressing his disdain for gardeners, things are beginning to become odder. Which, for Who, means things are getting ridiculous! The least of all, a screen which switches on, showing some kind of live feed and it’s camera is straight on the Doctor. Except, from where?
He looks around to realize it’s coming from outside. Across the castle, a dark figure looks towards him, and it’s obviously not human but some giant hooded creature. The feed is this creature’s eyesight, and as it begins to move, it’s evident that it’s coming for him. His walk soon becomes a run as he tries to move away from the creature, but it seems to know these hallways better than him, and it’s gaining up.
He comes to a locked door with no apparent way out, except that he’s able to telepathically link to the door (ahh–yeah), which normally doesn’t work because doors are always cross (wouldn’t you be?), but he’s in luck – this one just happens to be a little bit nice. The door opens, leading straight to a dead end. Not ideal.
As the creature moves in, the Doctor rambles to himself, believing to have seen this creature before in a nightmare. This leads him to the realization that he is still scared of dying, which he blurts out. With that, the creature freezes, buzzing flies and all, with its scaly hands just moments from his face. The Doctor’s just as surprised as we are, and he questions why, until the castle begins to rumble, and the towers outside begin to turn like giant cogs.
A doorway opens up, and never one to pass up an escape, he leaps into the new room, which actually looks more like a bedroom. Inside there’s a coy bed, but he’s more interested in the peeling painting of Clara on the wall, which strangely looks centuries old.
But the creature has caught up, and as he tries to buy some time, it looks like he’s all out of options. Or at least would be, if he was against throwing himself out the towers window. This is the Doctor after all!
We then cut to the Doctor walking into the TARDIS. He apologizes for being late, and explains that you hold all the power when being interrogated. If they’re going to kill you, then you kill your self faster (makes sense) and gives us two very good rules of dying: 1. Don’t and 2. Slow down. And the person he’s talking to? Clara. Or at least to her back.
So how did he survive? Well, he hasn’t–yet! He’s still falling, and he’s slowed down time by reverting back into his mind like his very own Sherlock mind palace, or mind-TARDIS. He’s stretching out time, and through a series of things he did earlier (dropping flower petals to deduce the gravity, throwing the stool to determine how high they were up, etc.) he’s quickly working out whether he will be able to survive the jump.
As he hits the water, he begins to sink. The mind-TARDIS is dark, but as its lights begin to come back on, the Doctor seems defeated for the first time. He just wants to sleep, but Clara begins writing on his chalkboard, asking what is this place and what did he say that made the creature stop? As he sinks to the bottom, he comes to a graveyard of skulls, and it’s enough to snap him awake.
As he wanders back up a different tower, he finds a lit fireplace and a new set of his exact clothes, which is super strange. He replaces them with his dripping wet ones and moves on. With the help of his Clara chalkboard, he comes to realize that the entire point of being able to see where the creature is and having it continuously drawn to him, is all in an effort to keep him scared.
This leads him out to a cog-shaped courtyard, which has what looks like a freshly filled-in grave at its centre. Another spade nearby makes him think he needs to dig, and chalkboard Clara agrees, because she would do what he would (which the Doctor casually says might have killed her). After a while of digging, he comes to a sign with the mysterious message: ‘I am in 12’.
Suddenly, the creature leaps from the dirt at the Doctor, and he resides back into his mind palace. Chalkboard Clara writes ‘No lies’, and it’s apparent that the creature has stopped because the Doctor had previously confessed a truth, and it suddenly makes sense. The Doctor is being interrogated.
Back to the creature, and the Doctor gives it what it wants. He tells him that when he first stole the TARDIS, it wasn’t because he was bored, but because he was scared. With that, the creature begins to reside, giving the Doctor enough time to getaway, except where he comes out reveals that this Cog Castle lies in the middle of an ocean, without any clear escape.
He returns to the room with Clara’s portrait and sits, patiently waiting for the creature that doesn’t disappoint. He figures that if he lures the creature from one end of the castle to the other, then he gets eighty-two minutes to eat, sleep and work, which seems completely reasonable. As he tries to track down Room 12, he finds that if he leaves the rooms long enough, then they reset to the condition they were in when he arrived, like an automated room service.
The Doctor takes to carrying a skull with him, which is the least odd thing this episode, and as he makes his way up to the roof of a tower his focus is taken to the stars again. He knows he hasn’t time travelled, and that he hasn’t gone far from Earth, but the skies are not right and he would guess that it’s about seven thousand years in the future. And it’s only now that he realizes that it’s beginning to feel like a trap, a game that will lead nowhere but that the Doctor cannot help but play. Thus, trapping him forever.
As the creature approaches again, the Doctor decides to give another confession, and this one is juicy: it’s about the hybrid. He tells a myth of a Dalek and Time Lord hybrid before the Time War, which would bring about the destruction to Gallifrey. He confesses that he knows what and where it is, causing the creature to stop and allowing him down a passage that leads to Room 12. Inside, a set of steps lead to a wall, made of a material four-hundred times harder than diamond, with ‘HOME’ written on it. It’s the obvious way out.
He’s at breaking point though and wants to give up. He’s sick of winning because winning always comes at a cost, and the cost he is referring to was Clara. But then we hear Clara’s voice reminding him that he’s not the only one that’s lost someone. It pans over to see her smiling face telling him that he needs to get off his ass and win.
As the creature comes towards him, he has no more confessions, because that would mean he was sorry, but what he does have is the truth. He begins to punch the wall, yelling that he’ll never reveal information about the hybrid, as it’s too dangerous. The wall doesn’t much crack, as his hand does, but he continues on anyway.
When the creature hybrid reaches him, it lays its hands across his face and fries him, and as the Doctor falls away, the creature teleports, mistakenly thinking the Doctor is already dead. He isn’t. He has a few days left before he’ll actually die.
He crawls his way to the transporter room, leaving a trail of blood (which we actually saw at the start of the episode) with the hope the machine that transported him here still has a copy of himself stored in its hard-drive.
To do so, though, involves hooking up the machine to his head, because something must burn so that the transporter can work. He scribbles ‘BIRD’ across the floor in the dust and, as he turns to dust, it becomes very clear that these skulls are not from other prisoners, but are actually all his. The same prisoner, caught for seven thousand years.
With that, a new Doctor forms in the transporter, and we run through the same events that we’ve just witnessed, from start till finish, caught in a loop. And it plays over and over, through the years, with the Doctor dying each time, until he finally theorizes it’s been two million years.
But something’s finally different. You see, with each punch of the wall, it’s worn down, and the current Doctor’s punch is finally able to break through. As blinding light shines through, the creature turns to a pile of dust and cogs.
As a white light envelops the Doctor, he steps through a portal that leads to a dusty-looking planet. He looks down to see the Cog Castle sitting on a tiny disk and as he reaches down it begins closing up, turning into–his confession dial!
With that, he sees a young boy watching from nearby. The Doctor tells him to run to the city and to tell them he’s back. As he runs off, the camera pans up to reveal where he is headed–Gallifrey!
And with that, he reveals one last confession: The hybrid was never part Dalek, as the Daleks would never allow it. No, the hybrid destined to conquer Gallifrey and leave it in ruins is–him.
- An absolutely great episode, and possibly the best of the season. I had no idea where they were going to go after we lost Clara, but this is exactly what we needed. The easy option was to let the Doctor seek immediate revenge, but this slowed it down in a logical way that didn’t feel like we were just biding time until the finale.
- For an episode that was almost entirely just the Doctor, this was brilliant. It feels like just the step we needed to connect to Capaldi and cement in his tenure as the Doctor.
- Moffat wrote this episode and, damn, can he write a good one-off episode! Despite some of the twists and turns being a little obvious, many were clearly not, making it a truly worthy Who
- Finally getting an answer to what was on the confession dial was perfect. The fact that the Doctor has lived over and over in such a horrible loop for millions of years is just tragic, but makes for one hell of a story.
- Bring on the finale!