She’s gone and I don’t know what to do. I’m angry and alone. I confess, I never thought we’d be apart. I feel like I’m just going through the motions.
Lonely in Louisiana
It may feel like an eternity before you’re “you” again, but have faith in yourself. You’ll find your way home.
Spoilers ahead, Sweetie…
This was just heart breaking. I knew I was in trouble when Steven Moffat’s name flew across the screen at the opening of Heaven Sent. There was nothing heavenly about this episode and nothing but first-class acting, a suspenseful plot and a surprise ending that had me shouting at my television. This is probably one of my favorite episodes of the Capaldi era, so maybe it really was Heaven Sent.
The Episode in a Nutshell
In the opening scene, our Doctor warns us that death is coming for us from the moment we are born. He has been teleported into a room in an unknown place and time, yet his first words are threats. If his captors had anything to do with Clara’s death, he will be relentless in his search to find them. He wanders what seem to be circular halls in a stone castle. Television screens crackle to life and show that someone or something is pursuing him. As it draws near, the Doctor recognizes the creature from his own nightmares. He is cornered and about to be attacked when he confesses his fear of dying and everything – creature and buzzing flies included – freezes. He throws a chair out of a window and jumps to escape.
Next thing we know, the Doctor is back in the Tardis. He explains that throwing himself out the window was a safe bet because his captors want him alive. He is actually falling towards what he is sure is the ocean, but he has locked himself in this safe, Tardis-looking corner of his brain to think. The Doctor is talking to his memory of Clara, who is challenging the Doctor (as she always does) to win. He hits the water and is tempted to just die; skulls litter the ocean floor. But he convinces himself to live and returns to the castle. There he finds a door that leads to a garden where a spade and a fresh mound of dirt compel him to dig. The creature finds him again as he uncovers a message: “I am in 12.” In his Tardis/mind he determines that it was confessing a truth never told before that caused the creature to freeze, so he confesses that he left Gallifrey because he was scared, not bored. Everything freezes and he escapes the creature’s grasp. The Doctor reflects on his situation. He believes he is in a closed energy loop because the castle rooms move around and return to their default status. He sleeps, eats and works in 82-minute bursts, just enough time to keep away from the creature.
Back in the teleporter room he sees the word “BIRD” written in a pile of sand. A stairwell opens, leading him to the mysterious Room 12, but it’s just a trap. He looks through an open window and wonders who has been playing with the stars. He’s somewhere else in the castle now, telling us that the most important secret that he cannot divulge has to do with a legend about a half-Dalek, half-warrior hybrid (that word again!). He runs back to Room 12, puts on his sonic sunglasses, and sees the word HOME etched into 20 feet of material stronger than diamonds. He has to get through, but he’s ready to give up. It would be so easy to just tell the secret. Clara’s memory spurs the Doctor on to win, so he punches at the incredibly hard material and doesn’t make a dent. He talks about a story by the Brothers Grimm in which a bird is asked “how many seconds in eternity?” The creature has caught up with the Doctor this time, though, and the Doctor is killed as the creature teleports away.
But it takes time for a time lord to die, so the Doctor drags his bleeding body up to the teleporter room where a “clean” copy of himself still hides in the machine’s hard drive. He ruminates that he hasn’t time traveled; he has just been here for a very long time – 7,000 years to be exact. He uses his remaining energy to power the machine and create a new copy of himself. All those skulls are his because he is caught in this closed energy loop. Every time he resets, he follows the same path and ultimately gets a few good punches in on that wall before he is attacked by the creature and dies. After 2 billion years of this (*sob*) he finally breaks through. The creature collapses into a heap of gears and the Doctor walks through his own confession dial, which acted as a portal to this new place. A small boy appears and the Doctor gives him a task: find the most important person in the city and tell him that he knows what they did and he is on his way. He is in Gallifrey, and the hybrid destined to conquer it and stand in its ruins is himself.
There are so many things that intrigue me about this episode. First, I love the idea of the Tardis being that safe place in the Doctor’s mind where he can think clearly. He removes himself from a particularly stressful situation and instead surrounds himself with an environment in which he is powerful and capable, and can be with Clara. She keeps him asking the right questions and goads him into never giving up. The fact that she is still the force that keeps him going after 7,000 years or more is a lovely testament to the bond he has (or had) with this companion.
The thought of the Doctor trapped in this hell is torturous. Whoever set this up wasn’t kidding around. Two billion years of confessing your greatest secrets to a nightmare of your own making, only to beat your knuckles against a veritable brick wall and then purposefully kill yourself and do it all over again is so soul-wounding that it would make Dante proud. “How long can I keep doing this?” the Doctor asks himself. We know the answer, and it is an eternity. Except it’s not. Because the moral of the story is that there’s really no such thing as an eternity with no end point; there is an end and perseverance pays off.
When the Doctor walked through that portal and the child found him, I knew instantly what “HOME” really referred to. I was yelling at my television from that second on, thrilled that Moffat was taking us to uncharted territory. This is the surprise ending I wanted. Not Clara coming back to life at the end of the To Be Continued continuation, but something fantastic and epic – the Doctor returning to Gallifrey, alive and well (at least for now) in its pocket universe.
Lastly, there’s the recurring “hybrid” theme. I adore a common thread that weaves its way through episodes. First there were the half-Dalek, half-time lord hybrids that Davros almost created in Episode 2. These are the lovelies that the Doctor alludes to as the biggest secret he has, but decaying Daleks already killed those hybrids off. Then there’s Ashildr/Me as a hybrid. There must be more going on with her if the Doctor defines her that way. I’m more puzzled about why the Doctor would refer to himself as a hybrid. What are we going to learn about his true nature next week? Post your guess in the Comments below.
Liz Bowen, a.k.a DocBlogger
Liz Bowen is a long-time Doctor Who fan and first-time blogger living in Colorado Springs. She enjoys seeing her childhood recreated in cinematic excellence and will waste entire evenings waxing poetic about the technical beauty that is Transformers. She indulges in writing Supernatural fanfic and is working on her first original book.