Have you just about recovered from last week's episode? Does it feel somehow like Clara has already been gone for ages? Are you looking forward to the new dynamic of Capaldi's Doctor without her? Have you been pretending that she's simply not gone? I know, I know -- I don't usually start off with so many questions, but how can I not after last week?!
This week, I assume we'll pick up with the aftermath of The Doctor being sent away with the teleportation bracelet stuck to him by Ashildr's trap. (I say 'assume' because I once thought "The Day of the Doctor" would pick up in the time stream following "The Name of the Doctor", but I was very wrong. I still want that thread picked up again, Moffat!) I'm not looking forward to seeing his frame of mind, but I think the angry eyebrows will be making a return! Cue "Heaven Sent".
We open with a bright light, turning gears, The Doctor monologuing. He pulls a level on a TARDIS-y looking console and gasps, falling onto sand. He appears, out of breath, in a chamber, remembering Clara and the raven. He warns that, if you had anything to do with Clara's death, he isn't weak; in fact, he will never, ever stop looking for you. Whew.
This set reminds me of the story that Missy tells Clara way back on Skaro about The Doctor, without his sonic or TARDIS, escaping Dalek EXTERMINATION by playing around with teleportation. It might be a coincidence or a set reuse -- which is not unheard of in the DW world -- or it might hint toward the timeline we're working with here.
This might be a bit of a rant-y episode. He is gathering clues about his location, giving warning after warning about how angry he is. CCTV screens appear on the walls showing him through windows, but there aren't any cameras in view. He sees a spade but detests gardening. Why would someone leave him a spade? There is a hooded figure across the way, and flies are buzzing around his head. I imagine the score will be an important 'character' in this episode, as it seems to hold the majority of the suspense so far.
The hooded figure is coming his way, but a locked door stands on the other end of the corridor. He forms a psychic link with the door ("They're notorious cross."), but it opens to a brick wall. Just as the hooded figure reaches for him, he blurts out that he's actually scared of dying, and time seems to stop. The floors of the castle/building/fort (Let's call it a fort!) shift and turn, and he ends up in a bedroom. There is a cracked and peeling portrait of Clara on the wall, but the flies have reappeared -- as the portent of the hood.
He can't figure out if it's a trap or a torture chamber. He has a surprise for them, though. He throws a footstool out the window and jumps. He falls for what seems like forever. Bet the hood didn't see THAT coming! Back in the TARDIS, he is talking to a missing companion -- Clara because he can't let her go. If you're being interrogated, you're the one who can't die. If you jump, you have to slow things down and just not die. We see the back of Clara, and he talks like she might turn around at any moment. He has to explain to her how he didn't die by jumping out of the window. I have a sneaking suspicion that this whole scene is in his head.
He runs through all the specific aspects of the fort he tested without anyone knowing -- the gravity, speed of time, etc. -- and calculated the chance of staying conscious when he landed in water. Obviously, those chances weren't great because both TARDIS-Doctor and water-Doctor seem to be unconscious.
The chalkboard appears with questions about how he plans to WIN, what he said to make the monster stop, and he just wants to sleep. He wakes up in the water in time to see piles of skulls on the sea floor, and he decides not to become one of them. He drags himself out of the water and into the fort and finds dry clothes. He dresses in them -- they appear to be the same ones he was already wearing -- and sets off through the fort.
In the centre of a room with screens and a chalkboard, he finds a little pit of sand and arrows pointing to it. The chalkboard says, "Not why." and "What?" Whatever it is that's got him in this place, it wants to scare him. He has a hypothesis that he's in a fully automated haunted house -- it is perfectly designed to scare him to death.
He finds a room covered in vines. There is another spade. Someone really wants him to dig. He asks Clara what she would do, and the chalkboard says "Same as you" -- which he already knows because that's how she died. She became too much like him. He digs, but he hears flies and feels like he's being watched. The picture on the screen he sees through the window only shows flies on a wall, so he opens the door for a better look. The hood is directly behind the door! After a fight against the door, The Doctor shoves the spade under the door knob and keeps it from entering. The hood leaves, so The Doctor keeps digging. It looks like he's digging a grave, really.
He hears crickets and looks up to the sky -- maybe it's not a room but an atrium -- but he doesn't think it looks right. He eventually finds something in the ground. It's a stone that reads "I AM IN 12". Just then, the hood bursts through the ground, and it freezes and restarts with him in the TARDIS again. The chalkboard says "Tell no lies" and asks the question again about how he stopped the monster. He has to tell truths -- but truths he's never told before. There are truths he cannot tell, but he is scared and alone.
He is back in the grave. He confesses that he didn't leave Gallifrey because he was bored. That's not enough! He left because he was scared. The hood backs away, and the floors of the fort reset again. We finally see it from the outside. It's a giant fortress standing alone on an island just its size. A few skulls bubble to the surface with the movement and sink back down.
He sits and stares at Clara's portrait. He is counting time -- 57 minutes -- and the hood has appeared. If he lures the hood to one extreme end of the fort, he can hurry to the other end and earn himself up to 82 minutes to eat, sleep, and explore. He needs to find Room 12, but they are all jumbled. If he leaves a room long enough, everything will refresh itself to the same way it was when he arrived. Maybe he's in an energy bubble, or maybe it's Hell (which he's not scared of because "it's just Heaven for bad people"), but he begins to worry about how long he might have to be there.
He wanders back to the chamber where he first arrived out of breath. Nobody remembers being born or dying. There is a skull hooked up to the machine there. The word "BIRD" is written in the sand by the skull, and, when he questions it, a new corridor opens. He follows it up to a rooftop and looks at the stars. He's carrying the skull with him, Alas Poor Yorick-style. There's still something he's missing.
As he goes back down, he finds a door marked 12. When he opens it, he finds it is bricked behind the door with a little sliver of light escaping. He calls out, but no one answers. He says that it's a trap -- "a lure and a trap". He's playing a game that everyone else has clearly always lost, but who has moved the stars? He says he knows he hasn't time travelled (he'd be able to feel it), but the stars are all wrong. If he didn't know better, he'd think he'd travelled 7000 years into the future. He allows the hood to come up and nearly touch him.
He says he knows who has been playing with him. It's the Hybrid. Long before the Time War, there were stories of the half-Dalek half-Time Lord, and he knows them to be true. He knows who it is, and he confesses to being genuinely afraid. The wall behind Door 12 shifts, and he enters it, counting off his seconds. He has the sonic shades -- I honestly thought they'd been lost/left behind -- and arrives to a glowing wall that says "WELCOME". He says the TARDIS is only one confession away -- the real TARDIS or just the one in his mind? The wall is made of azbantium, thousands of times stronger than diamond.
He is back in the TARDIS, and he is upset that he has to keep playing this game. The chalkboard asks again how he will win, and he contemplates how easy it would be to just lose instead. The chalkboard says "NO!", but clearly Clara doesn't understand that he could win or lose and she would still be gone. He breaks down.
Clara's voice begins to speak to him. He's not the only one who has ever lost someone. He needs to get over it. She appears in front of him, touching him on the cheek (like Amy when 11 is dying?) and telling him to get up and win.
He stands in front of the azbantium wall and punches it. It doesn't break, of course, and it just about breaks his hand, but he keeps going. He won't tell about the very dangerous Hybrid because it needs to stay locked up. He is going to get out, find whoever put him in this torture chamber, and stop them. The hood is coming up behind him. He is going to tell it a story. He starts a story from the Brothers Grimm involving how many seconds there are in an eternity. The hood reaches around his hand and closes in around it. He falls, and the hood disappears.
The TARDIS begins to power up. He tells us that Time Lords take too long to die, even when they are too injured to regenerate. His dying body is dragging itself up the stairs and down corridors. TARDIS-Doctor is figuring it all out. The fort is his own hell -- all the skulls couldn't be from other prisoners because it's all his own. It's him, over and over, for 7000 years. (After all, he's been counting.) He says, as he realised everything returns to its original condition, he knows the teleporter still holds a copy of him as he first arrived. All it needs is a source of energy.
He hooks the machine up to his head and pulls the lever. He slumps over as the gears begin to turn and writes "BIRD" in the sand before disappearing. This is the handle and hand we saw at the beginning of the episode. Everything resets, and he steps out of the teleporter anew. The ranting starts all over again. He jumps again, he punches the wall again, he gets taken by the hood again, he finds the spade again, again and again. The amount of time he knows he has travelled continues to grow until he's been there for, at last count, at least two billion years, but each time he punches the azbantium wall, he tells a bit more of the Brothers Grimm story and chips away the tiniest bit at the wall.
He eventually breaks through, and the hood collapses into gears. He steps through, quippy as always after billions of years, and he lands in a desert. The gateway closes into a tiny portrait of the fort; when he picks it up, the gears of it close to reveal it is his confession dial. A little boy comes up to him. The Doctor tells him to go find someone important in the city and tell them he has come the long way around.
We pan away to reveal that he is standing on Gallifrey. He knows all about the Hybrid, and it's not half-Dalek because NOTHING can be half-Dalek. The prophecy is wrong. The one who will conquer Gallifrey and stand on its ruins is HIM.
This episode was truly exhausting. I liked that The Doctor has a hypothesis about it from the start; it really doesn't matter if he's right or wrong -- just as long as he formulates an idea, we can follow along. That's what I found so frustrating about "Sleep No More" earlier this series. I think I'll have to let "Heaven Sent" sit with me for a while before I'm sure whether I actually liked it or not. I adored watching Peter Capaldi showcased in such a way, and it really shows the faith they have in him as The Doctor that they thought he could carry the episode alone. I think maybe it was just a little bit stark for him to be on his own, and the repetition made it seem longer than it was. It was a solid performance, for sure, so I could see it really growing on me.
Do you think The Doctor is the Hybrid? Or is it just that the prophecy was very wrong? Is it that he already 'destroyed' Gallifrey in the Time War? Are you excited to see Ashildr once again after her betrayal of The Doctor? What about the ridiculously elaborate Time Lord garb? And is this the last-last-last we'll see of Clara?