“I can’t always do this. Why can’t I just lose?”
Who is the Doctor from Gallifrey?
Heaven Sent has more answers to that than almost any Doctor Who story, revealed bit by bit as the Time Lord bares his soul and overcomes his darkest hour. He wants to know things, harboring a healthy fascination and respect for all peaceful races. He has a thirst for experience and hedonism, accompanied by a madcap sense of humor. He is aware that constant change is a permanent part of his life, and as much as he would sometimes like to stay put and get attached, he never allows himself to do so. He doesn’t want to be alone, even though his travels are fundamentally lonely. He lives with a host of personal demons and failings for a hyperextended lifespan. Because of this, he has to mask his guilt and pain in various ways. He has a ferocious will to persevere and win, using his incredible intellect to do so. He is loyal to his friends and his moral code. He is incredibly resilient, willing to withstand tremendous pain for his cause. He is arrogant, having repeatedly cheated death and disaster through unlikely means. Lastly, he is afraid: of himself, of all the terrible things in the universe, of failure.
Heaven Sent is a modern TV classic, and arguably the show’s best episode. It’s the first Doctor Who story to my knowledge without any sort of companion. Twelve is helpless, defeated and left in a desolate labyrinth to reckon with all these variables – who he is.
It’s effectively creepy and disorienting, with one of Moffat’s trademark conceptual story gambits. Yet this one is both grander and more elegant than the rest, while serving important thematic and character functions. The increasingly weary, apocalyptic last seasons of the showrunner’s tenure get pushed to their astounding breaking point here.
One of the most noticeable traits of Heaven Sent is its marvelous original score, on a show which usually skimps on that front. There is a lot of silence and thinking in this episode, so it’s necessary to fill in the gaps. Likewise, the show’s cinematography is brought to the fore here, and it shines. A recent loss is wounding the Doctor at the hour’s beginning, so an emotional factor is implied. After getting to know Doctor Who over these posts, those few details should be enough for you to get your bearings, so I won’t spoil any more. Enjoy!