Peter Capaldi Goes Solo In “Heaven Sent”

Credit: BBC
Credit: BBC

How does a show like Doctor Who craft an episode that only has one actor in it? Step one: cast Peter Capaldi. Step two: have Steven Moffat write the script. Step three: have it follow the most emotionally tumultuous episode of the series. Step four: deliver potentially the most ambitious Doctor Who episode ever. Here’s what happened in “Heaven Sent.”

Face your fears: Beginning immediately after the end of “Face the Raven,” the Doctor is teleported into a fortress. Investigating around he spies a hooded figure. Footage from the figure’s point of view appears on TV monitors throughout the hallways. The Doctor runs in fear until a stonewall blocks him. Just as the figure reaches out to kill him, the Doctor confesses he’s afraid of dying and everything freezes. The castle spins, opening up the stonewall, and leading the Doctor into a bedroom. A peeling portrait of Clara hangs over the fireplace. The hooded figure approaches again and this time the Doctor escapes by leaping out of a window.

Confession is good for the soul: As he falls, the Doctor imagines himself back in his TARDIS telling Clara how he survived; that’s his safe place. He’d figured out the castle is on an ocean so jumping out of the window is a very long dive into the water. Emerging, he finds a room with a lit fire and a spare set of his own clothes laid out for him. He also finds another shovel and deduces he needs to dig at the freshly covered grave in the garden. Just as he reaches the bottom and sees a stone that reads “I am in 12” the Veil attacks. The Doctor realizes truthful confession is what stops it and keeps him alive. He uses the reprieve to map the entire prison, all the while talking to Clara as if she’s with him.

No place like home: Returning to the room he arrived in, the Doctor finds a skull with plugs attached to it and the word “BIRD” written in sand. At nightfall, he notices the stars are in the wrong position for the time and place he’s deduced he is in. They’re off by 7,000 years. He also finds room 12 but in order to get it open he has to confess he knows the truth about the hybrid. Inside the room is a wall made of a substance harder than diamond. The word “HOME” appears on it, leading the Doctor to assume the TARDIS is on the other side. The only way to get through is to confess more and more about the hybrid.

A bird pecking at a mountain: In his TARDIS mind palace he rages to Clara, wishing to die rather than keep doing this. More than anything, he can’t bear the knowledge there’s nothing he can do to bring her back. But the Clara in his mind is as sure of him as the real one was. She tells him to win anyway, to find a way. He finally understands. This is a prison built specifically for him. For example, The Veil is a nightmare from his childhood. So someone wants his confessions, his knowledge about the hybrid. He won’t give it to them. Instead he beats at the wall while reciting a Grimm’s fairy tale about a bird that pecks away at a mountain. The Veil attacks him from behind and the Doctor begins to die. But Time Lords die slowly and that gives him time to finish his plan.

The truth about the hybrid: Since every room reverts to its original state if left long enough that means the room the Doctor arrived in still contains a copy of himself. All he needs is energy to bring that copy to life. He attaches the plug to his head and uses his dying body as the energy. Over and over again the cycle repeats. He arrives with no real memory of the previous attempts, makes the same conclusions that lead him to room 12 where he chips away a little more at the wall. Then he writes “BIRD” to make him think of the fairy tale and dies to bring himself back. After two billion years have passed, he finally breaks through the wall and the Veil disintegrates. The Doctor steps through to Gallifrey. A Confessional Dial (whether his own or someone else’s it’s unclear) shrinks behind him. He was trapped inside it all along. The whole ploy was designed by the Time Lords to learn about the prophesied hybrid. The Doctor reveals the hybrid was never part Dalek, part Time Lord. He is the hybrid.

Who Notes

  • So do we want to just give Peter Capalidi all of the awards now or…?
  • Disagree if you want, but I fully believe no other actor as the Doctor could’ve done this episode. This was tailor made for Capaldi and he absolutely nailed it.
  • Even though we thought (and I wrote it above as such to avoid spoilers) this episode started right after “Face the Raven”, it in fact began 7,000 years later. Talk about a time jump.
  • Another clarification: The Doctor thought “HOME” on the not-diamond wall referred to the TARDIS. That’s his home. But it was actually Gallifrey on the other side.
  • Huge shout out to Murray Gold for blowing me away even more than usual. The score in “Heaven Sent” was just that.
  • The Doctor: “I just watched my best friend die in agony and my day can’t get any worse. Let’s see what we can do about yours!”
  • The Doctor: “I’m not scared of hell. It’s just Heaven for bad people.”
  • The Doctor to mind palace Clara as he’s figuring out how to survive his freefall: “And I’m going to explain to you how I survived. Can’t wait to hear what I’m about to say. I’m nothing without an audience (Capaldi glances directly at the camera).”
  • How much time actually passed in the Confession Dial?
  • For one horrible moment I thought the Doctor had brought himself to the prison somehow and he was going to be the person indirectly responsible for Clara’s death. But instead that’s the Time Lords. And man are they going to get an earful.
  • The Doctor’s confessions:
    He’s afraid to die
    He ran from Gallifrey because he was scared of the hybrid prophecy
    He knows the hybrid is real, where it is, and what it is
  • Shipper corner:
    • The Doctor, describing his safe place: “I always imagine that I’m back in my TARDIS, showing off, telling you how I escaped, making you laugh. That’s what I’m doing right now. I’m falling, Clara, I’m dying. And I’m going to explain to you how I survived.”
    • The moment the Doctor telepathically opened a door and turned to reassure Clara only to remember she’s not there was heart wrenching.
    • Whether the two billion years that passed was real time or not, it likely felt real to the Doctor. Which means he not only kept enduring physical pain again and again for all that time, he also kept mourning Clara.
    • The Doctor: “But I can remember Clara. You don’t understand. I can remember it all. Every time. And you’ll still be gone. Whatever I do… you still won’t be there.”
    • In the “Hell Bent” trailer it says, “The hybrid will stand in the ruins of Gallifrey and destroy a billion hearts to heal his own.” Go on and tell me this has nothing to do with saving Clara Oswald somehow.
Stephanie Coats
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