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Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Doctor Who S35E11: Heaven Sent

Doctor Who
Series 35, Episode 11:
Heaven Sent.

I can't decide whether I love this episode or hate it. It's definitely one of the two, but I'd struggle to tell you which one, which means I'm stuck feeling what can best be described as slightly favourable apathy.

In this week's episode, the Doctor, fresh off Clara's death and being teleported away from Earth, materialises in a vast medieval castle situated in the middle of the ocean. Exploring its labyrinthine halls, he quickly becomes aware of a creature slowly pursuing him, its position shown on monitors to frighten him. As he struggles to escape, he quickly finds that there is only one way to find the answers he seeks and get away: By 'confessing' to the creature, telling it a secret he's never voiced before, he can make it temporarily back off, and the castle to shift configuration, opening up new rooms.

So, this is a very Moffat episode. It has, in fact, many of the things that I hate about Moffat's episodes: An over-inflated sense of grandiosity, poor pacing, numerous plot holes, rapidly delivered long monologues, and hallucinated female characters who exist only for a male character to be 'inspired' by.

And hello to you too, Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.

If that last seems weirdly specific, it's because Moffat has used this exact trope multiple times with multiple characters in multiple different shows (in Doctor Who alone, he's done it at least three times, probably more), and it feels like a weird metaphor for his views on women in general. Moffat tends to write women as props for the Doctor (or another character) to explain how amazing they are, and occasionally to provide non-descript inspiration to him, and this trope, and especially this trope in this episode, which features Clara as a voiceless and faceless delusion, no less, is the logical end point of that attitude.

As far as poor pacing goes, I will hasten to remind you that the vast majority of the episode's action takes place in the last ten minutes. Before that, the episode almost entirely consists of setting the mood, as the Doctor runs around and occasionally discovers things that will be useful later. 

That's some terrible pacing right there, and it's not helped by the fact that, actually, this episode doesn't make much sense once it gets around to its pay-off at the end. Why is the Doctor's last will and testament actually a tiny torture castle? How would that even work, what would even be the point of it? Is it even possible to punch through diamond over billions of years, let alone to punch through a thick wall of something much tougher than diamond? Was the interrogation castle set up with the idea that the Doctor would, if he died, surely drag himself to the teleporter and burn his own body to power it and start the cycle over again, or did whoever's interrogating him just figure that if he wasn't willing to confess and he died, then there's no point crying over spilt milk?

How Byronic.

But despite all of that, there were a lot of things I actually quite liked about this episode. So help me, the 'all the skulls belonged to the Doctor and he's been doing this over and over again for thousands of years' was a genuinely good plot twist: It was set up perfectly, with enough clues that it seems obvious in hindsight but isn't obvious while watching, and the reveal had a surprising amount of gravitas to it.

While the pay-off to the episode is certainly flawed, and the episode really does lack in action, as far as a brooding, almost gothic mystery goes, it's pretty well pitched. This episode also finally gives us an idea of what the plot for this series is, and it's 'the hybrid' - which has been a recurring theme, yes, but a recurring theme does not a plot equal. Still, I'm glad to at least know what the big thing this series is.

(Although the episode ends with the Doctor announcing that he is the hybrid, which just makes me think that Moffat is going to really reach into the murky depths of the bad decision lake and pull out the 'the Doctor is half human' thing from the TV film, which, to be honest, might just be my breaking point, where I have to throw up my hands and decide not to watch anymore.)

Also, compliments to the set designers, they did really well.

In the hands of a more competent writer, this would have been a brilliant episode, but Moffat does, to his credit, make an okay go of it. Next week, we have an episode apparently set on Gallifrey? But Rigsy and Ashildr are both there, so I'm not certain exactly what's afoot in this episode. It'll be interesting to see, at least, and hopefully Moffat will manage not to mess it up. Also, please, please don't have the Doctor be half-human. Just don't.

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