When you’ve got a show that hinges around a man in a box, who can travel anywhere to anytime, its format affords you an awful lot of options. That’s no secret.
Rarely, though, in the history of Doctor Who has the decision been made to zero in on one character for so long, especially so close to the end of a run. But that’s just what happens here. Heaven Sent – the penultimate episode of Doctor Who series 9 – thus opts to go off in an unusual direction again. The show’s been doing that a lot – to its immense credit – this year. It’s also been doing a lot of horror nudges and winks, and this one is no different.
Picking up, as promised, from the end of last weekend’s Face The Raven, Steven Moffat has penned an episode of the show that focuses incredibly intently on the Doctor for the vast bulk of its running time. It’s a bold piece of writing, a story that pushes and tests the Doctor. Again, I can’t help but applaud what the Doctor Who team are willing to do in the midst of a heavily mainstream piece of entertainment.
There’s a really fascinating union here, between Moffat’s words, Peter Capaldi’s latest superb performance, and Rachel Talalay’s direction, and the three are working in absolute concert here. It may be an obvious thing to say, although it doesn’t seem to be said much, but the episode simple wouldn’t work here if the three of them in particular weren’t clicking.
Actually, let’s add a fourth person. Will Oswald has edited episodes of Doctor Who dating back to 42, but this feels like one of his toughest challenges. It’s vital in Heaven Sent that there’s a sense of mystery to it, as well as an ability to actually follow what’s going on. That you can is testament to his abilities too.
Three times in particular this series, then, I’ve sat watching Doctor Who, and felt the room around me disappear, such was the magnetism of Peter Capaldi’s work on screen. This was the third of those, following his speech at the end of The Zygon Inversion, and his reaction come the end of Face The Raven. This is a damaged Doctor we get in Heaven Sent, and proof that you don’t always need umpteen monsters to pump the stakes up ahead of a series finale. The show has a lead actor with a particular set of skills, and Heaven Sent plays very much to them.
The grumble I have about the episode is more concerned with the information that the BBC has been releasing about the series, as opposed to the episode itself. But on the off-chance you’ve avoided most of that, I’m going to expand on that grumble in the spoiler-filled review over the weekend. It’s a shame that synopses seem to be dropping big details, but I guess that’s the nature of the beast now when you’re trying to attract an audience.
Crucially, though, Heaven Sent is exceptionally gripping television. It’s one thing having such a bold idea for an episode, another managing to pull it off so convincingly as they manage here. Beware, as always, the spoilers. Try to watch it live. Mourn the fact there’s only one episode left of the series…