Let’s sleepwalk through this the best we can.
After the apparent demise of Clara Oswald (but seriously, who is mourning the worst companion since sliced bread Martha?) last week, we knew the following episode would be chock-full of mourning and madness; “Heaven Sent” disappoints not in that department. Our fearless leader David McGinnis likened the early scenes to Myst – you know the game, the only one installed on the school Macs in the nineties? It’s a puzzle game where you’re basically a hovering hand entering rooms and…are you asleep, yet? About how I felt this whole episode; although, I’ll admit Capaldi’s signature lilt did add some gravitas to a few of his monologues, and boy, were there ever a few! While I’m still awake enough to continue, let’s muddle our way through the penultimate episode of this Whovian season. Lord, help us.
Mommy, I Don’t Know Where I Am
Are you gardeners?! I hate gardening! What sort of person has a power complex about flowers?
— The Doctor
We open mere moments following “Face the Raven,” as the Doctor is transported into some sort of tower in what appears to be a Star Trek transporter tube. He breathes heavily, gnashes his teeth, and wages war on his unseen captors, blaming the latter for Clara’s death. He picks up a handful of dust and watches as it falls through his fingers. (If you thought this would be the only bit of death symbolism, you’d be wrong! Oh, Moffat! You so literal.) The Doctor continues walking around this strange tower, peering out windows, speaking into the ether, accusing and threatening the air.
He then comes upon a shovel (imagery) caked in dirt, and a figure that embodies Death itself, staring back at him from a window across the tower…or is it right beside him? This chase goes on for a bit, the score swelling to outrageous proportions. Did I mention the “dead-end” on the other side of a door he attempted to mind-meld? After that is unsuccessful, the Doctor admits to being afraid to die, and the whole tower turns, like, hmmm…a dial? Perhaps? Figured out where we are, yet? Are you alive in there? Asleep?
In a room with a very old, cracking painting of Clara, Death follows him again, until he jumps out a window. Into the abyss between the towers.
For reasons, the Doctor ends up in a version of the TARDIS, running in just to tell Clara how he’s escaped the scary place. She stands with her back to him because of course she is not there, and neither is he, really. He’s still falling, but he’s recapping to his mind-Clara how he might have survived, working it out in a very Bill and Ted way. Words begin appearing on his chalkboard in the mind-TARDIS, as the Doctor’s body is somewhere in the water, asking questions about the place he’s in, how he’s going to win. But the Doctor is so very tired, he just wants to sleep.
When he opens his eyes, it is to actual death imagery, as the bottom of the water is covered in skulls. The Doctor is back to the bottom of the tower, where a fire is burning, and dry clothes laid out. He changes and sets his own clothes out to dry…the same clothes. The Doctor theorizes that this is a puzzle box designed to scare him to death, and he revels in the idea of the challenge.
I’m not scared of Hell; it’s just Heaven for bad people.
— The Doctor
The Doctor is ushered into an outdoor, overgrown garden, with a plot (le sigh) in the middle, ready to be dug. And so, the Doctor gets to digging, because what else is there to do? At the bottom of the hole, once the sun has set and the confusing stars appear overhead, a casket is unearthed that reads: I AM IN 12, and then the Death thing jumps out of the recently dug earth.
Of course, the Doctor escapes to his mind-TARDIS and postulates that the whole point of this exercise is to garner a confession from him. A truth. (I feel like I’ve heard about this somewhere before…) The only thing that stops the Death thing is to confess things he has never told anyone, but he feels there are truths he can never tell. Apparently, he did not leave Gallifrey because he was bored, as he has always put forth; it was because he was scared.
The Doctor escapes, and the tower turns again. Now, it appears his castle is in the middle of a vast ocean of water, the floor covered with skulls. So, he runs from room to room, searching for Room 12 (I AM IN 12, get it?), as the seconds tick by, or so he tells his mind-Clara. It’s a closed loop, as the rooms revert back to their inert state once he leaves them.
The Doctor returns to the room that brought him to this place and picks up a skull that is connected to some wires, the word “BIRD” written beside it in the dust. A room opens, to which he enters, arriving at the top of one of the towers. He looks up at the confusing stars…and then, nothing happens (…like every other moment in this snorefest. Experimental film is one thing; this is Moffat at his pretentious worst. Since we’re just being honest betwixt us friends.). All the stars are in the wrong places, and he wonders if he’s traveled seven thousand years into the future…right before confessing to the Death thing that there is a Time Lord-Dalek hybrid, “an ultimate warrior,” out there somewhere; the Doctor knows where it is, and he is afraid.
The tower moves, and he’s walking through another hallway. At the end of it is written the word “HOME.” Through a substance 400-times stronger than diamond is the way out: the TARDIS. And the Doctor flashes back to the word “BIRD.” He shouts about winning and losing, and he just wants to give up. Whatever he does, Clara will still be gone, and he’s just wasted. He hears her voice telling him to get over it, to move on, and then she appears in front of him, moving him forward. So, he starts beating that substance, trying to fight his way out, but the Death thing touches him. And he dies. In fact, he’s been dying all along. This is the loop we’ve been walking, for millions of years. And he’s been telling the same Grimm fairytale all that time, “bird” being the punchline. ( Duh.) Finally, he beats his way out..of his confession dial (Again…SHOCKER). And on the other side? GALLIFREY! And who is the Dalek-Time Lord Hybrid destined to end the Time War? Why, it’s…the Doctor! And he’s back home.
Look, I’m sure this episode speaks to people with its reveals and all the returning to Gallifrey-ness that we were promised in “The Day of the Doctor,” but “Heaven Sent” rang more to me like filler, like Star Wars: Episode II (Oh, I went there). It was wholly unnecessary. All I can hope is that next week lives up to what this episode so pretentiously tried to sell: brilliance. For now, I’m going to go continue my nap.