Friday, 4 December 2015
HEAVEN SENT: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE NERDY
It’s always a challenge stepping outside of the comfort zone. It’s often a case of high risk, high reward. You can either crash or burn quite hard like Sleep No More, or you can come out looking like the best thing to happen to the world since [insert really cool advanced gadget]. Unfortunately though, there is absolutely no way to predict how successful your attempt at creativity is going to be until after the fact.
What’s really exceptional about Heaven Sent is the dialogue and the props. Not only is the script dripping with deep and gripping lines, but they’re also incredibly clever and well positioned. Almost every piece of analysis or exposition-based dialogue doubles as either foreshadowing or has some kind of double meaning, including the Doctor’s final line. Is it “The Hybrid is me” or “The Hybrid is Me”? It’s almost like the script has its own perception filter, making sure we don’t listen/look too carefully. Prior viewings reveal that the script is chock-full of these kinds of lines.
Not only that, but as with a lot of Moffat’s scripts, he manages to introduce the most mundane items and turn them into ‘why didn’t I notice that before’ plot points at the drop of a hat without arousing suspicion. Casually dropping flowers, breaking windows partly to create an escape route, but mostly to test height, gravity and velocity – Heaven Sent’s script is filled to the brim with Houdini-like events, weaving misdirection into the plot to amaze the audience later. It’s a 55 minute slow burn. This isn’t a new trick of Steven Moffat’s course, but to do this on such a grand scale, essentially the whole episode and still get away with it…text book inspiring.
Seriously? Well okay then. The Doctor could’ve timed an escape and repeatedly come back later to hack away at the crystal wall with a shovel instead of breaking his hand on three or four punches. Eighty-two minutes of hacking per day at least. True it would probably take thousands years of straight back-and-forthing the Veil instead of two-three days (how long each Doctor spends in the castle before being killed), but it wouldn’t have made for nearly as moving a scene?
How about why some of the items in the castle didn’t reset? Well, it’s not like it came out of nowhere. The stars moved around, plus Clara’s painting aged.
How about the fact that that’s not how falling or water works? Wouldn’t the Doctor’s body have been destroyed jumping from that great a height even if he did do the calculations? Well yes, but that jump is the coolest action shot in Doctor Who Series 9 so Rule of Cool ignores it. So should you!
On a serious note though, one legitimate flaw I can find in this episode is that as with most gripping mystery tales, this episode has the potential of becoming incredibly predictable given how the setup of Heaven Sent revolves around not noticing the clues presented to us. This however cannot be fixed by the writer and every other mystery story in fiction runs the same risks. This is the kind of episode you watch infrequently.
The Veil joins a very select club of Doctor Who villains that have actually managed to kill the Doctor. Yes, not injure to regenerate, kill him! Going even further, the Veil holds the record for killing the Doctor the most consecutive number of times (I’m not going to do the math). Anyone who says the Veil isn’t a good villain needs to read that last sentence again.
The Doctor makes reference to the Brothers Grimm and The Shepherd Boy (repeated).
Heaven Sentis very similar to Carnival of Monsters, Logopolis and Castovalva. The Confession Dial is very similar to the Miniscope, the Doctor spends most of the episode being stalked by a mysterious entity and the same time, the last time the Doctor found himself in a location with bizarre moving architecture, was just after his fourth regeneration.
Heaven Sent is also similar to the tale of Prometheus, who was repaid for helping the gods by being sentenced to spend a life full of endless torture, death and finally rebirth (every day).
The Doctor picking a frozen fly is a shout out to the horror film The Ring.
The 2015 horror film It Follows also features a killer (entity) who stalks their prey by continuously walking after them until they are within killing distance.
The Doctor’s Memory Palace and its visual representation is a recycled story idea cannibalized from Steven Moffat’s other successful TV Show Sherlock.
And lastly, Heaven Sent uses a cruel version of the Groundhog Day Loop from the 1993 American film Groundhog Day, fusing it with a cloning gambit and an amnesia gambit, though there are at least five details that do change within this story, namely the position of the stars, the number of skulls in the ocean, the dent in the crystal wall, the accumulated entropy of Clara’s painting and how far along the Doctor gets in his story about the Shepherd boy.
Tomorrow sees the end of the line for Series 9 in Hell Bent. But has Heaven Sent set the bar for part two too high to match?