Doctor Who: Playing Those Mind Games

My immediate thought for Heaven Sent is that the introduction was a statement regarding death. As my high school English teacher was fond of quoting (and I may have mentioned before): we are born astride the grave. This episode turned out to be more literal than the aphorism though. And also extremely amenable to John Lennon song lyric references, which I will demonstrate.

Eternal La Noche Oscura…

What came to me watching this was that this was an Inception death castle. To get himself through the night, trapped inside his prison, The Doctor retreats to his own Sherlockian Mind Palace, wherein contains his own version of The Woman, Clara Oswald, who is dead, but still helpful as a multi-life coach. I’m aware I sound facetious, and this episode deserves more than this, but these were my first thoughts, and are entirely consistent with me: a veneer of flippancy in the face of dire seriousness. But behold, I believe I hear people demanding gimme some truth.

Just Like Starting Over?

Unlike many programs, where the main characters get on with their weekly shenanigans after the exit of a central character, in Doctor Who absences count. There is mourning and threats of revenge. There are consequences when people leave The Doctor’s life, for him and for others. It is not just like starting over, because the presence and absence of his friends colours his perceptions and informs each subsequent adventure and regeneration. It is also fair that a program in a science fiction genre pays attention to scientific principles: for every action there is a reaction.

I’m Losing You

If the dead do have to return this was a good a way as any: Clara, thus immortalised, shines on in his memory doing what she did best, offering solace to her Doctor. She may have died suddenly and probably unnecessarily, but he doesn’t have to go cold turkey without his Impossible Soufflé Girl. Not when he has a mind palace Tardis and a seeming infinite capacity to remember.

Borrowed Time

I can’t remember an episode of Doctor Who like this tonally. Sure, plenty of episodes feature frantic Doctors and chase scenes. The Doctor’s Wife was good in this respect because we had Amy and Rory aging and dying and generally running about a similarly bonkers (speaking spatially and time-wise) Tardis.

But this was elegiac and rightly so. The main events we witnessed were but one of his many iterations going through the motions to escape. It was beautiful and pretty much everything I could have hoped for in a science fiction time traveller locked room mystery. He mourns for billions of years, inside his prison. Everywhere he goes inside it, was calculated and part of his search for the grail to get him out. And Murray Gold’s score was a big part of evoking exactly that mood that made it so powerful. It recalled the influence of the classical score in Tarsem’s The Fall. In fact this was presenting the fall myth, as a loop: an (almost) closed system.

Instant Karma Gonna’s Get You

Somehow, this episode also becomes a meditation on how reincarnation is hell given the right perspective. Imagine seeing your own skulls pile up as you witness endless cycles of your own life across millions of years? But we don’t have to imagine now, because The Doctor lives this as he is stuck in his own confessional, spending each life chipping away to get to the truth. This hell is only relieved by the fact he is escaping it, blow by painful blow.

And of course the destination is where he began, clockwork circles within circles. He undergoes a myriad deaths to escape his own confessional to arrive home. He can blame himself for that if he wants. It was his confession dial and  a tool, much like a story, for projecting our images in space and in time. It also gets him home and he’s going to be angry about how this happened. But what struck me is he kept going, he wasn’t just watching the wheels go around in his prison, because, despite his rage, a part of him has a faith in the future out of the now. 

If the confession dial was a last will and testament, then this is a his birth certificate.

If the confession dial was The Doctor’s last will and testament, then this is his birth certificate.

I’m Moving On

Back in the day, when he was properly summoned to Gallifrey all The Doctor had to do was dump Sarah Jane Smith home. It turned out he left her in Aberdeen, rather than Croydon. However, that was a small price compared to the death of Clara. Add to that the further late fee penalty having to endure four and a half billion years inside his own prison to get back, it seems access costs to the Timelord’s home planet have inflated, well, just a little.

I Found Out

I was watching the wheels inside the castle grind around and I was so caught up in The Doctor’s doings I didn’t stop to think about how laden with symbolism and downright plot indicators his environs were. Of course it was Timelord technology! Of course it was his own confession dial.

But I was also reminded of Dark City, what with its lives and rooms and buildings reset for a purpose beyond the knowledge of the inhabitants who are being manipulated for other ends by beings they can’t see.

Speaking of which….

#9 (billionth) Dream

Whoever is responsible for the set and the cinematography and the special effects gets a round of applause from me. The way the camera followed the light falling through the castle windows; the way darkness fell as the Doctor dug his own grave, and how he got to react to the changing stars. It was a visual poem to the passage of time. Every element held meaning and added both to the sense of tangibility and unreality of the place. It was reminiscent of the prison in The God Complex. Both being prisons in which a being soaked in blood is trapped in an endless shifting maze, where everything that happens inside is, even if it is fake too.

Sweet Bird of Paradox

To get out of hell alive, The Doctor must sacrifice innumerable lives. Again and again he submits, finally, to the embodiment of his greatest childhood nightmare. Each time he resets his existence so that it is dedicated to pecking through the wall of his prison, in total isolation except for his demon, which for the life of me, looks like some kinda druid dude lifting the veil. Each time he had to make the same decisions, and hold on to their inevitable denouement, to ensure he would come back and breath through on the four billionth time. But each time too, he reminds himself, by pushing the barriers planting seeds to ensure what happens, happens. For most people, that would leave them crippled inside, but four billion years inside a prison isn’t the problem. Like he said, it was Christmas (war is not over). What left him broken is not the rock harder than diamond, but the stones of [his] mind  when left to contemplate all the days with his grief with Clara dead.

Why on earth are you there, when you’re ev’rywhere?

And yet, for all its artistry, and a stellar performance by Peter Capaldi – and it had to be to carry this episode – I’m left with the conclusion that it this was a commute from work to home story. A hellish one. Worse than mine by about 3.58 billion years or so (I could be exaggerating).

Yes, it was all kinds of psychological and beautiful, and there are tid bits about an ongoing plot regarding the Hybrid and back story about his past. But I still want to say: and yet.

It all comes down to a…to be continued. I guess it had to. Once you enter a maze and escape, it’s always about the what next. But this was an elaborate plot device to get him from away from Earth and Clara and back to a hidden Gallifrey unencumbered. Now, on his return, he’ll be the lone ranger, strolling back into town looking for instant karma for being forced to take a trip he might have taken anyway, had he been asked.

Because we all remember right? He hadn’t given up. He was already looking for home.

How Do You Sleep?

It was the first time in countless episodes where the Doctor was sitting down to a meal. It must the first time since the Christmas Invasion where he was actually shown at a table. Dunno what means, except it served to show this program really does do away with the everyday guff to get on with the plot. Thus, when The Doctor does sleep or eat during an episode, it illustrates a point about his life and character.

This castle is what demonstrates The Doctor successfully qualified as a Timelord, rather than failed with a lower qualification as a Timeearl.

This castle is demonstrates The Doctor successfully qualified as a Time Lord, rather than graduated with a lower qualification as a Time Earl.

Laughing at fools like me

Next Week: Who Dares Wins? a review of Hell Bent and perhaps featuring less references to John Lennon songs, but we’ll see. Just imagine I make no promises because these are strange days indeed.  And please, don’t judge me ok? I can’t help it, these things just happen. I know, I don’t mean to knock you off your feet. Most of the time I start writing these reviews and I have no plan. You are reading, after a bit of a polish, an early draft. And now, these ideas, because ‘they’re inside my head, they’re inside yours’, to misquote Donna. Plus, who in the hell d’you think you are anyway?

Ok, I’m good now, you know that for sure.


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