[WARNING: The Following Review Contains SPOILERS!]
Death has always been The Doctor’s most constant companion. Though he’s traveled with any number of interesting people, Death has always traveled with him. More often than not Death took The Doctor’s enemies but all too frequently Death also took those innocents who got in the way. And, on a few rare occasions, Death has claimed The Doctor’s companions.
Now, Death has taken Clara Oswald. And ironically Death came for her because of the machinations of a girl whom The Doctor saved from Death. That girl grew into a woman who hated The Doctor for the gift that he gave her and was all too eager to plot with one who would see The Doctor suffer.
Thus it was The Doctor came to a castle upon the sea. Literally, built upon the sea. And the sea is full of skulls – presumably victims of the foul specter that haunts the halls of the castle. A specter that has taken the form of one of The Doctor’s greatest fears – a shrouded corpse surrounded by flies. Because this is the form that the boy who would become The Doctor first associated with Death. And that is but the first of many fears The Doctor will have to confront in what appears to be his own personal Hell…
The only flaw with Heaven Sent is that it cannot stand alone on its own merits. As the middle chapter of this year’s three-part Series Finale, the episode is – by its nature – dependent on what came before and is concerned, in some part, with setting up what is to come. And yet, when you get right down to it, this episode is symbolically the core of everything Doctor Who is about as a show and who The Doctor is as a character. And not just because this episode is nothing more than a series of chases down corridors while The Doctor explains how very clever he is being!
We’ve been told before that The Doctor’s credo is to never be cowardly or cruel – to never give in and never give up. And those principles have never been so clearly defined as they have by the action of Heaven Sent. The Doctor must literally defy Death again and again, subjecting himself to a Sisyphean torment in order to win the day. Because, as one of his greatest companions once noted, “You don’t just give up. You don’t just let things happen. You make a stand. You say “no.” You have the guts to do what’s right when everyone else just runs away…”
Everything in this episode proves perfect on a technical level. Peter Capaldi gives his greatest performance yet as The Doctor. Steven Moffat’s script drops just enough hints for the canny reader to figure out what is going on and a second viewing enhances the experience of watching the episode. And Rachel Talalay’s direction works wonderfully. Cliche as it may be to say so, I wish I had a TARDIS so I didn’t have to wait a week for the thrilling conclusion!