At the end of the previous episode we knew that the Doctor was to be teleported somewhere, and in this episode we find out where.
The location is a stone castle with towers and spiralling staircases, but it also has modern and futuristic technology, with TV screens showing static, and a teleporter. There are flies buzzing around everywhere. We see a hand pull a lever on the teleporter, and then the owner falls down dead, disintegrating into dust. The Doctor is teleported in. He is defiant, insisting he is not afraid, is still willing to take revenge for Clara’s death and wants whatever summoned him to this place to show itself. As he puts it, “The Doctor will see you now”. He also claims he can pinpoint the exact time and place he is in from the stars in the sky.
The Doctor is then pursued by a sinister hooded figure which looks like it is made of stone with apparently no face. It is known as The Veil. Its hands reach out to grab the Doctor.
The Doctor tries to escape via a door, but it only leads to a solid wall. The Doctor admits he is scared of dying, and the Veil stops, as do the flies, as if they are frozen in time. Then cogs start turning and the castle rearranges itself.
The Doctor then enters a nicely decorated bedroom with a vase of flowers and portrait of Clara. But what is strange is that the paint has began to peel and crack, so it must have been painted a very long time ago.
The Veil comes for the Doctor again, but the Doctor smashes a window with a chair and jumps out of it. We then see the Doctor in his TARDIS, and Clara stood in front of a chalkboard with her back turned to him. This isn’t reality, but inside the Doctor’s head. He is still in fact falling! But how he is dealing with it is to imagine he has already survived, and is back in his TARDIS telling how he did it. He realises the air is salty, which suggests the castle is by or in the middle of a sea. While falling from a great height into the sea is far from certain survival, it’s better than falling to the ground. But as he is well aware, falling from that height into the sea will make him lose consciousness, which in turn will make him drown.
In the Doctor’s mind, Clara has written on the chalkboard questions for the Doctor to ask himself. “What is this place?”, “What did you say to make the creature stop?” and “How are you going to win?”. The Doctor wakes up, and sees the sea bed covered with thousands of skulls piled high! He gets back to the surface, and walks back to the castle. There is a fireplace, as well as dry versions of the clothes he is wearing! He leaves his wet clothes to dry by the fire and puts the dry clothes on.
The TV screens always show the Doctor exactly where the Veil is. That’s because whoever put him in this place wants him to be scared. As the Doctor puts it, the place is “a fully automated haunted house, a mechanical maze”. He goes into the castle garden, which
is full of fog and dying plant life. There seems to be loose earth, and a spade. He decides to dig. After managing to keep the Veil from coming through the door, he continues to dig, ending up with what looks like a grave. But what he does hit is a clay tablet which says
“I Am In 12”. Suddenly, the Veil bursts out from beneath! The Doctor manages to figure out what makes the Veil stop. It wants truths, not only that but truths the Doctor has never told before. In other words, confessions. The confession he uses this time is that he’s always lied about leaving Gallifrey because he was bored. He left because he was scared. The Veil retreats, and the castle rearranges itself.
The Doctor manages to outrun the creature and come up with confessions to make it retreat for a long while, and even gets used to living in the castle. Some of the rooms are pretty luxurious after all. But he still considers it a form of Hell, which doesn’t bother him per se, but he is worried about the prospect of being there forever. He focuses on searching for Room 12, which is difficult, as all the room numbers are jumbled up. At one point, a secret passage opens which leads to the top of a tower. He sees the stars in the sky, then Room 12. But when he opens it, it just leads to a wall. The Doctor now thinks that this is a trap, and he’s essentially following breadcrumbs. He also thinks someone has moved the stars to screw with his mind, as they are all in the wrong places. They look like they are from 7,000 years in the future. The Veil arrives to attack him again, and the Doctor confesses he knows that the Hybrid said to bring destruction to Gallifrey is definitely real.
The castle rearranges itself again, and Room 12 is now free of the stone wall. It leads to a room which is covered in another wall, this one made of Azbantium. The Doctor says it’s 400 times tougher than diamond and 20 feet thick. Faced with this huge obstacle, he is ready to give up, and just wishes he could lose. He is also distraught with the fact he can’t bring Clara back to life. At this point in his head Clara finally faces and speaks to him directly. She gently tells him “You are not the only person who has ever lost someone. It’s the story of everyone”, and then to “Get up off your arse and win”.
The Doctor has no more confessions to fend away the Veil, other than one. That is about the Hybrid, and he considers it too dangerous a secret to be told. He guesses the bright shining white wall of Azbantium ahead of him is the only way out. He punches it, despite it causing him agony. The Veil catches him, and kills him… but Timelords take a long time to die, even if they can’t regenerate it takes them days to die properly. He climbs up to the top of the tower. He had previously thought that the piles of skulls were former prisoners, but this place was built for him only. The stars in the sky weren’t moved around with, he has been there that long, 7,000 years. Every time the castle rearranges itself, it also tidies up. Each room is just like it was the first time he entered. This goes for the teleporter too.
So he connects himself to it, pulls a lever to burn himself up and create a copy of himself. It was the Doctor’s hand we saw at the beginning. The cycle then begins again. Over and over and over again. The piles of skulls were all the Doctor, and new versions of him are there, all thinking they are the original. The Doctors see from the stars they are 12,000 years, 600,000 years, 12000, 000 years, 2 million years, 20 million years, 52 million years, nearly a billion years, well over a billion years, and 2 billion years from where they should be.
During this time, he has smashed, little by little, the wall, until finally he gets through to the end. It leads him to portal to another world. The Doctor discovers where he was – he was inside his own Confession Dial, and is now in Gallifrey. A little boy arrives, and the Doctor tells him to go to the city and announce he’s come back. Then he makes his final confession. The Hybrid is none other than the Doctor himself!
This was an excellent episode. Peter Capaldi had to carry the majority of it himself, but he is more than capable of that, giving a great performance. The Veil can be added to a long list of great creepy monsters that the show has done. The episode is a very atmospheric and psychological. Directed well by Rachel Talaylay, with the sobering shots of skulls dropping into the sea and getting the surreal, dream-like, or more accurately, nightmarish tone of the episode just right.
Moffat’s script has many great lines in this episode. Some funny, such as the Doctor mentioning that the Brothers Grimm are on his darts team. Some making amusing meta references:
“I’ve finally run out of corridor. There’s a life summed up”.
“There are two events in everyone’s life that nobody remembers. Their birth and their death”.
Some very poignant:
“The day you lose someone isn’t the worst. […] It’s all the days they stay dead”.
Despite not featuring much in the episode, Clara has a presence with the Doctor’s memory of her, and him remembering her role as a teacher to him, which is interesting, when their dynamic was a bit like the Doctor teaching Clara. The brief moment where the Doctor imagines her talking to him directly is very moving, and I think would have been great as a final goodbye to Clara.
‘Heaven Sent’ is one of the best episodes they’ve ever done I think, firing on all cylinders with performance, script and directing, and shows the benefits of setting high standards and taking risks. It was an intelligent, at times beautiful, eerie and thoughtful episode.