With a season seemingly focused on death and rebirth none other episode this year brings the idea to the forefront as much as 'Heaven Sent'. In an episode that's very much a gamble, a whole 45 minutes with no one but The Doctor for the audience to engage with and follow, we are given a very strange, creepy and at times downright depressing story in which The Doctor is stuck in a loop, endlessly repeating events for billions of years.
As the episode begins we believe that The Doctor has just arrived in his elaborate puzzle box, torture chamber, clockwork castle after the events of the previous episode, just moments after watching Clara die. The Doctor spends the next few days exploring his surroundings, running away from the hideous and terrifying Veil, and finally dieing in front of a giant space diamond wall before creating a copy of himself just to repeat it all again.
When I realised that The Doctor was stuck in a loop, and we saw that loop continuing on for thousands, then millions, then billions of years, with no apparent change in his actions I was beginning to genuinely question how The Doctor would ever manage to escape. The reveal that he was slowly, painstakingly chipping away at the diamond wall by punching it, wearing it down over billions of years was a little moment of genius.
It's stories like this that push Doctor Who to it's limits, that take a show that has worked for more than 50 years and dares to try something it's never done before. We're given a Doctor that is alone, completely and utterly, which is something we've never seen before. Even when not travelling with a companion there's normally someone around for one of his adventures, but here it's just him.
That sense of isolation definitely added to the suspense of the episode. If we were cutting back to a companion or if the Doctor had another living person to talk to we'd lose some of that fear and sense of isolation and vulnerability that was built up by a lone, scared Doctor running away from the monster.
The Veil, this weeks monster, was another of those genius creations that comes from such a simple concept. A creature that never stops. It's been done before, the terminator is a prime example of this. But The Veil is such a creepy and disturbing foe that I'm sure it's already given many children nightmares. A tall, desiccated corpse wrapped in sheets, slowly walking towards you, surrounded by flies, hell, it should even give adults the creeps.
Using The Veil as a way of frightening The Doctor into giving away his secrets was neat little idea, one that put The Doctor into a position we've never seen him in before, and one that paid off well. The Doctor confirms a suspicion brought up by Davros in the first story of the season, that The Doctor didn't leave Gallifrey simply because he was bored, but because he was scared. He was running away from the prophecy of the hybrid.
Whilst I'm sure that there will be many people who didn't like the episode, found it too 'slow' or 'boring' I found it to be an incredibly brave and interesting episode. Yes, it was downright mad in places, and occasionally confused, but the concept was just so bonkers that it has to be given credit for being so amazingly well done.
The reveal that the diamond wall labelled 'home' didn't lead to the Tardis as The Doctor hoped wasn't a surprise to me, after a two year absence it's about time that the Time Lords made a return, especially with Missy roaming around the universe confirming that Gallifrey survived the events of The Day of The Doctor.
The final revelation of the episode comes not from the fact that The Doctor is back on Gallifrey, but in his final words. 'The hybrid is me'. Now, is The Doctor saying that he is the prophesies hybrid that will ever save or doom Gallifrey? If so, what does this mean, could this be Moffat going back to the long abandoned plot from the 8th Doctor's brief adventure, that The Doctor is part human?
Perhaps, or maybe he's a hybrid in a different sense. One other possibility is that when he said 'me' he instead said 'Me', as in the name that Maisie Williams' Ashildr now goes by. Ashildr/Me is a mix of viking and immortal alien, definitely a hybrid, and she is confirmed as being back for the finale. It's still not clear enough at this point to make any firm predictions, after all as River kept telling us 'The Doctor lies'.
The preview for next week looks to set the stage for some exciting developments. Will the Time Lords return to the universe, and if so will they be a force for good or evil? Why is Ashildr/Me back, is she the hybrid? Will Missy make an appearance to help/stop The Doctor? Is The Doctor going to regenerate next week?
Whatever the answers to these questions I'm sure that we're in store for one hell of a finale.
As a side note, the folks over at BleedingCool.com did a little math into how many Doctors lived through the events of the episode. On the assumption that each Doctor lives roughly 3 days, and a rough figure of 2 and a half billion years there have been approximately 304,375,000,012 Doctors.