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Recap / Doctor Who S35 E11 "Heaven Sent"

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"I’ve finally run out of corridor. There's a life summed up."
Click here to see the Radio Times magazine poster for this episode: 
"There's this emperor, and he asks this shepherd's boy... 'How many seconds in eternity?' And the shepherd's boy says... 'There's this mountain of pure diamond. It takes an hour to climb it, and an hour to go around it. Every hundred years, a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on the diamond mountain. And when the entire mountain is chiseled away, the first second of eternity will have passed.' You must think that's a hell of a long time. Personally, I think that's a hell of a bird."
The Doctor
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What happens when you push the button that should never be pushed, when you make the Doctor cross the line he should never cross? You get this episode - which we refer to as: The one where Peter Capaldi carries a 55-minute episode nearly by himself and gives a tour de force performance in the process, in the process dying so many times it makes Rory's and even Jack's deaths, put together, look like tripping over a brick. Also known as: The main reason to never, ever, if you have at all valued your existence, piss off the Doctor.

This, right after Clara just bit the dust. Tonight, it's the Doctor's turn to die. Ad infinitum. And here we thought Steven Moffat couldn't keep killing off characters... and in increasingly heinous ways.

Written by Steven Moffat, Part Two of the Series 9 finale of Doctor Who picks up where "Face the Raven" leaves off.

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The Doctor watched the one women he considered the closest thing he had to a soulmate face the raven, and he couldn't do anything to stop it. Now he's been teleported away by unknown enemies to a mysterious castle in the sea. The castle is filled with monitors showing the point-of-view of a mysterious, veiled monster that never stops stalking the Doctor through the castle's halls. The only thing that will stop it — and only temporarily — are the Doctor's confessions, particularly concerning the mysterious Hybrid of Gallifreyan prophecy.

There's an old, cracked portrait of Clara in a bedroom, a dirt-covered shovel near the teleport chamber, and thousands of skulls piled up on the seabed surrounding the castle. There's a paving stone buried in the garden with the message "I Am In 12". The stars aren't in the right positions. And there are many, many rooms, that shift around whenever the Doctor makes a confession.

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The Doctor can delay the veiled creature temporarily by luring it to one end of the castle, then running as fast as he can to the other end. This gives him time to do other things, like eat, sleep, and search for room 12. And all the time, he's talking to his mental image of Clara.

He eventually returns to the teleport chamber, and finds a skull, just like the ones on the seabed, and "BIRD" written in the sand. He takes the skull up to the top of the tower, and looks at the stars a bit. As the Veil approaches behind him, he says that the stars are in the positions they'll be in in 7,000 years — but that's not right, because he would know if he had time travelled. He turns and tells the Veil that there is a prophecy, rumors of a Dalek/Time Lord hybrid; he knows the hybrid is real, he knows what the Hybrid is, and he's afraid. The Veil backs off as the castle rearranges itself again.

This time, room 12 is open, and he goes in. Inside is a wall, made of azbantium, a substance harder than diamond. And now the Doctor knows what "BIRD" means, and he's shocked enough that his mental Clara has to snap him out of it. As the Veil approaches, the Doctor punches at the wall a few times, while beginning to tell a story. His hands are bruised and bleeding by the time the Veil catches him and injures him to the point he can't regenerate.

The Doctor crawls back to the top of the tower. It takes him a day and a half. He hooks some wires up to his head, and pulls a lever. The machinery activates, and he falls down and writes "BIRD" in the sand. He disintegrates, and a new Doctor appears in the teleport pod.

Therefore, the Doctor is trapped in a never-ending hell, so how, if at all, will he escape? And what's on the other side of the wall?


Tropes:

  • Actor Allusion: At one point the Doctor comes across a painting of Clara, which according to Word of God (Steven Moffat, in an interview with Doctor Who Magazine) was indeed painted by the Doctor. In real life, Peter Capaldi is a trained artist himself (although his style is not as realistic; the actual artist of the photo-realistic portrait is uncredited).
  • Almost Dead Guy: After finally being touched by the Veil, the Doctor spends a day and a half in this state, during which he crawls/staggers through the castle to reach the transporter and start everything over again. Through much of it, he continues to talk to Clara in his mind.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: The Doctor's last line is "The hybrid [...] is me." Or is it "The hybrid [...] is Me", meaning Ashildr? Although the Doctor usually calls her Ashildr, not Me, the way things left off between them in "Face the Raven" he may have accepted that Ashildr, for all intents and purposes, is no more. Notably, the script uses a capital "M".
  • Amnesia Loop: The plot is functionally this, although the Doctor's lack of memory of past events is enforced by something harsher than Laser-Guided Amnesia. It features the Doctor investigating an unfamiliar environment, finding evidence that people have been there before him, some of whom have left clues, which lead him to the truth about where he is, including the fact that all his predecessors were him on earlier loops. Then, after advancing slightly toward his goal, he dies, and a fresh him comes out of the transporter and the loop begins again. However, at the same time the trope is averted temporarily as according to dialogue, every time the Doctor realizes the significance of the word "BIRD" he briefly acquires the complete memories of his time so far inside the confession dial:
    The Doctor: But I can remember, Clara. You don't understand, I can remember it all. Every time.
  • And I Must Scream: Basically The Reveal is that the Doctor has been dying over and over again, only to be replaced by a clone, for around 7,000 years, meaning he's spent 7,000 years in a constant cycle of death and resurrection. This eventually gets upped to 2 BILLION YEARS by the end of the episode, only for the next episode to reveal that he actually spent 4.5 BILLION YEARS in this cycle.
  • Arc Words:
    • The castle the Doctor finds himself in is a torture chamber (actually his confession dial) to get him to reveal what he knows about the Hybrid prophecy first mentioned in "The Witch's Familiar".
    • "Story" also gets a mention. The Doctor tells the story of "The Shepherd's Boy" as he punches through the harder-than-diamond wall. In fact, the story is inspiring his actions; he leaves the word "Bird" behind for himself to find, over and over, to remind him of it. Also, he solves problems in his Mental World by telling imaginary-Clara the story of how he'd solved them.
    • "Win": The Doctor asks himself (via Clara) "How are you going to win [as you almost always do, as first discussed in "The Witch's Familiar"]?" The word itself serves as a trigger for the Doctor on several occasions in the episode, spurring him out of giving up.
  • Armour Piercing Question: "How are you going to win?" (Literally underlined a half dozen times for emphasis.)
  • Aside Glance: "I'm nothing without an audience."
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: The Doctor is able to deduce the functions of the castle through seemingly random actions: plucking a flower and dropping the petal determines the degree of air resistance, and later the same flower is restored, revealing the rooms reset; dropping a loupe determines gravity, the salt in the air tells him that they're over water, and so forth.
    • And in a case of blink and you'll miss it is how fast he can think when he really needs to: "Should hit the water in about - point zero two seconds. The chances of remaining conscious are—-". He didn't have time to finish the sentence, but he got a long way through it in twenty milliseconds.
  • Badass Boast:
    • "I am the Doctor. I'm coming to find you. And I'll never, ever stop."
    • "I've just watched my best friend die in agony. My day can't get any worse, let's see about yours!"
    • "Personally, I think that's a hell of a bird!"
    • "The Hybrid destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins ... is ME."
  • Bait-and-Switch: Blocked by a wooden door, the Doctor intends to telepathically convince it to open. He then immediately points out one very obvious reason this shouldn't work: doors are very cross. He then proceeds to open it 'anyway'. And then it opens to a wall. Three switches in about a minute.
  • Bedsheet Ghost: The Veil ressembles one due to wearing veils, as it's based on the Doctor's memories of a veiled corpse he saw while young.
  • Being Good Sucks:
    • The Doctor is clearly unhappy with Clara's Final Speech order NOT to seek Revenge over her death and is ready to defy it, since her death hurts him more than enough without the added pain of letting the bad guys get away with it.
    • As the Doctor ponders just giving up and dying rather than reveal his final confession about the Hybrid, he effectively laments this, wondering why he can't just lose for a change.
  • Belated Love Epiphany: The Doctor demonstrates this throughout the episode, particularly when he finally breaks down before "Clara" speaks to him when the fact that, regardless how many times he goes through the cycle, or even if he breaks free, she'll still be gone, hits home. (The production emphasizes this by having the score hit a romantic beat on the soundtrack at this moment.)
  • Beneath the Mask:
    • Moffat, in a Doctor Who Magazine interview, explains that this episode reveals what the Doctor's personality and actions are when he has no-one around him that he might impress or protect — when all he's doing is fighting for his life/freedom, experiencing very fresh grief and anger in the wake of Clara's death, is he still capable of being heroic? How much of his personality is a facade he puts on for others?
    • The episode answers some of these questions by having the Doctor conjuring up images of his dead Companion and talking to her, attempting to keep her with him, even while alone.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: The Doctor can be the kindest man in existence, immediately ready to jump to the aid of the first crying child he sees - yet when you push him over that edge, push the buttons you should never, ever press, you get a man who is willing to spend four billion years trapped and suffering just to make you suffer when he finally gets out of said trap. And, yes, he will make you suffer when he gets out.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The setting for the episode is inside the Doctor's confession dial.
  • Big Labyrinthine Building: The castle is huge and full of a variety of rooms. It's especially difficult as parts of it keep moving, meaning the numbers are jumbled up.
  • Bizarrchitecture: The key setting is a "rotating mechanical castle", as Doctor Who Magazine puts it.
  • Bloody Horror: The Doctor's face and hands get maimed in this manner when the Veil finally catches up with him. This is the most graphic on-screen injury ever inflicted on the Doctor (even when the Tenth Doctor had his hand cut off it was still bloodless).
  • Body Horror:
    • We never get a true accounting of the Doctor's injuries and what made them so severe that it disabled his ability to regenerate. But they must have been catastrophic (though not catastrophic enough to prevent him from climbing the tower while maintaining his head-TARDIS).
    • Clara's death from the previous episode is replayed in flashback and the Doctor later states in dialogue that she died in agony. The injuries she suffered are left to the imagination.
  • Bookends:
    • With "The Magician's Apprentice", the first part of the first story of Series 9, in which the Doctor is also transported against his will to one of the oldest and most storied planets in the show's history — and finds it restored to the way it used to be before the Time War.
    • Also bookends with "Apprentice"'s follow-up episode, "The Witch's Familiar" and its theme of the Doctor finding ways to win against impossible odds.
  • Bottle Episode: A subversion, in that it was intended as this — it has a limited setting (the castle, until the final scene). There are only four characters; two never speak and one only has a few lines. And the plot is simply the Doctor trying to escape the castle and manage his anguish and grief. But with its many rooms and shifting "pieces", the castle was an expensive, lavish setting to realize in practice, so the cost was higher than anticipated, and the result is actually 10 minutes longer than a standard NewWho adventure.
  • Break the Cutie: The Twelfth Doctor may not be a "cutie", but the events showcased in this episode broke the Doctor more than any other event in any other episode. He gets sent to the brink of insanity, right after Clara (who by this point was essentially his soulmate) was killed in the previous episode and goes through 4.5 billion years of hell in this one.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall:
    • When the Doctor is in his "storm room" and mentions how he needs an audience, for a second Peter Capaldi looks directly into the camera.
    • Zigzagged with the Doctor's narration. At first it's suggested he might be narrating for the viewer, until we learn his entire narration is actually addressed at "Clara".
  • Bullying a Dragon: Continuing from "Face the Raven", in which Ashildr trapped the Doctor despite knowing full well what he's capable of, the Big Bad in this episode — who knows perfectly well that he's a Time Lord and thus also knows his abilities and resources — doesn't just kill the Doctor off despite knowing that if he survives this ordeal he will not be in a mood to show mercy to them.
  • Buried Alive: The Doctor says that as Time Lords can take a long time to die, they prefer to die among their own people to prevent this.
  • Call-Back:
  • The Cameo: Jenna Coleman appears in a pivotal scene as Clara. Much like her early bird appearance in "Asylum of the Daleks", her cameo was successfully kept a secret until broadcast, even though it technically means the episode is not a complete "one-hander" as had been promoted.
  • Can't Refuse the Call Anymore: The Doctor is Trapped in Another World, completely alone save for a sinister Threshold Guardian that he must escape from or defeat.
  • Cherry Tapping: The Doctor has to get through a twenty-foot wall made of a substance harder than diamond using only his fists. It takes billions of years and countless clones, but he manages.
  • Cliffhanger: The Doctor's finally made it home — and the Hybrid that will stand in the ruins of Gallifrey? Ambiguous Syntax whittles it down to either Ashildr/Me or the Doctor himself.
  • Clockwork Creature: The Veil turns out to be this, matching with the rest of the castle's nature.
  • Cloning Gambit: The Doctor uses the teleport chamber to produce a series of iterations of himself, dying countless times over billions of years punching a wall harder than diamond, because eventually he'll get through it.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Taken to a truly sadistic extreme. Even as the Doctor undergoes this hell again and again for billions of years, his captors do not free him, because the identity of the Hybrid is more important than his sanity or life.
  • Continuity Nod: The Doctor using his Super Reflexes to calculate a plan in instants is similar to "The Witch's Familiar."
    • Twelve mentions that it can take days for a mortally-wounded Time Lord to die; thus, other races sometimes make the mistake of burying them too soon. In the TV movie, Seven's "dead" body was consigned to a morgue drawer at a human hospital, where he regenerated into Eight.
  • Cross-Referenced Titles: With the next episode, "Hell Bent".
  • Crystal Prison: An interesting variation, in that the way out of the prison is covered with a wall made of Azbantium, a substance 400 times harder then diamond.
  • Dark Reprise: The Doctor's closing monologue is underscored by a darker arrangement of "A Good Man? (Twelve's Theme)".
  • Dark Secret: The Doctor has one last confession about the Hybrid that he just can't make, and is thus willing to conceal it by any means necessary, including dying and going through the ordeal of the castle again and again for billions of years. This actually conceals another secret — the reason he can't reveal it.
  • Dead Man Writing: The Doctor leaves his next iteration a message written in the sand on the floor of the teleport chamber.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: The Doctor breaks through a 20-foot wall made of a substance harder than diamonds by punching it with his bare hands. For 4.5 billion years.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The Doctor is pushed beyond this. First there was Ashildr's betrayal and, more importantly, Clara's death in the previous episode. Now he's trapped in the middle of nowhere. His TARDIS is in London and cannot be summoned. And he is being pursued by an Implacable Man, with no one else around to help him or keep him from taking the most desperate measures to survive. When he realizes he will have to reveal the identity of the Hybrid to make it past the last barrier, he's ready to just give up and lose for a change, but the memory of Clara gives him the strength to keep fighting and find another way out of the castle. But when he emerges onto Gallifrey, he is a damaged and very, very angry man with nothing left to lose.
  • Destructive Teleportation: Played with. The Doctor compares teleporters to 3D printers, retaining information of a person's pre-teleported state.
  • Determinator: Rather than give away anything on the Hybrid, the Doctor decides to escape the maze by punching through a wall made of a substance harder than diamond. It takes over 4.5 billion years and countless lifetimes, of which only the last day-and-a-half give him any knowledge of the past, but he succeeds.
  • Dig Your Own Grave: The Doctor digging in the yard has this vibe, as he is attacked by the Veil while in a deep hole.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The Doctor's opening monologue — "As you come into this world, something else is also born. You begin your life, and it begins a journey towards you..." — sounds like a meditation on the inevitability of death. It's also a literal description of the Veil: the words of the monologue appear on the wall of the castle during the scene where the Doctor realises the Veil's nature.
  • Dream Within a Dream: Implied. When the Doctor has his emotional breakdown and Mind Clara begins to speak to him, we suddenly see the lighting in the TARDIS change behind the Doctor, and only then do we actually see Clara, suggesting that, within his mental reconstruction of the console room as a "storm room", the Doctor's subconscious has created another internal reality in order to conjure up Clara speaking to him rather than being silent.
  • Driven to Madness: The Doctor's ordeal is intended to drive him insane (and/or kill him) if he doesn't just up and confess every last secret he has. Combined with his grief and rage over Clara's death, he actually snaps over the course of this episode, though it isn't revealed that he has until the next one, when it becomes clear why he took the long way 'round.
  • Driving Question:
    • Where (and when) is the Doctor?
    • Who or what has imprisoned him here, and why?
  • Dying Alone: The poor Doctor must do this billions of times over in order to escape the castle "the long way 'round".
  • Dying Clue: Before he dies the Doctor writes "BIRD" in the sand as a clue to his next version.
  • The Dying Walk: Mortally injured to the point where regeneration isn't possible, the Doctor spends a day and a half walking (and crawling) through the castle in order to activate the transporter and start everything over again.
  • Eldritch Location: The Doctor is trapped in one: there is nothing beyond the Mobile Maze that is the castle but an endless sea. The ending reveals that this world is in fact the inside of the Doctor's confession dial.
  • Empty Piles of Clothing:
    • The Doctor finds dry clothes when he gets out of the water and changes into them, leaving his wet clothes to dry. This turns out to be part of the cycle for each Doctor.
    • The Veil leaves behind its veils when it is destroyed.
  • Epiphanic Prison: Though this technically isn't revealed until the next episode, the intended purpose of a confession dial is for a Time Lord to make peace with their lingering issues before their death and uploading. As his has been corrupted to turn it into a torture chamber, the Doctor does have to confront his fears, past, grief, and rage to escape... but he does not make peace with any of these issues in doing so.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Missy adores Chaos and torturing the Doctor, but even she never went this far with him. Just shows how far the Timelords have sunk when the lover of chaos, who's pushed a child into a volcano, made a gun out of leaves, stolen two bodies and attempted to drown the Doctor finds it too far to go.
  • Face Your Fears: In this world, the Doctor is forced to face down all of his deepest fears to survive. It takes (literally) every fibre of his being to do so, but he does — many, many times over.
  • Fake Shemp: Except for one brief scene, a body double in a wig portrays Clara, who is (except for the aforementioned scene) only seen from the back or obliquely.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: The injuries the Doctor sustains when the Veil catches up with him are pretty horrific for a family-oriented TV show.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: When the Doctor locates the words "I am in 12" in the grave, he notices a fly there, which is the calling card of the Veil. His face says it all as the latter suddenly bursts from the grave, cornering the Doctor.
  • Five Stages of Grief: Because his grief over Clara's death is so fresh and raw and he is trapped in a deadly place with no one to help him handle it, the Doctor becomes emotionally trapped in a cycle between Anger and Depression. When the next episode reveals why he won't give up the final secret about the Hybrid, it turns out that he's also been in the Denial stage all along — namely, he won't admit that he cannot save her — and is ready to try Bargaining in a very dangerous way.
  • Flies Equals Evil: The Veil is accompanied by a swarm of them.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: When the Doctor enters the garden he hears a bell ringing.
  • Foreshadowing: There are tons of small details throughout the episode hinting towards the Doctor's final actions:
    • There's a quick shot of a scarred hand disappearing into the sand just before the Doctor teleports in the "first" time.
    • The sea of skulls — and the one that the Doctor finds hooked up the teleporter. It later gets dropped into the ocean with the rest of them. Later, a fade between the Doctor's face and skull provides another clue that the skulls are indeed his own.
    • The identical hung-up clothes and shoes that the Doctor finds near the fireplace. Notice how he takes care to place his swapped outfit in the same arrangement as the ones he took.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When the Doctor first notices that he is being observed, there are English words clearly visible on the wall of the castle passageway. Freeze-framing with an HD set reveals the words to be the Doctor's monologue that opens the episode. (A deleted scene on the DVD makes this clearer.)
  • From Bad to Worse: First there were the events of "Face the Raven". Then in this castle the Doctor hits Rock Bottom. Then he has to keep hitting rock bottom for billions of years.
  • Gallows Humour: Multiple examples as the Doctor faces the Veil. "I've finally run out of corridor. There's a life summed up."
  • Gilded Cage: The Doctor's prison has aspects of this. Aside from having the form of a cool-looking castle, and a room that's a shrine to Clara (though according to Steven Moffat, the Doctor created that himself), it's also clear he's not wanting for food or warmth.
  • Glasses Pull: The episode ends with the Doctor doing the Horatio Caine inversion with his sonic glasses, though played straight and not for comedy.
  • Go Mad from the Isolation: With no companion or even a kindly stranger to help him, just a monster he must evade, the already emotionally-fragile Doctor is Driven to Madness in this episode.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: The Doctor begins to lose his mind once he remembers — again — that he has gone through these events over and over for thousands of years. This, combined with the Heroic BSoD over the grief of Clara's loss threatens to send him over the edge. Only the vision of Clara telling him to get off his arse and win snaps him out of it... or so it seems.
  • Hard-Work Montage: The climax of the episode speeds through the many, many, many lives of the Doctor as he punches through a thick wall harder than diamond with his bare hands.
  • Haunted Castle: The focal point of the world the Doctor is trapped in resembles one, and comes complete with a monster.
  • Heartbroken Badass: The episode starts with the Doctor vowing revenge on whoever had any part of killing Clara. And indeed his demeanour outside his "storm room" more or less remains consistent in this regard. Inside his mental safe haven, however, his heartbreak spills over into a full-fledged Heroic BSoD.
  • The Hero Dies: There's no way around it: The Doctor must die again and again so that he can keep living by way of that teleporter.
    • A more permanent application: since we know that the Doctor gets through his torture by "burning the old me" countless times, and even though dialogue implies that, at least briefly, the Doctor appears to actually remember all these lives, technically the Time Lord we've been following since 1963 - the original entity, not a copy recreated from a computer - dies 7,000 years before the start of the episode. However, since the Doctor has used transmats and other forms of teleportation many times in the past, if teleported Doctors aren't the "real" one then you'd have to believe that the Doctor who died has only been with us for a few years, and there have been a very large number of him already. This is just the first time that this is stated in black and white.
  • Heroic BSoD: Once he realizes that he remembers doing everything over and over again, he has a full-out Heroic BSOD compounded by his grief for Clara boiling over. He is shown incapacitated by this in the "real world". It takes a memory of Clara giving him a verbal slap in the face to snap him out of it.
  • Heroic RRoD: After being mortally wounded by the Veil, the Doctor spends the next day and a half forcing himself to climb the tower and, eventually, burn what's left of himself in order to power the transporter and create a new version of himself.
  • High-Dive Escape: The Doctor smashes the bedroom window with a table and leaps out, plunging down into the ocean.
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Clara's death is the core of the Doctor's guilt.
  • Imaginary Friend: The version of Clara the Doctor creates in his mind becomes his only company, and confidante, throughout his ordeal. At first he only sees her from behind, until his darkest moment when she turns and addresses him at last.
  • Immortals Fear Death: The Doctor confesses here that he's afraid of dying despite his long life span and regenerations. He's rather surprised by it.
  • Implacable Man:
    • The Veil is this — an appropriate opponent to the Determinator Doctor.
    • Upon his arrival(s) in the confession dial, the Doctor threatens to become this to whoever is listening. Ultimately, it doesn't work out quite the way the Doctor expects.
  • In Medias Res: Though the viewer doesn't realize it at first, nor does the Doctor. While the action appears to start immediately where "Face the Raven" left off, it turns out to be taking place 7,000 years later, after the Doctor has already been through the ordeal of the dial countless times already.
  • Inner Monologue: This episode offers a chance to hear the Doctor's inner monologue, alongside a lot of Thinking Out Loud, though in both cases we later realize that, when the Doctor isn't addressing whoever is running his "prison", or even just himself; he's actually talking to Clara.
  • In the End, You Are on Your Own: The Doctor is Trapped in Another World with no companions or even his TARDIS to help him. But it turns out that if he escapes, he'll get back to his homeworld...
  • In the Hood: The Veil wears a dusty robe that conceals virtually its entire body, including its face — the key visible parts of it teased in the trailers are its gray, mottled, clawed hands. It bears a strong resemblance to The Grim Reaper. It's inspired by a bad memory from the Doctor's childhood of seeing a dead, veiled woman surrounded by flies, and is effectively an embodiment of his fear of death.
  • Ironic Episode Title: "Heaven Sent" — a phrase that refers to blessings, perhaps a sweetheart — is the title of the episode that effectively sends the Doctor to Hell, with the Doctor even stating in the episode that Hell is just "Heaven for bad people". Given how Clara's memory plays such an important role in keeping the Doctor going, a romantic interpretation of the title can be made, and has since been been endorsed by some of the creators.
  • It's Personal: The Doctor vows to his captors that he will never stop hunting them down because they are, directly or not, responsible for Clara's death.
  • Jeweler's Eye Loupe: The Doctor picks up a loupe conveniently placed next to a painting of Clara Oswald to examine it. It allows him to find out the puzzling fact that the painting is very old, despite his instincts telling him he hasn't traveled through time. Then he drops the loupe to test out the gravity of the place.
  • Jump Scare: When the Doctor opens the garden door to find the Veil there, and shortly after when he is in a hole and the Veil bursts out of the earthen wall next to him.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: This episode confirms that Clara was very much this to the Doctor by how much he misses her now he's alone — to the point where he begins to talking to her even though she exists (for now...) only in his memory; ultimately it takes a mental recreation of Clara directly speaking to him to snap him out of a full-blown Heroic BSoD.
  • The Lost Lenore: Clara is this to the Doctor. Moreover, he believes It's All My Fault, thinking that his choices to save Gallifrey, revive Ashildr, and not do more to keep Clara from becoming too much like him paved the way for her demise (the next episode, however, has her and others argue otherwise). This world does not hesitate to rub salt into his wounds. The Doctor continually displays how vital Clara was to him by speaking to her even when she's not there and his love for Clara, increasingly evident as Series 9 progressed, reaches its apex - or nadir - as he spends literally billions of years in a sustained state of grief for her.
  • Love Hurts: When the Doctor finally lets his grief overwhelm him (just before Clara tells him to get off his arse and win), he appears to be in near-physical pain, taking this trope to the literal level.
  • Love Transcends Spacetime: "Hell Bent" illustrates how this trope applies to this episode, but even without it we find that the Doctor not only keeps reliving the same few days over and over, his grief for Clara — and his dependence on her for guidance and her very companionship — continues.
  • Made of Iron:
    • The Doctor survives a dive into water from a great height with little more than a brief period of unconsciousness to show for it.
    • The Doctor manages to land a number of punches on the azbantium wall before his hand becomes too damaged to continue. It's not made clear how many punches the Doctor landed during the final moments before the wall actually collapses, but even punching a wall once would cause some injury, but the Doctor shows no discomfort either in the closing moments of the episode, or in the next one.
    • As discussed in dialogue, Time Lords usually take a long time to die. In the Doctor's case after the Veil strikes, he's able to crawl and limp through the castle for a day and a half before dying.
  • Magical Security Cam: A variation. After being incapacitated by the Veil, the Doctor reverts to his "safe place" — his mental TARDIS, and stands next to a monitor that is showing a third-person view of the Doctor lying injured on the floor in the "real world." Earlier in the episode the Doctor is also able to conjure up a wireframe computer rendering of the Castle, despite never at any time prior to the very end of the episode getting a proper view of the structure from the outside (though this may be a memory from previous go-arounds leaking through).
  • Malevolent Architecture: The castle — it's a Mobile Maze full of puzzles the Doctor must solve as he's being pursued by the Veil, and this doesn't even get into what it's doing to his psyche all along. Justified in that it's the work of his enemies.
  • Mental World: The Doctor envisions himself in the TARDIS when he needs to think things out, with Clara in there writing on a chalkboard to pose him questions. Her back is to him for most of it, though she does speak to him once when he's on the verge of giving up.
    Clara: Get up off your arse and win.
  • Minimalist Cast: Only four characters — the Doctor, the Veil, Clara and a boy — and Peter Capaldi carries the bulk of the episode, which is essentially an hour-long monologue with only one line spoken by someone else.
  • Mobile Maze: The castle can shift its rooms, hallways, etc. around. This is usually dependent on the Doctor confessing something.
  • Monster of the Week: The Veil, though the episode's in service to a larger story.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • The first resets make it seem like the Doctor is living a meaningless hell. But then we see the shot of the wall and it's revealed his punches are indeed making a dent in it.
    • The Doctor triumphantly decides to Take a Third Option, which is revealed to be... punching an impossibly strong wall to death. The idea seems comical to the point that even the soundtrack doesn't quite know what to do with it. Then the Cloning Gambit is revealed...
  • Morality Chain Beyond the Grave: Clara died hoping she would be this for the Doctor — that he would honour her memory by not giving in to anguish and anger. The Doctor admits to his unknown enemy, however, "Clara said 'Don't take revenge.' You should know I don't always listen." Her memory gives him strength to keep fighting, but will it give him the strength to show mercy to and forgive his enemies? The next episode reveals the answer might be yes with regards to her death, but it's no with regards to the Last Great Time War, as he chooses to overthrow and exile his tormentors (which shows more mercy than they deserve, but that's it).
  • Motifs:
    • Beings returning from death / not being dead even though they appear to be continues as a theme in Series 9 and to the most significant (and frequent) degree possible in an episode. The Doctor undergoes this billions of times during the entire episode.
    • The motif of characters remembering or forgetting crucial things in Series 9 pops up when the Doctor comes to the inevitable point — the wall — when he remembers that he's already been through this ordeal many, many times before.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Many fan sites have paid particular notice to the scene where the Doctor first emerges from the water after diving in.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands:
    • An inversion. We are used to seeing the Doctor recover from mortal injury by regeneration. The episode "Turn Left" confirmed that if death occurs too suddenly, there may not be time to regenerate. However, in this episode the Doctor sustains an injury that is fatal and yet he is still able to live for another day and a half, and the Doctor says this is actually the way it normally happens, to the point where premature burial is a concern.
    • The Doctor's ability to open a locked door with his mind, in particular the same sort of locked door that in "The Day of the Doctor" three Doctors couldn't open without having their sonics work out the calculations for a few hundred years. (Admittedly, this is inside his own Confession Dial.)
  • No Body Left Behind:
    • When the Doctor breaks the wall the Veil falls apart, though leaves behind its parts and veils.
    • When each Doctor burns themselves out they are reduced to dust, except for their skull.
  • Not So Stoic: The Doctor finally breaks down in tears over the loss of Clara. Although he seemed on the verge of this in the previous episode, it finally comes out here. The application of this trope more applies when compared to the Doctor as seen in Series 8, since much of Series 9 dealt with him being more emotional and reactive, but it reaches its climax here.
  • Nothing but Skulls: When the Doctor dives into the water, he finds it filled with skulls. He later finds a single skull wired to the teleportation pod, which he takes up to the watchtower. It then falls into the water when the castle shifts, joining the others. Once the Cloning Gambit is revealed, the source of the skulls is, too: they're all his skull, duplicated countless times.
  • Not Named in Opening Credits: Jenna Coleman's customary opening titles credit is omitted to preserve the surprise of her cameo (while also emphasizing the Killed Off for Real events of the previous episode).
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When the Doctor realizes the significance of the word "BIRD", which causes him to realize how many hundreds of thousands of times he's gone through this experience (and this is just at the 7,000-year mark). To drive the point home, not only do we get a Rack Focus (often used to illustrate such revelations), but the Doctor loudly snaps his fingers ("Snap!" being a popular UK expression meaning "I've got it!")note .
    • When the Veil jumps out of the grave.
  • Ominous Walk: The Veil constantly walks at the same pace towards the Doctor. It has a limp, meaning every step is a thump.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: The entire episode goes through the sequence of events that lead up to the mysterious scene shown before the opening credits, with a twist: The Doctor is repeating the same events, over and over, for a "second of eternity". The events we see are just the next sequence in his upward spiral towards freedom.
  • Only the Knowledgable May Pass: For the passages in the castle to open the Doctor has to make confessions. However when it comes to the final barrier he decides to Take a Third Option.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: The Doctor, who usually tries to do the right, merciful, and selfless thing when it comes to others, is struggling to contain his desire for Revenge against the enemies whose trap for him wound up unintentionally killing Clara (though it's difficult for him to exact revenge owing to the lack of any real concrete enemy present). He's also extremely tempted, with good cause, to just give up and lose for once; it's only his memory of Clara that won't let him do so.
  • Portal Door: Behind the wall the Doctor punches through is a portal leading to Gallifrey.
  • Posthumous Character: Clara plays a major role in the Doctor's motivations, despite being Killed Off for Real in the previous episode and appearing only (for the most part) as a shadowy memory.
  • Powerful and Helpless: The Doctor is finally put in a trap that he can't escape by using all his brains and cunning. He laments that even if he does escape in the end, it still won't bring Clara back.
  • The Power of Love: As much as the Doctor is fueled by his anger, the solitary nature of the episode also reveals his worried and scared side. Amid all the unnerving and depressing challenges he has to face, it's clearly implied that the only) thing still keeping him sane and determined to solve the mystery is Clara and what they shared. He needs his memories of her to act as his mental advisor and emotional guide. It's telling that he even experiences moments of meeting her (in his mind). He misses her so deeply that he has to somewhat pretend she never went away, in order to have enough willpower to continue. Poor Doctor...
  • Precious Photo: Actually a painting (though photo-realistic and according to Word of God painted by the Doctor himself), Clara's portrait qualifies as this. The Doctor keeps returning to the room where it sits, and keeping in mind that (except at the end) the Doctor only ever sees Head!Clara from the back, this is the only image he has of her face. According to Steven Moffat, the back of the painting actually has the "I am in 12" message, but the Doctor can never bear to turn Clara's face to the wall because he draws strength from her image, so he never sees it.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • As close to one as Doctor Who will ever come, with Mind-TARDIS Clara's parting words to the Doctor:
      Clara: Get up, get off your arse and win!
    • Erroneous use: a number of online reviews of the episode claim the Doctor utters the F-word the first time he punches the wall, but this is not correct.
  • Previously On: Notably averted, unlike in other multi-part stories. Instead, it opens with the Doctor's voiceover monologue, followed by his arriving in the castle and having a Flashback to Clara's death, which is really the only thing the viewer needs to know to understand why he is doing what he is doing now. "Hell Bent" will make up for this by using this trope to recap "Face the Raven" and this episode together.
  • Prophecy Twist: If the Doctor is right, everyone's been getting the Hybrid prophecy wrong: It's not about a Dalek/Time Lord cross-breed. Depending on how you parse the last sentence, it's either a Human/Mire combination, or a Time Lord who once claimed to be part human.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: This episode continues the Doctor's transformation into a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds as his anguish and anger over Clara's death proves something he isn't capable of getting past on his own.
  • Psychological Horror: The entire episode is devoted solely to following the Doctor's desperate attempts to escape a surreal Psychological Torment Zone that tortures him both physically and mentally.
  • Psychological Torment Zone: A Mobile Maze within an Eldritch Location with an Implacable Man chasing him down is bound to be this for the emotionally wounded Doctor.
  • Punch a Wall: It's a means to an end rather than an expression of frustration (or at least it appears that way), but still plays a major part in the final act, and is very possibly an uber-example of the trope given how long he punches that wall for.
  • Puppy-Dog Eyes: Clara's eyes look massive and dark when she appears to speak to the Doctor; justified as earlier episodes have established that the Doctor is fascinated by her eyes so it makes sense that his mental vision of her would emphasize this feature.
  • Real Fake Door: Early on, when he psychically opens the door, it opens to a wall.
  • The Reveal:
    • The Doctor admits that he initially fled Gallifrey not because he was bored, but because he was afraid (possibly of the Hybrid), a revelation that is a substantial alteration to the character's established backstory.
    • The castle is located within the Doctor's confession dial. Escaping it the long way 'round rather than making the final confession of the Hybrid's identity returns him to Gallifrey.
    • The Hybrid? The last line whittles down the candidates to either Ashildr/Me or the Doctor himself via Ambiguous Syntax...
  • Robotic Reveal: When the Doctor finally breaches the wall, the Veil is revealed to be a clockwork, falling into a pile of gears.
  • Rock Bottom: The Doctor dares to do this: "I just watched my best friend die in agony. My day can't get any worse." (As it turns out... it does.)
  • Sanity Slippage:
    • As part of the Doctor's becoming a potential Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds, his experiences in the confession dial result in this, climaxing with the Doctor's Freak Out! about wanting to just lose. The Doctor himself suggests in dialogue that this prison is designed to attack his sanity.
    • The Doctor also spends the episode (and billions of years) talking to Clara as if she is actually there.
  • Scenery Porn: The castle is a grand, Gothic, golden nightmare, with mysterious overgrown gardens, cavernous halls, walls made of a material harder than diamond...
  • Secret Underground Passage: The castle contains passages that open when the Doctor makes confessions, eventually leading him to Gallifrey behind a harder-than-diamond wall.
  • Self-Inflicted Hell: By the end of the episode we learn that the Doctor is putting himself through all of this because he can't allow himself to lose to whomever is controlling the castle. As the next episode reveals, the reasons go even deeper than that when it is confirmed that he didn't need to stay there for billions of years!
  • Sherlock Scan: The Doctor performs an epic one as he tries to work out how to escape the Veil the first time and survive his dive into the water.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shrouded in Myth: The Hybrid is this to Gallifreyans, who don't even know if it actually exists or not, much less what its intentions and nature are. The Doctor, however, knows, and he is afraid...
  • Sinister Surveillance: Played with. Every room and hall in the castle has a screen, all projecting the same image: the viewpoint of the Veil. This is intended to remind the Doctor that death is always coming.
  • The Slow Path: It takes the Doctor billions of years to break through the harder-than-diamond azbantium, by way of constantly sacrificing and rebooting himself.
    The Doctor: Go to the city. Find somebody important. Tell them I'm back. Tell them, I know what they did, and I'm on my way. And if they ask you who I am, tell them I came the long way 'round.
  • Soft Water: While falling into the sea, the Doctor acknowledges "Diving into water from a great height is no guarantee of survival." But the trope is eventually downplayed. The Doctor does lose consciousness, at least, though he's up before he drowns. Justified in the fact the Doctor is not human and has physical attributes such as a respiratory bypass system that would allow him to survive such a dive (i.e. he has several times survived the hard vacuum of space and even reentry into Earth's atmosphere just in a spacesuit without injury).
  • Something Completely Different: The second third of a gigantic season finale, coming off of a Wham Episode in "Face the Raven"... is a 55-minute Minimalist Cast episode that manages to itself be a Wham Episode.
  • The Speechless:
    • The Veil does not speak.
    • For most of the episode, the memory image of Clara only communicates with the Doctor by writing on a blackboard.
    • Totally inverted with the Doctor, who carries on a monologue for virtually the entire episode.
  • Spirit Advisor: The memory of Clara encourages the Doctor and asks him questions to help him solve problems.
  • Spiritual Successor: With the Twelfth Doctor struggling alone in a strange world against a mysterious adversary, and the world's connection to Gallifrey, this could be seen as New Who's answer to the extended battle between the Fourth Doctor and Goth in the Matrix in "The Deadly Assassin".
  • Super Window Jump: The Doctor makes one narrow escape from the Veil this way, and the audience is privy to how he manages to survive it.
  • Take a Third Option:
    • Confronted with the wall, the Doctor must either make his final confession and reveal the identity of the Hybrid — something he simply cannot bring himself to do — or die an agonizing final death. His third option? Unlike the rest of the castle, the wall won't reset, so he pounds at that wall until the Veil gives him the Touch of Death, then pulls himself back to the teleportation room, and uses his last bit of life to bring back his past self stored in the data bank. This starts a cycle of ordeal, death, and "rebirth" that lasts billions of years until the wall is finally broken through.
    • The Doctor's decision to jump out the window is treated as this.
      The Doctor: Bet you won't see this coming!
  • Take Me to Your Leader: Subverted. At the end the Doctor tells a child to tell "somebody important" that he's here.
    • The Doctor demands this soon after his arrival. ("Come on - chop-chop! The Doctor will see you now!")
  • Talking to the Dead: The Doctor spends virtually the entire episode doing this. The only time he is not addressing Clara is when he addresses the people behind his imprisonment, the Veil, and the young boy at the end.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: The Dark Reprise of "A Good Man? (Twelve's Theme)" at the end, as the Doctor firmly takes on the nature of a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds. (This has added significance given that the musical score up to this point has consisted of brand-new, unfamiliar melodies.)
  • Thinking Out Loud: The Twelfth Doctor has been known to do this, has even spent an entire episode investigating why people do it — and he does a lot of it here along with "conversations" aimed at his unseen, unknown captors and with his dear departed Clara.
  • Threshold Guardian: The Veil serves the Doctor's opponent. It is something he must overcome to reach the outside world.
  • Time Abyss: Due to the fact that Gallifreyan bodies take so long to fully die, the Doctor can return to the control room and effectively reset the conditions of the maze, each and every time he arrives he carries out the exact same actions, except in one room. Room 12 does not reset; each time he gets to it, he chips away at it, little by little. It takes over 4.5 billion years to actually chip away enough to get through.
  • Time-Compression Montage: The episode climaxes with one as the Doctor goes through the ordeal of the castle again and again for billions of years, dying over and over, and chipping away at that wall a little bit more each time.
  • Time Master: The Doctor reveals he can feel time travel itself.
  • Time Stands Still:
    • The first time the Doctor confesses to the Veil, time stops and the castle rearranges so he can escape it. In later appearances, it just backs off when placated.
    • Nearly invoked with the Doctor's "storm room", when he says going into it allows him to slow down his perception of time to a crawl. As such, he's able to conduct discourse with his memory construct of Clara and do calculations in the seven seconds it takes him to hit the water and the one or two seconds it takes to avoid the Veil in the grave.
  • Torture Chamber Episode: Aside from the "storm room" and final scenes, the whole episode takes place within the confession dial.
  • Touch of Death: The Veil kills with a touch. Fortunately, Time Lords are very determined folk, so the Doctor survives just long enough to sacrifice himself as an energy source to boot up his duplicate.
  • Trailers Always Spoil:
    • Continuing the BBC's spoiling of Series 9 episodes after the official trailer for "Face the Raven" spoiled both Ashildr's return and Clara's death, the episode summaries of this and "Hell Bent" provided to the press revealed that the Doctor ends up getting back to Gallifrey over the course of this finale.
    • The trailer for "Hell Bent" that airs at the end of the episode contains several significant character-appearance spoilers.
  • Trauma Conga Line: In the previous episode, he was lured into a trap and betrayed by Ashildr, Clara trying too hard to be a hero resulted in her death, he believed he was being teleported to this other world to be delivered into the hands of his unknown enemy, his TARDIS sits abandoned in London. And now he risks being killed and/or driven absolutely insane, with no one around to help him.
  • Truth in Television:
    • It would indeed take a person an incredibly long time to erode away a diamond wall using only their fists (even taking into account the fact the Doctor is supposed to be somewhat stronger than humans). Also accurately presented is the fact it takes the Doctor tens of millions of years before he's able to utter more than a few words of the Bird story before the Veil gets him.
    • It's morbid, but people are often known to talk to deceased loved ones.
  • Undying Loyalty:
    • Taken to literal and extreme ends, though it's not until the next episode that we learn whom the Doctor is actually being loyal to.
    • Taken in a literal sense, despite not being around physically, Clara's memory is still working to support and help the Doctor.
  • Unexpected Character: Clara appears in the Doctor's Mental World, following her death in the previous episode. This fact, along with the cameo appearance by Jenna Coleman herself, was successfully kept secret prior to broadcast.
  • Unexpectedly Dark Episode: As the episode that immediately followed the death of Clara, this was never going to be a cheerful affair, but given that the episode is pretty much a 60-minute examination of one man's grief, loaded with death metaphors and imagery, this episode was dark.
  • The Unreveal: Several aspects of the Doctor's imprisonment are left unexplained. For example, where the food came from. Also, according to Word of God, the Doctor painted the portrait of Clara. So where did the paints and other materials come from, and why didn't those things reset, and the painting thus disappear, once he left the room for long enough?
  • Unstoppable Rage:
    The Doctor: If you think because she's dead I'm weak, then you understand very little. If you have any part of killing her, and you're not afraid, then you understand nothing at all. So for your own sake, understand this: I am the Doctor, I'm coming to find you, and I will never. Ever. Stop.
  • Wham Episode: The Doctor's search for Gallifrey is over.
  • Wham Line:
    • "This place is my own bespoke torture chamber, intended for me only, and all those skulls in the water... how could there be other prisoners in my hell? The answer, of course, is that there were never any other prisoners."
    • The Doctor does it to himself when he utters the word "Bird", realizes what it means, and it unlocks his memories.
    • "But I can remember, Clara. You don't understand. I can remember it all. Every time."
    • "It's not fair, Clara, it's not fair, WHY CAN'T I JUST LOSE?!"
    • Considering her appearance in the episode was successfully kept secret until broadcast, Jenna Coleman's first spoken word in the episode, "Doctor..." had the effect of being a wham line with fans.
    • "Get up, off your arse, and win!"
    • The final line of the episode, as seen below.
  • Wham Shot:
    • The fade between the Doctor's face and the skull in the tower.
    • The first time we see Clara's back as the Doctor starts talking to her in his Head TARDIS.
    • After having spent the entire episode looking at her back (and a presumed body double), we see and hear Clara speak. The wham shot here is the sudden change in lighting and Clara's hand suddenly appearing from left of frame as she touches the Doctor's face.
    • The Castle is revealed to be inside the Doctor's confession dial.
    • After the Doctor tells a young boy to "tell them [he's] back", the shot turns from the boy running to the direction of the Citadel on Gallifrey.
  • "What Do They Fear?" Episode: In this castle, the Twelfth Doctor is forced to confront myriad fears of his, including his greatest — that of being alone.
  • Whole Plot Reference: To the tale of the Greek titan Prometheus, who helped mankind and was sentenced by the gods to suffer endless torture, death and rebirth every day. It could also be a reference to Sisyphus, who was sentenced by the gods to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity, just to watch it be rolled back down to the bottom whenever he reached the top.
  • Woman in White: The Veil has the form of a deceased woman wearing white veils the Doctor saw when he was young.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Twelve mentions that the Timelords thought the Hybrid was half-Dalek. It's not half-Dalek because the Doctor knows one incredibly important fact - the Daleks would never allow anything to be half-Dalek because it's against their purist beliefs and is just wrong to them and must be exterminated; if the Timelords were actually Genre Savvy they would know this rather large fact.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Because the castle resets and he is unaware of previous loops by himself, the Doctor is fated to do the same things every iteration, leaving no clues except the word "bird", all those skulls, a few chalk scratchings, Clara's portrait... and a bigger dent in the wall.
  • Your Worst Nightmare: The Veil is based on a dead woman the Doctor saw when he was young and had nightmares about for years.

"The hybrid destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins... is ME."

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