In “Heaven Sent” we see the Doctor trapped, alone, and pursued by a being that carries the taint of hell in its wake. He has to work out where he is and how to get out, and in doing so, he has to confront the one thing he admits to being scared of, over and over and over again.
Here are just some of things you may have missed while pondering over his eternal dilemma:
“Heaven Sent” will be followed by a sequel, “Hell Bent”, and it’s interesting to note how both terms play with notions of judgment from the afterlife in order to serve a narrative purpose. Heaven-sent means lucky and is used to refer to things or people that appear at exactly the perfect time to be incredibly useful, as if sent down from heaven (or left there by a past version of yourself who has died countless times). To be hell-bent is to be determined to see something through, no matter how bad the consequences may be. Both seem very apt, in the circumstances.
Frustratingly, the Doctor’s final confession that “the hybrid is me” is less clear than it seems, given that Ashildr has also gone by the name “Me” in previous episodes. Still, it could well be an attempt to confirm the Eighth Doctor’s claim to be half human on his mother’s side in the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie (a slightly throwaway line that always felt more like a jokey reference to Star Trek’s Spock, who really is half-human on his mother’s side, than an admission of interspecies hanky-panky).
Mind you, this trailer refers to the Doctor as “the hybrid” too, so we shall just have to see.
It’s clear that Time Lords do have some telepathic powers, but the Doctor’s particular abilities have been kept for very special occasions. The Second and Third Doctors both used their minds to send messages to the Time Lords (“The War Games,” “Frontier in Space”), the Tenth Doctor read Madame de Pompadour’s mind in “The Girl in the Fireplace,” the Eleventh gave his housemate Craig a potted history of his life by headbutting him in “The Lodger,” and Twelve developed a telepathic bond with Rusty the Dalek in “Into the Dalek.” He’s never attempted a psychic union with a door before, which might’ve come in handing when Ten, Eleven and the War Doctor were locked up in the Tower of London during “The Day of the Doctor.”
Oh, and he carries that psychic paper as a matter of course, something he’s only been doing as he has gotten older.
The Second Doctor was the one who first stated that he left Gallifrey because he was bored during his final adventure “The War Games,” but it was the Tenth who first suggested fear played a larger part in his inability to settle down in Time Lord culture. Describing the Master’s initiation into the academy on Gallifrey, he said: “As a novice, he was taken for initiation. He stood in front of the Untempered Schism. It’s a gap in the fabric of reality through which could be seen the whole of the vortex. You stand there, eight years old, staring at the raw power of time and space, just a child. Some would be inspired, some would run away, and some would go mad.”
And when Martha asked him which one he was, he said: “Oh, the ones that ran away, I never stopped.”
We all remember the last time the Doctor said he was going home “the long way round,” right?
Although the creature that chases and ultimately catches the Doctor is referred to in the credits as Veil (which means the Doctor has spent part of this story digging up the Veil’s yard*), it is not the first creature in the Whoniverse to go by that name. There’s an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures in which a species of reptile emerges called the Veil. They do not appear to be unduly infested with flies.
Speaking of which, Veil’s appearance is riddled with iconic references to death and devils from history. He (or she) is a hooded figure, painfully thin and creeping slowly up on people. Then there’s the Devil, or Beelzebub, who was referred to as the Lord of the Flies. There’s also the expression go beyond the veil, which is a euphemism for dying. That comes from the Bible, and the chapters in Exodus describing how to set up a tabernacle with two chambers, separated by a veil. God wished to speak to his people in the holiest chamber through a high priest who was allowed access behind the veil. And, of course, death is a way of achieving access to both heaven and God.
If you’re wondering why the Doctor kept talking about the Grimm brothers and their story about a shepherd, this is a very specific reference to the story The Shepherd Boy. In it, a young boy is asked questions about scale by a king, and answers with very poetic wisdom. Asked how long eternity is, he answers: “In Lower Pomerania is the Diamond Mountain, which is two miles and a half high, two miles and a half wide, and two miles and a half in depth; every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on it, and when the whole mountain is worn away by this, then the first second of eternity will be over.”
It’s not often we see the Doctor punching things, or people for that matter. There was the moment at the end of “Death in Heaven” where he gave the TARDIS console what for after Missy gave him fake coordinates for Gallifrey, but that’s about it. That’s not to say he’s not handy. The Third Doctor embarked on a boxing match with John Andrews in “Carnival of Monsters,” having claimed he learned how to box from John L. Sullivan—the 18th century American heavyweight boxing champion—and he won.
And you might be interested to know that the actor playing John Andrews was Ian Marter, who later became the Fourth Doctor’s companion (and John L.’s namesake) Harry Sullivan, inventor of the Zygon-killing gas Z-67.
Veil is played by Jami Reid-Quarrell, who was last seen playing the snakey-faced friend of Davros Colony Sarff in “The Magician’s Apprentice.” Sneaking down castle corridors in a cloak is clearly something he’s particularly good at.
And finally, the Doctor may say he hates gardening, but he doesn’t seem to mind mowing the lawn or creosoting a fence, providing he’s bored enough:
Did you notice he missed a spot?
* This is a fantastic pun, if you already know that there is a Sixth Doctor story in which the Doctor is put on trial by a character called the Valeyard, who turns out to be a future regeneration of the Doctor himself. If you don’t, it’s less good.
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