There’s at least one thing you can rely on with the Peter Capaldi era of Doctor Who: there’s always going to be at least one episode that’ll upend your expectations. Listen, which started out as an episode that seemed to be about yet another inescapable monster, turned out to be about the Doctor’s own deep-seated fears from childhood of being wrong. Heaven Sent morphed quite quickly from an episode with the Doctor having to run down constant corridors in order to escape from a monster (wait which episode did I just describe?), to the extreme and absurd lengths that the Doctor will go to rescue someone, even if it means experiencing unbearable pain over and over again. This episode is a tad different in that regard.
It starts out innocuously enough, with the Doctor still blind from his encounter in Oxygen, and being asked by the Vatican to investigate a book called the Veritas; a book that for some reason has led to a rash of suicides among its readers. However, the focus is less on the Veritas itself than the curious circumstances surrounding how the Doctor and company came to be there. We finally get to see, for example, how Nardole came to be the Doctor’s caretaker; having been asked as a final request by River Song to keep an eye on him now that he’s suffered two major losses. There’s also no better time for that than the Doctor being asked to execute his oldest frenemy: Missy/The Master, directly after having said goodbye to River for good this time. Nardole hasn’t really been an enigma up to this point, but knowing the reason why he sticks around with the Doctor despite the constant frustration, gives a lot more dramatic material for Matt Lucas to work with. It also helps to give him more range than just being the Doctor’s stick-in-the-mud assistant. Moffat’s script in this regard elevates it to that same dramatic vein that’s helped some of his best episodes work, and thankfully Daniel Nettheim’s directing is equally capable in making the events that follow somewhat existentially terrifying. One of the best scenes in the episode for my money was the disappearing Priest and the vanishing portals that recalled the Age of Stone from Matt Smith’s time as the Doctor.
The episode also shines is in what it does with the revelation of the true nature of everyone involved in this story. While it would seem to be a bit of a cheat to have the Doctor in this episode be a replica, it ends up becoming a long-form examination of what makes the Doctor the Doctor. And even a fake Doctor will do whatever it takes to save the world, even if that means sacrificing his own existence (as well as those of his friends), in order to let the real Doctor know about what’s coming. That extends to the true Doctor as well; while he may be forced into a corner where compromise is necessary, he searches for the best solution for everyone. Whether that’s to take Missy at her word with her desire to change, or his shadow’s desire to break the truth as gently as possible to Bill about their non-existence, the Doctor always saves people when he can. The change in perspective that this episode offers is peak work from everyone involved: Moffat, Capaldi, Mackie, and Lucas. Hopefully they’ll get more stellar shots like this before their time is up.
5 Veritas out of 5
- Missy’s appearance here was far more fulfilling than her previous one in The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar. For me anyway, but at least that mystery is resolved. Now bring on The Master.
- It’s hard not to feel bad for the artificial Doctor and Bill. Even if they weren’t *real*, they’re still every bit those people.