Doctor Who: Heaven Sent

Now THAT was a cracker! In my opinion, Heaven Sent, written by Steven Moffat, is a great follow-up to Face the Raven, the best Doctor Who episode in a long, long time, and definitely the best episode of Series 9 so far.

It was dark, scary, moody, mindbending, intelligent – it’s just how I love Doctor Who, and is the kind of episode that we’ve seen far too little of in recent years. With the exception of Chris Eccleston’s excellent single season, Series 9 is the nearest that Doctor Who has come in tone (if not quite in quality) to the Tom Baker/Philip Hinchcliffe era, by far my favourite era in either Classic or New Doctor Who. I was glued to the screen for the entire forty-five minutes, although I’m not too sure if I like the whole “I am the hybrid” idea, at the episode’s climax. If it pans out like that, it would be just a little too silly for my liking.

Peter Capaldi has taken the role of the Doctor by the scruff of its neck and made it his own, and Clara/Jenna Coleman has grown into an excellent companion. I’ll be sorry to see her go at the end of this series. Despite the multitude of rabid Clara haters I’ve seen online (fandom makes me sick at times – there are far too many total assholes out there claiming to be fans), I’m pretty sure that future critics and fans will look back on Clara Oswald as being one of the better companions in the history of either Doctor Who series.

There’s been a certain amount of moaning and groaning on Facebook and elsewhere that, if we see many more episodes like Heaven Sent, “we’ll lose the general audience”. I disagree. Fans who have grown up with NuWho, TRUE fans, and not the “flyby brigade”, who only watch it if there’s nothing better on the other channels, will still stick to the show like glue. I do agree that there has to be a certain amount of balance between the lightness and humour vs the grimness and serious stories, to vary the pace in between the individual episodes, and give us an entire range of the spectrum between extreme the dark, scary stuff and the lightweight fluffy episodes. But this kind of story is so much more my idea of what Doctor Who should REALLY be like. Others may have their own ideas of what Doctor Who should be like, but Heaven Sent is mine.

However, I do concede that there has to be a balance. But the moaners who can’t tolerate ANY heavy, serious episodes at all really get my goat up. They should just clear off and watch airhead sitcoms or soap operas, if all they want is non-stop, upbeat nonsense. We really do need these “deep” stories occasionally, to balance out the lighter, more dumbed down, all flash and no substance single episodes, that supposedly are aimed at the “general” audience and kids (who, these days, aren’t as stupid as the marketers seem to think). Thankfully, with all the two-parters, Series 9 has seen only a couple of these single episodes, and even they were linked. A big improvement on previous years, in my opinion, and I hope that this trend in favour of two-parters continues.

The David Tennant and Matt Smith eras had FAR too many of those dumb single episodes, far too much old silliness, with the totally ridiculous romance nonsense between the Doctor and human female companions, other completely irrelevant, soap-opera-ish, non-Who-ish distractions, and simply too much bad writing. The Matt Smith era, in particular, was virtually unwatchable at times, despite the fact that he himself was an absolutely AMAZING Doctor. He carried the show most of the time, to be honest, and I continued watching it just for him. In my opinion, Capaldi’s arrival, and the complete change in tone of the series, has revitalised Doctor Who, although there are still too many dodgy stories. But hell, that’s always been true of Doctor Who. Lest the rose-tinted glasses crowd forget, the Classic series also had more than its fair share of total clunkers.

It’s not 1966 any more, fer cryin’ out loud. It’s almost 2016, and modern audiences (including kids) are far more sophisticated than they were back in the 1960s and 1970s. And the show is no longer aired at 5.15pm in the evening, but a full three hours later, sometimes not ending until after the 9pm watershed. I can no longer understand the endless obsession with forcing the show into a shoebox where it has to appeal to five year-olds as well as fifty-five year olds. That approach just doesn’t seem relevant any more.

In most cases, instead of more challenging stories, in recent years we’ve ended up with far too many middle-of-the-road, lightweight “fluff” single episodes aimed at keeping kids and general viewers who are not hardcore Doctor Who fans happy, what I refer to as the “Popcorn Who” audience. Personally, given Doctor Who’s current late timeslot, and the fact that the typical modern audience is much more varied and sophisticated than it was forty or fifty years ago, I really think the series should be written accordingly today, and aimed at a similar audience to Steven Moffat’s other excellent show, Sherlock.

I know those “popcorn” episodes are for keeping up the general audience figures, but too many of them and you lose the hardcore fans (like myself). They are just too bland and lightweight, and while I can take the odd one in between the more intelligent, serious episodes, string more than two or three of them together and I’ll give up on that season as a lost cause. Thankfully Heaven Sent was way over at the other extreme, where I prefer my Doctor Who to be. I like my Doctor Who dark, scary and serious.

I’m hoping Hell Bent lives up to the quality of Heaven Sent (and that Moffat will be able to do it two episodes in a row, as this has been a weakness of his with two-parters). If it’s even half as good, it’ll be a decent series finale. And if it’s on the same level of quality, we’re in for one of the greatest series endings in modern Doctor Who.

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