So we've all just watched the latest episode of Doctor Who. Heaven Sent. If you haven't, wait till it plays in your territory and come back. Because we start at the end. Now, where were we? Oh yes…
1. The Bird And The Mountain
The Story Of Mankind was written and illustrated by Hendrik Willem van Loon and published in 1921. It was the first book to be awarded the Newbery Medal for an outstanding contribution to children's literature. It tells the story,
High up in the north, in the land called Svithjod, there stands a rock. It is a hundred miles high and a hundred miles wide. Once every thousand years a little bird comes to this rock to sharpen its beak.
When the rock has thus been worn away, then a single day of eternity will have gone by.
I first read a version of that story in Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens, with the demon Crowley talking to the angel Azariphale about heaven.
"Listen," said Crowley urgently, "the point is that when the bird has worn the mountain down to nothing, right, then-"
Aziraphale opened his mouth. Crowley just knew he was going to make some point about the relative hardness of birds' beaks and granite mountains, and plunged on quickly.
"-then you still won't have finished watching The Sound of Music."
"And you'll enjoy it," Crowley said relentlessly. "You really will."
Neil Gaiman won the Newbury Award for The Graveyard Book. Things come around.
2. Nothing But Bloody Repeats
Okay so what we have here is a totally ridiculous and wonderful television show. The idea of someone doing the same thing again and again, unaware that events have already played out the same way has been done a number of times. The Matrix and Moon may be the most famous of recent times. But no one has quite done this for billions of times. With an ocean floor made up of the skulls of the Doctor….
And on that point, the sand in the room was probably the remains of the previous Doctors as well. Okay, just gave myself another chill.
Oh and "you won't see this coming". The Veil has seen nothing but. Nice.
It's also slightly reminiscent of Steven Moffat's Comic Relief Doctor Who sketch from the nineties, in which an increasingly older Master quadruples up on his time line, spending centuries climbing up from the catacombs, going back in time, to be knocked back into them again….
3. The One Doctor
We also have an episode that, for the most part, has one person, one actor, taking up the whole show. There is a minor memory of Clara, a faceless stand in, a small boy and a lurching faceless voiceless monster, but this is a rarity for television. Even the film Moon had a robot and some characters on the screen, and doubled up the lead for conversation. The closest in recent times might be the Alan Bennett Talking Head monologues, an episode of One Foot In The Grave and the episode of Eastenders where she talks to her late husband. To attempt it in an action adventure show for the whole family is a ludicrous conceit but one that I think it pulls off with aplomb. The Doctor talks to his unseen assailant, to a fictitious Clara, to himself and even occasionally to us. But he grips the screen and us in the process. Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat's tour de force. This isn't Doctor-Lite, this is Doctor Heavy!
And yes, that's a great pulled back shot of the TARDIS interior.
4. It Runs Like Clockwork
The new title sequence of the show these two seasons was picked as a fan-creation that Steven Moffat loved, it being something so different to the usual take on the titles, that he had to have. Did it inspire this episode, the clockwork being so integral to the world around the Doctor, or was this where Steven was planning to go, and he wanted to lock those titles down as part of the show as soon as he saw them?
5. Just One Thing…
Where did the second set of clothes come from? Were they always part of that room, one that resets after the Doctor leaves? If they were, as seemed to be suggested, the previous Doctor's clothes, left for the next person, did the first Doctor to go through all this, spend half his time in the tower naked? And is that why we were spared that particular version of events?
Most things reset. Some things, like the clothes, the used spade, and the Room 12 note did not fully reset. Nor, I suppose, did the Cosmic Uber Diamond. But that's okay. This, as with many episodes, is a fairytale, there are rules that exist with exceptions the reasons for we are not made aware of, and that's okay.
Shame he never used a spade on the Cosmic Diamond though. He might have shaved off a billion years…
6. Did He Just Say 'Arse'?
I think he did. Via an imagined Clara.
Well, billions of years filling the ultimate confession dials of all his secret truths, I think he's allowed a slip.
7.Two Billion References
"I've finally run out of corridor. Now there's a life summed up." – Doctor Who is famed for it's running along corridors scenes. Indeed, sometimes it was little else. And often the same corridor. Well, this was an episode that saw him do nothing else for billions of years…
"The long way round" – The Girl in The Fireplace and Blink. No short cut this time, he's just had to live it. Albeit it forgetting his previous times again and again. Say, is there a comparison to Me forgetting her life as Ashildr, a mortal mind in an immortal body? I wonder if she'll bring it up again?
"I am scared and alone" – was that what the dinosaus said in Capaldi's first episode, as the Doctor translated?
"One of my predecessors" – the Master kicking the skeleton in The Five Doctors?
"A very, very long time" – The Day Of The Doctor, when they last saw the Gallifreyans and hid Gallifrey in a moment of time….
And wasn't that a little bit of eighties Doctor Who electronica when looking at the painting of Clara?
8. Home Again, Jiggity Jog
The Doctor was always searching for Gallifrey. It just took him a few billion years longer than he was expecting. And this time he's wearing sunglasses – finally an environment for which they are suitable. A man who saved Gallifrey, now destined to destroy it.
9. But The Hybrid Is… Who?
The hybrid is me? Or the Hybrid is Me? Well she is in the next episode trailer. Which tells us that the hybrids of two warrior races, but not Dalek. Viking and those aliens?
Or is it back to the old half-human state of Paul McGann?
As for no Dalek hybrids, has he forgotten Daleks In Manhattan? I mean, we all wish we could but still… that epiode also saw creatures with human, Dalek and Time Lord DNA combined – who all went off to die.
I always like the idea that humans evolve into both the Daleks and with Time Lords, who both then travel back time to establish themselves. It would exlain why Time Lords and Kaleds look human, why the Doctor is so obsessed, and how the Dalek Emperor was able to sift human corpses to create new Daleks…. but that's when I should just step away from the keyboard.
10. The Regeneration Game
The next week trailer and teasers give us not only Time Lords, Gallifrey, Ashildr/Me and Daleks, but a regeneration. It's on Gallifrey so it could be anybody, but could Moffat and Capaldi have pulled a fast one, those "one season" rumours be true and next week we will actually get a regenerated Doctor, with the PR to follow immediately? Could they have actually have kept it quiet?
Next week it's even longer than this week's 55 minutes…