I must admit to being fairly critical of Peter Capaldi’s work in the British sci-fi series Doctor Who – having been a fan of his “fuck-the-fuck off or fuck-the-fuck in” belligerence as Malcom Tucker in “The Thick of It” – but I have been pleasantly surprised by the programme’s most recent episode, “Heaven Sent “, easily the best of the last two seasons and possibly of the 2005 reboot. After some dreadfully uneven and at times painfully atonal storylines this was very much a back-to-basics episode, great writing coupled with great acting, and a well-thought out premise. The idea of the Doctor repeatedly reincorporating himself, in extremis, is both wonderful and chilling. Though I’ve seen the motif or versions of it used elsewhere in SF literature and drama this interpretation was particularly well done (two obvious examples are the suicide-regenerations of the character, Father Paul Duré, in the titular first book of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos and of course the torture-bleeding of Captain Jack Harkness in the fourth season of the BBC’s “Torchwood”, a short-lived Whovian spinoff).
This was the first time I observed Capaldi inhabiting the role of the Doctor with a distinctiveness of his own, aside from the fairly facile “grumpiness” or lack of empathy that was played-up by the writers as his only distinguishing feature until now. A screenplay tick-box of personality quirks is not a substitute for character emerging through drama. In terms of the episode’s technical features, a two-parter with next week’s “”Hell Bent””, great sets, both stage and location, suitably low-key special effects, and imaginative direction made for an above-average experience. The music in particular, with echoes of George Frideric Handel’s “Sarabande”, was the best I’ve heard for quite some while. For a more in-depth look at last Saturday’s episode the “m0vie” blog carries an excellent review that contextualises it within the show’s overall history. It is well worth a read.