Doctor Who – “Heaven Sent”: Groundhog Day

  • Writing
  • Monster
  • Cleverness


Season 9, Episode 11

Aired: Nov. 28, 2015

Director: Rachel Talalay

Writer: Steven Moffat

“The day you lose someone isn’t the worst. At least you have something to do. It’s all the days they stay dead.”

– The Doctor

Now that’s that old Steven Moffat magic that I love.

It’s a testament to how far along Peter Capaldi has come as the Doctor and how solid the writing around him has gotten that after the lackluster eighth season that we get such a confident, compelling penultimate episode of season nine that is essentially a one-man show.

Doctor Who is about a “madman in a box” who ran away in a TARDIS and never took the time to look back. The show is normally filled with flashy monsters-of-the-week and lots of running down corridors. But Moffat decided to hit the breaks and see what happens when the Doctor has nowhere to run … and it turned out to be a fascinating character study.

We are used to seeing the Doctor confident and a bit manic. But this week, he was vulnerable and scared and stuck in one place for much, much longer than he’s comfortable with. He was trapped alone with his grief, a seemingly-unsolvable puzzle and a creepy monster that would corner him and force him to bare his soul in order to stay alive. These are the Doctor’s nightmares – the things that actually scare him – self-examination, patience, death.

I really liked the Groundhog Day gimmick of the Doctor stuck in an endless loop, piecing together clues that his previous iterations left for him. He spent a lot of time looking for room 12 after misinterpreting the “I am in 12” clue that was really just telling the Doctor he is in his 12th regeneration. But he also wondered about the shovel and the dry clothes, which we eventually saw were things he continued to leave behind as he lived this same day over and over again. (I love that we started 7,000 years in.)

I also really enjoyed the “storm room inside the mind” that the Doctor uses to problem solve. It felt a bit like the mind mapping the protagonist on Moffat’s other hit show, Sherlock, uses. Peter Capaldi really has a professorial vibe to his portrayal of the Doctor, so it was a good fit to have him inside the TARDIS in his mind explaining to Clara how to escape from given situations. I hope we see more of this in the future.

We also got references to a “hybrid” Time Lord/Dalek. At the end of the episode, the Doctor claims to be this hybrid. But I’m not so sure. When last we saw Missy, she seemed to be striking up an alliance with the Daleks. So perhaps they have united to make a hybrid of their own.

My best guess at this point is that Missy and the Daleks are the masterminds of this whole plan (of using Me to trap the Doctor inside the confession dial), but I wouldn’t be surprised if Moffat still had a twist or two up his sleeve.

Either way, I’m excited to see the finale. It’s been a strong season overall and this week has me really pumped to see how it all ends.

And another thing …

  • The Doctor says in the episode that he is stuck in a “closed energy loop,” which I guess is just Moffat using a different term for a time loop or causal loop.
  • I thought it was a clever, sparing way to have Clara appear in this week’s episode without betraying what happened last week. I imagine we’ll see her again next week, even if it is only in another “storm room” scene. Though perhaps there’s still some way we see her again in the flesh.
  • It’s pretty damn cleaver foreshadowing that the monster inside the confession dial only stop pursuing you if you confess something to it.


Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel at

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