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Why Doctor Who Fans Are So Obsessed With Heaven Sent

When it comes to favorite episodes of "Doctor Who," fans have many. The show has, after all, been running since 1963 — minus a break from 1989-2005 (via BBC). If you ask, fans might choose "Vincent and the Doctor," in which the Doctor (Matt Smith) and Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) visit tortured artist Vincent Van Gogh; "Day of the Doctor," the 50th anniversary special that brought Matt Smith and David Tennant's Doctors together with John Hurt as the War Doctor; or "Blink," which introduces the very frightening Weeping Angels. Also high on the list is sure to be the two-episode story that played out in "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead," which introduced River Song (Alex Kingston).

But somewhere near the top of most best-of lists is an episode called "Heaven Sent," the first part of another two-episode story from Series 9 of the rebooted "Doctor Who" that ended with "Hell Bent." The episode, which takes place during Peter Capaldi's run as the Doctor, has the character dealing with the death of companion and "best friend" Clara (Jenna Coleman) while imprisoned in a moving castle by the Time Lords. He is hunted for interrogation by a shrouded creature (Jami Reid-Quarrell), but is otherwise almost completely alone. "Peter Capaldi turns in a one-man command performance in this episode's exploration of grief," the Critics Consensus on Rotten Tomatoes reads.

The episode aired on November 28, 2015, and although this was several years ago, fans are still obsessed with "Heaven Sent."

Fans think it's one of the greatest episodes of the series

When fans discuss "Heaven Sent," written by showrunner Steven Moffat and directed by Rachel Talalay, they use many superlatives, often calling it the best episode in "Doctor Who" history (via IMDb).

In just one Reddit thread, the original poster named u/ZtheWanderer said they had seen the episode for the first time and called it "absolutely brilliant," while u/NumerousEditor described it as "a masterpiece of acting, writing, music, and directing." Redditor u/vamccnu added, "I have goosebumps every time I watch that," and u/New-Cheesecake-8339 weighed in by saying, "Easily one of the greatest episodes of any TV show of all time."

Some like the episode because it has such a different feel from the rest of the series, with its bleak setting and solitary feel, along with dialogue almost solely from the Doctor — not directed at any physical being but instead at the invisible Time Lords, himself, or the Clara of his imagination (for the elucidation of the audience). The Doctor spends time figuring out how to stop the shrouded creature and solve the mysteries of the castle while always on the run. "The countdown never stops," the Doctor says in voiceover. "But the countdown to what?" 

U/thor11600 reflected, "I remember seeing it and happily thinking 'well I'm never going to see something like that again. How lucky was I to see this.'" Meanwhile, u/Kory818 added, "No episode like it in the whole show, doubt there'll ever be one like it again. Such a stunner."

Peter Capaldi's acting and the buildup to the end are considered masterful

"Heaven Sent" offers plenty of feels. The Doctor goes through a cycle of discovery, dying, and becoming regenerated by the teleporter over and over again as he tries to punch an opening in a material harder than diamond.

"Cried so many copious tears lol. So good!!" wrote u/Otogisan. All this emotion comes from the way Peter Capaldi evokes the episode's themes with his acting, which is universally praised. "The metaphors the concept the pain Capaldi shows is immaculate. It didn't need a proper villain. It was pure acting and storytelling for a whole episode," explained u/theconfusedidiot8.

Fans also love the way the story built up to a satisfying conclusion, with the Doctor in the dark until the end. A montage follows, encapsulating the Doctor's billions of years' worth of attempts to get out of the energy loop he's in. "I love how so much is kept from you as you watch until everything makes sense at the very end," u/CapHal wrote in a similar thread on Reddit.

Some fans also bemoaned the fact that, while the episode stands up to rewatching, they can never experience seeing it for the first time again. "It's still incredible on repeated viewings, but that moment where all of the puzzle pieces suddenly slot together and you realize what he's doing can only truly be experienced once," said u/countlieburkuhn.

If you haven't yet seen the episode, you can do so on HBO Max.