You’ve seen the film Cube by director Vincenzo Natali, haven’t you? If you’re a sci-fi fan and you haven’t, you must stop reading this post and go watch it right now. Got it? Good. This low-budget cult film, which was itself inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone, has been the source of much inspiration and script theft since its release in 1997, not least the Saw horror films. Let’s look at ways in which the season 9 episode of Doctor Who titled Heaven Sent is one such spawn. (Major spoilers for both Cube and Heaven Sent ahead, so make sure you’ve seen both.)
Doctor Who: The Doctor appears in a room he’s never seen. He doesn’t know where he is, but he senses he’s in danger and that there is some unseen puppet master who has put him here. The Doctor senses he’s being watched and finds that there is a monster after him.
Cube: Each character awakes in his or her own room, an empty box with six doors, one on each wall, plus the ceiling and floor. They don’t know where they are, but they sense they’re in danger. They spend the rest of the movie questioning who put them here and why. They get the feeling that they’re being watched, like they are some kind of experiment.
Doctor Who: The Doctor learns the hard way that the monster shuffling after him can set traps. “So? It can set traps. I’m good at traps.”
Cube: Many of the rooms have booby traps. Each one has it’s own way of killing you–acid, metal wires, fire–and each one is triggered by something different–sound, movement, body heat.
Doctor Who: Every once in a while, the whole castle shakes. The Doctor looks outside to discover that the entire castle shifts around like gears, the rooms changing position.
Cube: Every once in a while, the whole place shakes. After going in a straight line, room to room, Leaven discovers a piece of her broken glasses and concludes they’ve been in this room before. How could this be? Worth guesses, “We haven’t been moving in circles. The rooms have.”
Doctor Who: The Doctor spends the beginning of the episode trying to find a way to escape the castle. When he finally gets to the edge, he sees that he’s in the middle of the ocean with no hope of leaving his personal torture chamber.
Cube: The characters spend the first half of the movie trying to find a way to escape the cubes. When they finally get to the edge, they see that it’s just an empty void with a cement wall–an outer shell–too far off to reach.
Doctor Who: Each room is numbered. They aren’t in any order because the rooms keep moving around, so it is difficult to locate the specific room he’s looking for: number 12. This is obviously a nod to him being the twelfth Doctor but even more important, he believes this to be the location of the TARDIS. He spends a long time seeking out this elusive room and trying to get the rooms to shift into position that will allow him to enter it.
Cube: All the rooms are labeled with three three-digit numbers. Once math genius Leaven calculates the size of the outer cube, she’s stumped because she remembers one room’s coordinates that would place it outside the cube. They hope that this means that cube is the “bridge” cube that will connect them from the cube to the outer shell. They spend the rest of the movie trying to get back to that bridge room and waiting for that room to shift into its bridge position that will allow them to exit the cubes.
Doctor Who: The Doctor literally has a telepathic connection to doors and can ask them to open for him.
Cube: Leaven has a special connection to numbers, so she can understand the writings in each doorway in ways that the other characters can’t.
Doctor Who: Every once in a while, after the Doctor leaves a room, the room resets. It removes all matter that was not there before and straightens up anything that might have moved. The Doctor uses this to his advantage to lengthen his time chipping away at the harder-than-diamond substance encasing his TARDIS.
Cube: Okay, this one’s cheating a little because the “reset” doesn’t come in until the non-Natali sequel Hypercube. In this movie, all the rooms reset at the same time after a certain amount of time, meaning everybody still stuck in the cube will be vaporized. This adds an urgency to their escape beyond the “we have about three days without food and water before we’re too weak to move” internal clock of the first movie.
Doctor Who: The Doctor is forced to relive his time in the castle over and over and over.
Cube: Because of the circling rooms, the characters are forced to go through the same rooms over and over and over.
Doctor Who: The Doctor is desperately trying to get at the blinding white light behind the wall, which we assume is the light of the TARDIS.
Cube: When (spoilers!) Kazan gets out of the cube, he enters a bright white light. If you want to know what the bright white light is (though unofficially), watch the prequel Cube Zero.
Even if a little derivative and, to be honest, somewhat guessable, Heaven Sent was a very good episode, especially following the dud of the season Face the Raven. Part of its worth is the one-hour solo act from Mr. Peter Capaldi who can carry a show talking to himself and showcasing a smorgasbord of emotions.