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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

Doctor Who blogging: “Heaven Sent”

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[previous: “Face the Raven”]

warning: spoilers!

Well, that was awesome, right? The Doctor runs around a castle that’s really a constantly shifting maze, pursed by a Mr. Death who’s come about the reaping, sometimes going to his mind palace that is the TARDIS to mope about Clara. It’s like It Follows meets Cube on whatever planet Myst was supposed to be happening on.

That mind-blowing moment when the Doctor realizes that he’s done this all before! Many times. It’s like he’s playing a game and dying and rebooting and trying to get a little further each time. It’s like Edge of Tomorrow except without the remembering on each go-round.

And then it all falls apart. It starts falling apart the moment the Doctor says to “Clara,” “I can remember it all — every time.” It keeps falling apart as you poke at the notion a bit more.

Because everything doesn’t reset every time the Doctor leaves a room and/or when he dies and reboots himself. If it did, the painting of Clara wouldn’t age:

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Or else everything else would have to age, too: curtains would rot, food would spoil, and so on.

If everything reset, the identical clothes would not be there for the next Doctor to find and change into:

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After the first time the Doctor left wet clothes there, they should have disappeared during the reboot. (What did that first Doctor change into? Maybe he went around naked — wouldn’t have mattered if no one else was there. Except he wouldn’t have known no one else was there that first time.)

Why is bird written in the dust still there after each reboot? Why don’t the skulls disappear? How was the Doctor able to write a message on a floor tile and then bury it in the garden

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if everything was resetting?

It’s not a real sky the Doctor is seeing above, so why does it reflect time passing outside a simulation occurring in an artificial virtual environment? Why don’t the positions of the stars reset?

And here’s the biggest one, the one that I realized first and that paved the way for my realization of all the other problems: Why doesn’t the wall of four-hundred-times-harder-than-diamond stuff reset with each reboot? I mean, apart from the curious idea that a punch could ever make any impact whatsoever on such a material, no matter how many billions of years you go at it. How is he able to achieve this glacially paced chipping-away at all?

This isn’t nitpicking: this is the core of the story not hanging together at all. This goes way beyond a typical SF problem like “If I’m out of phase, why don’t I fall through the floor?’” Except I suspect that’s precisely what we’re supposed to accept it as.

The only possible in-context explanation is that the designers of this torture chamber wanted the Doctor to be able to figure out what is going on and how to escape, even if it would take him a torturously long time. But that doesn’t make any sense either. Unless that’s going to become clear in the next episode, but the recent history of this show doesn’t lead me to believe that that is very likely. It would be interesting if the Doctor was all wrong about what information his torturers were after — maybe they couldn’t have cared less about this Hybrid stuff and wanted his secret recipe for chocolate chip cookies — but that also doesn’t seem likely. Not only is the Doctor of late a magician and a myth and a fairy tale, he’s also almost supernaturally able to divine exactly what is going on all the time.

The issue of the confession dial appears to somewhat problematic as well. In the previous episode, the Doctor told Ashildr that he had no idea how the dial worked. Which is either a lie, and he does know, or it’s not a lie, and he really doesn’t know. Neither of which computes. If he’s lying about his knowledge about the dial, why would he be carrying around something that could become his own personal hell?

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How could he not be expecting something like this to happen? Is he wasn’t lying about the dial, then what was his purpose in carrying it around, and what was he expecting to happen with it?

But the worst part of this episode is this: Somehow the Doctor can remember every iteration of his time in the dial (which is yet another thing that doesn’t make any sense; how is he acquiring those memories?). So he is effectively more than two billion years old. How is he not insane? How does he go back to being someone who can at least pass for being relatively well-adjusted after this?

But I guess two billion years is what it takes for the Doctor to go from “Gee, I sure would love to find Gallifrey, my poor lost homeworld” to “I’m going to destroy you all, you bastards.”

So now the Doctor is the “hybrid” prophesied to destroy the Time Lords. What makes him a hybrid? Please oh please oh please don’t let it be that his mother was human…

Random thoughts on “Heaven Sent”:

• Wait. Is there writing on the wall there on the left?

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Another angle reveals that it is the opening narration about the thing that follows you around your whole life. Why is it on the wall?

• Telepathic lockpicking?

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Yeah, there’s a good reason why you can’t telepathically communicate with doors: Doors don’t have brains. Doors don’t have minds.

• Great quote:

“I’ve finally run out of corridor. There’s a life summed up.” –the Doctor

[next: “Hell Bent”]


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