Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Doctor Who 9.11 "Heaven Sent"

There are a couple SciFi plot contrivances or elements that really bug me. The first is time travel. I still enjoy the idea, and tend to consume such stories, but they never add up and that is increasingly annoying. Thankfully, Doctor Who tends to keep time travel as a background element. The stories don’t tend to (or at least didn’t used to) dwell on the time travel aspect much.

Then there is transportation. I really have a problem with this mostly Star Trek concept on both a metaphysical and ontological level. In Star Trek I have to actively ignore or reimagine what happens on the transporter pad. When stories rely on the transporter for plot it really bothers me. Basically, every time someone is transported they are completely disintegrated (i.e. killed) and reformed elsewhere from new elements. Just because the new person is identical on an atomic level doesn’t convince me that they are the same person.

So, in “Heaven Sent” I knew I was in for trouble. At the end of “Face the Raven” the Doctor was transported away. We pick up the action in “Heaven Sent” with what looks like the Doctor dying and turning into a pile of sand. However, the Doctor shows up on the transporter pad so maybe it wasn’t him, right?

Later in the episode, though, the Doctor emerges from an ocean (where the floor is lined with millions of skulls, more on that later) to find his own outfit drying next to a fire. HE changes into the dry outfit and leaves his to dry. Oh no. At this point we know we are stuck in a loop.

From that point on we are subjected to the torture of a repetitive loop, more of a hell than a heaven. Questions arise:

Are we to believe that the first version of the Doctor created on the transporter pad laid his clothes out to dry and just never went back to put them on? He seriously went through everything we see in this time loop naked? Ridiculous.

This story presents the unlikely and horrific idea that, given a set of circumstances, we would always make the exact same choices, billions of times. That is deterministic to a level that challenges the most suspensive capacity of disbelief.

Did someone really look at the Brothers Grimm Story “The Shepherd Boy” and think, “That part about eternity taking forever to unfold; that is the fascinating part of the story. I am going to do a whole story about just that aspect!” Never mind the fact that “The Shepherd Boys” understanding of eternity is flawed.

The skulls are a real problem in this story. The fact that they don’t dissolve when every other part of the Doctor does, even the blood stains he leaves throughout the castle, is a contrivance that does not make sense and is only there for dramatic effect. And, after billions of years the level of skulls would surpass that water, so that eventually the Doctor would be throwing himself out of the window to his death, long before the diamond wall was worn down.

The Doctor we know would have come up with a better working plan than wearing down a harder-than-diamonds-wall with flesh. At the very least he would have taken advantage of all the shovels lying around. In fact, one could argue that the Doctor messed up and took about a billion and a half years longer than he should have to get through the puzzle of his own design. Oh, but of course this whole episode is supposed to represent overcoming the grief of the loss of Clara.

Yeah, that meaningless death where the companion was always less of a character and more of a plot device.

Stupid transporters! If only the plot hadn’t begun with such an annoying hurdle I might have been able to turn my brain off and enjoyed the as always wonderful performance from Peter Capaldi.


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