Doctor Who series 9: geeky spots in Heaven Sent

Spoilers! Here are our geeky spots and viewing notes for Doctor Who series 9: Heaven Sent...

The Doctor has managed to escape the Veil, but he can never escape the glut of callbacks, references and increasingly tenuous similarities to older episodes or other franchises entirely. So with that in mind, here are our viewing notes for episode 11… Past experience tells us you’ve probably spotted something we haven’t, so please feel free to leave it in the comments!

The Long Way Round

The flies surrounding the Veil are the least deadly of the flies the Doctor has encountered on his travels; in 1964’s Planet Of Giants, the first Doctor’s companions Ian and Barbara, shrunk to miniscule size, were menaced by a regular housefly almost their size. And in 1973’s The Green Death, aka ‘The one with the giant maggots’, the third Doctor and UNIT were attacked by the mature form of the maggots – a giant fly.

“The Doctor will see you now”, as well as being a reference to health centres everywhere, is a line memorably used by the eleventh Doctor while calling out the Atraxi in The Eleventh Hour.

The Doctor hates wood due to its imperviousness to sonic devices, as established in 2008’s Silence In The Library and reiterated on several occasions since. In last year’s In The Forest Of The Night, the Doctor claimed that this is because plant tissue does not contain moving parts.

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Whilst trying to open the door, the Doctor refers to being ‘young and telepathic’. In 1964’s The Sensorites, the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan was seen to possess telepathic abilities. The TARDIS contains a telepathic interface, which the third Doctor used to send a message to the Time Lords in 1973’s Frontier In Space. However, it’s actually as the Doctor’s got older that he’s demonstrated more telepathic abilities – the Doctor has connected with other minds on several occasions since he first read the thoughts of Madame de Pompadour in The Girl In The Fireplace, including transferring information by headbutting his new housemate Craig in The Lodger. A lot of time for has passed for the Doctor since his eleventh incarnation, but the Doctor demonstrated his telepathic powers as recently as last year when he linked with Rusty in Into The Dalek.

Though it’s an admission he rarely makes, it’s not quite a first for the Doctor to be scared; the tenth Doctor in particular was a bit of a fraidy cat, voicing his fear in The Girl In The Fireplace and Midnight and being afraid of transitioning to his eleventh(/twelfth/thirteenth) self in The End Of Time. The Doctor was also scared as a child, as seen when Clara paid him a visit in last year’s Listen.

The Doctor proclaims himself to be ‘good at traps’, which isn’t the first time he’s expressed such confidence; at the climax of 2010’s The Time Of Angels, he tells the Weeping Angels that they’ve made a big mistake with their trap: “Didn’t anyone ever tell you? There’s one thing you never put in a trap if you’re smart, if you value your continued existence. If you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there’s one thing you never, ever put in a trap… Me.”

The Doctor talks about dying too quickly to regenerate; this is something which happened on screen in 2011’s The Impossible Astronaut, and is also presumed to have happened in the alternate Doctor-less universe occupied by Donna in the 2008 story Turn Left.

The path to Gallifrey is hidden behind door 12, which is of course an increasingly inaccurate reference to the Doctor’s supposed twelfth incarnation. A similar ‘mistake’ was made in 2011’s The God Complex, during which the eleventh Doctor’s greatest fear – the crack in space-time – was located behind door number 11.

The Doctor rewrites part of his own legend by revealing that he did not leave Gallifrey because he was bored, as first stated by the second Doctor during 1969’s The War Games, but because he was scared. Though this has been stated on many occasions, the tenth Doctor did suggest there was more to it in The Sound Of Drums when he described being made to look into the time vortex as a small boy, telling Jack and Martha that his response was to run and never stop running.

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The mention of coming to Gallifrey ‘the long way round’, as well as being a fitting way to describe the gruelling cycle of events witnessed in this episode, is a reference to the Doctor’s closing monologue from The Day Of The Doctor, in which he tells Clara (and the audience) that his destination is the same as everybody else’s: “Home… The long way round.” Admittedly, this is unlikely to mean much either to the boy or to whoever he finds within the Capitol.

Gallifrey in its current form was first seen in flashback in The Sound Of Drums, having been described by the Doctor earlier in the season in Gridlock. The planet’s orange skies were first mentioned by Susan in The Sensorites, while the building inside the dome is known as the Capitol or the Citadel and is home to the Time Lords; as such, it has featured in every Gallifrey-set story to date. Immediately outside of the dome are the wastelands, to which the fourth Doctor’s companion Leela was briefly exiled in The Invasion Of Time.

So it would seem that the Doctor is the Hybrid, first mentioned back in The Witch’s Familiar. As we’ve mentioned previously on the site, the exact wording only mentions two warrior races, rather than specifically being the Daleks and the Time Lords. The most likely candidate for the Doctor’s ‘other half’ would be human. This could be in a figurative sense – the Doctor is President of Earth, after all – or it could be in a literal sense; in the 1996 TV Movie, the eighth Doctor was revealed to be half human, something that’s been waved away in the years since (one of the comics suggested this was due to the use of a chameleon arch, as seen in the 2007 series, to fool the Master) but may be about to rear its head again…

Other callbacks to the series opener are the idea that the Doctor always survives because he assumes he’s going to win, as discussed by Clara and Missy, and the Doctor’s confession dial. In the first episode Missy claimed that the confession dial would only open on the occasion of the Doctor’s death; do the events of this episode mean he’s met his maker?

Not a reference or a callback, but an occasion worth marking all the same: this episode marks the first use of the word ‘arse’ in an episode of Doctor Who.

Veiled References

On the subject of the Doctor’s possible death, the transporter used in this story, as well as looking a little like something from Star Trek, works in the same way as one of the prevailing theories about Star Trek’s transporter. The theory goes that the transporter works as a sort of intergalactic fax machine, scanning in the data and disintegrating the original before creating a copy at the other end with the same memories, physiology etc. If this is the case, then the Doctor – and indeed any member of Starfleet – could be said to have died the moment they made their first transporter journey.

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Though not strictly a time loop, the fact that the Doctor essentially spends billions of years repeating the same couple of days is reminiscent of the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day; it has been estimated that Murray’s character spent the best part of 34 years repeating the same day over and over again. See also the Stargate SG-1 episode Window Of Opportunity, in which one day lasts for well over three months.

The design of the Veil is first and foremost an allusion to the popular personification of Death as a cloaked, skeletal figure, which dates back to the 15th century. Readers of this site might also be reminded of the Nazgul from the Lord Of The Rings series and the joy-sapping Dementors from Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban.

Similarly, the Veil takes its name from the common phrase ‘go beyond the veil’, meaning to die. Again, Harry Potter fans will know it as the name of the gateway through which Sirius Black passed in Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, also leading to his death.

The Doctor retreating to his ‘store room’ in order to save himself from impending death is very similar to the Sherlock episode His Last Vow (Also written by Steven Moffat) in which [spoiler alert] Holmes is shot at point blank range and retreats to his ‘mind palace’ to work out how best to use his few remaining seconds of consciousness to ensure his survival.

The Doctor’s appearance towards the end of each loop, with half his face burnt, brings to mind the design of the Batman villain Two-Face, who suffers from scarring on the left side of his face due to an acid burn.

Finally, the Doctor quotes The Shepherd Boy by the Brothers Grimm, in which the renowned wisdom of a shepherd boy is tested by his king. ‘How long is eternity?’ is the final of three questions, the first two being ‘How many drops of water are there in the ocean?’ and ‘How many stars are in the sky?’. The king, impressed by the boy’s answers, invites him to live with him as his son.

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When he’s not analysing Doctor Who in too much detail, Pete presents and produces Geeks Say Things, the Den of Geek podcast. You can subscribe and download all five episodes – including the just-released winter preview special – here