How is it possible that the Doctor remembers

every single iteration he has had in the castle?

I'm talking about this line:

The Doctor: THAT’S when I remember! Always then. Always...then. Always EXACTLY then. I can’t keep doing this, Clara! I can’t! Why is it always me? Why is it never anybody else’s turn?! Why can’t I just lose?!

[He comes face to face with the blackboard, which has the word NO! written on it; Clara stands with her back to the Doctor]

The Doctor: But I can remember, Clara. You don’t understand. I can remember it all. Every time!

(He's talking about when he sees the word "BIRD" written in the sand).

The Doctor has been dying and being reborn for over 2 billion years. Or maybe not "reborn", but a new copy arrives to do the whole thing all over again. I don't think it makes him 2 billion years old now (the last iteration, the one who didn't die, only aged like two days after the events of "Face The Raven"), but I'm confused about the "remembering" part.

Does The Doctor actually remember

every single time he has done it? Or does he just figure it out every time?

  • “But I can remember, Clara. You don’t understand. I can remember it all. Every time! (He's talking about when he sees the word "BIRD" written in the sand).” My guess is that’s not actually what he’s talking about, but I’ll need to rewatch the episode. Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 8:45
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    This episode left the question of what is going on with the Doctor's soul. Is this episode about millions and millions of copies of the Doctor? Then where is the actual Doctor? Where is his soul? Did he die the first time? If he remembers then it is still him. If it is still the Doctor then when he dies his soul goes into the copy. He does this to make sure that he punches the wall so he can eventually escape the trap. It has to be this or else it is no longer the Doctor.
    – user56823
    Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 7:46
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    @IsTheDoctorStillTheDoctor: “Then where is the actual Doctor? Where is his soul?” I don’t think Doctor Who has often talked about the concept of souls. Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 14:35
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    You do realize this is the show where Rory remembers living 2,000 years as a plastic robot, right? Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 15:08

6 Answers 6


If the Doctor remembers, that raises the questions of what he remembers, and how. 

There's no question of when he remembers.  We get a lovely little camera zoom effect to mark that exact moment.  The camera zoom is followed by a bit of the Doctor's internal dialogue which confirms that he remembers, well, something. 

My first impression of the internal dialogue was that the Doctor was remembering his earlier adventures.  There are, of course, countless times throughout his various incarnations that he simply could not afford to surrender and take the easy way out.  It would make sense that he remembers those times, and we could interpret his interior dialogue in that manner.  However, that interpretation does not survive a second viewing of the episode. 

Earlier in the episode, we are reminded that the Doctor possesses a specific ability: 

He is psychic. 

His telepathy is so strong and so well-developed that he is able to talk a wooden door into unlocking, just by thinking nice thoughts.  The Doctor only rarely uses this ability, but we have to acknowledge that he can read minds.  This doesn't seem to be an intelligent wooden door, so we should acknowledge that he can read psychic impressions from nearby inanimate objects -- an ability that's apparently triggered by thinking some kind of compatible and relevant thought. 

If we accept that as an explanation of how, then we can make a very good guess as to the what

He's reading the psychic impressions that earlier teleporter instantiations of himself left on the tougher-than-diamond wall.  The camera zoom effect marks the moment when he's, well, reading his own mind. 

Each iteration lasts at least a day.  For all we know, it might take the Doctor a week to reach Room 12.  I doubt that the Doctor remembers all of those chunks of time.  In every iteration, he has a few scant seconds that he uses to punch the wall.  During those few seconds, he is desperate and facing certain death -- an emotional moment that we can easily believe would leave a psychic impression. 

Each new copy of himself remembers nothing about earlier iterations until after he reaches Room 12.  On the one hand, yes, he just figures it out every time.  On the other hand, it's basically the same realization every time -- a compatible and relevant thought.  At that point, his mind is flooded with having made that realization over and over again, and with the experience of punching the wall over and over again. 

After billions of years of teleporter iterations, those scant seconds add up to mere millions of years. 

This would explain why he acts like he remembers nothing about the castle before the camera zoom.  He doesn't.  Even after the camera zoom, he still doesn't need to remember every thing, but he seems to remember the sum of those scant seconds -- all of it, from every time.

At least, that's the interpretation that survives my second viewing of the episode.

  • Remember that his body was also trying to regenerate, which is how he could make it to the teleporter. That might also be a factor. Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 15:11

Both are possible, but the more likely option seems to be ...

Yes, he does remember, but only right at the end.

Your quote tells us that he does remember, and the exact point when he remembers: just when he finds the block of Azbantium but before he punches it and is caught by the Veil.

All the way through his journey up to that point, in each iteration of the cycle, he doesn't remember, but slowly the realisation dawns on him. We can tell he doesn't remember because he has to work it out from clues such as the multiple skulls, the 'BIRD' in the sand, and the position of the stars. Every time he looks off the tower-top and comes to his final realisation (we see this multiple times, with a different number of years each time), he has a look of puzzlement followed by understanding and horror.

As for how this is possible, we know that the Doctor who steps out of the transporter each time is physically the same, but he says nothing about his mental state:

there's a copy of me still in the hard drive. Me, exactly as I was, when I first got here, seven thousand years ago.

Presumably the memories are somehow in his brain when he steps out, making the transition from the dying Doctor to the brand-new one, but they're somehow suppressed, only breaking out into his mind at the very end.

The other possibility is ...

No, he's lying.

In the scene you quote, he may be just lying to 'Clara' (presumably some manifestation of himself) in order to try to convince her/himself that he should give up. Certainly him actually having to remember all those billions of years would be a more compelling reason to give in than just knowing they happened.

This would make a certain amount of sense, because if the Doctor who arrives in the teleporter is an exact copy of the one who originally arrived, then where the hell would those new memories come from? I'll be the first to admit that my argument above about the memories making a transition from the dying Doctor to the new one is pretty dodgy!

  • If The Doctor DOES remember all those previous billion times, then it makes him two billion years old. It doesn't make sense for him to remember...I think your second possibility makes more sense: he figured it out, felt hopeless and wanted to give up, only for his "conscience" (in the form of Clara) to cheer him up. IF he remembers, how?
    – tilley31
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 2:11
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    Funny you mention that. It reminds me... You know about how Rory had an Auton copy of himself at one time? And Rory died and the Auton was the only one left, and he lived for thousands of years and then Rory came back when the Universe was rebooted, and not long after that he confessed to the Doctor that he remembered all those years the Auton lived. And you call your theory dodgy?
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 8:10
  • Rory also said that the thousands of years were sort-of locked behind a door. He didn't remember them all the time but he could "open the door" and look, IIRC
    – George T
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 8:14

Remember what he says about teleporters:

"Teleporter" - fancy word. Just like 3D printers, really, except they break down living matter and information, and transmit it. All you have to do is add energy.

This transmission of information includes memories (else everyone who'd ever teleported would suffer from amnesia). If the Doctor were to have really remembered all that time (which given his monologue seems likely) then the simplest explanation is that the energy used to restructure the copy in the teleporter's hard drive contained memory-information and that this memory-information was integrated into the new Doctor (but locked away until he reaches room 12).

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    I disagree. The transmission of information includes memories, yes, but the copy of the Doctor stored in the hard drive is a copy of him as he was when he arrived. Each time, he arrives in exactly the same physical and mental state, which probably includes having the same memories. Not the physical and mental state he was in when he crawled to the teleporter room to switch it on.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 0:41
  • Yes, but when he used his energy to "print" the copy it could be that some of that energy, rather than be "used up", was added to the original. Think of a printer that leaks some additional ink onto the page when it prints what's on the screen.
    – user56550
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 9:02

just passing by.

My answer is the following :

When he goes to the teleporter to create his new self, his consciousness (which is energy) is being transfered to his new body. New body (regeneration-like) but his consciousness is intact (supposedly unique). When one suffers a huge trauma, he tends to forget what happen, and only when he is faced to the reality that he has to suffer the trauma once again, he remembers what happen.

Mind blown.


you guys kinda forget the impossible girl storyline, where the 11 remembers something that never happened but kinda happened and says that it has something to do with timelord brains being atuned to time itself

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    Could you add a little more detail to this answer? E.g. by quoting from the episode transcripts, which are available at www.chakoteya.net
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 18, 2016 at 23:15

It happened inside the confession dial. And it could have been a Time Lord virtual reality machine like in Inception or Matrix.

So there was only one Doctor all along...or his consciousness, which or who actually experienced all.

  • Hello there. This is some interesting information! Do you have any sources to back it up? Commented Jan 3, 2016 at 21:38
  • I deleted your second spoiler block, because this space is really meant for answering the question at hand. Additional questions should be asked separately Commented Jan 3, 2016 at 21:45

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