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In Doctor Who episode Heaven Sent, we see a creature known only as The Veil

chasing the Doctor, and the Doctor knows that when it catches up with him, it will kill him. And indeed, that's what it does. In the end, it manages to corner the Doctor, who has run out of confessions (but one), and it strikes him down, and then it thinks it's done. Game over, end of story. And without even checking if the Doctor is really dead, it switches itself off. But the Doctor isn't dead yet!

Now this would be stupid enough by itself; its designers should really know better, and just have built in a test to make sure. But... in the end it turns out the whole setup was set up by

the Gallifreyians! Come on, surely they know about Gallifreyian physiology, surely they could have known that the Doctor wasn't dead yet, that he had at least a day and a half left.

What were they thinking?

  • Re. your last paragraph: are you sure? Who knows what we'll find out in the next episode... – Rand al'Thor Dec 2 '15 at 11:57
  • I think the design was aimed at not killing the doctor but leaving him almost dead so that he could use the teleporter to renew himself. Maybe the designer thought if the doctor did this enough times he would give up and tell the secret. If the veil had killed him then they wouldn't be able to get the secret out of him. The doctor was not afraid of dying but it is shown that he was undergoing a mental struggle and thinking of simply quitting upon realising that he's been doing the same thing for years. – Ivan Dec 8 '15 at 6:47
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What else was it supposed to do?

My theory is that the diamond wall is supposed to be a dead end: backed up against this wall, the Doctor has nowhere else to go and gives his last confession to stave off death. Once the Doctor has been backed into this corner, refused to give up, and is on the brink of death, there's not much else it can threaten. Faster death? Torture? Extreme tickling?

It's not obvious what sort of value there is in further interrogation. You're very unlikely to get any more confessions.

Of course, the viewer knows that the Doctor is going to crawl up to the teleport room, instantiate another copy of himself, and repeat the whole process. Perhaps the Veil could stop him doing that? But it doesn't know the Doctor will try that – and it seems the designers didn't consider it either. As such, the Veil doesn't consider it a possibility, and considers its work done when the Doctor is killed.

(Let's be honest, the Veil is not the brightest of sparks. A man it's killed billions of times, continuing to reappear at regular intervals? You'd think it would have twigged.)

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    This is simply caused by the fact that the Veil is part of the castle; an automaton, which is reset regularly. Otherwise, it would have grown really tired of hearing the very same confessions over and over! – Mr Lister Dec 2 '15 at 13:01
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There is a possibility that I think deserves at least some consideration -- the situation was designed to produce exactly the result that we saw.  Specifically:

the Doctor traveled, without TARDIS or other conventional time-travel means, to a place that's at least several billions of years into our future.  I suspect that he traveled into the otherwise time-locked Gallifrey. 

The Doctor says something like "when they ask who I am, tell them I came the long way 'round."  He didn't say "tell them that I'm The Doctor".  He didn't say "I'm the Oncoming Storm".  For some reason, he thinks that the manner of his arrival is, in this context, the best description of his identity. 

The "long way 'round" could easily refer to the absence of time-travel. 

The trap was inside (or at least connected to and associated with) a Confession Dial -- probably the Doctor's own Confession Dial.  If it is his Dial, that explains why he's pursued by a figure from his own childhood nightmares. 

The Veil was not intended to kill him permanently.  At least, that wasn't the point of using the trap this time.  Maybe that was part of the Dial's original purpose.  I'm merely guessing that the Dial's original purpose has something to do with, y'know, confessions . . . . 

The Veil was instead intended to give him the motive and possibly the means to continue instantiating himself through the teleporter.  In this way, the Doctor can survive truly countless years without regenerating, without aging, without any physical consequence at all. 

His escape depends on surviving for at least millions of years.  Using the transporter to survive means that he has to practically start from scratch on each iteration, stretching those millions into billions.  Whoever trapped him wanted to keep him trapped for a long, long time. 

The tougher-than-diamond wall was labeled "HOME".  The Doctor assumed that this meant his TARDIS lay beyond the wall, but no TARDIS is in sight when he escapes the trap.  If not his TARDIS, what else could HOME mean?

What were they thinking?  They were thinking, even hoping, that the Doctor would escape.  That could have been the point -- to allow the Doctor to escape to the time and place where the episode ends. 

It's possible that someone used Gallifreyian technology -- a device that might have already been connected to Gallifrey's once-upon-a-time unlocked past -- to allow the Doctor to survive the time-lock and exit the trap unharmed. 

  • Minor nitpick: Gallifrey isn't time-locked – Jason Baker Dec 4 '15 at 19:35
  • Do we have a different word for what it is? I thought we simply shifted perspective from locked-and-destroyed to locked-and-preserved. Either way, it seems pretty TARDIS-proof. – Gary Botnovcan Dec 4 '15 at 19:40
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    Great theory! Of course, if this turns out to be true in the next episode, you will be accused of having had inside information. – Mr Lister Dec 4 '15 at 19:48
  • We've all got inside information, don't we? For instance, the Doctor is a hybrid. Specifically, he's half human (on his mother's side). – Gary Botnovcan Dec 4 '15 at 20:43

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