Spending New Year’s with the Daleks and Seeing the Infinite Power of a Moment

I was so excited for Doctor Who: Legend of the Sea Devils (and OH MY GOSH) but with the way my brain naturally works plus BBC America’s Doctor Who marathon up to the premiere, I’ve been thinking about Legend of the Sea Devils as deeply as the special which immediately preceded it, Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks.  And because I’ve still SO MANY FEELINGS I want to process about Legend of the Sea Devils before I’d write about it, I decided to write about Eve of the Daleks.  After the insanely intense (and, at times, confusing/convoluted) nature of Doctor Who: Flux, Eve of the Daleks was a nice pallet cleanser.  Granted it still had me worrying for the safety of our new characters the whole time and the emotional ground it covered was more intense than Flux, but it was a fun, self-contained, single episode story.  For me, part of its deep resonance came in how it invited me to consider the power of a moment.

This was essentially Doctor Who’s version of Groundhog Day (a connection Dan makes within the episode, too).  The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) needs to reboot the TARDIS to fix the damage it took during the events of Flux.  Since they can’t be in the TARDIS while this happens, the Doctor plans to take Yaz (Mandip Gil), Dan (John Bishop), and herself to a beach.  Far from a tropical beach on a distant alien world, the TARDIS materializes in the basement of ELF Storage in Manchester, nine minutes from midnight on New Year’s Eve 2021.  The TARDIS’ reboot inadvertently traps the Doctor, Yaz, and Dan – along with the only people in the building that night, Sarah (Aisling Bea) and Nick (Adjani Salmon), ELF Storage’s co-owner and one of its customers – in a time loop.  The loop resets at midnight and begins anew a minute closer to midnight than before.  But Dalek Executioners, sent to kill the Doctor for her actions in Flux, are inside the loop too.  Each time the Daleks exterminate them, they pick up the night – alive once more – a minute later with the reset.  The Doctor believes the time loop will collapse at midnight so their window for surviving the Daleks and escaping ELF storage before this happens grows ever-smaller.  

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Dan, the Doctor, and Yaz contemplate their surroundings once they’ve relooped inside the basement of ELF Storage. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

With each shrinking loop, the Dalek Executioners learn from what their prey did in the previous loop and move to counter it.  The Doctor and her crew try to anticipate their adversaries’ actions as well.  Despite their best efforts, again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again, the Daleks succeed in killing the Doctor, Yaz, Dan, Sarah, and Nick. 

Driving along the road which winds around our local airport on my way to my parents’ house for Easter dinner (and to watch the Doctor Who marathon!), I kept turning this over in my mind.  Each time they relive the loop they have less time to accomplish more.  Each loop brings more Daleks, too, as they’ve found a way to infiltrate the loop to increase the likelihood of their killing the Doctor.  As they relive those minutes to midnight again and again and again, we see connections grow, revelations rise, and (of course) all kinds of explosive action.  Each loop may have a minute less but it contains more than the previous loop did, both in the knowledge they bring from the previous loops and in what they need to accomplish in the new one.

Pondering this called to mind the opening lines to William Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence,” one of the few poetic pieces I know by heart:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.

This poem has always made me think of happiness in the moment.  When I am completely content, completely at peace, with all my needs met in the moment I can be fully in the moment.  Time slows and stretches.  Everything I need is there.  I am free from desire.  I hold infinity in the palm of my hand.  I’ve found eternity in an hour.  It’s not a state I’m always in but it’s beautiful when I am.

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Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

My contemplation also made me think of Mahayana Buddhism’s idea of emptiness.  If we look closely and mindfully at a flower, for example, we see there’s no flower there at all – at least no single, separate entity we can call “a flower.”  Rather we see the soil it grew in, the water it drank up, the sun which shone upon it – all necessary to make the flower we see before us and without any of those factors, the flower wouldn’t exist.  Looking deeply we also see the seed it grew from and the flower which bore that seed and the sun, soil, and rain that created that flower and so on down through time.  We see the cycle of water which created the clouds which brought the rain and the history of every place that water has been.  We see the rotation of the Earth which brought the sun and the geological history of the Earth which created the soil.  We see all the animals and people who didn’t disturb the flower, so it would be there growing when we came upon it and we see our own history, too – our physical form, our thoughts, our emotions, our memories, our consciousness, our relationships.  We see everything that shaped us into the person who is standing before the flower admiring it.  The flower is empty of a separate, individual self because it is full of everything else.  There is a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower.  Everything is infinite.

If we look deeply we see every object holds the infinity of creation, each moment holds an eternity.  Then I began to think about how this isn’t just the stuff of poetry and theology either!  We see quantum mechanics speculate the same infinite possibilities – creating an infinite number of universes – as well.

The Quantum Multiverse (one of nine multiversal theories Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics, discusses in his text The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (which is the single best, most accessible scholarly text I’ve read on the multiverse)) is another name for the Many Worlds approach to quantum mechanics.[1]  Quantum mechanics gives us the idea of a probability wave.  Essentially, this wave contains every possible option for a particle or particles in any given situation and it is only when we focus on one that the other potentials become invisible to us.[2]  So, for example, if I was eating pizza for lunch there’s the possibility I could pick it up with my hand, eat it with a fork, use a fork and knife, roll it up like a calzone, or any number of other options.  In choosing to use my hands, I exist at one spot on this probability wave.  However, all the other options happen too and are equally real (even if I lack the ability to see them).  It’s not a matter so much of splitting the timeline as it is all possible options existing simultaneously while we only have access to the one our choice shows us.[3]

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To be fair, it’s hard to imagine ANY spot on a probability wave where a Dalek – even one by a Christmas tree – was good news. But it could happen!! / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

These thoughts kept bouncing off Eve of the Daleks in my head and I found each reflected in the story.  Most directly, within those same set of minutes leading up to midnight, we see our heroes and the Daleks make many different choices, dancing across their own little probability wave as it were.  Through those choices we see each moment hold a world, a heaven, an infinity, and an eternity.

Once they are all safely in Nick’s storage unit, the group has a moment to look around and take in the wild assortment of items Nick has meticulously catalogued.  Sarah’s disdain is evident:

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Sarah is less than enamoured with Nick’s storage area. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

Sarah – “Nick, why have you got all those names on the shelves?”
Nick – “They’re just ex-girlfriends.”
Sarah – “They’re what?”
Nick – “Oh, this is where I keep stuff for women I’ve split up with.  You know, just in case they ever ask for it back.  I don’t want it in my eyeline, you know, at home.  I have a very small flat.  They said it’s a flat, but it’s more of a boxroom with a door and a toilet, with like a kitchenette on top of a toilet.”
Yaz – “You have a lot of ex-girlfriends.  They’re alive still, aren’t they?”
Nick – “Of course…oh!  God!  Of course!  Yeah.  Not all of them were serious.  Some were just like a few days.”
Sarah – “Man, you are weird. [looking at Yaz and Dan’s glare] What?”
Dan – “Bit harsh.”
Sarah – “Bit har…?  He comes here – here! – every New Year’s Eve, which is weird enough in itself, and for what?  To do all of this blah?  Which is…that is weird.”
Yaz – “He is standing right there.”
Nick – “It’s fine.”
Sarah – “No, it’s not fine!  It’s not fine!  You’re the reason that I’m here.  You’re the reason that I’m trapped in a time loop with a robot…”
Yaz & Dan – “Dalek!
Sarah – “Oh my, with stupidly named robots, with people I don’t even know, all so what?  Why?  So, you can catalogue your Monopoly?  Just throw stuff away!”
Nick – “Er… yeah.” 

Despite her clear disdain, Nick tells Sarah he has feelings for her later, as they prepare for a Dalek assault.

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Nick tells Sarah about his crush on her. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

Sarah – “Why do you always put your stuff into storage just before midnight on New Year’s Eve?  Feels a little over-organized.”
Nick – “That’s the time I’ll know you’ll be here.  Jeff [her partner] always lets you down.  I have an embarrassing crush on you.  No, I don’t mean the crush is embarrassing, I mean…the time.  This is an embarrassing time to let you know…now.”
Sarah – “And so why are you saying it to me like this, now?”
Nick – “‘Cause I’m going to be killed by aliens in a minute.  Again.  I guess…I’m just worried that one of these times I won’t make it back.”
Sarah – “How long has this been going on for?”
Nick – “Three years.”
Sarah – “Oh my…!  What?  Three years?  That is so stalkery.”
Nick – “I’d prefer unrequited.  Or shy.  Stalkery would be if I was menacing you, or said anything about this at all.  Which I haven’t.”
Sarah – “No.”
Nick – “And I wouldn’t…”
Sarah – “No.”
Nick – “If I wasn’t going to be…”

However despite all Sarah’s animosity and misplaced aggression she comes to see Nick in a new light.  When the Doctor chides her for not following their plan, Sarah makes her newfound concern and feelings for Nick clear:

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Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

The Doctor – “We had a deal.  Meet on the fifth floor.”
Sarah – “Yes, yes, fair.  Fair.  But er…yeah, okay, so I did desert you, I did, but to be fair to me, I was trying to not get killed again, so…and we almost got out.  Well…I almost did.  I got to the door, but then it zapped me.  Well, actually, it zapped…it zapped us.  Oh, my God, Nick.  Oh, I have to go get him.”
The Doctor – “No, no.  You have to stay here.  There’s more than one [Dalek].”
Sarah – “I’m not just gonna wait for him to get killed.  I don’t care if he’s a weirdo.  And he is.  He is a weirdo, you know, but he’s decent.  And he’s got a good heart.  My friend Lauren actually says that good-hearted weirdos are actually the keepers, so…”
[Yaz looks at the Doctor]

The Doctor – “What?”
Yaz – “No, nothing.”   

After surviving the Daleks and the time loop, the episode’s final scene shows Sarah and Nick heading off to the airport together for a trip around the world.  Loading the taxi Nick admits, “I guess it’s a weird first date.”  Sarah replies, “As opposed to our actual first date where we were killed…oh, where we were killed eight times by robot aliens?”  Nick continues, “And saved by a woman in an old police box.  But was that a first date?  I feel like it was more of a meet-cute.”

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Sarah and Nick FaceTiming with Sarah’s mum before they leave for their trip. / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

All of this is cute enough on its own but why I kept turning it over in my mind that day was their connection was born within nine minutes.  As those same minutes relooped, shrinking from nine down to one, each time they made different choices.  It started small but the differences grew until Sarah and Nick managed to help the Doctor defeat the Daleks, escape the time loop, and find “a good-hearted weirdo” worth keeping in each other.  This potential was always there, always hidden within the minutes they shared over the past three New Year’s Eves – as it was in their first go round that night.  But it only blossomed once they made different choics.

In one of Doctor Who’s most beautiful scenes across all 529 episodes (and counting!) I’ve seen, at Dan’s compassionate invitation Yaz opens up about her true feelings for the Doctor – owning both the truth of her love and the truth of her sexuality for the first time.  Then the Daleks kill them and, during those same minutes in the next loop, we see the Doctor let slip her very real fear at the thought of losing Yaz as well as Dan pressing her about why she pretends she doesn’t know how Yaz feels.  The scene is too moving and the actors too brilliant for me to type out the dialogue so here it is:

Each moment of our lives holds the potential to find the truth of ourselves, to acknowledge the truth of our hearts, to face the fears we’ve been avoiding, and to accept we need to decide what that all means for us.  Each moment also holds the chance for us to be a loving, compassionate friend to those around us – to fully hear, see, and accept someone with our whole hearts.

But these moments don’t just hold the potential for those fighting-to-flirting meet-cute relationships to blossom or for the deep swell of a love that fills our whole hearts to be found.  As the Daleks continue to multiple with each loop, we also see the potential for hate to grow.  The Daleks were designed in the ‘60s to embody the hateful, fascist ideology of the Nazis in a sci-fi alien monster.  They feel nothing but hate and they kill anything that isn’t exactly like them.  Even genetically modified Daleks will be executed as “impure.”  Within these repeating moments one Dalek ultimately becomes five.  Every moment holds the potential for such hate to arrive, take hold, and multiply.

Reading this alongside what happens between Nick and Sarah, Dan and Yaz, Yaz and her heart, and Dan and the Doctor, we see each moment can give birth to hate or to love – whether meet-cutie love, the love of true friends who see us, or the soul-stirring love which moves our hearts and shapes our world.  This begs the question: how do we nurture love and hate in each moment of our lives?  Because every moment can give birth to either and either has the potential to grow within every moment, shaping – enriching or destroying – our worlds with it.

In classic Doctor Who fashion, the Doctor gives a heart-buoying speech when all seems lost.  I’ve typed out the main point below but if you’d like to see Jodie Whittaker and company deliver it all for yourself, here it is :D.

The Doctor – “So we’re good?  We make this work, next time round.”

Sarah – “But we’ve failed to do this the last five times.  And this time we’ve even less time.  What makes you think that this is gonna work?”

The Doctor – “Because something seems impossible.  We try.  It doesn’t work!  We try again.  We learn.  We improve.  We fail again!  But better.  We make friends.  We learn to trust.  We help each other.  We get it wrong again!  We improve together then ultimately succeed.  Because this is what being alive is!  And it’s better than the alternative.  So c’mon you brilliant humans.  We go again and we win.”

Every moment of our lives, if we look deeply, holds eternity.  Every moment has an infinite amount of choices.  We can choose love over hate.  We can try and fail and choose to try again.  We can choose to make friends.  To trust.  To help each other.  This is what being alive is.  This is the beautiful gift of our lives!

I’ve been thinking about time a lot this weekend.  Last Thursday after work, Ashley took me to pick my car up from the shop.  As it was super sunny, we had our sunglasses on as we drove.  Sitting next to Ashley, one of my very best friends, in her car, wearing sunglasses, I thought of one of my favorite pictures.  In 2007 I took my first trip to New York City with another Ashley (also one of my very best friends but, since I’ve known her longer and to keep this from becoming confusing, I’ll call her “Classic” Ashley here).  The last picture we took from the trip was us, in the car on our ride home, wearing our sunglasses.  I still have it framed on one of my bookshelves!  Here it is:

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Photo Credit – me, naturally (ALSO this was back when we didn’t have phones to take this picture and I did it when I had to TURN THE CAMERA AROUND and GUESS at the framing!)

Driving with Ashley, I told her about the trip and the picture and we recreated it so I could text the picture to Classic Ashley along with the first picture, telling her I was thinking of her and our trip to New York.  Here’s the homage:

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Photo Credit – I mean, me again, obvs.

It was fun and Classic Ashley loved it, sharing the smiles and warm fuzzy feelings thinking of our trip bore in me.  However, as the day went on, I kept looking at those two pictures side by side.  Fifteen years had passed from Classic Ashley and I returning from NYC to Ashley taking me to my car last Thursday.  Fifteen years!  It doesn’t seem like that long ago but, looking at that first picture, we’re a couple of kids.  And it BLOWS MY MIND fifteen years have come and gone since then.

Now, this isn’t a lament about aging.  I wholeheartedly echo Jon Bon Jovi’s sentiments in a live version of “Just Older” I have, “I like the bed I’m sleeping in / Just like me, it’s broken in / It’s not old – just older / Like a favorite pair of torn blue jeans / The skin I’m in it’s alright with me / It’s not old – just older / [….] When I look in the mirror, I don’t hate what I see / There’s a few more lines staring back at me / Now the nights have grown a little bit colder / Hey man, I gotta run but you take care / If you see Mr. D tell him I’ve still got my hair / I kept my faith, I still believe I’m just…I’m still pretty, too.”  Heck yes!  That’s me ;D. 

What blew my mind was reflecting on how time passes whether we’re aware of it or not.  Looking at those pictures side by side I was reminded once again, to quote John Mellencamp now, “I’m not the young kid that I used to be.”  In what feels like little more than the blink of an eye, I filled those fifteen years with love and heartbreak, with joy and frustrations, with beauty and sadness, with adventure and banality, and I was blessed to experienced much of it with a beautiful collection of good-hearted weirdos by my side.  Whether or not I was aware of it, each of those moments that filled my life from coming back from New York with Classic Ashley to Ashley taking me to get my car held an infinity.  Each held the potential and promise to try, fail, and try again.  To make friends, trust, and help one another.  To grow and to love.  What a beautiful gift!  And, with these pictures fresh in my mind as I thought about Eve of the Daleks, I was able to see in a new way the amazing potential each moment of each day of our lives hold.

Yes, each moment has the potential to nurture hate, too, but we can choose love.  Each moment can hold sadness, anger, and frustrations but we can choose to see the beauty in our sadness, anger, and frustrations.  They can be teachers and protectors when we approach them mindfully.  And even when they feel overwhelming, we can remind ourselves the Doctor’s right.  No matter what we face or how we fail, “We improve together then ultimately succeed.  Because this is what being alive is!  And it’s better than the alternative.  So c’mon you brilliant humans.  We go again and we win.”  There’s an eternity waiting for us in every hour – an eternity to be brilliant, to go again and win, to be alive.

Thank you for reading this piece!  I love you and you’re magnificent!  Now go celebrate all the magic the beautiful moments your life holds :).

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I normally don’t use the promo photos in my posts but is there a better feel-good note to end on than Mandip Gil and Jodie Whittaker loving each other and working together?  I submit that there is not! / Photo Credit – BBC’s Doctor Who

[1] Brian Greene, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos.  (New York: Vintage Books, 2011), 242.

[2] Ibid., 226-27.

[3] Ibid., 242.

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