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The Frozen Mirror

Happy New Year's Eve!

This is a massively long post, filled with meta for The Snowmen.z

Grab a cup of coffee, a bag of jammie dodgers, and put on your favorite album.

This could take a while, peering into...

The Frozen Mirror

The first thing to keep in mind is the intent and purpose of Doctor Who at this point in time.  I maintain that it's positioning itself as mythology.  The functions of mythology are to supply the symbols that represent the collective psyche of a society, to transmit a set of values if not a philosophy pointing the way to a life lived well, and to identify the pitfalls and fantasies that get in the way of our wholeness, if not our happiness -- especially the problems posed by suffering and death.

Most of all, mythology permits a sideways communication between the conscious mind and the subconscious mind. Inscribed upon the Temple of Apollo in Delphi of Ancient Greece were two words: Know Thyself. In the current Revival, there is a question to answer: it's more easily recognized as "Doctor who?" but it is, in fact, "Who are you?" So this is what defines the show's current orientation.

The primary metaphor for this concern is the Mirror. Mirrors recur over and over in the current incarnation of the show, far more often than random coincidence could account; this usage is deliberate. It's not an arbitrary symbol -- we use mirrors to identify ourselves in a visual, literal sense, and it's from the mirror we get the metaphor of self-reflection, a wholly internal process which is much easier to grok through allusion than scientific descriptions of firing neurons.

In the Doctor's current arc, he is struggling with the loss of his dear friends, Amy and Rory. They are dead to him, for all intents and purposes, stolen away by Weeping Angels and aged to death before he could see them again. His response to this tragedy is to cut himself off from human concerns. He's moved to a cloud (a metaphor for "heaven") and refuses to engage in any meaningful relationships. This is his solution to the problem of grief.

His psychological state is reflected by several characters. We get Walter Simeon, who stopped having relationships when he was a boy, taking himself far too seriously. There's also Captain Latimer, who is so emotionally repressed he can't even bear to interact with his children.  Finally, we get Madame Vastra, who's "cold-blooded," the very alien Strax, and the known lesbian Jenny.  All three members of the Paternoster Gang are "estranged" in that they don't fit in with the society in which they live, but unlike Latimer and Simeon, they are engaged, in relationship, and have a sense of humor about their predicament.  They are, for wont of a better word, *integrated.*

The monsters of the story are also mirrors. The alien snow is explicitly described as a having a low-level telepathic field that mirrors the emotional states of the people around it. The Ice Governess is a reflection of Franscesca's fear of punishment and repression, not to mention death; that she comes from a frozen pond is an allusion to Amy's death, and as it's been noted in past episodes, "water is nature's mirror." And then there's The Great Intelligence, which is a reflection of Simeon's complete and utter isolation from any human being, his desire to exercise power and control through science, technology, and economics. It should be noted that the disembodied Intelligence can be read as a metaphor for God.

On the flip side of this, we have a hero: Clara. Clara is an idealized representation of the best of humanity. She's funny, brave, clever, communicative. She transcends social classes, tells stories, engages with everyone around her, and is not restricted by the repressive mores of the Victorian society in which this story is told. She has one significant flaw, which ties back to the main theme of the current run: she is self-deceptive, which we learned in Asylum of the Daleks.

Self-deception, of course, is what keeps us from knowing ourselves.  It's an unwillingness to look in the mirror.

There are three climaxes in The Snowmen, one for each of the three Acts, and each climax is oriented around the symbolism of Ascension and Death. In the first Act, Clara finds the Doctor's ladder. Do note that the Ladder is also a recurring symbol in the current Revival, and that its most significant representation in Western mythology is probably from the story of Jacob's Ladder, which is also an Ascension story.  Clara begins to climb, and she realizes she's "invisible," which is the state of a ghost, a "deathly" state. She reaches the clouds, and knocks on the door of the TARDIS. The Doctor emerges (he is the "household god" of Doctor Who) but she's not ready yet to meet him on his home turf. She returns to Earth, which is the condition of a bodhisattva, or one who is willing to self-sacrifice. It's not literal -- self-sacrifice is a metaphor for the dissolution of the ego.

In Clara's very next scene, she awakens all dressed in white, which is symbolic of Rebirth. She gets a carriage to Captain Latimer's mansion, and effects her transformation on the way there. At the mansion she has a completely new identity, a new manner of speaking, and a new station in life. When she attends to Franscesca's fears, she realizes that the frozen Pond might be related to the Mirror-Snow she learned about in Act I. She seeks out the Doctor, masters the one-word test, and gets the Doctor off of his cloud. The Ice Governess awakens (through a Crack in the Pond, harkening to Series Five) and all hell breaks loose.

The second act climaxes once more with an Ascension. This time Clara ascends the Ladder with the Doctor, followed by the monster. She gets a key to the TARDIS, and then she's pulled from the cloud by the monster to her literal death by the monster.

Once more she is reborn, but this time she is stripped of all her power.  She can only lie there and speak a few words. The Doctor, who's just opened his heart to her, is moved to try and resolve the situation -- a situation which is a metaphor for death, and dealing with death.

The Doctor and Vastra confront Simeon and The Great Intelligence, and we are treated to a series of false resolutions. The purpose of the false resolution, in addition to generating tension, is to spell out all the ways in which the central problem cannot, in fact, be resolved. (Notice that Clara's brief resurrection does not, in itself, solve the problem;the mosnters are still on the move. Resurrection will not solve the problem of death and grief.)

The Doctor's first attempt to resolve the situation is technological.  He uses his Sonic to unmask the "true voice" of The Great Intelligence, which is really that of an alienated boy who has no relationships. This does not solve the problem. He then casts judgment on Victorian values. Simeon is not moved.

The Doctor's next trick is to wipe Simeon's memory with the Memory Worm. Not only does the attempt to forget or achieve a state of perfect "emptiness" fail to solve the problem, it actually makes it worse -- The Great Intelligence manifests in Simeon's body, and it's out to destroy humanity; God will not solve the problem of death and grief. Vastra unsheathes her sword, attempting to solve the problem with violence, but she is completely ineffective; violence does not solve the problem of death and dealing with death.

We then cut to the Clara. She encourages Captain Latimer to join his children. They all begin to grieve, and Clara mirrors this grief with her own tears. This -- empathy -- solves the problem of dealing with death, and all there's left to is for Clara to die, which she does. The final solution is to accept it, to feel the terrible feelings that accompany loss, and to share those feelings with others, with friends and family. In the end, The Doctor can't do anything about death and grief; medicine cannot prevent the inevitable. This is not, in fact, an ending where "the power of love" saves the day. This is an ending where the powers of grief and acceptance save the day. Not only is this an intelligent and mature philosophy to uphold, it makes for an excellent antidote to the problems of Christmas, as well as playing with the themes and responsibilities underlying the Christian religion.
(And yes, Clara is apparently reincarnated in the closing sequence, but this reincarnation did nothing to resolve the problems of the episode.  Rather, it serves as a hook into the remaining episodes coming this spring. "I don't believe in ghosts," says the ghostly Clara, standing over her grave, highlighting the central problem of her character, which is that she doesn't know herself; she is a master of self-deception, not realizing she's dead twice over. The show must go on.)

The Ice Governess

The Ice Governess, as everything in this story, is best understood through symbolism, metaphor, theme, and reference. On the surface she's a stock monster, and the story recognizes this through the self-aware juxtaposition of her with Mr. Punch. There's really not much more to her than that, in terms of character.

But there's much to be gleaned beneath the surface, if we apply our intelligence. First is the fact she comes from a Frozen Pond.  Remember, this is in reference to the previous companion. And the greatest criticism of Amy was her reaction -- or rather, lack thereof -- to the loss of her own child. She was emotionally shut down when it came to that trauma, and a lot of people found her monstrous for it. So here we have a caricature of the previous companion chasing our new companion into the TARDIS, which is really quite clever: a new companion always has the ghost of the previous one looming over her shoulder.

Secondly, it behooves us to consider the literary references in play. There are three I could discern. The first is Mary Poppins, which we got with Clara ascending thanks to the umbrella. The second is from Jane Eyre, which is a story about a governess who is haunted by a madwoman in the attic; I got this reading from the Ice Governess trapped at the top of the stairs, behind a fiery force-field, and the fact that the housekeeper is named Alice (which could also be another Looking Glass reference, come to think of it.) The third is Turn of the Screw, which is a story about a governess whose tending to children haunted by "ghosts." There's plenty of material for literary analysis here, which I leave as an exercise for the discerning reader.

Mostly, though, the Ice Governess simply represents a set of values; she is a mirror.  She's not a character, she's a symbol. She symbolizes authority and punishment, and a complete lack of regard for compassion, sentiment, or relationship, an indictment of "Victorian values," and in particular of that mode of child-rearing.

Okay, I lied.  There is an aspect of characterization going on with the Ice Governess.  She is, in fact, the "opposite" of Clara, an "antidote" to the character of Clara.

Let's talk about Clara for a bit. Don't you agree she's a bit too perfect?  She's the focal character of the story, and in every scene she shines.  There isn't anything "negative" about her at all, unless you'd consider the ability to pass for upper-class and lying about her identity as a "negative" trait. Maybe it is -- after all, in her previous incarnation as Oswin, she's massively self-deceptive. But in all other respects, she's practically an angel. She doesn't put down other characters, she's never cruel, or angry, or cold. (Unlike Amy.)

People have a tendency to lock away their negative attributes, to repress them, and I don't believe for a second that anyone in the world is lacking in negativity. So we all engage in a process of self-deception, of pretending the less salubrious aspects of our selves aren't really us. But they are, and they get locked away, where they become "monsters" or "shadows" of the self, and buried in the subconscious mind. This gets at the other function of Mythology I was talking about earlier -- Mythology is a way for the conscious mind and the subconscious to communicate. It presents the opportunity to integrate the "shadow self" and discard our own idealized self-conceptions; it provides the opportunity to strip away our self-deceptions.

In the climax of the Act II, Clara and the Ice Governess plunge to their deaths. The Doctor recovers them both in his TARDIS, and from then on Clara can't move.  She is frozen. And this represents the integration of her Shadow with her idealized and deceptive self-conception. I am hoping (and actually, rather confident) that the next incarnation of Clara will be fully fleshed out, a combination of positive and negative attributes that is the truth of the human condition. We have to love our shadow selves; repression always cracks, and out of the crack comes a monster.

The symbol for this integration of opposites, of positive and negative, above and below, is the Tree. This is a motif borrowed from classic mythology, perhaps most famously from Norse mythology. The World Tree connects heaven and hell, past and future, above and below to the Here and Now. In other myths it's represented as a Mountain, so it might be better to call it the axis mundi, the axis of the world. This goes back to Spiral Staircase imagery earlier in the story, connecting the heavens to the earth.

At the same time, the Ice Governess represents a critique of the kinds of stories Doctor Who traditionally served up in the Classic era. Once again, I have to invoke the intent of purpose of Mythology, which is to encourage self-awareness. Can a mythology truly uphold self-awareness without expressing it towards itself? To avoid self-awareness of itself would be hypocritical, I say.

Thankfully, the show has never been more self-aware, and much of that self-awareness has to be expressed as a critique of what the show has done historically. And truthfully, the Ice Governess is a reflection of many Classic Who monsters. Classic Who monsters are monsters because they are monsters -- they are no more or less than evil embodied. So Classic Who was pretty much a set of Good vs Evil stories, with Good defeating the Evil after a proper scare.

But if Doctor Who is a myth, transmitting values and symbols of the collective psyche, and reflecting the subconscious mind back to itself, then this basic story is problematic. What the simple Good/Evil story "does" is to encourage repression of whatever has been identified as negative! And so much of what's identified as negative is not, in fact, terrible. In Victorian times, it was emotion and sexuality. Those repressed energies manifested monstrously in the underbelly of society, and led to serious social repercussions for many classes of people.  This is why it's so important for this particular story to include Vastra and Jenny, an openly lesbian couple, and how hysterically people react to their relationship, and indeed, their sex.

World Tree Imagery

In modern Who, problems often start at the base of the World Tree -- the communication between Above and Below gets compromised. In this case, it's a very simple problem. Simeon, whose name means "heard by God" (and sounds like simian) starts talking to the snowman, rather than interacting with the other boys and girls. He starts talking to the Snow, and the Great Intelligence talks back.

Doctor Simeon is a mirror of the Doctor, of course. He's cold and detached, disinterested. He's also played by someone who played an alternative Doctor before the Revival -- Richard E Grant, who played the "Shalka Doctor" in an animated webisode, and one of many regenerations in Curse of the Fatal Death, a charity special spoof.

And here's the Doctor's axis mundi, literally connecting heaven and earth. Our Doctor, who art in heaven... there's our reference to the Paternoster Gang in the prequel.  Pater Noster being the Latin opening to The Lord's Prayer.

Anyways, here we have a special kind of World Tree. It can be climbed, like a beanstalk. It's spiraled, like DNA, but also invokes a circularity, which is rather in juxtaposition to the linear ladder that connects to this stairway to heaven. This is not unlike "circling the square," the crossing of circles and boxes so predominant in the new series. And it's not unlike the series itself, which takes unlike things and jams them together. Also, note the Moon, which Strax pointed out in the first prequel. The Moon is a symbol of the subconscious, but also the divine feminine. In a sense, it points to this "cloud" or "heaven" as being an aspect of the subconscious mind, rather than the literal, material world. The kingdom of heaven resides within.

The problem with Simeon's tree is that it's only connected to Earth. The problem with the Doctor's ladder is that it's only connected to the sky. It'll take another juxtaposition to the marry the two.

Clara, of course, is the one who'll bring the Doctor back to earth. She is the connecting force. She'll jump, and fall, but then she gets right back up again and pulls down the ladder, and begins her first ascension of the episode. I love how she's hiding behind the only tree when she espies the Doctor heading up to the stars, and that this ladder is so close to said tree, practically hidden in its branches.

The Chair Agenda

Chairs are one of many "ascension" motifs in modern Who. They featured more prominently in the last couple of Christmas episodes, but there's still a couple interesting ones here.  Love me a good chair!

This first one is Clara's chair, which is foregrounded when she wakes up after her first trip up to the heavens. On the Chair is a case which holds the key to a remarkable transformation -- a new outfit, with which a barmaid becomes a governess.  I like how Clara's waking makes her first trip to the heavens seem like a dream. Dressed in white, she also looks like she's just experienced a kind of rebirth.  The chair, by the way, has rungs, like a Ladder.

Love the One Word game.

This is a game played in wicker chairs, and the function of the game is to gain access to the Doctor. The game is a test of wits, of intelligence, and one's ability to manipulate words. Notice how the game plays with notions of Truth and Lies. A single word contains more truth than many words.

The game is played in a kind of Garden. Yes, it's inside rather than outside, but there is where there's all kinds of greenery. This is an inversion -- a warm place in the middle of winter, a place of life, while outside the world slumbers in its annual death.

Vastra sits in the larger of the two chairs -- she is in the dominant position; she is closer to the Doctor, and acts as a gatekeeper. The chair is large enough to form a halo around her.

Notice the fashion of her wicker. The strands run along the vertical, the horizontal, and the diagonal. Vastra's chair is fully integrated; she is a hero in her own right, running her detective agency and solving crimes all on her own initiative.

Clara sits in the smaller chair, and she is not haloed -- she is not yet close to the Doctor, has not yet fully realized her potential.

The wicker on her chair is simpler than Vastra's. Except for a line or two of reinforcement, it only runs on the diagonals. This is the same pattern we saw on the walls of her room in the Asylum.

The One-Word Game

So let's take a closer look at the One Word Game, now that the visuals have been established.  The construction of this scene is amazing. It is, above all else, a study in contradiction.

STRAX: Do not attempt to escape, or you will obliterated. May I take your coat?

It begins with a juxtaposition of opposites. On the one hand, the Sontaran offers violence. On the other, he offers etiquette, civility, manners. And he does it with two recurring memes: The Doctor is always engaged in escape, and since Amelia showed up, he's frequently told her to "get her coat."


VASTRA: There are two refreshments in your world the color of red wine. This is not red wine.

Jenny tells Clara to sit (a Buddhist meme) and Vastra begins by offering the power of negation, which is at the heart of contradiction. Vastra does not offer the truth of what she is drinking. She only offers what it is not.

JENNY: Madame Vastra will ask you questions. You will confine yourself to single-word responses. One word only. Do you understand?


VASTRA: Truth is singular. Lies are words, words, words.

Already Clara has demonstrated that's she's more than qualified to play this game. The first response she gives is a single word, but it isn't an answer, it's a question. She has already reversed the roles that have been established, while adhering to them at the same time. Clara is a walking contradiction. Vastra, on the other hand, speaks the truth and lies at the same time. Truth is singular, but it is also manifold. It exists and is denied by words, simultaneously, as we shall see.

VASTRA: You met the Doctor, didn't you?


VASTRA: And now you've come looking for him again. Why?

JENNY: Take your time. One word, only.

Jenny stands in the background, behind Clara. While Vastra is the dominant one in the relationship, the "Doctor" to Jenny's "Companion," it emerges that Jenny has Doctorish qualities of her own. In particular, she is taking the role of Advocate. She encourages Clara, and eventually, as Clara reveals her qualifications, Vastra looks to Jenny to confirm that she's reading the situation correctly, that she's right to be impressed. So Jenny is both submissive and dominant, as is Vastra. Truth is singular and manifold.

CLARA: Curiosity.

VASTRA: About?

CLARA: Snow.

VASTRA: And about him?


Truth is bifocal. Clara is curious about the Snow, and she's curious about the Doctor. Vastra recognizes that one word may not be clear enough, and yet, it is. This story is called The Snowmen, but that's a misleading and revealing title. The Doctor is a Snowman. He is, in a sense, as much a mirror as the Snow. It's not a lie, or incomplete, for Clara to say Snow and mean more than one thing about it.

VASTRA: What do you want from him?

CLARA: Help.


This is not Vastra's first mirroring of Clara, but it's the first perfect reflection. Clara's first singular word in this game was "Why?" and now it comes back to her; Vastra has claimed it for herself, and she keeps coming back to it. It is, in fact, crucial to the climax of this scene.

CLARA: Danger.

VASTRA: Why would he help you?

CLARA: Kindness.

VASTRA: The Doctor is not kind.


Vastra negates Clara's claim that the Doctor is kind. "Kind," of course, has been a key word in describing the Eleventh Doctor. Back in The Beast Below, it was how Amy realized that the Doctor and the Star Whale were alike.

Clara responds to Vastra's contradiction with another negation, and puts it in the form of a question. She disagrees, and asks for clarification, taking control of the situation again. Her "No?" is also a mirroring of the first word she uttered that was not a question, "Yes." She has demonstrated the ability to Reverse Polarity.

VASTRA:  No. The Doctor doesn't help people. Not anyone, not ever. He stands above this world, and doesn't interfere in the affairs of its inhabitants. He is not your salvation, nor your protector. Do you understand what I am saying to you?

CLARA: Words.

Perfect, absolutely perfect. Vastra is stunned that Clara has the kind of presence to take Vastra's own words and turn them against her. And this gets to one of the great points of this scene. Vastra says that singular words are more true than a multiplicity. Clara's rebuke of Vastra's description of the Doctor seems to be a confirmation of this philosophy.

But in hindsight, Vastra has not lied. The resolution of this story bears out her description. The Doctor does not save Clara, does not protect her. He doesn't even save the world -- Clara and the Latimer family are ultimately the ones who accomplish that task.

VASTRA:  He was different, once, a long time ago. Kind, yes. A hero, even. A savior of worlds. But he suffered losses which hurt him.  Now he prefers isolation to the possibility of pain's return. Kindly choose a word to indicate your understanding of this.


Vastra negates her previous words -- which set of words are true, and which are false? Both, and both. However, she does point to the central concern of this story, which is the Doctor's reaction to loss. This is what the entire story is about, and the truth of it is spoken at the halfway mark of the episode, at the center.

When Vastra asks for Clara's response, she asks Clara to do so kindly. This establishes Clara as someone who is kind, who possesses the lost aspect of the Doctor, who can function as his mirror. And her response is beautifully two-fold, not singular. On the one hand, "Man" can refer to all of humanity, that this propensity to avoid grief is an aspect of the human condition, and this is certainly true. But it can also be taken in a gendered fashion. In this scene, we have three women. They all care, they all engage in relationship despite the inevitability of grief. Back in Victorian times, at least, this was also a truthful way of distinguishing the gender roles expected of men and women.

VASTRA:  We are the Doctor's friends. We assist him in his isolation, but that does not mean we approve of it. So, a test for you. Give me a message for the Doctor. Tell him all about the snow and what fresh danger you believe it presents, and above all, explain why he should help you. But do it in one word. You're thinking it's impossible such a word exists,or that you could even find it. Let's see if the gods are with you.

CLARA: Pond.

We don't actually hear Clara give her response. In the climax, we get empty space, a beat before the reveal. The ultimate negation.

There are two refreshments in our world the color of red wine. This is not red wine. Wine is a metaphor. To the Sufis, it is used to talk about divinity, the movement of God within us. And the gods are with Miss Clara. Pond. A single word, which carries so many meanings. The physical pond at the Latimer estate. The loss the Doctor has suffered. And also the Frozen Mirror, the central metaphor of the story. Perfectly perfect. The work of gods.

This is a kindness.

Remembering / Mirroring / Death & Rebirth

Memory has played a huge role in the current era of Who, and continues to do so. On the one hand, we have an agent of Memory, the Snow, which is mirror-snow, or snow that remembers. On the other, we have a worm, which is an agent of forgetfulness. Both of them are placed in similar specimen jars; this is a form of mirror-twinning. The glass jars function to unify the opposites of forgetting and remembering.

This unification of opposites is an alchemical process, and such alchemy is relentless on this show. Above is married to below, via a healthy World Tree; warmth and cold, fire and ice, remembering and forgetting, past and future, red and blue, male and female. This is, in part, what a Trickster god posing as a physician is supposed to accomplish. The fusion of opposites results in "apotheosis," something like a near-death experience. In The Power of Three, it's accompanied by an invocation: "Through The Looking Glass."

Joseph Campbell describes it as such:

And so it is that both the male and the feamle are to be envisioned, alternatively, as Time and Eternity.
That is to say, the two are the same, each is both, and the dual form is only an effect of illusion, which
itself, however, is not different from enlightenment.

This is a supreme statement of the great paradox by which the wall of the pairs of opposites is shattered
and the candidate admitted to the vision of the God, who when he created man in his own image created
him male and female.
Which brings us back to Clara.

CLARA: What is that thing?

STRAX: Silence, boy!

DOCTOR: That's Strax. And as you can see, he's easily confused!

STRAX: Silence, girl! Sorry lad.

Clara is mistaken for being two-gendered, by a creature who's ungendered (but treated as male.) While the delightful comedy ensues, all kinds of references fly by. Strax invokes "silence," a key word from Series Six. He then loses his memory, much to Clara's amusement -- this is why she refuses to run. The Doctor explains that Strax gave his life for a friend, and another friend resurrected him; Strax has been born again.

The Doctor puts on the Gauntlets -- I get the feeling they're supposed to be capitalized, and why not? The last time such a deal was made about gauntlets, we were watching Torchwood, where they're used to induce Resurrection. It's not like Memory and Resurrection / Forgetting and Death are foreign concepts to Doctor Who. In Crash of the Byzantium, the soldiers who walk "into the light" are completely forgotten by all around them; as Amy says, they didn't even remember.

Amy, on the other hand, resurrects the Doctor in the Big Bang, simply through the power of memory, a power bestowed not just from her time-travel, but from sleeping with a Crack in the wall, "the universe pouring into your head," the Doctor explained back in The Wedding, while waving his arms about in front of a mirror.

Anyways, after the Doctor explains how a bite from the Memory Worm can wipe out decades of your life, he says:

DOCTOR: And you're still not trying to run.

CLARA: I still don't understand how the Snowman built itself. I'll run, once you're explained.

DOCTOR: Clara who?

CLARA: Doctor who?

DOCTOR: Oh, dangerous question.

CLARA: What's wrong with dangerous?

The dangerous Question, of course, is at the heart of the religious movement known as The Silence. Which was just invoked by Strax, in case you forgot. But of more interest here is the mirroring between Clara and the Doctor. They're mirroring each other's dialogue. The Question has been posed to her, and as soon as she inquires about such dangerous territory, the Doctor starts explaining how the Snowmen have a low-level telepathic field that reflects people's
thoughts, and at the same time, Snowmen start to appear. Again, the Doctor and Clara are on the same wavelength. And then the mirror is outright invoked:

DOCTOR: You're caught in a telepathic field; they're mirroring you.

He implores her to imagine them melting. (This harkens back to The Flesh. Don't forget, Strax brings up acid in this story, twice.) Because of the power of her imagination, Clara melts the Snowmen, and even better, she buys herself a second chance:

CLARA: Is that going to happen again?

DOCTOR: Well, if it does, you'll know what to do about it.

CLARA: Unless I'll forget.

The Doctor can't wipe her memory. He tries to dump her off on Strax, but she easily eludes the Sontaran, follows the Doctor to his Ladder, and has her first ascension experience, which is eventually mirror-twinned.


You were expecting someone else?

Madame Vastra is The Great Detective, per the prequel, and in The Snowmen she's christened by Simeon (he who hears God) as the inspiration for Doyle's adventures in The Strand. Doyle has to write Sherlock Holmes as a man, of course, because in Victorian times no one would believe the real detective was a woman.

So Vastra has been bi-gendered, and she also wears purple -- examine the flowers on her dress, and her cloak. Vastra is also an integrated person.

And since they've gone to such pains to paint both Vastra and the Doctor as Sherlocks, this means Vastra is a mirror to the Doctor. This is, after all, Doctor who? We get mirrors to better understand the Doctor.

Vastra is from the Underground, while the Doctor lives on a cloud. Both are places of the subconscious mind. Vastra is from the Dawn of Time; the Doctor is a Time Lord. Vastra shushes people, like the Doctor -- shushing is a way to invoke Silence. Vastra lies. Vastra is cold-blooded, which is an apt description of our Doctor-snowman, his heart frozen over, no longer caring for the people of this world.

But Vastra has companions, and this lets her engage, lets her exercise her compassion. Vastra is a past and future echo of the Doctor, because she allows herself relationships, even though she knows the inevitable loss of the people she cares for will bring her pain.

And this, this is the resolution to the story. Vastra comes with the Doctor to Simeon's office, but she comes without her companion. Instead, she takes the companion role, asking leading questions to prompt the Doctor's inevitable explanations, but this is not her proper function. She is a detective in her own right. She is too much like the Doctor to reverse his polarities.

Now, pay attention. The Doctor waves a box in front of Simeon, and tells the truth while lying.

DOCTOR: I have in my hand a piece of the ice lady. Everything you need about how to make ice people. Is that what you want?

The box has a map of the London Underground. Which is, yes, a reference to an old classic episode. But it's more than that. The Underground is a metaphor for the subconscious mind. What does it take to make ice people? It's a Memory Worm. Something that sucks out the memories of Walter Simeon, leaving him empty. It's a clever trick the Doctor pulls, thinking that leaving behind an empty mirror, but his cleverness does not save the day. Cleverness, a Victorian value, does not resolve the Doctor's predicament. The Doctor needs relationship, not cleverness.

And Vastra can't help, either. We can take her attempt to wield her sword literally, and say violence will save the day, but this is incorrect. Or we can take her sword as a symbol for mind, and again this is the wrong answer for afflicts the Doctor-Snowman.

The man of ice needs a heart. Needs his passion stoked. Needs a connection with another person. Someone who isn't rational, someone who doesn't make sense. It's all so clear now. He needs to accept his grief, needs to accept death even while fighting it, and most of all, he needs someone who is impossible.

The Doctor is an impossible astronaut, and he needs an impossible companion. Someone born behind the face of time, someone who invents fish so as not to swim alone. Someone who tells stories. Someone who knows the right words, the healing incantations...

CLARA: Will you go back? To your cloud?

DOCTOR: No more cloud. Not now.

CLARA: Why not?

DOCTOR: It rained.

CLARA: Run. Run, you clever boy. And remember.

Go back. Remember.

Doctor Who?

It's the iconic question, and we get it four times.

The first time, the Doctor tells Clara that she's got a nice name, and that she should keep it. And then he ditches her when she suggests they
were just getting acquainted. While she chases after his chariot, he chats with Vastra on the phone:

VASTRA: You can't help yourself. It's the same story every time, and it always begins with the same two words.

DOCTOR: She'll never be able to find me again, and she doesn't even have the name, "Doctor." What two words?

CLARA: Doctor? Doctor Who?

It's perfect that Clara says this while upside-down, mirroring a pose the Doctor often took last season.  And then... roll credits.  Since Vastra was saying the story always begins with the same two words, which just happens to be the Question at the beginning of the Universe, this is most definitely the most meta of the four instances we get this episode.

Well, except that the first two words of the credits aren't "Doctor Who," they're "Matt Smith."


Okay, second time is the Clara Who/Doctor Who bit, but this isn't in service to the meta of the show, per se, it's in service to the juxtapositioning of the characters. Clara and the Doctor are likened to each other. However, as Clara is born on the day of the show, died at the age of 26, well, it's also a bit meta. It's just that the meta's been transferred.

Clara mirrors the Doctor in so many ways.  Making a "leap of faith" to reach the ladder.  Cleverly deducing plans.  Wordplay.  Dressing up.  Lying.

Third time, the Question is a Clue. Clara's heard about Francesca's nightmares, Digby's suggested his sister needs a Doctor, so Clara goes jumping about in the park, trying to find a ladder, and shouting "Doctor" all the while. Jenny intervenes, and gets Clara's attention by asking "Doctor Who?" with a knowing smile. Knowing smile is definitely meta, but now it's oriented not to the show, or to the characters, but to the story. What comes next (the One Word Challenge) propels the whole story forward. It's the Fulcrum of the piece.

But it's worth noting who's doing the asking. Jenny is a Companion. She's Vastra's companion, but she's still a Companion. And Clara's gonna be the next Companion to the Doctor. Both Jenny and Clara are wearing similar hats, literally and metaphorically.

The fourth and final reference is from the puppet show. But let's wind this one back a bit. Clara has just started telling the children a bedtime story. A story about the Doctor. A true story about a man who lives on a cloud who spends every day stopping every child in the world from having bad dreams. (This after saying she was born behind the clock face of Big Ben, accounting for her impeccable sense of Time, and that she invented Fish so she wouldn't be lonely while taking a swim.)  When she sees the flame of the bedside candle dance, she assumes he's about the break the fourth wall and enter the room, but it turns out that she's invoked a Monster instead.

The children run to the playroom, and start asking questions.

DIGBY: What about the man? You said the man was here, the Cloud Man!

CLARA: Well he's not, is he?

DIGBY: Where's the Doctor?

CLARA: I don't know!

DOCTOR: Doctor? Doctor? Hee hee hee! Doctor Who?

I actually like this one the best of all, because it operates at many levels, including a negative one. The negative space is invoked by Clara. She says the Doctor stops children from having bad dreams. But this is certainly not the case! The show gives children all kinds of nightmares. And this is why the "Doctor" doesn't
make his entrance; instead, we get the truth, which is the nightmare of a child. The Question is answered, but backwards, because Clara uses too many words. Liar.

Then there's Digby. He calls the Doctor "the Cloud Man." And this is very interesting, because a "cloud man" is a way of referring to a Sky God. In the new titles, we see the Eye of the Doctor, we pass right through it, and this suggests that the Doctor is an avatar of God. But this will eventually get critiqued when the Doctor is juxtaposed with the Great Intelligence. The Doctor isn't a God. He's a man, and his gender is the least significant identifier in that equation. He doesn't
belong on a cloud. That's what this whole episode is about.

It isn't until Clara speaks the truth ("I don't know!") that the Doctor reveals himself. And this is a great reveal. The Punch and Judy shows are a staple of British culture, though they have their roots in the Italian commedia dell'arte. Punch is named for Pulcinella, a name derived from pulcino, the Italian for "chick" (don't forget, just before Clara invited the Doctor up to her parlor, he referred to her as a "bird").

Mr. Punch and his wife Judy are played from a small booth (think TARDIS) by a single puppeteer, called The Professor, and by the 20th Century were most commonly found at the seaside, on the beach or the strand. The shows are outrageously violent, with everyone getting their licks in -- even a "Doctor" character, whose treatments are administered with a slapstick.

All this provides some context for interpreting Doctor Who as a show, and the scene where he's appeared; he uses his "slapstick" -- in this case his Sonic -- to disperse the "Judy" bearing down on the children;then he becomes "Judy" as Mr Punch gives him a kiss that doubles as a bite.  In the climax, Doctor Simeon becomes a puppet to The Great Intelligence, which is a metaphor.

Doctors and monsters. Everyone has a monster inside them.

Who are you?



*rolls around*

All beautiful and great. Lots of my own thoughts, but in far more detail than I'd gotten round to.

(Icon is my Clara WHO icon. I need a better one, but this one will have to do for now...)
Thank you, glad you enjoyed it!