Everything about Clara tells us that she is someone very very special. There's the obvious plot about her identity; the fact that she has already effectively died and been reborn from the Doctor's POV of her timeline, when he is the one who usually has that power. That she is the same woman present twice - and now we know, three times - across time and space. There are other things that tell us she is very special though.
When we first meet her as Oswin in Asylum of the Daleks, she is the one who erases the Dalek's memory of the Doctor. Now, that is a huge huge thing to happen. Ever since the start of the revival, he has been laden with the emotional legacy of the Time War. In her actions, she symbolically erased that past, freeing him of it. I'm sure we'll see the Daleks again, but for now he is free of them, and symbolically free of his Time War guilt.
Let's look at the meanings of her name, now we know for sure it is Clara Oswin Oswald:
Clara - clear, bright, famous
Oswin - God's friend
Oswald - God's rule/ God's power.
It's been discussed a lot since AOTD that the fact that her name mean's God's friend is very appropriate for a new companion, with the Doctor so often being a Christ like figure. But her surname also suggests to us that she may have a God's power as well, and she is certainly like the Doctor in many ways.
Clara - an unusual and somewhat dated name in the UK - not only means bright and famous, but is also the name of the little girl in the ballet version of The Nutcracker. To summarise the tale briefly, the Nutcracker is set at Christmas and the little girl, Clara is given a nutcracker in the form of a soldier as one of her Christmas presents. That night, as she sleeps, her toys come to life, including the Nutcracker. She finds herself in the middle of a battle between the Mouse King and an army of Gingerbread men, and her actions enable the Nutcracker to win, at which he is transformed into a prince. She is transported to a magical land, where she is crowned as a queen. However ultimately she wakes up to find that it was all a dream.
Why am I telling you this? It's because Clara is truly such an unusual name in the modern UK that I can't help but think it's a reference. Bearing in mind she is the same girl as Oswin - in Asylum it turned out that Oswin's experience of being trapped in the ship was all a dream, just like the Clara of the Nutcracker. We can also parallel the Doctor to the Nutcracker soldier, as in fairytale terms he occupies the figures of both warrior and fairytale price, whisking his companions away. Clara brings the Doctor back to life again in this episode, just as the Clara of the Nutcracker dreams the soldier alive.
With Clara, there is a lot of mirroring, juxtaposition of opposites and reversal going on. First of all, the colours of red and blue are used continually throughout Moffat's tenure. These colours are used here show us the two sides of Clara: in red she is the cheeky barmaid with her flowing hair and her cockney accent. In blue she is the refined governess, with her posh accent and her hair up. Her role is one of juxtaposition of opposites (another one of Moff's key themes) since these two jobs would have been seen as mutually exclusive in Victorian England. She is an actress, able to take on more than one role.
Both those colours are also in the background as she kisses him .In Moffat era Who, kissing usually has a great significance and occurs at key moments. In series 6 kissing was very much linked to beginnings/endings, death/life and death/love. It was very much linked to River which will become relevant as I discuss the next bit....
Clara tells her own myths to the children she looks after, painting herself as a fairytale figure. These tales mirror her to the Doctor: she is born behind a clock face far above the ground - this is our Above - and has an acute sense of time, like him. She has the power to create life, like a goddess. She is an inventor. She dislikes being alone, like the Doctor. Her story about the fish paints her as a creature of water; water representing mirrors and also the Below. This thing about the fish links her back into the Doctor's comment as Sherlock Holmes: do you have a goldfish named Colin
. (Fish are also something that comes up again and again in Moffat's Who.)Clara: All my stories are trueDigby: Like how you were born behind the clock face of Big Ben?Clara: Accounting for my acute sense of time.Francesca: And you invented fish.Clara: Because I dislike swimming alone.
So in this bit of dialogue alone, we have Clara as a creature of Time and of mirroring, unifying Above and Below in both those concepts.
This scene is also strongly reminiscent of the final scene of The Forest of the Dead, where River Song is telling the children the fairytale of her and the Doctor's own adventures while they are tucked up in bed. River was a mirror of the Doctor, is strongly associated with water, and was born out of Time - just as is indicated in Clara's fairytale of herself. The Doctor also witnessed Clara/Owsin die before meeting her again, just as he did with River. There are some really huge parallels here. When you consider who River really was/what she became to him, this tells me that Clara must be someone very very important too.
Then, there's the fact that Clara totally turns the Doctor's expectations upside down (also something River has traditionally done). In both Asylum and this ep, she proves herself as exceptionally clever. She is not many steps behind the Doctor at all. The sequence where they run thruogh the house, which ultimately ends up with them escaping up the stairs and into the Tardis shows a lot of this:
She reverses their roles, grabbing his hand and tugging him along as they run through the house. Doctor: Woah! No, no! I do the hand grabbing! That's my job! It's always me!
Up on the rooftop, she is so clever that she is more than a match for him. Their dialogue is quick and snappy, she has an answer for everything he throws at her. He challenges her to solve the problem of their escape, telling her to work it out for herself...and she does. Then she becomes very Mary Poppins like in the shot below. She's our governess clutching her umbrella as she clears the roof. She ascends up into the sky, with the handle of the umbrella having provided the means of her ascent (just like Mary Poppins umbrella which allows her to fly). She has become a magical being. In this episode. She is the Mary Poppins to the Doctor's Mad Hatter.
hen they finally get up there, before they enter the Tardis, the Doctor challenges Clara to define herself as one thing or the other. Doctor
: Governess or barmaid. Which is it?
Like I said earlier, these would have been seen as mutually exclusive jobs in Victorian England - in many ways they would have been seen as opposites. In Moffat's Who the theme of the juxtaposition of opposites, or the idea of two poles being connected, broken and then unified is a regular one. Being two opposite things but one at the same time is the realm of the trickster and those initiated into his court. Unification of opposing energies is the job of the Doctor and his companions who help him. In a mythic sense, this is his final challenge to her before being initiated into his magical world and becoming his companion. He asks her to define herself as one or the other, and she refuses and then is able to cross the threshold
Once in the Tardis she confounds his expectations yet again. She turns the usual companion response to seeing the Tardis interior completely inside out, she mirrors it in a reversal of the traditional phrase.Clara: It's smaller on the outside!
Then, rather than asking about what it does, how it works, anything the Doctor would normally expect; she asks about something earthly and mundane: a kitchen.
Ultimately in this episode, Clara both dies in order to save the world, and provides the Doctor with the reason to travel again. She melts both the snow of the snowmen and the GI as well as melting the snow of the Doctor's hearts.
Back when I wrote loads of meta about season 7A I speculated a lot about some of the imagery that kept coming up. The eggs. The lightbulbs. The theme of Christmas The fact that Oswin dies to save everyone at the end of Asylum. All this led me to say that Oswin/Clara was being linked to some sort of self resurrecting saviour God/dess figure. It's happened again here: she dies and it's her death that proves everybody else's salvation, both thruogh this once instance and through motivating him to travel again.
***Engage speculation mode:
There's an interesting moment that I picked up on, and I wonder if there's a bit of foreshadowing there. While the Doctor is trapped in the room with the whole family at Latimer's house, there's a moment where after looking at himself in the glass of a cabinet (discussed above as in instance of self-mirroring) he turns away and begins walking towards Clara saying this, glancing from her to around the others, as he talks about the ice-woman: To live here the snow needs to evolve and she's the blueprint.
He then looks directly at Clara and says:She's what they need to become.
I'm bearing in mind the vast amount of foreshadowing of River's arc that we saw in A Christmas Carol, and that as Clara's (second) intro as a new companion there may also be heavy foreshadowing here. So maybe these words are significant and the reason that the same girl appears in a few places across time is that she is some sort of blueprint or protoype of an experiment.
There's also the words of the GI as it is occupying Simeon's body. Words which make me think back to the links between Clara and the Nutcracker I talked about at the beginning of this section, where Clara dreams the Nutcracker alive. Great Intelligence: Now the dream outlives the dreamer and can never die.
I have no idea what all this means, it just strikes me as significant. *Mirror and Memory
Both mirroring and memory are two of Moffat's pet themes, and have been threaded throughout his tenure as showrunner. They are the two key themes in this episode too. I'm looking at mirror and memory here in terms of their use as a mythic theme.
We have often seen water presented as as nature's mirror. We see in in The God Complex, with the wall of water that stands between the Doctor and the Minotaur who is his mirror. We see it on the shores of Silencio as all the Doctor has done is mirrored back to him in the form of River. We see it in both Amy's and River's names, both of whom are at one time or another mirrors of the Doctor. Here the link between water (snow/ice) and mirrors is made explicit in the dialogue and the plot.Doctor: You're caught in the telepathic field, they're mirroring you!Doctor
: It has the ability to mimic and mirror what it findsDoctor: The snow mirrors, that's all it does. It's mirroring something else now, something so strong, it's drowning out everything else.
Symbolically the Doctor is telling us that the mirror itself isn't a bad thing - the snow itself wasn't bad, just the way that it was made use of. He's telling us, by the end, that how the mirror acts is on our own thoughts and desires, that we react to what we find in it just as the Great Intelligence did.
However, that's not all this snow does, here snow can also both feed on memories and remember in its own right in order to learn and evolve. Doctor
: Snow that can rememberSimeon: Ice remembers too.Vastra: Memory snow. Snow that learns.
There are a number of ways to read this whole idea of mirror and memory. They way I'm reading it is this: so much of New Who, and especially the Moffat era focuses on the concept of the Shadow Self; this is the idea that there are dark bits of ourself that we stashed away in the subconscious because we don't want to own them. So very very often in the show, the monsters reflect a character's shadow aspect back to them. Sometimes our characters journey through a looking glass or down into an underworld in order to confront this shadow. In this ep, the shadow self doesn't just mirror back our worst aspects to ourselves. It remembers. It's a lesson for life, as all the best myth is. If the shadow is not faced in the mirror and not dealt with, it holds the memories of the dark things that have been pushed into it, it takes on a life of its own and can symbolically freeze a person's life.
Tucked into this idea is the lesson that the Doctor learning. His companions are his mirrors; he looks at the Universe as reflected through them. Without them, he ceases to travel. Instead all there is in the mirror now is the shadow of himself, which broods and feeds on his memories, turning himself into the grumpy old man who is no longer willing to save humanity. He becomes this one dark aspect of his shadow, frozen by it. What it takes here to break him out of it is this: a companion-mirror in the form of Clara who reflects back to him all the best aspects of his personality because she embodies them herself, and a memory of a girl who baked soufflés, brought back by Clara's words which are in and of themselves about remembering. . (
Slight tangent here, but people who have read my stuff regularly will know that I love to make connections between the show and God/Goddess myths. There's a Roman/Brythonic Goddess called Coventina who was a goddess of (amongst many other things) water. Her name can be interpreted as "the memory of snow" and this had become a favoured epithet amongst neo-pagans. The point is that water is how snow remembers itself, it is what snow once was, and frozen in the form of ice crystals is that potential and memory.)
With the physical mirrors we have in this episode, they happen at important points. For the Doctor as he realises he has put on his bowtie once again (this will be discussed in more detail below on the section about the Doctor).
We see another mirror timed perfectly with this little bit of dialogue. The Doctor walks across the room and says these words just as he looks at himself in the glass of a cabinet:Doctor: The ultimate fusion of snow and humanity.
This is what he has become, mirrored back to himself. His urge to help and to heal is still there but the risk of pain is too great. He hurts and has emotions caused by loss, just as a human would. His very human desire for companionship is still inherently there but overridden by fear of pain. He has become frozen, snowlike. He has made himself static and almost unreachable. He has tried to turn himself into ice. Speaking of which.....Doctor/Simeon
Walter Simeon is a mirror of the Doctor. First of all he is a Doctor himself. He wears a top-hat like the Doctor, and his feelings are effectively frozen in the same way the Doctor's are when we first encounter him in this episode. I always like looking at names in the show, to see if there is any meaning there. Walter means "Ruler of the army" which is appropriate for the man who is raising an army of snowmen, and whose ultimate aim is to raise an army of ice-people. Simeon means "he who as heard" or "he who listens to God" - this is also appropriate for the man who listens to the voice of a disembodied being who is not of this world.
In the last moments of the Doctor's battle with Simeon/the Great Intelligence (GI), we see him almost changed into an ice person himself, as Simeon attempts to freeze him.
This frozen life could have been his fate were it not for the presence of Clara, her emotions/her tears. This is what defeats evil and frees the Doctor from Simeon's grasp of ice, and what frees his own heart from the same. In Who so often life and death are all bound up together - appropriate for the tale of a man who dies and resurrects repeatedly. Here it is the fact of Clara's death that leads him on to the next stage in his adventures; that gives him new life. *The Tardis and the Doctor
Ah, the new design. I love it. It's so very different to the Pond era Tardis, which was warmly coloured and expansive, fitting for the energetic new Doctor with his openness and lust for adventure. Here the Tardis mirrors the Doctor himself. She is battered on the outside, rough around the edges, reflecting his current lack of care for the external things in life. He cares as little for the Tardis exterior as he does for the world below. Internally she is a cool blue colour reflecting the changes in the Doctor in becoming less warm towards the world and others, out of necessity to protect himself from pain. She is smaller, reflecting how the Doctor's world has shrunk since he left the Ponds. Most of all, she is a throwback to the classic era Tardi interiors.
The staircase is very interesting, since it is clearly actually part of the Tardis herself. I wonder if this staircase would have existed were it not for her. To me this seems like the Tardis's attempt to get the Doctor to connect with the earth, she provides him with the means to actually journey down there.
There is a familiar symbol adorning the walls - the eye in the colours of red and blue. Again, a symbol threaded through Moffat's tenure.
It's the name Pond that finally motivates the Doctor to get involved. Vastra says to Clara: above all, explain why he should help you.
This was the one word that could have brought him back to himself. For so long, the Ponds were his reason to keep on moving, keep on going and saving people and planets, and the memory of them is the reason why he should help people again. This os the light memory that counters the dark memory of loss and can break the spell of winter on his heart. Not because he lost her, but because he loved her. *sniffle*
When we first see him enter the battle against the monsters, he is acting as Mr Punch in the Punch and Judy show the children have. Punch is based on the French character of Pulcinella who was a stock character in Neapolitan puppetry. He represents the Trickster archetype, or the Lord of Misrule: the spirit of chaos who subverts expectations and turns things upside down. This is an archetype the Doctor has long manifested, usually when he is happy and active in life around him. So his entry back onto the stage of interacting with the world around him is represented by a literal stepping onto the Punch and Judy stage in the form of the trickster.
Shortly after this, he tells Clara that he won't be around to save them the next time they call, but just as he does so he catches sight of himself in the mirror, and sees that he's wearing his bowtie. So his actions in saying he won't help anymore are reflected back at him in the reality of him wearing the bowtie. The wearing of the bowtie represents both the Doctor as trickster and the Doctor as the one who helps and saves. The glass shows him the truth, he sees himself - literally through the looking glass - as he is supposed
to be.*Above and below
The idea of Above and Below are something that also come up a lot in Moffat era Who. He usually approaches it in one of two ways. Sometimes we get the idea of Upperworld, Middleworld and Underworld presented thruogh the eps (see: the Library eps, Asylum, the Pandorica and Big Bang). Or we get a straightforward Above and Below (see: Closing Time, Night Terrors), as we do here. It's not always as literal it is here, where it is made very explicit that the Doctor lives above and the Earth below. It's not the first time we've seen a ladder or a lift as the connecting factor between two realms either. Ladders, stairs and lifts are the means of transit from one realm to another, they are a threshold and a doorway that one steps across in order to move from one place to another.
We also often see this theme of Above/Below linked to the idea of the World Tree in Moffat era Who - a cosmology which envisages the whole universe in the form of a tree, where one can travel between the realms by travelling along the branches of the tree. So it's really appropriate that our first image of the ladder to the sky should sit neatly between two trees.
The thing about the Above, is that in cosmology, it is usually seen as the realm of the Divine. So so often, the Doctor is presented as a Christ or God-like figure. He's sitting up there on his cloud and is a God who has lost his way. He's not doing what he's supposed to do, what we expect him to do, he's not doing what a god like figure does any more. Clara climbs a literal ladder and staircase to the sky. In a reversal of what he should be doing; reaching out to the Earth - she reaches out to him.
The spiral staircase looks like a strip of DNA. Back when season 7A was airing , there was speculation that Clara may be the Doctor's granddaughter, or some type of blood relative There were things that seemed to point to it, imagery and themes. I would have read this image as upholding that, however I'm going to have to ditch that idea altogether, because of the kissing and the flirting.
We're moving into the territory of the anniversary now, and I wonder if we are also moving into the territory of tackling the issues of the Question. It's certainly referenced a lot of times in this episode. Clara: Who are you?Doctor
: Clara who?Clara
: Doctor who?Doctor
: Oooh, dangerous question.
When Clara says she is looking for the Doctor, Jenny asks it againJenny
: Doctor who?
Bearing this in mind - the current issue of the question was introduced in the context of the Silence and the Academy of the Question; it was bound so strongly into Amy and River's character arcs, and there are links back to Amy and River in this episode. Some links to River I've already mentioned further up, but there is also this: Doctor Simeon: This pond is yours Captain Latimer; but what is growing inside it - when it's ready - is ours. Doctor: A body frozen in a Pond. Snow gets a good long look at a human being. Like a full body scan; everything they need to evolve. A pond. Good point Clara
These could be words that apply to Amy and River/Melody. Simeon's words could be the Silence's words to the Doctor instead of Captain Latimer. Amy is the woman who was effectively frozen inside the white coffin like box on demon's run - her body and awareness frozen by the Silence. The Silence considered what was growing inside Amy - inside the Pond - as theirs. This thing - Melody - would become everything they felt they needed to evolve their cause.
It's also worth mentioning that in The Eleventh Hour the duckpond was key in ultimately understanding the nature of the the cracks, just as it is key here in understanding the nature of Simeon's plans. And finally...
There's some meta moments where we are taken outside the show and a nod is given to the writers.
Doctor (talking of Strax): He gave his life for a friend of mine once
Clara: Then how come he's alive?
Doctor: Another friend of mine brought him back .
In both cases we could read the "friend" as Moffat. He died in the service of Moffat's script in AGMGTW. The statement that a friend of the Doctor's brought him back is never explained, but again we can read it as Moffat bringing him back.
The Doctor being Sherlock was also tremendous fun, considering that Sherlock is the Moff's other show. It felt in some ways that Moff was teasing the fans about their desire for Benedict to appear in Who, or Matt to appear in Sherlock; or else teasing fans about the crossover fanfics that are written. It's easy to bring Sherlock into Who, but having the Doctor actually pretend to be Sherlock - and to be terribly bad at his initial deductions was a very meta hoot.
Lastly...the repetition a number of times of "Winter is coming"...not accidental, surely?
Thanks for reading :)
For me this was just a totally fantastic Christmas special. I don't have an awful lot to say about the actual plot involving the Great Intelligence, but there's a whole heap of stuff going on around the concepts of mirroring, memory, above/below, who Clara is and there's some links into the Pond era.