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Past | Future

In which there is dualism, Zoroastrianism and the Goddess Isis; the Doctor is a Magician, Emperor and the Monster in the mirror; the theme park is the cauldron of rebirth; Philip K Dick's Empire never ended; and there is form out of nothingness.

I'm a little rushed to pull this all together into one coherent piece before this evening's finale, rather than it being endlessly sprawling. I think I got there in the end though. Apologies for any typos etc. I'm probably going to come back and add to this, or perhaps make a separate post at some point on some of the philosophical bits of the ep.

I really like the way a lot of the symbolism has become more and more overt this series. I mean, we had the actual World Tree within the Tardis. Now we have the theme of the Monster within the Doctor, his dark side, everything he wants to deny about himself actually manifesting in physical reality. We have the idea of opposites unified in one person, playing out in front of our eyes, as our light Doctor faces the dark Doctor in a mirror exchange of a game of chess.

So through the game and the mirroring, the idea of dualism, opposites and the unification of opposites – a place where Moffat’s Who has often comfortably located itself – is threaded through this episode.

The chess board is, of course, totally perfect as a symbol for the battle of light/dark. We have a checkerboard, and black/white figures presenting the light and dark sides of the Doctor.

The history of chess is complex. The modern version we play today draws largely from the Persian version, which in turn grew out of earlier versions of the same. The modern word Chess comes from the Persian Shah – meaning King, which is rooted in the word “Asha” which means, cosmic order. That is, on some levels the game is a representation of a dualistic philosophy of the Universe with the powers of light and darkness fighting for balance, so as a game for the Doctor to play against a monster side of himself it's absolutely perfect.

That is, chess as a game represents the how forces in the world amy appear different, but are ultimately all interdependent and must come into balance with each other. It suggests the game’s role as a meditative tool and as a microcosm of the natural cycles and balance to be found in the wider Universe.

While, as Janie_aire pointed out to me, it’s not necessarily Zoroastrianism that is specifically being indicared here – rather it’s dualistic philosophies in general, there are some interesting links between Zoroatrianism and some of the symbolism found in Who.The Persian version of the myth of how chess was invented springs out of Zoroastrianism, a dualistic faith.  Zoroastrian theology is that of a dualistic Universe, where forces of good/evil, truth/lie, order/chaos are engaged in a struggle together. The forces of evil do not spring out of the forces of good, both of them have distinct sources. The force of good – Asha – meaning Truth and Order is set against the force of evil – Dru – meaning Falsehood and Disoder. The conflicting battle between these two opposite energies, involves the whole of the Universe.

In the Persian version of the myth, Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrianism is credited with the invention of chess. The story goes that King Vishtaspa of Persia became bored with life, and offered a reward to anyone who could re-ignite his interest in it. Zarathustra – a prophet and religious leader of ancient Iran - appeared, with today’s modern tiled version of chess, which he called the “Art of Asha”  - that is, the art of the cosmic order. Through playing the game with him, Zarathustra taught the King all the rules of life and of the Universe. (Later the Doctor says: The Time Lords invented  chess, it’s our game!).

There are other links there too.

With Who we have the continual use of the colours red and blue, and the use of symbols and themes of Fire and Water (we have seen it in this series particularly in Cold Blood.) Water/Fire are seen as opposites, however when they come explosively together, acts of transcendent creation take place.  In Zoroastrianism, water and fire and their symbolism are integral parts of the practices of the faith. They are used for ritual purification – which is a key part of ritual life; they are both considered life sustaining; Zoroastrians usually pray in the presence of fire, and the culmination of prayer/ritual culminates in a “strengthening of the waters.” We see this conflict of fire/water in the form of the Doctor facing the Cyber Controller in his own mind, when the colours of fire and water are used in the background.

One other thing where I think we have some Zoroastrian symbolism linking into the show, is in the form of Clara’s necklace which we have seen at a few points in the series. I speculated in my meta on The Bells of Saint John about how this symbol is widely used across many time cultures and in many periods to denote royalty, divinity and protection (it is also the UNIT insignia.)

Now. Take a look at the Faravahar – one of the key symbols of Zoroastrianism. This is a representation of what the Zoroastrians called the Fravashi. The Fravashi is the guardian spirit –an aspect of higher self – which the soul is united with before birth.

On being born into the world, a person is separated from their Fravashi, which then acts as a guardian spirit, protector and helper through the person’s life. Has everyone seen all of the trailers for the series finale? Let’s note that at one point in the trailers Clara says “I was born to save the Doctor.”

I’ve mentioned waaaaay back, as far as Asylum that Clara appears to have stepped into the role of dying/resurrecting saviour God that the Doctor usually occupies, and she saved him both times in the future/past versions of herself. Now with this link to the chess, Zoroastrianism and the symbol she wears of a guardian spirit…well.

In this episode, Clara also receives an imperial brooch when she takes over command of the army unit. Janie_aire pointed out to me that the brooch can be read as the wings of the Goddess Isis crossed with the laurel leaves of Apollo. This, combined with the wonged necklace we have already seen Clara wear since the beginning, made me begin to consider the myth of the Egyptian Goddess Isis, when she is in winged form.The winged version of the Egyptian Goddess Isis is very much associated with the death and rebirth of her Husband Osiris. Isis took on the form of a swallow in order to search out the different pieces of Osiris's body which had been scattered across the world upon his death. When she found him and put him back together, she then took on the form of a Kite and beat her wings in order to breathe life into him. She then conceived a child with him, and enveloped both Osiris and her son Horus in her wings to protect them. So, in terms of Isis, the wings represent the journey to reunite the disparate parts of a loved one, the breath that makes that loved one become whole/back to life again, and to protect that loved one. This sounds like a perfect arc for Clara, if she really is going to be the one who saves the Doctor.

In both cases, whether the wings of Isis, the wings of the Zoroastrian guardian spirit, or the winder connotations of royalty, protection, divinity, Clara is linked through this symbol into some sort of saviour role. Will she be the one who, like Isis, gathers together disparate parts of the Doctor, and breathes life back into his once again? I have talked in meta recently about how I think the Doctor's major problem is the fracturing of self he is experiencing through denying his own name, and how this has caused him to put Clara into a position where he has concealed knowledge from her about her own identity. Will winged-Clara be the one who heals his disparate parts of self? Thing is, in Zoroastiran myth, it is only after death, the different aspects of the person are united, soul and guardian spirit. This also links to something I've been thinking and saying. That is, that one of the Doctor's problems is that he cannot genuinely die/resurrect, regeneration is not a true death. This is why Clara was able to defeat the Sun God in the Rings of Akhaten where he wasn't, and why her lessons on the different aspects of mortality have helped her progress on her Heroic Journey, while the Doctor appears....stuck.

Ultimately, it appears that the Doctor sacrifices his queen in order to win the game of chess (though this is a bluff). The last time we saw this bit of symbolism of the Queen being sacrificed along with the theme of unification of polarities, was in the chess battle of The Wedding of River Song. Perhaps it’s a worrying little bit of foreshadowing. The Doctor's Queen is taken by the Monster side of himself. River wasn't so thematically present in this episode as she has been so far this series. This was the main bit that made me think of her.


The Magician, the Emperor and the Monster

Magician - The Doctor is Willy Wonka- he is the one who has the ability to offer the children a golden ticket to anywhere in the Universe. He is the original archetypal dispenser of the golden ticket, the trickster, the wizard. And what is the golden ticket? It is possibility, dreams, and a doorway into the Special Place of the Hero .It is also hope – as we see when the Doctor uses the ticket to disable the cyber controller inside his head.

Emperor - The Docotr and the Emperor Porridge are mirrors of each other. Both of them are attempting to go incognito – with the Doctor’s erasure of himself across the Universe as parallel to Porridge running away and assuming another persona. Both of them have committed terrible genocides in order to save the rest of the Universe, and now have to live with the weight of that. There's a link between the Galaxy that was destroyed under Porridge's rule, and the Time War, of sacrifices made for the greater good.

Porridge: Look up there, that corner of sky, what do you see?
Clara: Nothing. It’s just black. No stars, no nothing.
Porridge: It used to be the Tiberian spiral galaxy. A million star systems, a hundred mullions worlds, a billion trillion people. It’s not there any more. No more Tiberian Galaxy, no more Cybermen. It was effective.
Clara: It’s horrible.
Porridge: Yeah. I feel like a monster sometimes.
Clara: Why?
Porridge: Because instead of mourning a billion trillion dead people, I just feel sort for the poor blighter that had to press the button and blow it all up.
Doctor: Clara!

Immediately after the Doctor cuts into this conversation, we go to a shot of him which draws together several symbols - with a box which has a circle in a square, his head inside it, and an egg shape at the bottom. This links to idea of unification of opposites, in the form of squaring the circle, that is the Warrior side of the Docotr/Porridge that is able to end billions of lives in order to heroically save the Universe. It a contradiction. The ability to commit monstrous acts is what has saved lives, in both heir circumstances. (Also....remember all the themes of head inside boxes that we saw in series 6? And the egg…there was so much egg symbolism around Asylum and through series 7a and it’s been very much linked to Clara.)

Neither the Doctor nor Porridge really want the role of authority that has been placed upon them. Parallel the Doctor playing his game of chess on the dais, to Porridge at the end sitting on his dais.

Monster - The whole battle that plays out between the Doctor and the cyber controller is remarkable. First of all, the obvious. It’s a literal mirror. He stands facing himself, the contents of his mind playing in a backdrop behind.  We have the colours that we so often see juxtaposed on Who - on the left hand side we have the colour oranges/yellows/reds of fire, representing the fire of life. On the right hand side we have the cold blue of technology. It's a literal battle for control of his brain between the dark and light sides of himself.

The battle plays out in the form of a game that represetns a dualistic structure.

Cyber Doctor: Stalemate then. One of us needs to control this head, we’re too well balanced.
Doctor: What did you say? No no no no no, I heard you. Rhetorical device to keep me thinking about it a bit more. Stalemate.
Cyber Doctor: We each control 49.881 percent of this brain, .238 is still in the balance. Whoever gets this gets the whole thing.
Doctor: Do you play chess?

Thing is though, this isn't just about the battle between the cyber controller and the Doctor, this is representative of the monster side of himself the Doctor battles with all the time. A key theme of this series is the idea of the darkness within the Doctor that he is denying in the form of his name. The battle with the cyber controller is a symbol of how finely balanced light and dark are within the Doctor. This is symbolic of the battle that the Doctor is always going through in his life. We know that there is a deep darkness inside him, we know that he is both warrior/healer and monster/angel. We know that sometimes the balance shifts and the darker side of him can consume the rest. The game of chess outlines on just how much of a narrow blade this battle can balance at times.

In fact, at one stage, there is some merging going on, and the dark side of him creeps into the lighter side.

Clara: Good news?
Doctor: Well, in other good news, there are a few more repaired and reactivated cybermen on the way,  and the Cyber Planner’s installing a patch for the gold thing. No. Wait. That…that isn’t good news is it? Um, so good news – I have a very good chance of winning my chess game.

(This idea of proclaiming good news really took me back to The Bells of Saint John, where in my meta I discussed how the Doctor acted as Clara’s prophet, and Clara as the messianic figure.)

The Doctor puts Clara in charge, and she becomes the one who leads the troops. He is effectively turning her into him. We saw this with both Amy and Rory, how companions as they spend time with the Doctor can increasingly start to mirror more and more of his darker qualities. The Doctor is both warrior and healer, but the warrior side of himself is something that he often prefers to push into the shadows. However, in this ep as he slips into a battle of the self against his own dark side, so Clara steps into his shoes, in order to command the army.


The Cauldron of Rebirth
Not surprisingly , it's all about death and rebirth again, as virtually all of this series has been.

The sequence with the map of the theme park is very interesting in this respect. Clara seeks out an easily defensible position in the amusement park and a few suggestions are made. The first place that is pointed out is a beach.

The most important beach we know from the show in the 11th Doctor era is the shores of Lake Silencio, where the Doctor met his death. On the map, on one side of the beach we have “Water world”. Water is strongly symbolic of the realm of the subconscious and of memory. If we assume the map is depicted in the right order of the compass pints, then the Water World appears on the west of the map. The direction of the West in modern occultism is linked to the concept of death, via Celtic Mythology, where the Land of the Dead lies across the sea in the West. On the other side of the beach, we have the “garden”, with cartoon like trees. The Garden is evocative of the idea of the garden of Eden, as the cradle of all life – so the beach is located between a symbol of life and a symbol of death, and has properties of both visually having both water and trees.

Next the Giant’s Cauldron is suggested.

The cauldron is a symbol found particularly in Celtic spirituality, folklore and myth. It usually has connotations as having the power to nourish people, literally or figuratively; as representing the womb of the goddess and as a magical tool that can enable the dead to be brought back to life. The cauldron of rebirth is mentioned a number of times in the Mabinogion and in other Welsh myth and folklore, most notably where it is used to bring fallen warriors back to life during a battle. It’s all about death/rebirth again. It is a magical tool. Also, note that it’s located next to “Eyeball Terror”, and how that links into the eye symbolism we keep seeing in Moffat’s Who (and particularly in The Crimson Horror-  which also features the cauldron people are dipped into!)

Thing is, the whole theme park is the cauldron of rebirth for the Cybermen. It is their afterlife.

Webley: As the battle raged between humanity and Cyberia, the Cyberplanners built a Valkyrie to save critically damaged units and bring them here – and – one by one, repair them.

In Norse my the Valkyries were figures who carried chosen slain soldiers from the field of the battle to live an Afterlife until the apocalyptic and of the world when they would fight in the final battle. The Theme park is the Cybermen’s cauldron. They were brought there-  just like in the Welsh myth where the cauldron is used to revive fallen Irish warriors. The chess battle between the Doctor and the Cyber Controller begins in the heart of the cauldron. It is a dark and rounded room with mist laid across the floor, visually very cauldron-esque.

Anyway, the climax of the show ends up taking place in Natty Longshoe's castle. The castle, with its thrones room and raised dais is a mirror of the rule of the Emporer, and of the battle between the human Empire and the Cyber Empire.


The Empire Never Ended - (in which there is a long tangent about Philip K Dick)

The use of the Emperor and Empire as a concept in this ep strongly reminded me of sci-fi author Philip K Dick’s view of the Universe, and his struggle to understand his own mystical experiences as played out his Valis series of books. Gaiman seems to be deliberately drawing on this.

Philip K Dick underwent a number of profound mystical experiences in his life, that led him to the belief that the whole of the Universe is based upon information; that as individuals we are nodes in the mind of a vast divine network which processes information – this is the cosmic mind, or the mind of God. However, we are cut off from the true ability to understand this fundamental cosmic code, because in PKD’s words “The Empire never ended.”

PKD saw the peak of the Roman Empire as representing the ultimate turning away from the knowing of this mind of God, and he saw the archetypal power of the Empire as continuing in the Nixon administration. He speculated that the control of  people through authoritarian structures and materialism cuts us off from fully connecting to the universal mind, and that people are not aware of this. He called this system of control the Black Iron Prison (from the novel Valis):

Once, in a cheap science fiction novel, Fat had come across a perfect description of the Black Iron Prison, but set in the far future. So if you superimposed the past (ancient Rome) over the present (California in the twentieth century) and superimposed the far future world of The Android Cried Me a River over that, you got the Empire, as the supra- or trans-temporal constant. Everyone who had ever lived was literally surrounded by the iron walls of the prison; they were all inside it and none of them knew it.

In this ep we have a functioning Empire of humans, set against the attempt of the Cybermen to establish their own Empire. There is a lot of imagery that links into the Roman Empire on the side of the humans. The sigil worn by the members of the army is a laurel wreath. The wreath also appear's in Porridge's state room, and was a symbol of royalty and rulership in ancient Rome. It features crossed wings – possibly the wings of Isis and therefore representing the Annexing of Egypt to the Roman Empire in 30BC –that is, the power of the Empire to subsume everything else. Or else, as we are dealing with an Imperial military unit here, the wings can be read as the Aquila/Eagle. The Eagle was a symbol of both the Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Empire. Each Roman Legion carried a standard known as an Aquila, which was in the form of an Eagle.

Anyway, the point of all this is that we see the two empires set against each other. But which is which? The Cyber Empire certainly links into the Black Iron Prison concept, as the cybermen, these days, find control by insinuating themselves into human brains and taking control of their processing power. Just like PKD's Empire, the Cybermen seek to control literally from within the person by putting them into a "walking coma" - unaware that they are being controlled. The Empire takes control of a person, causing them to lose their authentic self.

However, it is not absolutely clear cut that the human Empire is the opposite of the cyber empire, or that it is the thing which will be the salvation of humanity.  At the beginning of the episode, due to his disappearance, Porridge has symbolically become a tool of the cyber Empire through his refusal to lead. He is literally depicted as the puppet master of the first cyberman we see. This links into the idea that the true power is hidden behind the tools of the empire.

So, in the initial battle between Archie and the chess playing Cyberman, we have a link back to the dualistic view of the Universe as perceived by the Zoroastrians. Symbolically we have a living thing with a soul against a moving body which is an empty shell, and it is the battle between being and un-being, between truth and lie. Between humans as a node of cosmic intelligence and Empire.

The whole philosophy of Philip K Dick, of the Empire against the cosmic intelligence, with humans as a battleground in the middle of this links back into Zoroastrianism. Just as the forces of order/chaos, truth lie have discrete sources in Zoroastrianism so PKD's Empire does not spring from the cosmic mind, but rather distracts us and binds us from connecting with it.

Thing is though, Porridge doesn't want to be the Emperor. He's an unwilling tool. Then at the very end, we see a strong symbol that the Emporer himself is trapped in the clutches of the Black Iron Prison thanks to janie_airefor flashing on this final image of the Emperor when i mentioned the Black Iron Prison to her. This needs more thought and I will add to this bit.

Form out of nothingness
I'll leave this here as something to add to - as it's veeeeery interesting but i'm all out of time. There's something in this ep about the philosophical concept of form out of nothingness, which may link in with the Kabbalistic world tree view of the Universe which came up particularly in Journey to the Centre of the Tardis. It need more thought.

The Empire’s method of getting rid of the Cybermen is to blow everything up. Just like the hole in the sky symbolises, they destroy them by destroying everything. As Porridge points out to Clara, the gap in the sky describes a story of what was once there.

The Cybergun that they have effectively turns the Cyberman into nothingness. The business end of the gun is shaped like a flower. There's also some imagery around the final scenes of Porridge in the throne room as the Jewel in the Lotus. It appears that the human Empire is using gas a sort of tool against the Cyber Empire.

Also this:
Cyber Doctor: Oh, you’ve been eliminating yourself from history – you know you could be reconstructed from the hole you’ve left.
Doctor: Good point. I’ll do something about that.

This bit needs tons more though, but please feel free to add thoughts in the comments.

Odds and Ends
Hedgewick – origin is the word Hedwig from German, which means battle/fight, very appropriate name for the site of a major battle.

The chess playing Cyberman is kept underneath a red veil, which links back to the use of red veils to conceal things in the last episode.

Moff does it with mirrors:
Webley: If you can tell me how it works, I’ll give you a silver penny.
Angie: I think…you do it with mirrors.
Doctor: Hmm, mirrors. Clever girl.

Chair *waves at janie_aire*

In the castle throne room, the Doctor sits on the throne dais to play his game of chess, and as he removes the golden ticket, that is when the Cyber Planner speaks with the voice of previous forms of the Doctor. Did I hear rightly that the Cyber Planner speaking through the voice of the 9th Docytor says Hello flesh girl to Clara???

Family was in this episode in the form of Clara's children (that aren't really her children.) River was there in the sacrifice of the Queen. But where was the theme of music/song saves which has been in every single episode up until now. Anyone?


( 10 comments — speak to me, sweetie )
May. 18th, 2013 11:42 am (UTC)
Once more you have blown my mind.

Thank you for the mention of the chess game from TWORS! No one else seems to have brought that up yet. I think it's an important tie.

The mirror symbolism in this episode is great. Was I the only one getting flashbacks to the Dream Lord? Remember at the end of that story, the Doctor was staring at his own reflection in the TARDIS console, and then averted his gaze rather quickly? A very disturbing moment.

That screencap you used of the Doctor peering out of the the circle in the box reminded me of a moment in The Impossible Astronaut when they're in the warehouse and the Doctor is similarly framed within a piece of abandoned equipment.

Someone else brought up hearing the Doctor speaking in Nine's "voice." (And others?) I'll have to go back and listen for that.

Also, talking about the kids, some people seem to have forgotten their mother is dead, like Clara's (which is a compelling connection) while others questioned the use of her phrase "my children." Which didn't bother me at all, as that's typical and long-used "nanny-speak," right?

I hope everything plays out beautifully tonight...
May. 20th, 2013 11:35 am (UTC)
Thank you :) Glad you enjoyed.

Ah, yeah, definitely links ot hte Dream Lord there, as someone who embodyied the dark side of the Doctor and all the mirroring that went on between the two of the in Amy's Choice.

~nods~ yeah, it also really remided me of the Doctor sticking his head inside that box in The Impossible Astronaut....heads in boxes as a theme has been a little quiet recently, but it's still a Moffat fave!!!

Yeah, there's a bit where he speaks first with the 9th Doctor's accent, and then with the tenth Docotr, and uses some of their catchphrases. It's where he's in the comical castle, tied to the chair and speaking to Clara across the table.

Yeah, i agree, i think her saying "my children" was nanny seak, she does see them clearly as her children and repsonsibility.

May. 20th, 2013 12:52 pm (UTC)
The finale was brill!

Here's how it blew my mind:

May. 18th, 2013 03:41 pm (UTC)

I knew this episode would be a plethora of fantastic for you - and my gods, you have just laid this all out to perfection and sewn it all together in such a way that it feels like a whole cloth. Just gorgeous meta, love. As always you have made me see deeper and understand more than I did before!

May. 20th, 2013 11:36 am (UTC)
Thank you darling, glad you enjoyed. I was all like "OMG dualism! OMG Philip K Dick" ..and then i just got a bit gddy with it!

Exquisite finale was exquisite.
May. 18th, 2013 04:31 pm (UTC)
Immediately after the Doctor cuts into this conversation, we go to a shot of him which draws together several symbols - with a box which has a circle in a square, his head inside it, and an egg shape at the bottom.
That shot appeared, and I almost shook my head, because seriously, they're just having a laugh now...

But where was the theme of music/song saves which has been in every single episode up until now. Anyone?
... The only thing I can come up with on the spur of the moment is Queen = River Song = saves the children/wins the game

Mostly I want to rewatch the Doctor playing chess with himself over and over...
May. 20th, 2013 11:38 am (UTC)
That shot appeared, and I almost shook my head, because seriously, they're just having a laugh now...

IKR? ~shakes fist~ Moffat!!!

On Queen=River=Song saves the kids...yeah. I was just so surprised not to see something more explicit like there has been in all the other eps. Perhaps it ended up hitting the cutting room floor.

It was a stellar ep wasn't it?
Agnes Maria
May. 25th, 2013 06:45 pm (UTC)
Excellent meta. Love them all.

Have you seen this yet? It's a little tease of a hint towards the 50th :)

May. 25th, 2013 09:36 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Glad you've enjoyed them.

Oooh, no i hadn't seen that Strax vid. He's got to be the Time War Doctor, right? Looking forward to the 50th sooo much .
May. 26th, 2013 04:45 am (UTC)
I love how you analyze each episode so deeply and so much more thoughtfully than the usual "Moffat is so freaking sexist and this is why..." that I'm used to.

I look forward to the season finale when you're ready. There was so much to it and River! Ugh, he made me cry again.
( 10 comments — speak to me, sweetie )