Be Careful What You Search For: The Doctor as Psyche

Disclaimer: There be spoilers here.

I’m not going to go into an indepth analysis and look at a particular Doctor Who episode. The fact is: it is an exhausting process and I know I will be missing something from it when I’m done. But there is one theme that has really caught my eye and is really, aside from the weird and zany adventures with elements of grandiosity the central focus of The Doctor as of right now.

The mystery of Clara Oswin Oswald or, in The Doctor’s own words, “The only mystery worth solving.”

So there we are. The scenario is already set and clear: as much as any Doctor Who plot really is. And now I am going to make a mythological allusion: mainly talking about what this quest and its potential results actually reminds me of. It is only fitting that in the last episode of Doctor Who “Hide,” that The Doctor said something to the effect that, “It isn’t a ghost story after all — it’s a love story.” And when he said, I said under my breath, “Yes, Doctor. It really is.”

So is the Myth of Psyche and Eros. There are many variations of the myth itself, but essentially what happens is that there is a princess named Psyche who–through various circumstances–ends up married to the love god Eros (or Cupid as he is better known): though she does not know this. In fact, until her fateful decision, she never even sees what he looks like. Not really. One of the admonitions that Cupid gives her, in fact, is that she is not allowed to look at him.

Don’t blink.

Of course, as I and many others have stated with regards to “The Snowmen,” this myth too sounds an awful lot like a fairytale: and indeed a lot of myths and parables in various ages do. There is always that one thing the character is told not to do, or is made difficult to find and of course–human and sentient nature being what it is–the character eventually seeks it out. As something of an aside, I also think it is very remarkable in that Psyche’s myth may be one of the few in existence where a mortal woman has a recognized heroic quest–complete with various tasks–in pursuing a male deity as opposed to the other way around.

Now, Psyche and The Doctor are not that alike at all. There are different circumstances, goals, influences, character genders, and fears involved on the surface. Psyche is “sacrificed” to a “dragon that harasses the world” due to a vision that an oracle gave her royal father of whom she would marry. There are gods involved. Cupid likes Psyche as well: after being sent to punish her by his mother Venus (the Roman Aphrodite). Psyche is relatively inexperienced with regards to the world and marriage. She is innocent. And it is only when others ask her who her husband is and if he is attempting to deceive her by masking his “hideousness” that she attempts to look at and potentially kill him if she doesn’t like what she sees. So literally, Psyche and Cupid, and The Doctor and Clara are entirely different situations.

Figuratively though …

The Doctor from the very beginning knows that there is something very odd about Clara Oswin Oswald. She should not exist. She was made into Dalek in “Asylum of the Daleks” and then she died, and then she was a Victorian governess in “The Snowmen” and also died. He then realizes that she can potentially exist in another timeline as the same person and species. There seem to be forces that are getting him to find her after some of his own recent losses. He is both fascinated and afraid to find the truth of her. Perhaps when, in “Hide,” the psychic tells Clara that The Doctor has “a sliver of ice in his heart” she is really saying that there has been so much grief that he has a certain level of objectivity and dispassion as a result of that. Remember, in “The Snowmen,” it was a Christmas episode with the TARDIS in the clouds and The Doctor living there away from all people. Even the interior of the TARDIS looks like a cold metal form of ice.

That “sliver” could be fear, but it may be one of those forces that influences him to “figure Clara out,” while trying to maintain a distance. At the same time, The Doctor always loves to solve mysteries and this is one he cannot resist for a variety of reasons: not the least of which being that this “mystery” seems to like him back. A lot. And there are gods involved in the Whovian Universe–although they are known as different things like Eternals, and “sun parasite-gods”–and The Doctor, like Psyche, has had some adventures into the Underworld: not the least of which being his Regenerations and some of the other places he has found himself in.

Psyche had a lantern and a knife to take with her into the Underworld. The Doctor has his own tool.

I do hope though–probably in vain–that this loose comparison ends here. That when The Doctor finds and brings the metaphorical lantern to see Clara in the darkness that, well … it doesn’t end as badly for him as it almost did with Psyche. But knowing The Doctor’s track record and what the Universe likes to do to him: I am a bit concerned.

Because Clara could be a lot of things. She could be, as some fans have posited, The Dalek Emperor reformed by Rose as the incarnation of the Bad Wolf to be a companion for The Doctor as she predicted her importance and absence from his life in that brief time she absorbed The Heart of the TARDIS. She could be a Dalek or alien-made replicant. Maybe she is another aspect of The Great Intelligence. She could also be an avatar of the returning Eternals for all we know. She could also be Romana: the Time Lady that The Doctor once spent considerable time with. Or, when The Master was disintegrating towards his confrontation with the Time Lords, the resulting closure of the time-warp could have fractured and Regenerated him into a new form existing throughout time and space: and we know now that Time Lords can change sex and gender.

Or, much worse:

Clara Oswin Oswald could very just well be Clara Oswin Oswald in the way that she is–human–and existing in different time periods and places. And by dissecting her mystery, The Doctor could drive her away from him and leave him right back where he started. Alone.

And then maybe he will search for her, as Psyche did Cupid, and go through another adventure or so. Or may be I am just reading too much into this. Perhaps that “sliver of ice” might grow again into something more awful in that isolation. We all know that The Doctor cannot be alone for too long. And imagining that shard of ice becoming a glacial heart within the being of The Valeyard … is not too far off the mark when you wonder just how much more hearts-break can The Doctor take before he completely loses it.

Of course, this is as always mere conjecture and as Doctor Who stories go, it will be something completely unexpected. But The Doctor might want to remember something else. As Neil Gaiman has written in Sandman, there is a difference between a secret and a mystery. A secret is a truth that is waiting to reveal itself. A mystery is something–or in this case someone–that just is. And I hope more than anything that he takes a mystery to be someone and gets to know Clara as she is and that the beautiful knowledge of it does not destroy him and leave him alone in the ashes.

ETA: As an aside, the following is a teaser photo from the episode “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.” I’ll bet you all Whovians will want to read this.

It’s too bad it probably won’t be in chronological order.

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About matthewkirshenblatt

I am a writer and blogger living in the Greater Toronto Area of Ontario in Canada. When I'm not writing for the Sequart Research & Literacy Organization and GeekPr0n, I tend to write science-fiction, epic fantasy, horror, literary and mythological revisionisms, and generally weird fiction stories though I have been known to make poetry, television and comic book scripts. Also, when left to my own devices I tend to write weird and strange hybrid creative opinion piece articles like those you will find on this Blog. I am also very interested in comics, video games, Star Wars, table-top role-playing games, Neil Gaiman's works, H.P. Lovecraft, vampires, zombies, and budgies.
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