I’ve been thinking about doing another essay on monstering in Doctor Who, especially with regards to Amy Pond, but it occurs to me that this would really benefit in hindsight of a full survey on the show’s conception of beauty. Which is to say, I think the process of “monstering” is part and parcel of the modern show’s aesthetics, and what better way to explore those aesthetics than to come to some sort of understanding of the place where the Beautiful stands within it? Well, there’s probably several other better ways, but when it comes to Amy Pond, I think “beauty” isn’t a bad place to start. Not because Karen Gillan is classically beautiful, but because the character she plays actually articulates a philosophy of beauty that I find altogether more interesting:
WARRIOR AMY: All those boys chasing me, but it was only ever Rory. Why was that?
AMY: You know when sometimes you meet someone so beautiful, and then you actually talk to them, and five minutes later they’re as dull as a brick? Then there’s other people, and you meet them and think, “Not bad, they’re okay.” And then you get to know them, and their face just sort of becomes them, like their personality’s written all over it. And they just turn into something so beautiful.
BOTH: Rory’s the most beautiful man I’ve ever met.
Which kind of gets where I’m going with this idea, namely that we have multiple conceptions of beauty, which we can roughly bifurcate into those predicated on appearances, and those predicated on interiority. This is actually a false dichotomy, which we’ll get to later on, but for now this represents the axis I want to explore, especially when we get to the Revival. Anyways, what I’ve done is look for instances of the word “beautiful” and its variants within the show’s dialogue. This was done using a blanket google site search on Chrissie’s Doctor Who transcripts at chakoteya.com, coupled with individual searches of all the remaining Revival episodes, plus City of Death, for as it turns out google site search isn’t as thorough as I’d hoped. As such, I’ve haven’t thoroughly surveyed all the Classic stories, so if you remember any pertinent lines from something not covered here, please say so in the comments.
Now obviously this isn’t going to fully capture what the show actually finds beautiful. Dialogue, after all, is more reflective of the characters speaking it, and as such certainly can’t represent the implied authors of Doctor Who. Still, for a character to conceive of something as being beautiful, the implied authors have to conceive of it too, even if they might disagree. Which is to say, there’s still an acknowledgment of a kind of beauty that someone can behold. Furthermore, it’s much more difficult to pin down an acknowledgement of “beauty” without being explicitly told. Not impossible, no – for example, the production cues of Doomsday, when Rose is finally torn from the Doctor through their last moments on the beach, clearly flag an understanding of tragic beauty, whether it’s from the score or the location design or just from the story itself. But we still have to make an interpretation. We are shown, not told, what is beautiful, and the implied authors can only hope we come to the same conclusions that they did. Anyways, without further adieu, here’s what I’ve gleaned.
The very first instance of “beauty” so called in Doctor Who comes in the first episode of The Daleks, all the way back in 1963. While it presages a rather banal conception of beauty, what it actually signifies in context is rather more striking:
SUSAN: Oh Grandfather, look! It’s a flower. A perfect flower. Well, it’s even kept some of it’s colour.
DOCTOR: Yes, very pretty, very pretty. Hmm.
The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara have landed on Skaro, and are just beginning to explore the planet. Susan’s very interested in a petrified flower that she’s found, but the Doctor is completely disinterested – he doesn’t even bother to look.
SUSAN: Hey, look, look what I’ve found.
IAN: Oh, that’s beautiful.
SUSAN: Isn’t it? I’m going to try and pick it and keep it all in one piece.
IAN: Oh, be careful. It’ll be very fragile.
Ian, on the other hand, acknowledges the beauty of the flower. And then, as if Susan were too clumsy or fragile to pick it herself, he plucks the petrified flower from the ground.
IAN: There we are.
SUSAN: Beautiful! When I get it back to the ship I’m–
SUSAN: –going to put it into a glass and–
And in this moment, Ian crushes the flower in Susan’s hands as he attends to Barbara’s cries, for she’s scared of the strange creature she’s just witnessed. Which is just as petrified as the flower. Funny how sometimes we call people who are scared of something as “petrified” of it. Anyways, there’s an immediate juxtaposition here – the frozen trees (which is the Doctor’s interest at this point), the frozen “monster” that’s captured Barbara’s gaze, and the frozen flower, which is crushed—and hence dismissed. I’m tempted to make a “jewel in the lotus” reference here, except the petrified flower isn’t so much crystalline in its petrification as it is like an eggshell. Oh well. What we should remember, however, is that the frozen monster is ultimately more fascinating than the flower.
Anyways, this first scene of “the beautiful” in the show turns out to be remarkably prescient. Most of the time, when someone describes something as “beautiful,” they’re referring either to an object or the picturesque view of a place seldom seen by others. We get Chinese architecture, the desert, the sea, dresses, more flowers, London, rocks, temples, monasteries, more clothes, more cities, a mirror, art, and more temples. They are to be considered as a sort of spectacle, of something to behold with breathtaking awe. It makes sense, though, in the context of television produced in the 1960s, on the BBC’s tea-time budget, that characters would have to do the “work” of making something beautiful. After all, a few quid can only go so far.
There are, however, a few exceptions to this general rule in the First Doctor’s era. One of them comes early on in The Aztecs. Barbara’s been taken for a goddess, and Susan her handmaiden, and after a brief discussion of some of the beautiful objects they’re surrounded by, we get our indication of another kind of beauty:
BARBARA: …take Autloc. He’s sensitive, intelligent. And then there’s–
SUSAN: Tlotoxl. It’s incredible, isn’t it? Beauty and horror developing hand in hand.
Their aesthetic sense comes around to describe the interiority of these two Aztec men they’ve met. However, even this sense of the “interior” is fairly classical: Autloc is open-minded and compassionate, while Tlotoxl is sadistic and concerned with his own personal power. This is not, actually, a challenging conception of beauty. We get a similar conception in The Web Planet, when a winged Menopteran tells an underground-dwelling Optera that their birthright was actually one of “freedom,” of “peace, beauty, and light!” Again, these are fairly predictable juxtapositions.
Another banal sort of beauty that starts creeping in with stories like The Romans and The Crusade is the objectifying “beauty” of women. Multiple times, Barbara and other female characters are lauded for their physical beauty. When we get to The Savages, we get the so-called “Elder” named Jano describing his culture’s technology as a way of making “the strong man stronger” and “the beautiful girl more beautiful still,” essentially pigeonholing the concept of beauty as something that’s gendered. And unfortunately, the Classic series will find more ways to bludgeon this concept to death.
But there are also seeds in the First Doctor’s run that will yield better fruit in the modern era, which kind of goes back to that early scene in The Daleks. First, there’s a use of “beauty” that’s particularly amenable to irony – to call people “my beauties” even when there’s plainly nothing beautiful about their appearance. We get this ironic usage in The Smugglers, for example, when the Doctor is described as “my beauty” by Cherub, and when Gaptooth calls his pirate men “my beauties.” The usage is sarcastic, not unlike Ronin’s use of “beautiful” in The Ark in Space, which is always describing a situation he finds awful. (I really like Ronin.)
Second, and this is kind of astounding given I’m about to highlight Terry Nation yet again, there’s a juxtaposition in The Chase which is just kind of madly wonderful. Now, The Chase also has a pirate calling someone “my beauty,” though it’s not ironic, it’s just another objectification of Barbara. And there’s Vicki’s awe at the Mechanoid city (“Wow, beautiful!”) which is largely more of the same. But in the first couple of episodes, there’s a conversation between the Aridians (the inhabitants of a post-apocalyptic desert environment) and the Doctor that’s interestingly repeated. First, the Aridians describe the monsters of their homeland:
MALSAN: They lived in the slime, at the bottom of the ocean. When the waters were gone they invaded our cities.
RYNIAN: There were too many of them. We tried to destroy them. They multiplied too quickly for us. We were driven back as the Mire Beasts took over more and more of our beautiful city.
DOCTOR: These Mire Beasts, what do they feed on?
MALSAN: They are flesh eaters.
So, the flesh-eating monsters have taken over the once-beautiful city. This is then recapitulated in a following scene:
BARBARA: I’m sorry. This place gives me the creeps.
DOCTOR: Oh rubbish, my dear, rubbish. I think it’s fascinating. Yes, you could almost call it beautiful. You know, I think you’re tired. Close your eyes and try and get some rest. Go on, go on. We must conserve our strength if we’re going to get back to the Tardis. (to himself) Yes, if ever we can get back to the Tardis. Ah, Malsan.
MALSAN: You enjoyed your meal?
DOCTOR: Oh, indeed. Yes, indeed, yes. Yes, it was a most unusual taste.
Funny, how the “beautiful” city is juxtaposed with the monstrosity of “eating” – the Mire Beasts are flesh eaters, versus the Doctor eating his meal, one of an “unusual taste.” But this scene isn’t nearly as prescient as one in the generally deplorable story of The Ark, which has this exchange:
DOCTOR: Now, you can continue with the building of your statue and when it’s finished, I’m sure it’s going to look very beautiful.
MELLIUM: Yes, our descendants will know its meaning when they put the finishing touches to it.
Of course, the statue will end up being a statue of a monster. And the Doctor has foretold that it will be “beautiful.” Even though in this instance it’s entirely meant to be ironic, this is exactly the word that the Doctor will end up using to describe monsters as the show goes forward, and it’s one that will instead be used in earnest.
It’s funny, the etymology of words. “Monster” derives from the Latin monstrum, which means not just abnormal shapes but also “divine omens” and portent signs; it is related to the Latin monere, which means “to warn.” I’m particularly struck by the “divine” omen part, given that as the show progresses we’ll see the Doctor and the show beginning to juxtapose monsters with “beauty.” As early as the Second Doctor’s run, the use of “beautiful” starts to take on more shading than what we typically (though not always) find in the First Doctor’s era. In Power of the Daleks, Polly finds the mercury pools to be beautiful, but is warned of their deadly danger. The “monsters” in Underwater Menace – who are simply gill-adapted people who “farm” under the sea – are likened to the beautiful by Professor Zaroff’s ally Damon, who wants to turn Polly into a fish person. The colony in The Macra Terror is described as “good and beautiful” by a brainwashing program. So obviously, there’s more of a double-edged sword when it comes to “beauty” at this point, even if we still get banal treatments like gold rings and evaluations of Polly’s looks.
We get closer to the show’s aesthetic, though, in The Abominable Snowmen. In this story we have the Doctor donning a big fur coat as our heroes explore the Himalayan mountains:
DOCTOR: How do I look?
VICTORIA: Doctor, you look beautiful.
DOCTOR: Yes, I thought I might.
The thing about the coat is that it allows the Doctor to be visually juxtaposed with the Yeti, the memorable monsters of the story who are really just robots wearing big fur coats. The Doctor isn’t a robot, of course, but this visual juxtaposition is a way of “monstering” the Doctor, of using the monsters to create insight into the Doctor himself. In this case, the Yeti are guided by The Great Intelligence, while the Doctor is guided by his own great intelligence. (Sorry, this era isn’t very deep.) Of particular note is the Doctor’s phrase “How do I look?” He’s using his companion Victoria as a mirror in this instance – for she tells him how he looks. (Compare this to the scene in A Good Man Goes to War, where the Doctor asks River the exact same question.) This is potentially an example of the show exhibiting a bit of self-awareness.
And then there’s just more of the banal stuff for a while. Rockets, natural phenomena, and of course women, all described as beautiful. Which continues deep into the Third Doctor’s era, until we get to The Green Death. It’s here that we first get, by my inexpert reckoning, the Doctor’s first expression of aesthetic pleasure towards monsters, when a giant flying insect attacks him and Benton before crashing to the ground:
DOCTOR: Careful, Sergeant. What a beautiful creature.
BENTON: Oh yes, Doctor, beautiful.
Benton’s response is incredulous, which is meant to highlight how the Doctor’s aesthetics are different from ours. They’ve just been attacked by a monster, which used to be a carnivorous maggot, and now the Doctor’s calling it beautiful.
It’s a start. It’s not a finish. There’s more foofaraw with the blue crystal from Metebelis Three, called beautiful by Jo Grant – she’s also called the Atlantean crystal of The Time Monster as “beautiful, but at the same time horrible,” in an episode that juxtaposes that crystal with the “daisiest daisy” speech. Elsewhere, there are more beautiful cities and planets (Florana is both “carpeted with perfumed flowers” and has streams flowing with water “clearer than the clearest crystal,” which is definitely a jewel/lotus reference in the Barry Letts era), and even things like the smell of coffee and William Blake’s poetry are called beautiful. It isn’t until The Seeds of Doom that we get another monster described as “beautiful,” but here it’s just Harrison Chase blathering on about his plants. Talons (of course) has another instance of the “most beautiful lady,” and even when Jago goes on about how conducted tours of the phantom’s lair will be “a beauty” it’s on the heels of how with such a scheme “the ladies will swoon in my arms.”
But soon we get more of the Doctor’s aesthetic sense. In Image of the Fendahl he seems to have the audacity to call a dead Fendaleen he’s assaulted as “beautiful” until Corby’s incredulous parroting of the word has the Doctor recanting in favor of salt as a deadly weapon. Underworld has the Argonauts’ pacification weapon rendering Leela in the opinion of its wielder as beautiful. But much more clever is how Kelner in The Invasion of Time realizes that the Doctor really sees technology as beautiful, adorning the ancillary power unit with an art gallery.
Creature from the Pit has an interesting exploration of beauty. While others are going on about the beauty of metal, from bronze to zinc to tempered steel, we get the Doctor going on about the “beautiful skin” of the titular creature, as he admires Erato’s green veins and speculates if the color is due to chlorophyll. I find the juxtaposition of the Doctor’s sense of beauty with that of the Chloridians to be instructive, because here we can elucidate what’s behind the eye of beholder: value. In a world where metal is scarce, metal becomes beautiful, because metal is valuable. But in the world of Doctor Who, monsters aren’t scarce at all – we see them all the time. Regardless, though, the Doctor can find value in the monstrous, because his sense of value isn’t so crass – he finds something inherently valuable in the monstrous, regardless of any contingent context. And of course, the show itself has to find the monstrous valuable, for that very spectacle is what keeps eyeballs glued to the screen.
So in the Graham Williams era, then, it seems this aesthetic of monstrous beauty begins to take hold. Alas, this does not follow once John Nathan-Turner takes over as the showrunner. And only Robert Holmes, of course, actually seems to be able to see it. Natch.
In the 1980s, the show’s conception of beauty starts getting, well, as garish as its production values. Maybe that’s a product of the 1980s, I don’t know. But now the beauty of monsters starts getting displaced as the old familiar tropes of beauty reassert themselves. The “paradise” of the Kinda world, for example, is simply described as beautiful. Or the sky in The Visitation, lit up by a falling “meteorite.” In that story, the Doctor goes on about how Tereleptils have a love of art and beauty, ironically marred by a love of war, but the Tereleptils themselves are neither graceful nor beheld as beautiful creatures. The sights of The Eye of Orion, of space, and of black orchids – we’re back to objects and things.
And, of course, women. In Enlightenment, both Captain Wrack and Tegan are called beautiful. But at least here there’s some interesting twists. First, it’s Tegan who calls Wrack beautiful, while the Doctor amends distastefully that she’s also an Eternal. And then there’s this exchange:
MARRINER: Your companion is a very beautiful woman.
DOCTOR: Is she?
An echo, perhaps, of the Fourth Doctor’s declaration in City of Death that the Countess Scarlioni is “a beautiful woman, probably,” as if he really had no clue as to the aesthetics of humans. Delightfully, though, Marriner clarifies his aesthetic: “The confusion in her mind is exhilarating.” He’s still objectifying Tegan, but from the inside out, which is a very different twist.
At this point, we should point out that it’s always women who are described as beautiful. There’s been one exception – Victoria calling the Second Doctor “beautiful” after he’s donned the Yeti-like coat in Abominable Snowmen. We get another exception in Planet of Fire, when Peri’s stepfather waxes eloquent about a statue of the god Eros. In this episode, of course, we also get Turlough trotting about in short shorts, along with Peri in her bikini, a rather more clear signposting of the show’s aesthetic sensibilities.
But exceptions are indicative of rules, and the objectification of Peri, both by the show and by its fandom, is sadly the norm. It’s perhaps most brutal in Timelash, where men openly comment on her attractiveness, and where the physical ugliness of the episode’s villain is wielded against him via a mirror, while the Doctor taunts that Peri could never be the Borad’s bride (seriously, wtf?) because she’ll find his appearance so repulsive. As I said, the aesthetic in play is garish, to say the least.
But there’s a couple of stories in the Saward era that have a rather more nuanced understanding of beauty, and they are both written by Robert Holmes. Of course. The more easily approached one is Caves of Androzani, which has a major subplot of Sharaz Jek abducting Peri and planning to keep her indefinitely because of her physical beauty, and of course Jek is at the same time facially disfigured, like the Phantom of the Opera. But there’s a difference here to what we get in Timelash, namely that Jek’s obsession is treated as ugly, as opposed to something that’s gamely understood. As such, it kind of paints those who leer over Peri in much the same light. (There’s also a rather alchemical line buried in here: “The flower of your beauty will be as permanent as a precious jewel, untarnished by the passing centuries,” Jek says, referring to the life-extending properties of Spectrox. In one line, we get a flower/jewel reference, going back to the Letts’ era preoccupation with Buddhism, but “untarnished” suggests something silver, which is rather more Whitakerian.)
More subtle is Holmes’s treatment of beauty in The Two Doctors.
OSCAR: Yes, it looks like splendid moth country. Of course, we are a little early. Moths are ladies of the night. Painted beauties sleeping all day, and rising at the sunset to whisper through the roseate dusk on gossamer wings of damask and silk.
ANITA: You really like them, don’t you, Oscar.
OSCAR: Oh, I adore them.
ANITA: Then why do you kill them?
OSCAR: So that I can look at them.
Upon his death, Oscar asks Anita to take care of his “beautiful moths,” reinforcing the brutality of this objectifying aesthetic sensibility. This is gloriously juxtaposed with Shockeye’s use of “beauty” – in two instances he says, “Steady, my beauty,” referring to Peri and Jamie as he hopes to kill them to feast on their juicy meat. This is entirely deliberate, I think, given that the Second Doctor metamorphizes into an Androgum and positively delights in the aesthetic of eating exquisitely prepared food. Once again, then, we get a convergence of monstrosity and beauty that I think is really at the heart of the show.
Like Moths to a Flame, Blinded By the Light
From here on out, the show builds on this unique aesthetic. In the Cartmel era, for example, we get the Chief Caretaker of Paradise Towers calling Kroagnon “my beauty,” while the Doctor explains that the Great Architect is so taken with the visual beauty of his own artistic creations that he becomes a misanthrope; in both cases the beautiful and the monstrous are wedded. Delta and the Bannermen continues in the same vein, as the beekeeper explains:
GORONWY: Take a look at this butterfly. Arguably one of the most beautiful creatures in the whole of nature. Yet if you were to see a pupae, you’d think it was the ugliest sight you’ve ever seen. But you can’t have one without the other.
In another scene, Goronwy proclaims it to be a beautiful morning, at which point Weismuller asks if anything “weird” has fallen out of the sky. But the real aesthetic comes in the form of Delta’s child. At the end of the first episode, Delta’s egg “hatches” and a green face emerges, prompting Mel to scream, which of course is a signal that she’s seen a monster. But Delta herself says “My baby, my beautiful baby,” and given that Delta is an ostensible protagonist we’re meant to realize that Mel’s reaction is actually in the wrong. Delta then wants Billy to take them to a “beauty spot,” which are described as “special” places on more than one occasion. I love the fact that Billy himself transforms himself into one of Delta’s kind, playing back to Goronwy’s metaphor.
Even the banal forms of beautification are typically contradicted in this period. It’s the villain Kane, for example, who is concerned with the physical beauty of the ice statue made in his wife’s image; Kane himself will melt to death, just like the statue. In another story, when the Brigadier notes that London can look beautiful at sunrise, someone else says, “Seen one heliport and you’ve seen them all,” which indicates that the Brig was finding beauty in something that others see as unremarkable at best; heliports are not known for their beauty. Morgaine wants to see her “beautiful” Arthur, at which point the Doctor says, “He’s gone to dust,” juxtaposing beauty and death. And the Silver Nemesis is called “beautiful” by Ace, point blank, perhaps the first time a monster has been called as such by someone other than the Doctor.
These aesthetics of beauty are echoed in Curse of Fenric, at least the death/beauty juxtaposition, and the regard for a baby. It’s Millington who describes the “beauty” of a poison-gas bomb embedded in a decryption machine that will detonate when encountering the word “love.” Ace, on the other hand, calls Kathleen’s baby “beautiful,” but she becomes repulsed when she realizes the baby’s name is the same name as her own awful mother.
Russell T Davies continues to run with this during the Revival. Yes, there’s still declarations of places being called “beautiful,” like Earth and New Earth, and of course Rose’s father can’t help but call his daughter beautiful, but then we also get scenes like in The Unquiet Dead, when the Doctor sees Rose in a period-appropriate dress:
ROSE: Don’t laugh.
DOCTOR: You look beautiful, considering.
ROSE: Considering what?
DOCTOR: That you’re human.
I love how he’s got to qualify his statement of beauty, specifically on the fact that Rose is human – he’s actually more taken by her costume than by her physicality, which is a refreshing statement. And then there’s the bit where the Slitheen Margaret looks at the light in the heart of the TARDIS, which she calls beautiful, and which transforms her back into an egg, a reverse metamorphosis of Delta and the Bannermen. When Rose notes in The Christmas Invasion that the falling snow is beautiful, the Doctor points out that it’s actually the ash of the destroyed Sycorax spaceship. In New Earth, there’s the resolution to Cassandra’s arc, she who is so concerned with physical beauty, with the emotional punch of the ending coming as her own consciousness, in the body of her dying servant, travels back in time to tell herself she’s beautiful (the last time she ever heard it) as she herself dies. What’s really beautiful, though, is how the younger Cassandra actually responds compassionately to the dying person before her.
You are Beautiful
It’s Tennant’s Doctor, though, who really starts the ball rolling with equating the monsters of the show with beauty. “Oh, that’s beautiful,” he says of the werewolf in Tooth and Claw. “Oh, you are beautiful!” he says to the Clockwork Robots of Girl in the Fireplace. “Come on then, you beauty!” he says while trying to trap a ghost Cyberman in Army of Ghosts. He even says the Master could be beautiful. Not that he’s solely enamored with monsters – he’s also enchanted by various technologies: a telescope, a portable television, a spaceship, a flying bus, a Martian outpost, all beautiful. Even his descriptions of Gallifrey evoke the word. And contraposed with this sense, when Jackie says it’s “beautiful” that the dead could come back to life in Army of Ghosts, the Doctor says it’s “horrific.”
And it’s neat how this aesthetic sensibility isn’t limited to the Doctor’s perspective during the RTD era. Kel, the man who repairs asphalt streets for a living in Fear Her, describes the tarry surfaces he’s made as “beautiful.” Elton says the wheezing, groaning sound of the TARDIS is beautiful. Martha notes in Smith and Jones that standing on the Moon “we could die any minute, but all the same, it’s beautiful.” In Voyage of the Damned, Astrid finds an empty street in London, with its concrete and shops and stink, to be beautiful simply because to her it is alien. Even Harriet Jones has a sense of irony in this vein: the “beauty” of the Subwave is that it’s undetectable – it can’t be seen. And look how Donna’s mum Sylvia can call a gifted item of clothing “absolutely beautiful” just before asking for a receipt. Ida calls Satan’s pit “beautiful” and twice at that.
This union of the beautiful and the horrible is well put by Donna in The Runaway Bride:
DONNA: Everything we did today—do you live your life like that?
DOCTOR: Not all the time.
DONNA: I think you do. And I couldn’t.
DOCTOR: But you’ve seen it out there. It’s beautiful.
DONNA: And it’s terrible. That place was flooding and burning and they were dying, and you were stood there like, I don’t know, a stranger. And then you made it snow. I mean, you scare me to death.
Meanwhile, more conventional uses of beauty become indicators of a kind of swinishness. In The Shakespeare Code, Wiggins gets his comeuppance from Lillith when he can’t comprehend her witchy apartment ; he finds it incongruous with her physical appearance, at least the appearance she shows him; Martha is somewhat appalled by Shakespeare himself when he starts going on about her comeliness. The beauty of the Empire State Building is only a guise for the machinations of the Daleks. The Southwark Cathedral, “beautiful all lit up like that” becomes a place for the grisly (and tedious) death of Lazarus. Colonel Curbishley confines himself to a wheelchair out of fear he’ll lose his “beautiful” Clemency to a prettier chap. The beautiful diamond landscape of Midnight turns out to be “poisoned.” Even Gallifrey, described by the Doctor as beautiful, become a place of horror once we realize in The End of Time what the Time Lords planned to do with all creation.
And then we come, at last, to the Moffat era, and the very usage of “beautiful” starts to increase. First it’s the Space Whale that’s called “beautiful.” When Venice is described, it’s “constantly being invaded, constantly flooding, constantly just beautiful.” The Silurian Alaya is called “beautiful” by the Doctor, just like the subterranean tunnel networks they’ve created.
DOCTOR: I suppose that’s dry rot?
CRAIG: Or damp. Or mildew.
DOCTOR: Or none of the above.
CRAIG: I’ll get someone to fix it.
DOCTOR: No, I’ll fix it. I’m good at fixing rot. Call me the Rotmeister. No, I’m the Doctor, don’t call me the Rotmeister. This is the most beautiful parlour I have ever seen.
Yes, it seems the dry rot in Craig’s flat makes it beautiful. The flying fish (monsters) of Christmas Carol are “beautiful” in the eyes of Abigail. The Siren (a monster) is “beautiful” according to the enchanted Rory. The TARDIS (a monster of sorts, but obviously a very friendly one) is “the most beautiful thing I had ever known,” says the Doctor; he, in turn, is called a “beautiful idiot” by her. Amy’s baby (made of Flesh, and hence a monster) is of course beautiful. The “shenanigans” of The Almost People adventure is beautiful. And then, of course, there’s Amy’s speech in The Girl Who Waited, where the word “beautiful” is repeated over and over again.
AMY: Apalapucia. What a beautiful word.
DOCTOR: Beautiful word, beautiful world. Apalapucia, voted number two planet in the top ten greatest destinations for the discerning intergalactic traveller.
RORY: Why couldn’t we go to number one?
DOCTOR: It’s hideous.
Lovely. And then there’s the garden of the Governor’s mansion:
AMY: That is beautiful. I mean, freaky hedges.
Amy is of course all about gardens. But she’s also Doctorish:
AMY: When I first came here, I had to trick the Interface into giving me the information, but I’ve reprogrammed it now. It’ll tell me anything except how to escape.
RORY: You hacked it? That’s genius.
DOCTOR: Sorry to interrupt that beautiful moment, but temporal engines like that have a regulator valve.
This, in turn, gives special resonance to bits in The God Complex that have to do with the beautiful. First, there’s the scene where the Doctor, Amy, and Gibbis are hiding in a darkened hotel room, and the Doctor is tempted to look out the peephole at the monster outside. “I’m sorry,” he says, “I just have to see.” He looks. “Oh, look at you. Oh, you are beautiful.” This is mirrored at the climax of the episode by Amy, as the Minotaur begins to feed on her faith in the Doctor. Dragged down a corridor, she wheels around at an intersection to face the monster and declares, in complete rapture, “Oh, he is beautiful!” making this a dramatic and horrific announcement.
The juxtaposition of the monstrous and the beautiful continues unabated. In The Wardrobe the spirits of the Androzani trees are twice called beautiful, though of course they’re ostensibly friendly. In Asylum of the Daleks, Oswin burns a soufflé, dumps it in the trash, and then records a message for her mother saying that “it was too beautiful to live.” In this same episode, we hear of the Daleks’ conception of beauty, which is of course rooted in hatred. And Oswin (now revealed as a Dalek) ends up being called a “beauty” for making the Daleks forget everything about the Doctor.
The Silurians are once again called “beautiful” in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, this time by Queen Nefertiti, and a dinosaur itself is called such by the Doctor. Oh, and then there’s this from A Town Called Mercy:
JEX: Where are you from? Where on Kahler?
JEX: I know it. It’s beautiful there. When this is over, will you go back?
GUNSLINGER: How can I? I am a monster now.
JEX: So am I.
Never mind the “go back” bit (gives me the shivers, it does), once again we get this lovely convergence of beauty and beast. In the next episode, The Power of Three, the monstrous empty black boxes are accused of making themselves beautiful by the Doctor. A while later, in Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, the fact that Clara’s skin can be and has been burned – “Big Friendly Button” is branded across her palm – leads the Doctor to declare her beautiful. The new “cybermats” of Nightmare in Silver are given the classic “you are beautiful” treatment. In both Name of the Doctor and Time of the Doctor, declarations of beautiful light converge with death – in the former, the Doctor’s thorny timeline, representative of his demise, in the other, the rising sun just as Handles has died, and the Doctor acknowledging that everything ends.
This doesn’t change when Capaldi comes on the scene. He trades a “beautiful” watch for a smelly old coat. And he shows he really gets it when confronting the Half-Faced Man:
DOCTOR: What do you think of the view?
HALF-FACE MAN: I do not think of it.
DOCTOR: I don’t think of it. I don’t. Droids and apostrophes, I could write a book. Except you are barely a droid any more. There’s more human in you than machine. So tell me, what do you think of the view?
HALF-FACE MAN: It is beautiful.
DOCTOR: No, it isn’t. It’s just far away. Everything looks too small. I prefer it down there. Everything is huge. Everything is so important. Every detail, every moment, every life clung to.
What’s beautiful, in other words, is the messiness of life, the nitty gritty, the small details, the clinging of life. Not the picturesque view. But then the Doctor has to look in the angry mirror when we get to Into the Dalek, when Rusty looks into the soul of the Doctor and finds it beautiful because of the hatred the Doctor possesses of Daleks themselves. He’s not terribly phased, of course – after all, he’ll end up calling the Skovox Blitzer a “sleeping beauty,” and the moon dragon “beautiful,” and notes to Ashildr that ephemeral mayflies can find so much beauty in life because it’s so fleeting.
So when we get to Hell Bent, it’s perfectly natural for Ashildr to equate the dying of the last stars as something that’s beautiful. The Doctor protests that it is sad, but Ashildr disagrees – it was both. Sadness and Beauty can coexist. Such was the case of Clara’s death: She died for who she was and who she loved. She fell where she stood. It was sad, and it was beautiful. And it is over. We have no right to change who she was.” Which is interesting, because the Doctor has actually turned Clara into a monster at that point. Clara’s undead. She has no pulse. She’s functionally immortal, just like Ashildr, but not Ashildr all the same.
It’s why Amy gets to be called “beautiful” by Rory with a whole complete other subtext to the statement, for as we’ll see in another essay, she too is monstrous. For the Doctor has at this point wedded the beautiful and the monster well together. Monsters are beautiful, and the beautiful are monsters. And this means that we are monsters, too. After all, he’s called us beautiful.
Death is like a garden. At the beginning of Face the Raven, Clara and the Doctor have just returned from “the second most beautiful garden in the universe” after Clara totally saved him from having to marry a sentient plant thing (they can never go back there now) and at the end of the episode we see Rigsy painting a picture of Clara on the TARDIS, surrounded by a garden of flowers. A painting which will then be scattered to the winds. And this is where we have to leave off, for now, because there isn’t any more Doctor Who. We’ve reached the monster at the end of the book.