Fantasy, children’s fiction and horror all have a particular fascination with mirrors, and this goes back a long way. Magic mirrors appear in Snow White, Through the Looking-Glass, Lovecraft’s The Trap and Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone, to pick just a few well-known examples. Horror films in particular specialise in making a mirror frightening, especially the Japanese horror genre, playing on the fear of seeing something that shouldn’t be there.
Fantasy, children’s fiction and horror. All genres Doctor Who plays with regularly, and crossing over into those genres inevitably involves the use of mirrors. And mirrors can be scary things, or magical things, or weapons. Let’s look at some examples of each of those:
The Horror Mirror
- The Family of Blood: Daughter of Mine is trapped in a mirror, to be forever that person you catch out of the corner of your eye.
- Listen: “What’s that in the mirror, or the corner of your eye? What’s that footstep following, but never passing by?”
- Under the Lake: Prentis is visible in a mirror before he attacks.
- The Pilot: Heather lurks inside a puddle (any reflective surface can double up as a mirror).
- Smile: An Emojibot is reflected in a gauge.
The Magic Mirror
- The Evil of the Daleks: mirrors are used to travel through time.
- Warriors’ Gate: mirrors are used to travel between dimensions.
- The Girl in the Fireplace: a mirror is used as a portal between the spaceship and France.
- Turn Left: mirrors are used to send Donna back in time.
The Mirror as a Weapon
- The Savages: Steven uses Dodo’s mirror to reflect a light gun.
- The Mind Robber: a mirror is used to defeat the Medusa.
- Kinda: mirrors are used to defeat the Mara.
- Blink: the Weeping Angels are defeated by mirrors (also The Time of the Doctor)
- Vincent and the Doctor: the Krafayis is only visible in a mirror.
Several of the above examples play strongly into the idea of a mirror revealing somebody’s identity, and often showing more than just the superficial appearance. So in The Power of the Daleks the Doctor is able to use a mirror to see his previous incarnation, and after that we get a scene in virtually every regeneration story where the Doctor sees his new face for the first time. The existence of this scene in Rose is a clear indication that the Doctor is newly-regenerated. In The Movie, it is played as a horror scene, with the broken glass reflecting the Doctor and leading up to his screamed line “who am I?” The mirror in this instance gives a picture, but doesn’t answer the question of identity. The reverse of that is when a mirror is the only thing that allows a person to understand who they are, such as Bill understanding her Cyber conversion only when she sees her true self in a mirror in The Doctor Falls.
Beyond this, Doctor Who uses mirrors in a much more metaphorical sense. And it is nearly always a dark mirror. Various villains are set up as dark mirrors to the Doctor: the Master, the Valeyard, Davros, the Dream Lord, even the Monk. Then we get the parallel worlds, the twin planet Mondas, with the Cybermen as a dark mirror to the whole human race, and that old favourite: the doppelgänger story (The Massacre, The Enemy of the World, The Rebel Flesh, etc).
Ultimately, Doctor Who itself is a remarkable work of fiction that holds up a mirror to the viewers themselves, on so many occasions.
What is Who? A mirror.
…until the next article in this series, in which I will try to illustrate why it is actually something else altogether. RP
This reminds me of Disney’s The Watcher In The Woods which used mirrors in a very specific way. So much so that it signified mirrors as a gateway to another dimension. In the sense of the horror mirror for Dr. Who, Star Trek’s Catspaw, Sapphire & Steel, The Omega Factor, Bedlam and The X Files, I can quite honesty say that I wouldn’t have survived all my night terrors as a child had it not been for all the sanctuaries that sci-fi’s horror mirror had supplied fans with. So thank you for one of your most pivotally crucial reviews.
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Thanks Mike – glad you enjoyed the it!
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