What is Who? A Flower

daisiesWhat does a flower symbolise?  Love?  Beauty?  Anything else?  Flower symbolism is scattered through Doctor Who like rose petals.

Let’s start by looking at the obvious ones first, the times when flowers are simply used to indicate beauty in Doctor Who.  We have plenty of examples of this, such as the garland of flowers placed around Tegan’s shoulders in Kinda, but most of the time these simple expressions of beauty are linked with fragility.  The flower Susan finds in The Daleks is petrified and shatters in her hands, and this scene is echoed with Tommy and his flower that gets crushed in Planet of the Spiders (“Pretty flower.  Poor pretty.”) and the Master’s magic spell destroys a vase of flowers in The Daemons.

That last example brings us on to the destruction of flowers to indicate the presence of evil or wrongdoing.  So we have a Monoid smashing vases of flowers in The Ark to illustrate what he will do to humans, the plant museum mentioned in The Ice Warriors that has been destroyed by science, as part of a science vs nature plot (“There was spring then, and flowers.”), and similarly the “flower forest” on Vortis (The Web Planet) has been destroyed by the Animus before the Doctor arrives.  Sutekh destroys an egg on a lotus flower stand in Pyramids of Mars, and in Vampires of Venice a girl selling flowers is killed by Francesco.

Flowers are often an expression of hope.  In The Evil of the Daleks, Victoria gives Kemel a pressed flower, and he treats that as a symbol of her beauty and a way to hold onto the hope of rescuing her.  In The Daemons, nature returns after Azal and the Master are defeated, symbolising a hopeful and positive future:

JO: Yes, the birds are singing again.
HAWTHORNE: Oh, and smell the flowers.
DOCTOR: Yes, well, it makes a change from the smell of sulphur, doesn’t it?
HAWTHORNE: The May day miracle has happened again. The Earth is born anew.

Flowers are most often a representation of goodness.  Sometimes that goodness is just the simple life.  In Mawdryn Undead the Brigadier has retired from UNIT and is seen watering his flowers, and in Battlefield he is again tending to his garden.  In Remembrance of the Daleks, Rachel aspires to the same future, to “retire and raise begonias”.  A life spent amongst flowers is a reward to look forward to.  Chang in The Talons of Weng-Chiang has a vision of the afterlife, with his ancestors bringing food and flowers.

In The Aztecs Cameca gives the Doctor a flower in the Garden of Peace, and has a very profound comment to make about flowers:

DOCTOR: In spite of the drought, there’s plenty of water for the flowers.
CAMECA: Better to go hungry than starve for beauty.

Often the “good” characters in a story are seen with flowers, and Cameca is one example of that.  Kassia and Nyssa are bringers of flowers to the Melkur in The Keeper of Traken.  In The Seeds of Doom, Amelia Ducat is a painter of flowers, in contrast to Harrison Chase who wants to subvert nature.  And of course our most important painter of flowers in Doctor Who is to be found in Vincent and the Doctor, but here there is a unity of life and death:

AMY: You don’t like sunflowers?
VINCENT: No, it’s not that I don’t like them. I find them complex. Always somewhere between living and dying. Half-human as they turn to the sun. A little disgusting. But, you know, they are a challenge.

That brings us onto a key contrast that flowers represent in Doctor Who.  Life and death, goodness and evil.  Flowers representing the life/death contrast are strongly symbolic in Revelation of the Daleks.  Doctor Who even uses flower names for characters: Flower in The Savages, Flowerchild in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, and of course Rose!  But look how the beauty and goodness is so rapidly destroyed in The Greatest Show, and how the Doctor is separated from his beloved Rose.  Flowers are used again when the Doctor is separated from another companion, Clara, with the beautiful portrait of her on the TARDIS.  Following on from that, Clara is symbolised by a flower in Heaven Sent, and the Doctor now expresses hatred for gardeners who limit and control flowers, in his now warped and dark view.  Then we have Mrs Gillyflower in The Crimson Horror, who is a much more straightforward subversion of the goodness of flowers.

So flowers can represent danger as well, to varying degrees.  Sometimes it is a simple indication of the calm before the storm, or perhaps something not being quite right, such as Vicki smelling flowers in Galaxy 4, Dodo’s observation of the American flowers in The Ark, despite the fauna from different continents, Jo’s discovery of alien flowers on Uxarieus (Colony in Space), Tegan as the Queen of the May travelling in a cart decorated with flowers in The Awakening, with people showering her with petals, the flower thrown to Dastari from a balcony in The Two Doctors while elsewhere Stike sustains horrible injuries, the smell of Bougainvillea in The Doctor’s Daughter, and the “first flower on Mars in ten thousand years” in The Waters of Mars.

Taking it up a notch, we have flowers that are a clear indication of the presence of danger: Joey’s trick flowers gift to Dodo in The Celestial Toymaker, the use of flower petals in a black magic ceremony in The Masque of Mandragora, the tapestry of flowers and foliage hiding the Master’s lair in Castrovalva, the sacred orchid stolen by George in Black Orchid, causing his tongue to be cut out, the flower-like alien in Fear Her.  Of course, the reason flowers can so readily be used to symbolise death and danger is that they are inextricably linked to death.  What would we most associate lilies with?  So in Blink we see Sally laying flowers on the grave of her dead friend, and in The Zygon Invasion, Osgood lays flowers on the grave of her alter-ego “sister”.  In Terror of the Zygons, there is a “lament for the dead” called “Flowers of the Forest”.

Taking this to its logical extreme, flowers themselves become deadly, or are subverted as weapons.  The Nestene use killer daffodils in Terror of the Autons.  In Planet of the Daleks, there are flowers that shoot deadly liquid, and the same kind of thing is observed by Peri in Timelash.  In Meglos a plant tries to smother Romana with its flower head.

But the Doctor has a strong belief in the importance of flowers.  Here is his definition of humanity from Earthshock, when he challenges the emotionless Cybermen:

When did you last have the pleasure of smelling a flower, watching a sunset, eating a well-prepared meal?

In contrast to the Cybermen, here’s how he describes the Ice Warriors, in Empress of Mars:

They could build a city under the sand, yet drench the snows of Mars with innocent blood. They could slaughter whole civilisations, yet weep at the crushing of a flower.

He even tries to tempt Sarah Jane to go off travelling the universe with him by talking about Florana (although he can’t actually get her there in the end).

DOCTOR: Florana. Probably one of the most beautiful planets in the universe.
SARAH: Well, count me out.
DOCTOR: It’s always carpeted with perfumed flowers.
SARAH: I’m not listening.

So where does this belief in flowers and their constant evocation come from.  We need look no further than the Doctor’s beautiful speech from The Time Monster, when he talks about his childhood.

Well, when I was a little boy, we used to live in a house that was perched halfway up the top of a mountain. And behind our house, there sat under a tree an old man, a hermit, a monk. He’d lived under this tree for half his lifetime, so they said, and he’d learned the secret of life. So, when my black day came, I went and asked him to help me…

I’ll never forget what it was like up there. All bleak and cold, it was. A few bare rocks with some weeds sprouting from them and some pathetic little patches of sludgy snow. It was just grey. Grey, grey, grey. Well, the tree the old man sat under, that was ancient and twisted and the old man himself was, he was as brittle and as dry as a leaf in the autumn…

He just sat there, silently, expressionless, and he listened whilst I poured out my troubles to him. I was too unhappy even for tears, I remember. And when I’d finished, he lifted a skeletal hand and he pointed. Do you know what he pointed at?

A flower. One of those little weeds. Just like a daisy, it was. Well, I looked at it for a moment and suddenly I saw it through his eyes. It was simply glowing with life, like a perfectly cut jewel. And the colours? Well, the colours were deeper and richer than you could possibly imagine. Yes, that was the daisiest daisy I’d ever seen.

And there we have it.  The Doctor’s inspiration to go travelling around the universe.  The daisiest daisy.  Flowers are life, death, hope, beauty, goodness and evil, contrasts and harmony.

What is Who?  A Flower.

…until the next article in this series, in which I will try to illustrate why it is actually something else altogether.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Doctor Who, Random Chatter, Science Fiction, Television, What is Who? and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What is Who? A Flower

  1. Mike Basil says:

    Somehow your article on flowers in Dr. Who has reminded me, when I was a preteen in school, of opening a schoolbook and somehow finding a flattened dandelion inside, with no idea whatsoever of how it even got there in the first place. But I remember it being very sad.

    My favorite example of flowers in Dr. Who is in Revelation Of The Daleks, when the 6th Doctor has a Necros weed plant flower, shows it to Takis and Lilt, and tells them that when it’s refined, it would produce enough to protein to feed all the starving planets that Davros and Kara were exploiting. In the sense of many environmentally safe food and energy sources in our world, which of course can give us enough reason to abandon all the addictive toxins or all the corrupt exploitations of them, it was such a profoundly optimistic message from Dr. Who that it didn’t even matter how abruptly the 6th Doctor could finally reveal it.

    So thanks for this article because, in regards to realistic optimism from Dr. Who’s SF universe, the more realistic optimism all our SF universes can give us the better. 🌼

    Liked by 1 person

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