In a previous article in this series we looked at the function of mirrors in Doctor Who. Occasionally, a window can be a mirror by proxy, such as the dangerous reflections in The Curse of the Black Spot, but The Girl in the Fireplace is probably the most obvious example of combining themes of both windows and mirrors. It has what I described in my previous article as “magic mirrors”, ones that are used as a portal to travel to different places. On one side of that portal is a window, allowing the other world to be seen. The Doctor himself understands the link between mirrors and windows, and it’s one of dishonesty, which is why the glass/mirror in The Girl in the Fireplace has one-way glass. In The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe his adaptation of Lily and Cyril’s bedroom includes “a window disguised as a mirror. A mirror disguised as a window.”
In Doctor Who, windows are inherently dishonest things. Most of the time they are proxy doors. When is a door not a door? When it’s a window. Let’s look at some different subcategories of this use of windows in Doctor Who:
A window as a means of escape:
- In The Invasion Zoe and Isobel escape imprisonment by climbing through a window onto a rope ladder hanging from a helicopter.
- In Terror of the Autons the Doctor spectacularly fails to notice an open window, the means by which the Master presumably escaped after he had rigged a bomb to explode when the door opens. Later in the same story, the Doctor gets rid of a bomb by throwing it through a window into a canal.
- In The Sea Devils the Doctor is actually the source of danger, and a Sea Devil escapes from him by jumping out of a broken window into the sea. Later, Jo is able to communicate with the Doctor through a window when he is imprisoned in the Master’s cell, so she can help him escape.
- In Terror of the Zygons we get another monster escape through a window, this time Zygon/Harry’s escape from the sickbay.
- Leela escapes from Mr Sin by jumping onto a table and then leaping through a window in The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
- Duggan and Romana escape from the Louvre by breaking a window in City of Death. Of course, it’s Duggan who does the breaking!
- In Boom Town we get another of those villain escapes, with Margaret Slitheen pursued by the Doctor and climbing out of a window.
- The Doctor and/or his companions also escape imprisonment or danger by climbing through windows in The Power of the Daleks, The Daemons, Planet of Evil, The Android Invasion, The Curse of Fenric, Partners in Crime (bonus points for the window cleaning cradle), Robot of Sherwood and Heaven Sent.
A window as a sneaky entrance:
- In The Romans the assassin enters through a window to attack the Doctor.
- In The Mind Robber Jamie slips into a fairytale role by climbing through a window to try to get to Rapunzel.
- In Planet of the Spiders Mike and Sarah climb through a window and get discovered by Tommy. Later, Tommy uses an open window as a way to steal the blue crystal.
- In The Visitation the Doctor and Nyssa gain access to the manor house through a window.
- The Doctor becomes the Ghost of Christmas Past by climbing in through Kazran’s window in A Christmas Carol.
- Other examples of a window being used to gain access can be found in The Reign of Terror, The Gunfighters, The Enemy of the World, Pyramids of Mars and The Eleventh Hour.
Note that it is often the Doctor or his companions that are gaining entrance in this way. This is a subversion of probably the most common use of windows in Doctor Who, as a point of vulnerability for the monsters to get in. Windows are a connection with the outside world, and they are dangerous:
- In The Moonbase we have a base under siege that feels incredibly vulnerable, constructed almost entirely of windows. The Cybermen take advantage of that, by blasting a hole in the dome. Luckily, a tea tray comes to the rescue.
- In The Web of Fear a Yeti control sphere smashes through a window in Silverstein’s museum, in order to reactivate a dormant Yeti.
- Fury from the Deep is a subversion, with Jamie and the Doctor smashing a window to let the dangerous gas out.
- Spearhead from Space is an inversion, with the monsters smashing through windows to gain access to the outside world (repeated in Rose, of course).
- Sometimes the danger simply takes the form of a bullet or a shot being fired through a window. Examples of this can be found in The Enemy of the World and Pyramids of Mars.
- Other examples of monsters smashing through windows can be found in Inferno, The Seeds of Doom, The Curse of Fenric, Amy’s Choice, and Vincent and the Doctor.
But a window doesn’t always need to be broken to be a point of danger. It is often simply a way of seeing danger on the other side, something scary approaching, or a connection between two different aspects of the plot, one of which is the realm of the monsters:
- In The Daleks the Doctor and his companions watch through a window as the Thals walk into a trap, helpless to alert them to the danger.
- In The Sensorites we get that wonderful cliffhanger with a Sensorite bobbing up in front of the spaceship screen.
- In The Reign of Terror a cruel onlooker enjoys watching through a window as Barbara and Susan are taken to their deaths.
- In The Dalek Invasion of Earth, Ian first sees the destruction of London through a warehouse window.
- We get the inversion of this theme in Galaxy 4, with a Rill observing the Doctor and Vicki through a window. Similarly, in The Time Monster a window cleaner sees danger by looking in through a window, and pays the price by falling off his ladder!
- The Underwater Menace is a perfect example of this, with the world of the fish people viewed through a window.
- In The Green Death the waste being pumped into the mines is seen through an observation window.
- In The Power of Kroll it is simply sunlight through a window that creates a point of danger, drying out and shortening the creepers that bind the Doctor and Romana. This is inverted in Ghost Light, where sunlight no longer poses a threat to the vampiric Josiah, so Ace raising the blinds has no effect.
- A sun filter descending in The End of the World allows a lethal level of sunlight to enter through a window.
- In one of the best examples, in Blink, Sally watches two statues through a window, and when she blinks they appear either side of the window she has just been looking through!
- Other examples of danger seen through a window can be found in The Abominable Snowmen, The Time Warrior, The Ark in Space, Castrovalva, The Parting of the Ways, The Impossible Planet, The Shakespeare Code, Dark Water and Under the Lake.
New York growled at my window, but I was ready for it.
When windows are french windows the vulnerability is increased, as is the theme of windows functioning as doors. Examples of this can be found in Day of the Daleks, The Stones of Blood and Rise of the Cybermen. But sometimes it is the absence of windows that denotes danger, as in The Space Museum where the Doctor suggests a toxic atmosphere outside, or The God Complex, where missing windows indicates imprisonment within a nightmare. Windows can also appear to be an opportunity for escape, but instead be a cruel barrier with a tantalising vision of the outside world:
- In The Evil of the Daleks Victoria feeds birds through the bars at her window.
- In The Abominable Snowmen the Doctor looks out of his cell window, but there is a 100 foot drop, as Travers points out to him.
TRAVERS: It’s a hundred foot drop outside that window. There’s no way out, you know.
DOCTOR: I didn’t think there would be.
…and of course in 42, the window through the airlock door becomes that cruel barrier through which Martha can be seen floating away into space, and vice versa.
Sometimes a window is simply something fragile to be destroyed for effect. This happens a lot in the McCoy era in particular, with windows being smashed by sound in Delta and the Bannermen, by the Dalek shuttle descending in Remembrance of the Daleks, by the scream of the Nemesis statue in Silver Nemesis and by Judson’s disapparition in The Curse of Fenric. Windows can also be distorted or changed in some way to denote danger. Ice forms on windows to indicate approaching danger in The Snowmen and also in Hide. Glass melts around the Doctor’s hand in The Movie and then he walks right through. The Celestial Toymaker has a metaphorical distorted window, his “memory window” that shows Dodo a cruel image from her past.
This brings us to screens that function as windows, projecting an image from outside so therefore acting in virtually the exact same way, just slightly removed. They can again be distorted, as in The Mind Robber, where the scanner screen lies. More straightforward examples can be found in The Ark, and my personal favourite: the Zarbi head filling the whole TARDIS scanner screen in The Web Planet. Then we also have a painting of a window, in Vincent and the Doctor, with a monster lurking there.
I know evil when I see it and I see it in that window.
A window can also bring the Doctor or his companions knowledge of the plot, without them actually having to climb through it, because windows can let through sound as well as light. So we have Steven doing a lot of spying through windows in The Massacre and the Doctor sneaking a look into Quinn’s cottage through the window in The Silurians.
You might have noticed some very important windows in Doctor Who that haven’t been mentioned yet: the TARDIS windows. They perform a lot of the same functions listed above. Light streams through the TARDIS windows when the Master regenerates in Utopia. They let through light so would appear to be a point of vulnerability. As Bill says in The Pilot when referring to the TARDIS doors: “They’re made of wood. They’ve got windows!” But this is always subverted. These are not windows that function in all the usual ways. The TARDIS is quite capable of smashing through a window in Let’s Kill Hitler, but its own windows are immune to damage (unless you count a couple of early Hartnell stories where a window was hanging open on the prop!) It makes sense that the TARDIS, a magic box that plays by its own rules, would take something as fundamental and simple as a window and twist our expectations.
These humble symbols of utility have power. The power to make us feel safe, and to scare us. A barrier that is often a fragile illusion. Most compellingly, a metaphor.
I’m opening windows on your future. A tangle in time through the days to come, to the man today will make of you.
And ultimately Doctor Who itself is a window. It offers us a window into the past, and a window into possible futures. Sometimes it reflects back on us, inviting us to consider aspects of our own lives and personalities. Sometimes it breaks, but always gets repaired in the end.
What is Who? A window.
…until the next article in this series, in which I will try to illustrate why it is actually something else altogether. RP