How’s your cup looking? Does it have tea in it, or coffee? Is if half full, or half empty? When things get really serious for the Doctor and his new companions in The Edge of Destruction, the Doctor has a good way of dealing with the problem. He hands round some drinks:
A little nightcap to help us relax and sleep.
Of course, it doesn’t work, but the thought is there (possibly a devious thought, knowing the First Doctor at this stage). The Doctor is perhaps more inclined to send his companions off to do the tea-making instead, such as Barbara in The Crusade:
Oh, my dear young woman, why don’t you go have a cup of tea or something.
But I think it is fair to say most companions end up making tea for the Doctor at one stage or another, even astrophysicist Zoe in The Space Pirates. Jo is forever making tea, but it is actually more often Benton’s job, apart from the rare occasions where he has more important things to worry about:
BENTON: Something’s gone badly wrong. We’ve no idea what’s happening to Miss Grant and the Captain, the Doctor should be back here by now, I can’t get through to the Brigadier and you’re nattering on about tea.
HAWTHORNE: You must learn the art of waiting, Sergeant. The Doctor will come, or else he won’t, and that’s all that can be said. Now, milk or lemon?
The correct answer to that question is milk, by the way. If you say lemon then you’re probably a Zygon duplicate or an Auton and you don’t realise it. In The Time Warrior, Robert Holmes goes to great lengths to paint Sarah Jane as Ms Women’s Lib, and one way he does that is by having her refuse to make coffee for the Doctor. Shock, horror! But the Doctor doesn’t hold a grudge, and eventually in School Reunion he tempts her back into the TARDIS with the words “cup of tea?”
Drinking tea (or coffee for our friends on the other side of the pond) seems to be in our DNA now, a comforting ritual (don’t mention addiction – my non-tea-drinking-wife likes to bandy around that word). In Image of the Fendahl the Doctor suggests making tea as a way to bring Mrs Tyler round – something familiar and domestic, with fruitcake of course. The courtesy of a cup of tea is even extended to the Master in Frontier in Space, when the Doctor offers to wake him up “with a cup of tea in the morning”. All the best Time Lords seem to be British, such as Chronotis, who has embraced the tea-drinking culture in Shada, although oddly decided to offer lumps of milk. It’s still a cozy picture. In Paradise Towers that coziness is perverted. Tabby and Tilda put on a show of domestic normality, luring in victims with an offer of “a cup of tea and some cakes”.
Tea drinking is often shorthand for “being British”. In The Greatest Show in the Galaxy the Captain is deliberately set up as a parallel for the Doctor, and one way that point is driven home is his tea-drinking, complete with a china cup. The Movie sells the Britishness of the Doctor Who institution to the US viewers by making a big thing of the Doctor drinking tea. And when the cup breaks, that denotes big trouble. In fact, it is often a major plot beat when the comforting cuppa gets destroyed. In The Faceless Ones the Doctor demonstrates a deadly alien weapon by turning a cup to ice. In The Enemy of the World, we know Benik is truly evil because he smashes all the nice cups:
Oh dear. What pretty crockery this is. Sad really, isn’t it? People spend all their time making nice things, and other people come along and break them.
In Boom Town a cup is smashed in panic by Margaret Blaine when the Doctor arrives at her office, and in Let’s Kill Hitler the captain’s cup in the teselecta falls from his chair when things go wrong. In The Time Meddler, we know the Doctor is really annoyed when he throws his cuppa at the Monk from his prison cell!
But a nice cuppa is not always a happy thing. It can be a sign of danger. Not all liquids are as innocent as tea. In The Aztecs Tlotoxl tries to poison Barbara with a drink, and in The Moonbase the crew’s coffee breaks are infecting them with the Cybermen’s virus. In The Masque of Mandragora a sinister steaming goblet is placed to Sarah’s lips.
Cups can also be used for mysterious purposes. Marco Polo reports that he has “seen Buddhist monks make cups of wine fly through the air unaided and offer themselves to the Great Khan’s lips”. In The Time Monster a cup and saucer are transported through time, and in Planet of the Spiders Clegg levitates a cup with the power of his mind. In Silver Nemesis we get to our ultimate example of mysterious drinks, with Lady Peinforte drinking cups of potion to enable her to travel through time.
There are other ways that drinks can be powerful, and they are sometimes symbolic. The Doctor unwittingly gets engaged by sharing a drink of cocoa with Cameca in The Aztecs, but that is not the only time somebody nearly gets hitched on account of a drink. In The Runaway Bride Donna says that the relationship that led to her engagement all started with “one cup of coffee”, six months before. In The Witch’s Familiar, drinking tea is a sign of how amazing the Doctor is:
Of course, the real question is, where did I get the cup of tea? Answer? I’m the Doctor. Just accept it.
… and in The Pilot, the Doctor offers Bill the whole universe in the time it will take Nardole to boil a kettle.
But we have been looking very literally at cups in Doctor Who so far, such as the Doctor’s use of a chemical-generating machine in The Ice Warriors to make himself a cup of water, or the precious Cup of Athelstan in Planet of the Dead, which the Doctor melts down to use the gold. The lines between literal and metaphorical can be blurred though. Rose sarcastically makes fun of Jackie in The Christmas Invasion, because she thinks a “nice cup of tea” is “the solution to everything”, which beautifully foreshadows how a cup of tea literally becomes a solution to everything later in the episode.
Ever heard that idiom that something is “your cup of tea”? The Brigadier knows exactly what is the Doctor’s cup of tea, in The Green Death:
But, Doctor, it’s exactly your cup of tea. This fellow’s bright green apparently, and dead.
And the Doctor does enjoy a good saying, too. In The Seeds of Doom he uses that old favourite: “there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip”, but in Delta and the Bannermen he is a little more confused: “there’s many a slap twixt a cup and a lap”.
But the metaphorical cup that I would argue is most significant to Doctor Who can be found in the lyrics of Auld Lang Syne, as sung in Twice Upon a Time:
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.
As the Doctor walks away from the Captain he raises a cup of kindness to him, and the Captain salutes him in return. At the end of his 12th life (13th? 14th) we get a perfect metaphor for the Doctor. He is the man who will always raise a cup of kindness.
Never cruel or cowardly.
It might be a cup half full, and when things get really bad it might even be a cup half empty, but the Doctor always has a cup of kindness to share.
What is Who? A cup of kindness.
…until the next article in this series, in which I will try to illustrate why it is actually something else altogether. RP