Close your eyes my darling. Well, three of them at least.
That’s a silly little bit of fun from the Third Doctor, but something unusual about eyes often represents danger in Doctor Who. We can be a bit squeamish about eyes, can’t we, and we also rely on them to form relationships. We look into each other’s eyes, and try to see the soul beyond them. You can see it, if you look carefully. But what if you can’t see anything by looking into the eyes?
The first Doctor Who monsters are the Daleks, and they are one-eyed monsters. We get more examples of those in The Ark (Monoids), The Claws of Axos (that large eye dangling from the ceiling of Axos), Death to the Daleks (the one-eyed metallic snake), City of Death (Skaroth), The Eleventh Hour (the Atraxi). But it can be subverted, to confound our expectations and challenge our assumptions. Alpha Centauri is a one-eyed monster, and he/she isn’t a monster at all.
Sometimes an eye has been lost, indicating a treacherous character, as in The Visitation, or an eye can be obscured by an eyepatch, performing a similar function. This happens in The Myth Makers (the Greek spy Cyclops), Inferno (the Brigade Leader), The Android Invasion (Guy Crayford), The Wedding of River Song (eye-drives) and The Girl Who Died (Odin, and then subverted with the Doctor’s broken sunglasses). Note that the eye-drives, and to a lesser extent Guy Crayford, both subvert our expectations. They are not quite the signifier of evil we would assume them to be. Doctor Who at its best always challenges our assumptions.
Just as one eye fewer than normal can indicate danger, so can one more. The Silurians have a third eye in Doctor Who and the Silurians, which they can use as a weapon. Davros has an eye in his forehead. Then there are the eyes out of context, often a creepy idea. The Morphotons have googly eyes on stalks (The Keys of Marinus), the Monopticon is a robotic eye (Four to Doomsday), and Forest of the Dead does something similar. The Greatest Show in the Galaxy is packed full of eye symbolism, including “a well with an eye peering out from inside”. The Girl in the Fireplace has security cameras constructed from human eyes, and the Atraxi in The Eleventh Hour are eyeball monsters. In Amy’s Choice there are eyeballs in people’s mouths. Amy and Rory find a giant glass eye in Night Terrors, and in The Almost People there are Ganger eyes watching from the walls.
AMY: Why are they here?
DOCTOR: To accuse us.
Eyes don’t have to be out of context to be frightening. Doctor Who frequently presents us with Red Eyes of Doom, or Eyes that Shoot Lasers. Examples of the former can be found in The Daemons (Bok), Planet of Evil (Sorenson), The Robots of Death (take a random guess), The Keeper of Traken (the Melkur), Snakedance (possessed Tegan), Terminus (the Garm), and Enlightenment (Wrack’s red eye that she uses to destroy ships), and examples of the latter can be found in The Talons of Weng-Chiang (the dragon), The Keeper of Traken (the Melkur again) and Dragonfire (again, take a guess). Then we have variations on the theme, such as the Yeti with their glowing eyes (The Web of Fear), the Medusa whose eyes turns her victims to stone (The Mind Robber), the Master’s yellow eyes in Survival, and the googly eyes of monsters such as Cybermats (The Tomb of the Cybermen), the robot version of Sarah (The Android Invasion) and the decayed Master (The Deadly Assassin). Note also in that last example that Goth’s eyes appear in the quarry wall in the Matrix when he talks to the Doctor, and this is also the first story to mention the Eye of Harmony, a metaphor for the nucleus of a black hole.
Blankness where eyes should be can be even more frightening, really playing on the uncanny valley response. In The Tenth Planet the Cybermen’s eyes are there, but hidden deep. By The Moonbase they are just empty holes. The Autons also have blank eyes, a nightmarish quality:
RANSOME: No eyes, no hair, just stares.
RANSOME: Men. Creatures! Made in the factory!
Eyes can also be a point of weakness. How often are Daleks fought by “aiming for the eyepiece”? In Into the Dalek, the eyestalk becomes a point of access for Clara and the Doctor. When Rose looks into the heart of the TARDIS her eyes blaze with its energy, which brings us to eyes as a vulnerable entry point. As the Doctor says in The Time of Angels, “the eyes are not the windows of the soul. They are the doors. Beware what may enter there.” The Angels take full advantage of that. Eyes are also utilised as a weak point when somebody is hypnotised, and there are many examples of that in Doctor Who.
So are the eyes the “windows to the soul” (as well as the doors)? It does seem that the eyes often betray our true feelings and desires, and Doctor Who has played with that idea over the years. In The Aztecs, Cameca thinks that “the gods are smiling favour” through the Doctor’s eyes. In The Time Warrior, Irongron notices that Linx’s “eyes have a thirst for blood”, and in The Caves of Androzani, Jek says this about the Doctor:
You have the mouth of a prattling jackanapes but your eyes, they tell a different story.
It seems that the Doctor can play the fool, but the keen intelligence behind his eyes will betray him. The same thing happens in The Dominators, when Rago says “are you such a fool? You have intelligent eyes.” The Doctor’s eyes can also hint at his true age, when his appearance otherwise can be youthful: “You see these eyes? They’re old eyes.” (Night Terrors). In The Underwater Menace, the Doctor asks Thous if he has noticed Zaroff’s eyes, and has figured out from looking at them that he is “mad as a hatter”.
The implication here is that the eyes and the mind are connected. Kinda plays with this, with the camera panning in to an extreme closeup of Tegan’s eye as we journey metaphorically into her mind. The connection comes up again in Ghost Light, when Redvers says “it burnt through my eyes into my mind”. The Moffat era goes really big with the idea, picking up on the zoom into the eye technique from Kinda, to show us the world from the Doctor’s perspective in The Eleventh Hour. Then there are the shots of reflections in people’s eyes during the Moffat era, such as the planet in The Rings of Akhaten, and the moon in Kill the Moon. The Crimson Horror plays with the “silly superstition” that “the eye can retain an image of the last thing it sees.”
Of course, this is taken a step further in The Time of Angels, with the Angel in Amy’s eye, Let’s Kill Hitler and The Wedding of River Song, where the people in charge of the teselectas can be seen behind the eyes: a literal interpretation of the connection between eyes and mind, if ever there was one.
All sorts of metaphors spring from this mind/eye connection. In The Reign of Terror, Napoleon is “a hero in the people’s eyes”. Harris uses the expression “open your eyes” in Fury from the Deep, when what he means is to “open your mind”. In The Invasion of Time, Gomer says that he and Kelner “never saw eye to eye”, a metaphor for disagreement, and then in The Armageddon Factor we get a metaphor for deception: “who’s pulling the wool over who’s eyes?” These are all figures of everyday speech, which we readily understand, and they all utilise the mind/eye connection.
Doctor Who is packed full of eye metaphors and symbolism, and I have only really scratched the surface here. How about the Sensorites, who are defeated by their sensitive eyes, or Sutekh trapped in the Eye of Horus, or the Eye of Orion, the “most tranquil place in the universe”, or the human eye opening the Eye of Harmony, or the little girl in Forest of the Dead curled up on an eye motif.
But I’ll just pick out one significant moment that refers specifically to the “mind’s eye”. This is not about the physical eyes, but how we imagine, how we perceive the world around us. Our interpretations. In Deep Breath Clara is struggling to accept the new Doctor as the same person. She is seeing him with her eyes, but not her mind’s eye. And the Doctor realises that.
You can’t see me, can you? You look at me, and you can’t see me. Have you any idea what that’s like? I’m not on the phone, I’m right here, standing in front of you. Please, just, just see me.
…and then she really does see him, realises that he is the same man who phoned her up, and thanks him for that. She makes a leap of faith. She sees.
What is Who? The Mind’s Eye.
…until the next article in this series, in which I will try to illustrate why it is actually something else altogether. RP