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Doctor Shoe: A History of Footwear in Doctor Who (No, Really)

S/he’s a cordwainer of the universe and a gentle(wo)man to boot!

(This gender-bending is playing havoc with subtitles, by the way.)

The Doctor Who Companion is not shy of dealing with the BIG ISSUES. Recent articles have tackled Creationism vs Evolution, Doctor Who and Christianity, and the New Paradigm Daleks (steady on, chaps, some subjects are just too controversial).

That’s why no-one-at-all asked me to write an article about shoes in Doctor Who. But I did it anyway. Because today is St. Hubbins’ Day (Patron Saint of Quality Footwear), and I thought it was fitting (geddit?) that someone finally tackled this crucial and too often overlooked aspect of the Whoniverse – or, dare I say, Shoeniverse… (Yes, that’s about the level of humour to expect from now on. So all you pun-phobics had best stop reading now. Podophiles, this one’s for you…)

The Eighth Doctor famously declared, ‘I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.’ But just a few scenes previously he exclaimed, ‘These shoes! They fit perfectly. Yes.’ Rule one: the Doctor talks cobblers.

Because once you get a whiff of the prevalence of shoe, boot, and footwear references in Doctor Who, you can never un-smell them. These footprints are everywhere. So, pull your socks up and prepare to have them blown off, as I present the indisfootable proof…

Shoeless in Time and Space

The first shoe trope that Doctor Who has consistently (yes, keep reading) featured is the liberated, barefoot companion. Tegan actor Janet Fielding is oft-quoted regarding her dismay at being told to run down corridors, climb rock faces, and speak aboriginal in stiletto heels (no easy task).

Well, the production team was being pretty shoeist towards the mouth-on-legs-in-impractical-heels, as companions past and future regularly abandoned unsuitable footwear, feety-weety. Grace goes shoe-free running to the operating theatre in the aforementioned TV Movie, as does Polly in The Highlanders to chase after Kirsty, and Clara enters the TARDIS barefoot in Listen. Clara is also footloose in The Time of the Doctor but she’s not just shoeless; she’s actually completely naked. Let’s just pause and consider that for a moment. Clara toes.

Right. There’s a whole sub-plot in The Stones of Blood about the Doctor’s disapproval of Romana’s shoe selection (‘Oh yes, very nicely, I should think, except for those shoes…’), which she eventually ditches and goes barefoot. The Doctor can get very touchy about footwear, as we shall see…

While for female companions, kicking off their shoes is a sign of abandonment and freedom, a non-shod male companion is a source of embarrassment and shame. The Doctor rebukes Ian in The Keys of Marinus for not wearing shoes (in fact Ian had lent his to Susan when she lost hers). And the Doctor is so incensed by the idea of Chesterton’s stocking feet that he goes from rage to senility within the same outburst, ‘Yes, and if you’d had your shoes on, my boy, you could have lent her hers. And she could have had her shoes and you hers and kept mine and we’d all be in a right pickle, Chesterfellow. You monster.’ (Section in italics is my addition, although it is a faithful reading of the unspoken subtext. Yes it is.)

Meanwhile in The Ark in Space, poor Harry ‘the imbecile’ Sullivan is forced by the Doctor to sacrifice his Wildsmith Loafers to the zap of the automatic guard. This renders Harry sock-bound for the rest of the adventure. Poor love. We’ve all had that dream where we have to fight off a hoard of parasitic giant alien insects on a space station wearing only socks. What do you mean, ‘…and not on our feet?’ That’s weird.

But the prime example of the barefoot-means-freedom metaphor is in The Dalek Invasion of Earth where the humble shoe actually comes to represent the Doctor. When Susan first declares her feelings for David (and signalling she will ultimately leave the Doctor as a result), she says, ‘No, David! I’ve lost my shoe [read: DOCTOR]. Oh David, I do love you! I do, I do, I do!’ And it’s this that prompts the Doctor to lock his granddaughter out of the TARDIS forever. Either that or the mean old codger actually exiles her to Dalek-ravaged planet Earth because he’s miffed that she’s ruined ANOTHER PAIR OF F*[!^G SHOES!

(I did say this was all about shoes, it’s not going to get any better, okay?)

Barefoot Doctor

Now, I know you were thinking, how come I haven’t mentioned the times the Doctor has abandoned his shoes and gone barefoot? Keep a civil tongue; I was just coming to that. We’ve already discussed the Eighth Doctor’s shoe exclamation, and you agreed with me that it was in finding shoes that fit that helped him rediscover his identity. (Well, you should have if you have any sense at all.) But this was a naked-footed Doctor putting shoes on, stupid, not choosing to go barefoot. So please skip this whole pointless paragraph and go on to the next one…

In Smith and Jones, when the Doctor gets a lethal dose of roentgen radiation, he expels it into his left shoe, which he throws in the bin. Perhaps summoning memories of a one-shoed Susan, the Doctor can’t bear to be similarly attired, and ditches the right shoe too. But, as I am sure you concur, he covers it up with an unconvincing quip, ‘I look daft with one shoe.’ His feelings for Susan are an open sore even after all these years. (He should probably get some Eucerin cream for that.) Except, no. What were you thinking? It’s got nothing to do with Susan, you dimwit. Humans! I despair, I really do…

Killer Heels

The Doctor Who universe is a strange place that’s nearly, but not quite, like our own. Moons can be eggs, massive Cyber invasions forgotten, and dangerous misanthropes can become Prime Minister (hmm, maybe it’s not that different). And shoes, too. In the Whoniverse, what we discard on entering a pernickety person’s dwelling are, in fact, deadly weapons of destruction. Well, kinda. (No, not Kinda. You’re thinking of mirrors. Not shoes. Mirrors is the subject of the next article. Unless I’m never allowed to write one again which, frankly, after this debacle…)

You want proof of shoes’ destructive capability. Mud. That’s one. Think of Barbara making mud. No, not smeared in mud. Don’t think that. It would ruin her cardigan. It was mud from – you guessed it – shoes that was the very first weapon used against the Daleks. And it worked. Wouldn’t it be great if rather than, ‘Aim for the eye-piece’, the Doctor shouted, ‘Gather and use some shoe-mud, and bung it on the eye piece. No, trust me on this’? Yes, it would.

Another of the Doctor’s greatest enemies was once nearly tw@tted (a technical term) with a shoe when Peri wielded her heels against an ickle Master in Planet of Fire, but he sneaked away, the scamp. The Sontarans, too. Maria’s comedy mum Chrissie managed to vanquish Kaagh the Slayer with her stiletto heel in The Sarah Jane Adventures story, The Last Sontaran (The Laughed-at Sontaran, now methinks).

Meanwhile, Maisie in Mummy on the Orient Express didn’t need no sonic to disable an electronic door. River’s heels are in the Black Archive. Then there’s possibly the ultimate in feet munitions with Graham’s laser shoes in Spyfall… See: shoes! I’ll say it again, shoes!

That’s not to mention Amy’s penchant for hitting Rory with her shoe (even if it means sitting down unlacing it) as recalled in The God Complex. And the Doctor’s not averse to a bit of boot whopping, as evidenced by his threat to Dr Chang in Dark Water: ‘Can you just hurry up, please, or I’ll hit you with my shoe.’

Which brings us to the Doctor and his symbiotic relationship with his footwear. Yes, I did actually write that…

The Doctor’s Greatest Feet

When the Doctor regenerates, his initial actions are pretty telling. When all the atoms that make up his very being are changed, it’s surprising that his first thoughts are sometimes foot-ward. This is certainly true of the Third Doctor who, in an obscure and little-seen adventure called Spearhead From Space (released on video twice, DVD twice, and Blu Ray once so far; I have them all) the Doctor practically only says, ‘Shoes’ in episode one. I just watched it again on BritBox to confirm.

On a side note, doesn’t this exchange between the Third Doctor and the nurse contain one of the most out-of-character piece of dialogue in the history of the show:

Doctor: Shoes. Must find my shoes.

Nurse: Oh no, you can’t get up. Come on.

Doctor: Unhand me, madam!

It’s like the show’s lurched into Carry On, um, Doctor, I suppose… Okay, yes. I’ll stick to the point.

Where were we? Ah, yes. Shoes. So one instance doesn’t really fit my shoe/regeneration hypothesis. And pointing out that the Fourth Doctor finds his keys in the Third’s boot in Robot probably won’t cut it either.

So how about the strange business of the Fourth Doctor’s knee-length burgundy boots regenerating into burgundy brogues when he wakes as the Fifth Doctor in Castrovalva? See, shoes. It always leads back to shoes. And when you add that to the Eighth’s shoe joy it’s a totally convincing case now, eh?

What a Load of Cobblers

The Second Doctor is pretty outraged in The Macra Terror when his suede shoes are polished to the point where you can see your face in them. But we know that the Doctor is a secret cobbler, so maybe he will put it right. Oh yes he is. Witness this bit of dialogue from The Dalek Invasion of Earth:

Susan: Oh, it’s not me, it’s this shoe of mine. Look, it’s worn right out.

Doctor: Oh, dear, dear, dear.

Susan: It must have been that journey back from the mine.

Doctor: Dear, dear, dear, I shall have to mend this, shan’t I now?

See. And it also might explain why the Doctor has such affection for Sarah Jane Smith. Because she is the only companion to share his passion for cobbling. ‘Your shoes need repairing,’ she says to comfort the Doctor as he attempts to diffuse a bomb in Pyramid of Mars.

And what is the greatest insult the War Doctor can hurl at the Tenth Doctor in The Day of the Doctor: his poor choice of footwear. This is a guy who is planning to commit the genocide of his own race. But he just can’t stomach someone who wears ‘sandshoes’. Even though we know from Time Crash that the Tenth was inspired in his footwear choice by the Fifth Doctor’s white cricket shoes.

Shoe Convinced Yet?

Well, that just about laces up that argument. And I haven’t even mentioned the swapping of shoes that fools Amy in mistaking the Doctor and his Ganger duplicate in The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People. Or the Weakest Link question that Rose gets wrong in Bad Wolf: Stella Pok Baint is not famous for shoes. Or when the Tenth Doctor stops to admire Martha’s shoes in The Lazarus Experiment. Even when Mel finds an incriminating shoe in Cabin 6 of Hyperion Three in Terror of the Vervoids.

It’s almost like I’ve searched for every time the word ‘shoe’ is uttered on the programme using the Doctor Who Transcription site. Well, I have. So if you find any examples I’ve missed then I’d like to know about it. So I’ll just add Kellior in Delta and the Bannermen being ionised leaving only a pair of smoking Blue Suede shoes, and Osgood’s Zygon duplicate pondering, ‘So, what happens if I lose a shoe or something?’

So there you have it. Proof that the TV show Doctor Who is actually all about shoes. Which in reality, it really, really isn’t. Sorry. No, it isn’t. I actually lost faith in this stupid hypothesis about a sentence into the article. But I couldn’t stop myself. Like a shiny pair of suede shoes, I thought I needed fixing.

But then an odd thing happened. As I was writing this, a short Doctor Who promo, 14684 UNIT Field Log | Doctor Who: Time Fracture, dropped on YouTube.

At two minutes and four seconds in, it has a message from the Doctor. ‘Did you get my shoes?’

It’s like the Doctor is reaching out from beyond time and space with a message to me. To all of us. Yes, finally. We do ‘get’ your shoes.

Peter Shaw

Doctor Shoe: A History of Footwear in Doctor Who (No, Really)

by Peter Shaw time to read: 9 min
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