Souffles, Subatomic Particles, and Doctor Who

In the Doctor Who episode “The Name of the Doctor”, companion Clara Oswald said something rather distinctive, something that was meant to define her character as Souffle Girl.  Now, I won’t spoil the episode for you, but I think it’s okay to deliver that one quote as it stood in the episode:

Unfortunately, she (or whoever told her this– her mother, I think) is mistaken.  The souffle isn’t the recipe– it can’t be the recipe.  If it was the recipe, then all that work of making the souffle would be useless, because the recipe existed beforehand and the recipe exists afterward.  The souffle itself, therefore, would be worthless, because the recipe is obviously a higher form of souffle– it doesn’t have to end.

What is the point of a souffle, though?  The taste?  The nutrition?  The joy of making it?  If the souffle is the recipe, then all of that is meaningless.  The recipe doesn’t taste good.  The recipe doesn’t nourish you.  The recipe is a series of words instructing you how to make something that will provide all those things.  The recipe is not the goal of the operation– it is the mode of operation, through which you must pass in order to get the end result.  And the end result is the souffle, not the recipe.

Saying the souffle is the recipe is like saying Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races is its outline, or its pitch– flesh eating horses in a race once a year.  If you’ve read that book, you know it’s much more than that– the story in itself is good, but the style is amazing.  Where in her outline did she say, “Beautiful imagery here”?  And even if she did say that, would it compare to the beautiful imagery itself?  No.  The book is more than the sum of its parts.

And that, I think, is what a souffle is supposed to be as well.  The ingredients don’t matter– if you throw them all into a furnace for the prescribed amount of time, I don’t think you’re going to get the same result.  Neither does the process matter.  The process doesn’t nourish, doesn’t taste good.  The end result is what we’re going for, and the only reason it’s different from the pile of ingredients is because it’s more than the sum of its parts.  When it goes through the process of the recipe, it comes out better.

So, if that can’t work, what can this phrase mean, “The souffle is the recipe”?  At this point, I don’t know.  Because even taken in context with other episodes from the same season of the show, that quote makes no sense.  For instance, the Doctor’s speech to the little girl in “The Rings of Akhaten”:

Now, let’s just think about that speech for a moment.  Don’t worry if it contradicts your beliefs or anything– that isn’t the point of this.  Think about what he means.

Is he saying here that this little girl is the sum of her parts, and if she dies, she’ll just reassemble into someone else?  Or is he saying that the universe came together to make this little girl unique, and there will never be another like her?  Does he mean (gasp!) that Clara’s claim of the souffle being the recipe is, I don’t know, false?  Because if that little girl is unique, she can’t be the process that made her.  That would mean that every human being who went through the same channels of coming into this world would be identical, and thus expendable.  I think that’s a good motivational speech for the Doctor to give, don’t you?  “You’re expendable, so either sing your lungs out or this planet dies, but no one will care because some other little girl is being born right now on a planet across the galaxy, and I’ll say hi to her later for you if you want.”  No, that isn’t the Doctor’s philosophy.  He believes that the universe is more than just the sum of its subatomic particles.  He believes that the souffle is more than the recipe.

In which case, however, he would believe that the souffle was worth saving as well… unless he takes into account true purpose for things.  For instance, a souffle is destined to be eaten– you can’t use it for many other processes.  Pigs, on the other hand, are life forms– they aren’t made to be eaten.  They’re made to live, and do who knows what in their pig world.  Why isn’t the Doctor saving the race of pigs from those great exterminators known as the human race?  Are humans pardoned from all their sins?  If we chose to invade the Daleks’ planet, would he stand by us, or would he protect them instead?

Anyway, enough of this aimless speculation.  I’m not sure what these apparent contradictions in the show are supposed to mean– perhaps they are just contradictions, and the writers are too lazy to fix them or explain them.  Personally, I think this would be a great character arc for Clara, to go from thinking of people and things as their recipes only and go to seeing it how the Doctor sees it.  However, until that day, we are left to wonder what the contradictory attitudes of these characters actually mean.

I, for one, won’t be content to let it be a simple philosophical mistake by Clara’s mother.  She ought to be an alien.

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19 thoughts on “Souffles, Subatomic Particles, and Doctor Who

  1. Nice Post. I think Doctor Who has had so many hundreds of episodes and so many writers that it isn’t always very consistent. But then again, both of the episodes you mentioned were in the same series, weren’t they?

    We watched “The Day of the Doctor” last night! It was the first Doctor Who I’d seen in about 5 years, and it was really good, if, as always, a bit confusing.

    1. Both of the episodes were from series 7. (I feel like such a green Whovian, quoting from the latest episodes…) The two were probably written by different people, but that speech sums up the Doctor’s philosophy, and Stephen Moffat might have realized that as he was writing The Name.

      I enjoyed that one too. It is confusing, and I’m pretty sure there were plot holes big enough to hide entire galaxies, but I enjoyed it all the same. It was a nice pulling together of a lot of plot lines.

      1. Yes, that is certainly true.

        You might be more green than me, but you certainly know more. I hadn’t even seen the latest Doctor (who, I hear, is leaving soon already) before Friday night: all I’ve seen is a few of Tom Baker, a few of Eccleston and a few early Tenants, and all a long time ago. (Tom Baker = awesome. I was so pleased to see him at the end of ‘The Day of the Doctor’)

      2. Yes, that was a nice cameo for him, although I haven’t seen him much at all. I’ve only seen one Eccleston, too… It’s pretty pathetic. But yes, I pick up a lot from just being around other Whovians. It’s amazing how many spoilers they mention in a spoiler-free conversation.

      3. So what, they walk up to you and say, “do you want a Doctor Who spoiler-free conversation or just a regular conversation?” and you say “a Doctor Who spoiler-free conversation if you please”, but then they are so out of practice that they dish out the spoilers anyway? I can just picture that.

        I don’t really have many “Whovian” friends near me — except maybe Dad, but he was a Tom Baker era fan.

  2. Hmmmmm. I know nothing of Doctor Who. But this was interesting. That’s the sort of thing that’ll sometimes pop into my head while I’m reading. What did the author mean by that? And what does the rest of the book mean because of what the author meant? (That really gets distracting, however.)

    1. Yes, the English class dissection. I probably shouldn’t have gone so deeply into these two quotes– I don’t usually like that sort of stuff– but I’ve been feeling antagonistic against the DW writers lately.

  3. I interpreted the quote another way. Most people are intimidated by the prospect of making a soufflé and fail at it, or never try to make one because they’ve put them on a kind of culinary pedestal. If they could get over it and just follow the recipe then they’d see soufflés are cake.

  4. I only just got into this show. Or at least it feels that way. One thing that I do know is that fans probably shouldn’t refer to season whatsoever as the “Golden Age”. The show has better episodes and worse episodes, but more than that, it’s designed to evolve, to keep moving and growing. (Why else would they have come up with such a perfect mechanism so they could change out actors playing the primary character? Which is genius, by the way, at least in my opinion.) So comparing, say, Eccleston and Tennant, is wrong, because they’re really different outgrowths exploring different facets of the same character and each of them is furthering a larger story…
    The continuity for some of the facts is a real mess, though. (There, I said it. It needed to be said.)

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