Since the arrival of the Twelfth Doctor on our screens, hardly a episode passes without viewers hearing those two words again and again – it has become almost a catchphrase. Some may find the expression “Shut Up!” objectionable and symbolic of modern society’s woeful bad manners, but others will claim it is wholly in character with a gruffer and trickier Doctor. Whatever your opinion, “Shut Up!” is worthy of further investigation.
The verb precedes the twentieth century and the expression once had a completely different meaning, to “lock away” or “hold prisoner”. It also meant to close something, such as a business. Later the term was applied to the mouth, giving us the modern day meaning. In today’s sense of the expression, “shut up” can even be found in Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and Dickens’ “Little Dorrit”.
If you tell someone to ‘shut up’, you might disagree with them or not like what they are saying. In order to be able to say it, you might feel in some way superior to the other person. These are all aspects of the Doctor and Clara’s rocky relationship. In Series 8 “shut up” features in well over half the episodes and they don’t always involve just the Doctor and his companion.
Take “Deep Breath” alone. When Madame Vastra observes that Eleven looked liked Clara’s lover, Clara tells her to shut up. The Doctor apparently addresses a hansom cab driver, “Sorry, I’m going to have to relieve you of your pet.” When the driver complains, the Time Lord retorts, “Shut up! I was talking to the horse!”. On Westminster Bridge he tells Clara, Vastra, Jenny and Strax to all shut up, wondering if they have “puddings for brains”. If we consider terms similar to “shut up”, we can also include the Twelfth Doctor’s first words on opening the Tardis doors – “Shush!” In the same scene he mistakes the dinosaur for a male and shouts, “Oi, big man, shut it!”
Maybe I am wrong, but it seems that ever since Steven Moffat came on board as show runner, we have seen the ‘shut ups’ soar. It is hardly surprising given the dominant and assertive characters he has written, such as Amy Pond and River Song. Both characters are close to the Doctor and sometimes consider themselves his superior. This inevitably leads to conflict and the shut ups fly in all directions. In “The Snowmen” the Eleventh Doctor tells poor Strax, “Shut up! You’re not clever or funny and you’ve got tiny little legs!” And in an earlier tale it is Rory, surprisingly, who utters the immortal words, “Shut up, Hitler!”
During RTD’s time as show runner, were there so many shut ups? It is a valid question and I suspect it is not so. That said, who can forget “The Christmas Invasion”? Jackie asks the newly regenerated Doctor, who is suffering from a terrible headache, what he needs. As he tries to answer, she constantly interrupts him with a never-ending list of suggestions. These include painkillers, an aspirin, a bowl of soup, liquid paraffin, a little ham sandwich, and vitamins C, D and E! After many “I need…”s the poor Doctor finally manages to get a sentence out: “I need you to shut up!”. Rose’s mum wittily replies, “Oh he hasn’t changed that much, has he?”
In the Classic Series was everyone perhaps a little politer? Did “shut up” pass their lips? Well, the Fourth Doctor tells K9 to shut up in “Underworld” and Brigadier Bambera tells her favourite knight, Ancelyn, to ‘shut up and run’ in “Battlefield”.
Many are the ways, however, that one may request that one’s interlocutor kindly hold their tongue. “Be quiet” was often heard in the Classic Series. In “The War Games” the Doctor tells his companion, “Now just be quiet, Jamie, and let me do the talking!”. It tends to be authoritarian characters who say the words. Briggs in “Earthshock”, slimy Lord Kiv (to Sil) in “Mindwarp” and The Inquisitor in “The Ultimate Foe”. She speaks for many eighties Whovians when she says to Melanie Bush, “Be quiet, girl!” The title “The Ultimate Foe” incidentally refers to the Valeyard, we presume, and not the squeaky-voiced sidekick!
What about the more gentle “hush”? The First Doctor was quite keen on it, with a “hush, child” here and a “hush, Ian” there. We even get a “hush, hush, hush” in “The Chase”! We often hear the alternative “Shh!”. Over the years we have had, “Shh! It’s working.”, “Shh! Listen!”, “Shh! Keep your voice down!”, “Shh! The guard will hear you!” and “Shh! Someone’s coming!”
I do not subconsciously wish for any Alzarian ex-companion to refrain from speaking, but let’s come full circle and conclude with another observation on “shut up”. The online Urban Dictionary gives it a more modern meaning, one expressing incredulity, surprise or disbelief. As in “What? My lazy ex has got a job? Shut up!”. In “Robot of Sherwood”, Clara uses the words this way, when the Doctor speculates that they might be inside a miniscope.
I would argue that this is the only acceptable way of using “shut up” in Doctor Who. Maybe I have been possessed by the spirit of Mary Whitehouse, but the Doctor is a role model for younger viewers. He should not be telling people to shut up. It is inappropriate and rude, not befitting of our beloved Time Lord. Surely, Mr Moffat, there are cleverer ways of writing a gruffer and trickier Doctor.
And on that note, I’ll shut up!