"A lady at the graveside is debatable enough, but... Your apparel...." She wonders, then, to the company of esteemed men, if it's simply too exciting. Old Mr. Cole calls her a disgrace and a harlot. "And you should know, Mr. Cole." He is astounded, asking how she knows her name. "You've walked past me so many times, all you good men of charity, never once asking my name," she laughs at them, in their hypocrisy, and an older one remembers her name. "It's Miss Hartigan, isn't it?" She grins. "I saw you looking, you cheeky boy!" She's grotesque, over the line, pushing the envelope for the sake of neither the envelope nor the act of pushing; playing the harlot because it's the only role they left her. And confronted with their works, the company of esteemed men begins to panic.
(As my father, who would love Miss Hartigan, is fond of saying in these circumstances: "Oh, fuck me? Fuck you!" Cheeky boy.)
Who she is, by day, is the matron of the St Joseph Workhouse. "Your... Humble servant," she says, more ironically than lasciviously and more truthfully than ironically. At least before today. What she means is, she is their contemporary. They are slavers, in company. She circles them, spiraling as they recoil toward the grave. "Oh, I've watched you all. Visiting, smiling. Bestowing your beneficence upon the poor while I scrubbed down their filthy beds." As she, long ago, was the lucky beneficiary in her turn, and some other woman, now dead, scrubbed down her filthy bed. And in the night, if she could sleep at all, she'd write letters to herself, in her incredible imagination.
The world is wrong...
Mercy summons the Cybermen, the Shades, and they make short work of all but four of these kind gentlemen. For it was Mercy sent the Cybermen to the late Reverend Fairchild, the better to gather them all together. "Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live," she quotes at them, and scoffs at time, and gathers the ones she wants: "Mr. Cole, Mr. Scoones, Mr. Fetch, Mr. Milligan." The others shove, and run, and push each other into death, all the disposables, including the priest. "Sorry," she says, but she doesn't mean it; him least of all, him and his God that never quite seemed to care enough to save her, because she was disposable. Insignificant, you might say. Signifying nothing.
It's left between the lines because the Christmas Specials, even more than the show, are for kids. But here's what she signifies, in plain language: At the bottom of the Thames, full fathoms down, is all the shit and refuse and shame and dirt and pain and hate and fear that keeps the rest of us alive, and celebrating Christmas. At the bottom of the Thames is where we keep the spider, the shame: the engines that run on the blood of children, and the silence of women. At the bottom is where she lived, for so long. Too pretty for a mudlark, too smart for a wife. There's something on her back. It is you. And it is Mr. Cole, and Mr. Scoones, and Mr. Fetch, and it's Mr. Milligan. And when she rises, she brings not only them but all the shit and refuse and shame and dirt and pain and hate and fear that makes Christmas possible, from the bottom of the Thames right up into the sky. She will fly. She dreams of leaving, but never does. The world is wrong.