Warning: this does contain spoilers for seasons 7-8 of Doctor Who.
As I sit down to write this article, only four episodes of the eighth season of Doctor Who have aired. And as with any seasons with Steven Moffat as showrunner, it has already been fraught with controversy and negativity, most of which I feel is excessive and unnecessary. But nothing bothers me more than the continual hatred towards the Doctor’s companion this past season and a half: Clara Oswald. Since everyone else seems to have no issue launching their opinions into the ether that is the Internet, I thought I should do the same, but as a defense of Ms Oswald. I have some rather strong opinions about her myself.
Our first introduction to Clara Oswald technically came in 2012’s “Asylum of the Daleks,” where Jenna Coleman played Oswin Oswald, Junior Entertainment Manager of the crashed Starship Alaska. While this wasn’t actually the Clara we know today (more on that later), this was the first time Jenna Coleman played a role on the show. Oswin was fun and sassy and, ultimately, tragic. I personally find AOTD one of the most tragic and touching episodes of the revived series. For one woman to realize the truth—that she’s been transformed into the most evil, hateful creature in the universe—and know that her life as she knew it is now over, that she is, for all intents and purposes, dead, and to still help three strangers live is the height of self-sacrifice. Keep a firm grasp on that term—self-sacrifice—because it’s going to color my entire argument for Clara’s character, bleeding forward into every future incarnation of her.
Or is it bleeding backward…?
So Oswin died in the explosion at the end of AOTD, after helping the Doctor, Amy, and Rory to escape. Dead. The End. Right? Well, with Steven Moffat, we know that that may not always be the end of a character.
Sure enough, she pops up again in the 2012 Christmas special, “The Snowmen,” but this time as a Victorian governess named Clara. The Doctor doesn’t recognize her at first, since he’s distraught over the deaths of Amy and Rory, and he never got to see her face in AOTD, either. He finally recognizes her by her last words, uttered while dying on Christmas Eve: “Run you clever boy, and remember me.”
Thus begins one of my personal favorite eras of New Who. I’m sure many people reading this will scratch their heads at that, but I have my reasons. Maybe I’m overthinking Doctor Who, maybe I’m not. But this is why I think Clara (and the “Impossible Girl” storyline) is so good.
After “The Snowmen,” the Doctor realizes that this girl, this Impossible Girl, is popping up throughout his life with no rhyme or reason. He sets off to find her again, without really knowing why, only that he has to. I think part of the reason why so many people hate this storyline is that they despise the “quest story” in general. The hero looking for someone or something just because they must or even just to pass the time. But that’s not the way I look at season 7B.
After losing the Ponds, the Doctor lost himself, in a way. Everyone knows that when he’s alone, bad things happen. He forgets the sliver of humanity within himself that keeps him grounded, that keeps him from ending up like the other arrogant masses of Time Lords. He’s the last one: he has to be an example to the rest of the galaxy, and he’s taken it upon himself to save other people and worlds because he couldn’t save his own. Now his friends are gone, and he’s nearing the end of his regenerations. There’s nothing left for him to live for.
Then Clara comes along and finally forces him to focus on something other than the pain. She obviously has something to do with him, because he keeps running into these different incarnations of her. If he can solve the mystery of her, maybe he can forget about everything else. Even if it’s only for a little while.
When he finally finds Clara again, it’s in the modern world. This is where I’ve seen a lot of complaints come in: modern Clara isn’t as interesting as Victorian Clara, or even Oswin. Well, okay. The original plan was to have Victorian Clara stay on as a companion, and the Impossible Girl storyline would be either shortened or nonexistent. And maybe that would be better, but I honestly don’t think so. Yes, Moffat has his writing flaws, but the way he weaves his storylines throughout an entire season (or three…) is fascinating to me. And the way he compares two things without the audience even realizing sometimes until later is ingenious. Say what you will about the man, but you can’t say he’s a bad writer. You just can’t, because he isn’t.
Throughout season 7B, Clara goes on adventures with the Doctor, adjusting to another facet to her life—the intricacies of time and space. And it’s a difficult adjustment, sometimes. It’s a whole new world for this uninitiated human to explore, and I think Clara does it with grace. In “The Rings of Akhaten,” she gets separated from the Doctor, but helps the Queen of Years with the gentle wisdom we come to expect from this Junior Entertainment Manager/governess/babysitter/school teacher. She’s good with children—this is something we learn straight away. And that permeates every aspect of her being, diffusing into her different incarnations (see? Genius). And when the Doctor is being attacked by the sentient sun, she offers up the thing most precious to her—her leaf, passed down to her by her parents—to save him. Self-sacrifice, again. With the amount of times Clara has saved the Doctor, I don’t understand how anyone can say she hasn’t done anything as a character. It’s all there!
But Clara’s influence doesn’t stop there. As I mentioned already, it’s the mystery of her that pulls the Doctor out of his depression, which is impressive in and of itself, but Clara as a character blossomed in season 7B. By the time we reached “The Name of the Doctor,” she was so close to the Doctor that she would do anything for him. When the Great Intelligence split itself into the Doctor’s timestream, killing him all throughout his lives at the same time, it was Clara who realized the truth, without anyone having to tell her: the reason why the Doctor had met her so many times before was because she had also split herself into his time stream. There almost isn’t a choice—she’s already done it. But there is a choice. As we all know from watching the show, time can be rewritten. Clara could have been a coward and walked away right then and there. She knows if she does this she’ll probably die, but she does it anyway to save him.
Looking back over all the other New Who companions, it is Clara who stands out to me as the bravest and most self-sacrificing. Of course, most of the others didn’t have the opportunity to do what she did, and may have done it if they had, but Clara is the one shown making these hard decisions and living with the consequences.
In the Doctor’s time stream, Clara saves him from the Great Intelligence time and again without him ever realizing she was there, a twist on the Doctor’s traditional role in people’s lives. She’s even shown going back to the very beginning, and telling the Doctor which TARDIS to steal when he flees Gallifrey in his first life. I know a lot of people have issues with the fact that this makes her so important in the Doctor’s life, that he met her before he even stole the TARDIS, but I think it’s beautiful. The one who sacrificed the most for the Doctor should be the one he meets first. In one scene, Moffat has made Clara Oswald the most important companion, past, present, or future.
In “The Day of the Doctor,” Clara continues to exert a strong influence on the Doctor. It is Clara’s voice that shows the Doctor that he doesn’t need to destroy Gallifrey, after all. There is always another way. If he had been alone with this terrible decision, as he was the first time, he would have done it in the end. Even with the other two Doctors there, he would have done it. When the Doctor is alone with his thoughts, he tends to make the wrong decision. It’s up to the companion to provide the human perspective, to bring him back to reality and show him what the consequences of his actions will be. Clara is a perfect voice of reason for the Doctor. Because of her, Gallifrey is safe in a pocket universe, and its billions of inhabitants alive. In the end, human intelligence and compassion put an end to the Time War.
Clara may have also shaped the Doctor’s personality in such a way as to help send him on the path he is now on. In a conversation with the War Doctor in TDOTD, she tells him she knew he hadn’t destroyed Gallifrey yet because he looked “so much younger,” presumably because the war destroyed his spirit so much that you can see it in his eyes. He responds, “Then all things considered, perhaps it’s time I grew up.” This could be a reference to the Ninth Doctor, and his darker approach to the world, but I live in the belief that the Eleventh Doctor heard their conversation, and something about it stuck with him. That could explain the Twelfth Doctor’s older, darker outlook too. Time for the Doctor to grow up! And after everything Eleven had been through, I can’t really blame him for making a break with that time in his life.
In “The Time of the Doctor,” Clara makes perhaps the most important contribution yet to the Doctor’s life. Towards the end of the episode, when the Doctor is living out the final moments of his last life, Clara speaks into the crack in the universe, pleading with the Time Lords to save his life. He saved them, why shouldn’t they give him more lives as a thank-you? “If you love him,” she says, “and you should—help him.” One can only wonder why on earth the Time Lords would listen to a human’s plea, but maybe they had someone on the other side doing the same thing. Either way, it was Clara who helped get the Doctor extra regenerations—saving his life, again.
After everything Clara went through with the Doctor, he’s regenerating. I can’t imagine how terrifying it is to watch your best friend completely change into someone else. Yes, he’s technically still the same person, and yes, she understands the concept of regeneration already, but it’s different when it happens right in front of you, I imagine. I explain it to people who are irritated with Clara for not accepting the new Doctor right away this way:
- He was her best friend. She knew him very well (apparently they traveled together for something like 3 years!). She even grew to love him. Now he’s going to look and act very differently.
- Yes, she met other Doctors in TDOTD, but that was different. Then, it was just a fun little adventure with them, then she could say goodbye and it was back to life with Eleven. She didn’t have to completely change her perspective because it wasn’t a permanent change.
- Everything that happened between the beginning of TTOTD and Deep Breath happened in one day for Clara. One day! Some Christmas. Merry Christmas Clara, how would you like to be abandoned by your best friend/love, watch him grow old, see him change into a different man before your eyes, then have to deal with his utter confusion? Oh, and there’s a dinosaur in there too.
Really? I know I couldn’t deal well with all of that, whether I was prepared for a major change like that or not. I think the expectations people place on Clara are entirely too high. No one’s perfect and she went through some pretty major stuff! I would be a mess, and yet, in “Deep Breath,” she still manages to settle into her new role in Victorian London when the Doctor runs off, and figures out the advertisement to meet him. Not to mention her confrontation with the Half-Face Man. Yet another glimpse of the strong character she truly is, and the knowledge that, despite her confusion and heartbreak over the Doctor changing (Anyone remember Rose Tyler? How was Clara’s reaction in “Deep Breath” any different from Rose’s in “The Christmas Invasion”?), she will always believe in him and always protect him with every fiber of her being.
Though we’re only four episodes in, Clara’s character has continued to grow and become more dynamic. We see her challenging the Doctor directly, getting him to do the right thing, or figuring things out on her own without his help. I have watched all of New Who and I can’t name a companion who was more independent or intelligent! But even now that Clara is standing up to the Doctor, pointing out where he’s wrong, and figuring things out herself, I have found that the hatred for her as a character hasn’t diminished much.
I know I probably didn’t do the best job explaining exactly why I think Clara is a wonderful character, but there it is. I think she’s a normal girl—who really does happen to be very smart—who’s making the best out of the situation that she’s been given. And this season, I’ve noticed she’s not with the Doctor as often as she seemed to be in 7B. She has her own life now. Yes, he’s her friend, but he isn’t her entire life. And I don’t think that’s because she wants to distance herself from him because he’s different now. Quite the opposite—I think Twelve and Clara have much more chemistry as friends than she ever had with Eleven, though I love both. She was too close with Eleven. Now she can take a step back and see things objectively, analyzing situations without the distraction of her deeper feelings for him. And I think it’s going to work extremely well throughout the season, and into the future if Jenna decides to stay on.
What I would most like to see is Clara figuring things out without the Doctor’s help, necessarily. To investigate things that seem strange and seem like things he would be interested in, like a one-woman UNIT. But that’s just my hope. Only time will tell. As for now, I’m satisfied with the show and the direction it’s heading in. I can’t wait to see how Clara’s character develops further.