In my previous post about gearing up for Doctor Who’s 7th series, part 2 (read it here), I talked about how excited I was for the spark Clara could bring to the show as the Doctor’s new companion. Now that the series has ended, here’s a recap of my favorite episodes and what I think of Clara. (Get ready for spoilers!)
This is a season (er, half season) of Doctor Who that grew stronger as it went on. After a few weak episodes with very little emotional engagement and nothing terribly memorable happening (aside from “Hide,” maybe), we’re hit with “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS,” which focuses largely on one of my favorite characters on the show: the TARDIS. And considering this particular blue box is extremely relevant to the Doctor Who universe, it’s always fun to learn more about it. Or her.
In this episode, the Doctor is not the only one trying to save Clara inside the TARDIS; the TARDIS helps by restructuring herself, creating corridors and duplicating the control room to keep Clara safe. Meanwhile, salvagers are out to harm the TARDIS. I winced when one of them began dismantling her. It’s the kind of episode that sticks with you, because it says something about the Doctor and what he cares about. The episode also dives into Clara’s story a bit more, though not in any way we can yet understand.
Next up is what I consider to be the best episode this (half) season: “The Crimson Horror.” It whisks us back to 1893 to investigate a strange disease that causes victims to turn completely red. It’s up to Silurian investigator Madame Vastra, her human wife Jenny Flint, and the Sontaran butler Strax to save the Doctor here when he’s in trouble. These three characters make other appearances in this season, and I have to admit, it’s wonderful to have recurring guest stars and a time period for the Doctor and his companion to visit again and again, almost like a second home.
“The Crimson Horror” succeeds for a number of reasons, including humor, mystery, and Jenny picking locks and kicking ass. (I love her more every time I see her, I swear.) The old Doctor Who energy that I love is back, which is evident when, say, the Doctor dips Jenny and kisses her after she saves him. But the best part is that this episode has a real emotional center. It explores the Doctor’s feeling for Clara more (just a tad) and tells the story of Ada, a woman scarred and blinded by her mother’s experiments who saves the Doctor, affectionately calling him her “monster.” Seeing her succeed at the end, with hopes of a brighter future, is a fantastic addition to the episode’s end.
“Nightmare in Silver” is another winning episode for two main reasons: 1.) it tells us more about Clara’s real life, and 2.) it brings back one of Doctor Who’s scarier villains, the Cybermen. What begins as the Doctor taking Clara and the two children she works with on a trip to an extraterrestrial theme turns into a battle with reactivated Cybermen. Maybe it’s because I used to work as a nanny, but seeing Clara with the kids and feeling the stress over them being in trouble helped me relate to Clara a bit more.
Things get more interesting when Cybermites infect the Doctor. To regain possession of his own brain, the Doctor plays a game of chess for it against his Cyberman counterpart, Mr. Clever. I won’t give away more, except to say that this is one of the most exciting episodes of the season.
And then there’s the series finale, “The Name of the Doctor,” which says so much about Clara. The episode begins with the Whisper Men kidnapping Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax and taking them to Trenzalore. The Doctor must go and save them, but at the mere mention of Trenzalore, he starts crying. This is a fantastic, sad moment that took me by surprise. Trenzalore is where he is buried, and he’s never supposed to go there — but the Doctor will go anywhere to save his friends. There’s also an appearance by River Song, which never hurts an episode, ever.
The New Companion
I was really looking forward to Jenna-Louise Coleman playing the new companion, Clara. I believed she had the potential to challenge the Doctor and use her wits more than Amy Pond ever did (as much as I adore Amy).
In the Christmas special, we see an earlier version of Clara chase after the Doctor, figure out how to grab an invisible ladder, climb a staircase into the sky to the TARDIS, and eagerly melt evil snowmen with her mind. That last bit is something Amy Pond might have struggled with or questioned at first, but not the confident and curious Clara Oswald. She has an enthusiasm similar to the Doctor’s.
I still think Clara has the potential to bring a new energy to Doctor Who, it’s just… why are we still talking about “potential” several episodes in?
Sure, Clara has been able to wind up the Doctor and come up with fresh ideas of her own. We’ve also seen her human side. For instance, she offers a destructive Old God her most prized possession to appease him: the leaf that brought her parents together. Although she’s “more scared than she lets on,” she manages to save billions of lives by convincing the Martian ice warrior Skaldak to show mercy. And she’s clever enough to know that the Doctor hitting on her can’t really be the Doctor — it’s the Cyberman in his brain trying to trick her.
Of course, there’s also the final episode “The Name of the Doctor,” which reveals she is capable of immense sacrifice to save the Doctor — and, indirectly, everything and everyone he’s saved. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
In spite of all the good, one problem is that Clara still feels distant. The Doctor at one point says, “The impossible girl. A mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that’s just a little bit too tight.” It’s all well and good that the Doctor is so fascinated by her, but therein lies the biggest problem: Clara is too much of a mystery.
What we needed at the beginning of this half season was grounding for Clara. Knowing more details about her everyday life could have given us insight into why she would follow the Doctor in the first place. Even if there was some other reason we didn’t yet know about, we needed something at the very beginning.
For Amy before her, the motivation to join the Doctor was an intense childhood meeting that inspired her to doodle pictures of the TARDIS and treat the Doctor, when he wasn’t there, almost like her imaginary friend: “the raggedy doctor.” He promised he’d be back for her, and when he didn’t show up for 12 years, it only inspired more devotion in her — not to mention some commitment issues. When the Doctor showed up just before her wedding, she ran away with him largely because of the issues he sparked in the first place.
Unfortunately, we don’t get this kind of realistic, psychological motivation with Clara. There’s not even much of an emotional connection between her and the Doctor. All we know about her initially is that she’s a nanny who dreams of traveling the world. The story of her parents meeting is sweet, but that’s not enough background to really feel for Clara. And although we know why the Doctor is terribly interested in her as “the impossible girl” who keeps appearing through time, dying and coming back to life, we don’t see things from Clara’s perspective.
Personally, I would have liked to see an early episode of the Doctor interfering in Clara’s real life. Maybe she could have been forced to choose between something in her own corner of the world and the Doctor. I would have liked to see the two of them build up a rapport that way, and it would have helped to ground Clara in the real world. After all, Clara is the human anchor for the Doctor. Let’s be able to relate to her.
Even though that didn’t happen, the very last episode of season 7, “The Name of the Doctor,” finally remedies this problem in its own way. It’s not quite the grounding I would have liked, but it does build an emotional connection between the Doctor and Clara, at last.
When the Doctor and Clara journey to Trenzalore to visit the Doctor’s grave, they find that he has no buried body; instead, his timestream is kept in the ruined TARDIS, portrayed by a vortex of light that the Doctor describes as “the scar-tissue of my journey through the universe.” But the Great Intelligence, wanting to destroy the Doctor, jumps into the timestream to rewrite the Doctor’s history in the worst way. The only one who can save him is Clara, who sacrifices herself by entering the timestream, too. This means that she’ll be just an echo, appearing at different points in the Doctor’s timestream — and the real her will die instantly when she enters the vortex. But if it saves the Doctor, she’ll do it. So she jumps in.
It’s exactly what we needed for Clara: purpose. A reason to be with the Doctor. Not just his curiosity about her or vice versa, but a real link between the two of them. Although I believe it came a little too late to save some of the episodes preceding it, it gives me hope that the future of Clara on Doctor Who will have a much more emotive core.