Solving Clara [WHO-50—2013]October 29th, 2013 at 7:41
I liked Clara all along, but unfortunately the narrative presented us with a Clara Problem – which was that she was awesome in Asylum of the Daleks, winning hearts and fans as Oswin, only to be killed tragically. Then they did it to us again in The Snowmen, with a fabulous Victorian governess version of the character who again, was delightful, fascinating and short-lived.
The idea was to set up a mystery, but unfortunately it also had the effect of burning me out on the character, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Clara’s third introduction in The Bells of St John was fantastic, very well written and performed, and I liked her a lot. But I didn’t find myself as instantly attached to her as I have been to almost every other companion ever, and I suspect that’s because I had learned not to trust that a Clara, however witty and adorable, would not break my heart.
It didn’t help that I, like many fans, was completely and TOTALLY ready for a non-contemporary companion, for someone who broke the mould. Even if it was still another slender, young white actress in the role, surely it was time for a companion who didn’t come from contemporary London/southern Britain?
In the old days, we had nearly as many companions joining the Doctor from the past, the future, or other planets, as we did from contemporary Earth, and now that the show was actually showing us alien planets occasionally, fans were hungry for something different with the companion. Sadly, Moffat shot himself in the foot somewhat by showing us how brilliantly Clara Oswin Oswald would work as a futuristic companion, and as a historical companion, only to give us a version that wasn’t either of those things.
Many fans loved Clara – hell, I loved her whenever she was on screen. I really enjoyed her in every episode. But part of me still felt distanced.
We weren’t given nearly as much of a chance to get to grips with Clara. All of our other ‘prime’ full time companions of New Who have had at least a 13 episode season to establish themselves and their story – Clara got two false starts, and then only eight episodes.
Then there was the mystery – as viewers, we simply didn’t know what was going on with Clara until The Name of the Doctor. We didn’t know if she was the same character that we had liked (or disliked) in Asylum of the Daleks and The Snowmen and so naturally enough, many of us reserved our judgement.
I find it really interesting that the companion-as-mystery trope worked less well for me with Clara than with Amy – the simple answer to that is that it was repetition and like most Doctor Who fans, I rail against any sense that the show is repeating itself. But Amy’s mystery was kept separate from her personality – the crack in her wall and its ramifications explained a LOT once it was all explained, but the mystery had not stopped us getting to know her.
Clara, however, was held back by her mystery. It certainly didn’t help that the Doctor himself was so suspicious, visibly restraining himself from trusting her, which gave an uncomfortable vibe to some scenes.
I loved the resolution, though. The idea that Clara had Jagarothed herself through time, saving the Doctor from countless versions of the Great Intelligence, was very clever and having her explode into his time stream made my little fannish heart explode with happiness. This was new, and different, and Clara was indeed revealed to be very, very special.
In retrospect, I suspect that my relationship (and the general fannish relationship) with Clara as a character will change with the new knowledge. It made me think, though, about our revised expectations about the role of the companion in New Who. It’s not enough just to cast a pretty actress, give her a gimmick and throw her at the plots, as they did in the old days (I’m not saying that the classic Who companions weren’t brilliant, because most of them were, but it was often in spite of the material the actors were given and the attitude with which they were treated – in particular, few of them were presented with much in the way of forethought or planning over their time in the TARDIS).
RTD set a new pattern, introducing us to each companion as the most important person in the show, and making the Doctor work for her friendship – he always had to impress her somewhat, to bring her aboard the TARDIS. Moffat, on the other hand, went the other way, with the companion having to prove herself to be worthy (or interesting) enough for the job. Admittedly, the Doctor did work overtime to keep Amy once he was attached to her – he put more effort into making her happy than pretty much all other companions combined, but that came later.
Clara’s story still leaves us with a lot of questions. I know that my friend Deb of the Verity! podcast is particularly upset that the versions of Clara scattered through space are treated as ‘not real’ and/or that they are sacrificing themselves over and over for him, possibly dying. We don’t have it resolved whether or not they have real lives, families etc. aside from their occasional ‘saving the Doctor’ job. Or do they pop out of existence once their job is done? I don’t know either.
But, as I said at the beginning of this post, I recently figured something out about Clara which makes sense to me, and everything clicked into place.
I think that the pieces of Clara scattered through Time and Space are not just Clara. I think there’s some Doctor in there too. Oswin doesn’t just, for instance, have the hacking skills with which the Great Intelligence upgraded Clara – she’s far superior in intelligence and ability. More to the point, she acts and sounds a lot like the Eleventh Doctor – her screaming genius speech reflects him and the way that he smartflirts with the universe. The Doctor’s fascinated by her disembodied voice, and I don’t think it’s because he fancies Daleks now. I think he is drawn to her because she sounds JUST LIKE HIM.
Likewise, the Clara we meet in Victorian London sounds a lot like the Doctor – her speeches to the children about disliking to swim alone and being born in a clock and all that. She is witty and compelling, and her arch banterific mysteriousness led many fans to note that she sounded a bit Time Lordy. Well, a bit Time Lordy mixed with Mary Poppinsy, and we all know Mary Poppins is a Time Lady, right?
She could well have been revealed as Susan or Romana, but that didn’t happen. So what other Time Lord do we know well who matches the speech patterns of Victorian Clara? How about the Doctor himself? Pretty much Clara/Miss Montague did in The Snowmen, including the choice of the word ‘pond’ (which would actually not mean anything to Clara Prime) and her chasing down a carriage to throw herself upside down into it, screamed “I am actually Matt Smith in a skirt.” Jenna Coleman was even cast because of her ability to outtalk the main actor…
The versions of Clara popping up through the universe might look and sound like Clara Prime, might be based on her physical design but I think they are actually an unholy cocktail of Clara and Doctor, combined in all kinds of weird and wonderful ways.
This explains why the Doctor was so obsessed with solving the mystery of Clara when he has in fact met many people in the universe who look exactly like other people, including previous companions Martha and Amy, and several dopplegangers of himself. There was something about her that felt – terribly familiar. His antagonism towards Clara in Series 7B is far less icky if it comes from his own self-hatred as demonstrated towards the Dream Lord in Amy’s Choice, and has less to do with the woman in the cute vintage frocks.
This also adds an extra layer explanation to why the TARDIS dislikes Clara Prime so much – she’s met a lot of Claras over the years, and they’ve all had the essence of her beloved thief about them – except this one.
Because Clara Prime, of course, is ordinary. More ordinary, perhaps, than any other companion ever. A letdown, perhaps, for some, but a rather splendid reveal for others. I’m very pleased that now we know the secret of Clara, we get another season in which to enjoy her properly, and on her own terms – and maybe now we can start appreciating the real Clara, the Clara of 7B, without the distraction of trying to figure out who she is in relation to those other Claras and Oswins.
I’m excited to see where they take the character next, with a new Doctor at her side.
2014, here we come! (though there’s a teeny matter of an anniversary special and a Christmas regeneration first – pshaw!
THIS IS THE LAST OF MY WHO-50 BLOG POSTS FOR DOCTOR WHO’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY.
Hooray! Thanks so much for reading. You can check out the whole bunch at the WHO50 tag.
ELSEWHERE ON 2013:
Episode 8 – Ring Them Bells (of St John) [Verity! Podcast]
Ice Hot [Radio Free Skaro]
The Name of the Doctor? Gregory McCaramel [The Ood Cast]
Episode 16 – 7B to Rhyme with Squee! [Verity! Podcast]
Queers Dig Time Lords [Two Minute Time Lord]
Dear Santa: Casting Peter Capaldi [Two Minute Time Lord]
The Prodigal Episodes [Two Minute Time Lord]
Episode 26 – Two New 2! It’s True! [Verity! Podcast]