Monday, November 25, 2013

The Girl Who Became Clara

If you haven't seen the 50th Anniversary Special of Doctor Who, there might be spoilers, but I'll try to keep the details vague.

When I first heard about Doctor Who, I didn't know what to think.  I remember the show from my childhood as a goofy, schlocky, low-budget affair that was just too British to understand.  I watched it anyway when it was rebooted in 2005 and fell in love.

Fast forward to the Moffat era.  I was excited for Moffat to become show runner because he'd written some of my favorite episodes, BLINK foremost among them.  But a problem arose as his tenure ran along.  A problem of his companions becoming objects to the Doctor rather than people.  Amy was The Girl Who Waited, River became The Doctor's Wife, and Clara was always The Impossible Girl.  Unlike the companions from the Davies run, the companions lacked personalities of their own.  They were constructs rather than people.  And regardless of how you felt about specific Davies-era companions (Donna was my favorite), they had their own lives and were complex individuals.  They existed, not simply as vessels the Doctor uses to fulfill some cosmic destiny, but rather as people.

So as the 50th Anniversary Special grew nearer, I found myself apathetic.  I'd watch it because David Tennant, Matt Smith, and John Hurt all playing the Doctor at once would be awesome no matter what.  But I didn't have high hopes for Clara.

I was happily surprised to see Clara grow into a person in this episode and I hope to see it continue.  Now that The Impossible Girl's destiny has been fulfilled, the writers are able to develop Clara into a worthy companion.  One who isn't defined BY the Doctor but rather by her own actions.

Her change was crystalized in one hilarious scene where the three Doctors devise a highly complicated plan to open a door when Clara comes bursting through it because it's unlocked.  She looks and them and says, "Seriously? Didn't any of you think to check whether it was locked?"  It seems that the writers are developing Clara into a sunny, optimist whose common sense is a wonderful foil to the Doctor's overly complex, timey-whimey thinking, and I love that; it gives me hope for the series.

To me, the companions have always been the strength of Doctor Who.  Who they are determines who the Doctor can be.  Their strength of character, their convictions, their loves and hates and prejudices influence and guide The Doctor.   They become better people because of the Doctor and he becomes a better person because of them.  When the companions are empty vessels, neither they or the Doctor grow.  And I would argue that the Doctor has not grown at all with Clara as his companion thus far.  I'm excited to see that change.

My other thoughts on the special?  I loved it.  I loved seeing the Time War, I loved that they brought Rose back in a way that wasn't convoluted or bat shit crazy (like RTD always did), I loved the humor.  I haven't laughed that hard at Doctor Who in two seasons.  It was brilliant.  There were some...dangling threads like, what happened to the Zygons?  They were all left alone in the room without their memories, but nothing was resolved.  Also, if the 3 Doctors went back and saved Gallifrey, then does that mean that Timothy Dalton from Tennant's last episode was also saved and will be back to trouble us again?  Is Finding Gallifrey going to be the theme of Peter Capaldi's turn as the Doctor?  I'm not sure how I feel about reintroducing Time Lords back to the universe.  The theme of The Doctor as the lone Time Lord, a man without a planet, is a wonderful story to explore.

Either way, I'm genuinely anxious to see what comes next.  I just hope that Moffat continues to develop Clara and future companions.  The entire Doctor Who universe will be richer for it.


  1. 1) The Zygon storyline may SEEM like it wasn't resolved but it was. The answer is in the Doctor's line when he explains that the humans and Zygons have no choice but to negotiate a fair peace treaty because no one knows who is human and who is Zygon. You extrapolate from there that detente is achieved.

    2) Yes, in theory, Rassilon was also saved. What I find more troubling is that the Doctor once asserted that, by the end of the Time War, the Time Lords had become has evil as the Daleks. So, yeah, he saved the children but he also saved the megalomaniacs. I'm guessing this hasn't gone un-noted and will most likely come up at some point. Rassilon has always been a shady figure in Time Lord mythology (although RTD pretty much eliminated the shade and made him all-in-all evil). I'm sure it will be addressed, although I hope not soon.

    3) I doubt Capaldi's tenure will be solely known for the search for Gallifrey. I'm guessing we'll get occasional forays into the search but no solution will present itself for many years. I'd go so far as to guess that Moffat has no desire to resolve it during his tenure and may leave it in the hands of a future producer to revisit (just as the Time War was left for him).

    4) I think the Doctor as the Lone Broody Time Lord had been explored about as fully as it could be. (At least, as fully as it could be on what is still ostensibly, in the BBC's eyes, a children's show.) "Boo hoo, I've got guilt." Yeah, we know. I'm ready to move on from Mopey Doctor and if relieving the Doctor of his guilt that he didn't wipe out his own people (even if it means they're "lost") achieves that, then I say it's a step forward. The Doctor's got plenty of other guilt to brood over. I'm OK with him losing this one thing.

    1. Good points. To be honest, I didn't even remember the Zygon storyline until Matt brought it up, at which point I was like, "Oh, yeah!" I enjoyed the knowing look between the two bescarfed asthmatic assistants as they passed the inhaler. I suppose I should say they never showed a resolution on-screen, and since I didn't think about it until later, it's not really a big deal. That storyline really did feel like an afterthought.

      2. I agree that the Time-Lords-As-Villains is troubling. Firstly because I don't want a season where the Doctor is fighting his own kind and secondly because I find the Time Lords as a group collectively boring. As villains they would surely represent the overbearing parental figures of the universe, evil in deed but not in intentions. They only want to make the universe a better place by guiding it...blah, blah, blah. I hope that doesn't happen.

      3. If this was RTD, I might be inclined to agree, but Moffat loves his season-long story arcs. Clara's "Impossible Girl" and the Doctor hearing his name on the Fields of Trenzalore was pretty much what drove the season. RTD liked standalone episodes peppered with hints to the overall arc whereas Moffat loves serialized stories, so I expect that next season will be more of the same. But I hope you're right that it's one of those loose threads left to tantalize another writer.

      4. I'm okay with the Doctor leaving his guilt over the Time War behind...which I think the point of the special was, but I like the Doctor as the last of his kind. It makes him unique. It drives him to never rest. I don't know...I just think a world with a ton of Time Lords jetting about would make the Doctor a little boring.

    2. I will not get drawn into an RTD vs. Moffat debate... I will not get drawn into an RTD vs. Moffat debate...

      Save to say that RTD's "peppered hints" were always ultimately meaningless. They didn't drive the story or change anything. The only question you could ask after hearing "Bad Wolf" (truly meaningless) or "Torchwood" or "There is something on your back" over and over again was "What does that mean?" Moffat's serialized stories more often than not built on themselves, adding pieces to the puzzle each time, and lent themselves to questions like "How is that possible?" (You could argue that Bad Wolf raised the question "How is it possible that the phrase is everywhere in time and space?" but the ultimate explanation is ludicrous at best.)

      But I will not get drawn into an RTD vs. Moffat debate... I will not get drawn into an RTD vs. Moffat debate...

    3. LOL! There's really no debate. I think RTD was better at creating character and Moffat better at plotting. RTD's finale scripts were essentially mental masturbation. Ludicrous excuses to see how much he could cram into an episode. What I liked though was that the stand-alone episodes were often the best of the bunch You could watch them out of order and they'd still make sense. You could watch Blink, The Girl in the Fireplace, and Midnight back to back and only need to know that the companions got switched out.

      Moffat's episodes (sometimes) reward the attentive viewer, which can be a good thing, but it can also be exhausting.

      No, I think they both have their strengths and weaknesses. And my problems with Moffat have more to do with his treatment characters not named The Doctor (especially female characters), which, judging by how much better Clara was in the special, will hopefully be improving.

  2. Further thoughts:

    1) If the ability to freeze time in a 3D painting is indeed Time Lord technology (as asserted several times in the episode), how did the Zygons get their suction cups on it?

    2) If Elizabeth knew of the Zygon plan to enter stasis in the paintings in order to invade Earth at a later date, why didn't she destroy the paintings? Or, if they proved indestructible, give them to a Naval officer who would take them out to sea and drop them into a trench?

  3. I'm not nearly enough of an expert to enter this discussion, but I enjoyed the read and the episode.

    1. Are you kidding? Brian puts me to shame. I just love arguing.


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