GeekPlanetOnline's resident Doctor Who Correspondent Martin Thompson takes a deeper look at the adventures of a mad man in a box, along with his friends, foes and fandom. With over fifty years of rubber monsters, changing faces, dented police boxes, exterminations and pointed goatees to look at, he has more than a few things to say on the subject...
So, she's still not dead then?
With Hell Bent, Steven Moffat gave Clara Oswald one of the most bonkers exits the show has ever seen. It feels akin to something that would have happened in a New Adventures novel or a Doctor Who Magazine comic strip. Of course, this isn't the first time that Clara has left the show, or even died, but it’s the last we'll see of her for now. Companions don't always have to die, but because of the attraction of the Doctor's life, they need something pretty big to give it up.
When Doctor Who first started, the companions were glad just to get back home as the old man's unpredictable time machine could land them anywhere. As the series went on, they left to get married, found a higher purpose or just because it wasn't fun anymore. For Clara, it became too much fun and her attempts to emulate the Doctor became her undoing. It seems few will miss her, but as with any leaving actor, I expect opinion will change over time as stories and eras are re-evaluated once we have some distance.
When Jenna Coleman was announced to the press as new companion Clara in 2012, no one expected her to join the series as soon as she did, especially since the Ponds were still in residence. Nevertheless, the sparky Oswin Oswald was a great surprise as well as a sigh of relief when she turned up in Asylum of the Daleks and, in a tragic twist, had already died. Her red dress became a cosplay favourite and fans wondered if a Dalek could really become the Doctor's next bestie. Next up was The Snowmen as Victorian Clara entered the scene. Governess by day and cheeky barmaid by night, she seemed to be a character capable of keeping up with Matt Smith's tornado of a Time Lord. The rumour was that it was this version of Clara that was due to end up in the TARDIS, but producers plumped for a modern version instead and she débuted, finally, in The Bells of Saint John.
In a review of the second half of season seven in SFX, Dave Golder noted that “it seems only Steven Moffat knew what was going on, where the other writers were working from a post it note reading ‘she's called Clara'”. Perhaps he was closer than he thought. Clara seemed to be stuck on auto-companion mode for her first half season, becoming what was needed at the time. The Name of the Doctor finally revealed her secret: she was splintered throughout time, destined to help, and die for, the Doctor as the Great Intelligence spread like a virus throughout his timeline. This is an aspect of the character I would have loved to seen more of and, at the time of writing, only Doctor Who Magazine’s 2015 comic strip Blood and Ice has made use of the concept, as the Twelfth Doctor and Clara meet Winnie in Antarctica. Hopefully Big Finish will take this idea and run with it if Coleman is willing to return to her role. Written correctly, she could appear in with any era of the show and fit continuity.
It was with the Twelfth Doctor though, that the character entered her stride. Free of the mystery surrounding her she was able to develop as a character and Coleman was given some fantastic moments as she faced off against a number of villains. Her speech to the Half Face Man in Deep Breath, manipulation of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robot of Sherwood, defiant stance against the Mire in The Girl Who Died and uneasy partnership with Missy in The Witch's Familiar were very strong moments, not to mention her turn as Bonnie in The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion. Ultimately though, the character’s arc saw her become more reckless and more Doctor-like. After the Doctor’s regeneration, she tried to juggle her responsibilities to her job at Coal Hill School and her boyfriend Danny Pink with her adventures in time and space, but something had to give. After Danny died, she began thrill-seeking with the Doctor, and the job that fought for her time in series eight was barely mentioned this year. Clara, unlike many other companions, was able to keep her job and be taken away on a whim. Not for her the TARDIS bedroom of Nyssa and Tegan (not after the time machine kept hiding it from her anyway): she returned to her own place at the end of every adventure. It's enough to have school governor Ian Chesterton seething in his cardigan.
How to end Clara’s travels though? This has caused some troubles. Moffat has said that he always wanted Clara to go out how she ultimately did in series nine, but Coleman had a couple of changes of heart along the way. Her first exit came in Death in Heaven with a hug in a café as Doctor and companion both lied to each other about finding their perfect life away from the other: he with Gallifrey and she with a resurrected Danny. Coleman asked to come back for the Christmas special though, and so Last Christmas presented us with one of the most bittersweet companion exits. Clara had lived a long and full life without the Doctor and was now an old lady. Nearing the end, she had one last adventure with the Doctor and a chance to become young again in her dreams (she seems to have ageism problems too). Alas, this was rewritten to give a happier ending and to enable Coleman to come back for the next series when she changed her mind again. Personally, I would have loved for this to have been her exit.
Instead, Face the Raven saw Clara take on Rigsy’s death sentence as her WWTDD complex grows. It was a drawn out, mystical death with less of an emotional punch than before but at least it was final. I was hoping that once she was resurrected, Clara would volunteer to be put back on the trap street and take ownership of her death, but instead she ends up with Ashildr in a TARDIS eking out the last moments of her life for however long they may last. With a time machine and a companion, she seems to have finally become the Doctor. I suppose it can be looked on as hopeful that she's living life to the full while she can. Unfortunately, once companions have been travelling with the Doctor too long they become too accustomed to it and so we need new wide-eyed blood to come in, start asking questions and getting into trouble once more.
No word yet on who the next companion will be, although I expect Shona from Last Christmas to be at the top of a few lists. It seems fan cliché to say it but an alien or a historical companion would be a nice change. Having been rewatching the Patrick Troughton era recently, I note that characters drawn from the past, present and even future of Earth were plonked in the TARDIS and they went on to become some of the best loved in the series. It's interesting to compare Hell Bent with The War Games. In his final story, the Second Doctor tries to escape with Jamie and Zoe but he ultimately realises he can't get away. You can't beat city hall. It's a world away from Hell Bent, as the Twelfth Doctor becomes more reckless and actually does what his second incarnation wouldn't. I would have preferred to see Clara surrender to her fate rather than go on the run. These days you need a really good reason to stay away from the TARDIS, especially when the Doctor is now apt to drop by on the off chance, hand outstetched, offering adventures. While the Doctor's memory wipe is a switch, unfortunately it doesn't carry the emotional resonance of The War Games or Donna Noble's fate in Journey's End.
History will judge Clara Oswald though. Decent companion or not? Time will tell. She remains more memorable because of the mystery that surrounded her than for any particular action. To me, she still feels rather bland and never recaptured the sparkiness of her first couple of episodes, not that Jenna Coleman didn't prove herself capable. She just missed a certain something. Clothes were not a problem, she was one of the most stylish of the recent companions, reflecting the times, so who knows if that will be to her detriment in years to come. Hopefully the impossible girl will get a revaluation now.
She's still not dead though.