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Opinion Piece: In Defense Of Clara Oswald

            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.