Doctor Who Season 7: Hello Clara!

And continuing our retrospective on the Doctor's 50th year, now available on DVD and Blu-ray this week, we examine what the second half of Series 7 meant for the character going into the anniversary, and just who is Clara Oswin Oswald.

In continuation of our two-part review of the Doctor Who’s seventh season (you can read Part I HERE), we pick up during the second half of the season and what it could (im)possibly mean for the man in the bow tie’s future… Hello, ClaraThe strangest thing about Eleven is he no longer needs a companion. He needs a whole supporting crew. In Season 7’s second episode, the Doctor remarks to Amy and Rory, “That this is the gang. I have a gang!” The Doctor is ecstatic to have the Ponds, Rory’s dad and several others aiding him. The reason? This Doctor wants an audience. If Amy and Rory equaled Eleven’s default live studio, then it is fascinating how he supplants their absence with not one companion, but a whole team of them. Introduced briefly in Season 6, the characters of Strax, Vastra and Jenny Flint have become the Doctor’s new surrogate family. After losing Amy and Rory, seemingly for decades in his timeline, the Doctor has retreated to Victorian London where his Scrooge-like bitterness is cared for at the hands of a Sontaran butler, a lady Silurian detective and her lesbian housekeeper/mistress. Apparently, the three are the loose inspiration for their contemporary, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his fictitious detective. Is Moffat perhaps hinting something about Holmes and Watson in his own BBC Sherlock series?
 But ultimately, in spite of a great new slew of sidekicks, the Doctor Who formula will always dictate the need for one companion above all others. One that is young, female and pretty. Also, she better not have a husband again. Enter Clara Oswald: The Impossible Girl. Clara represents Season 7’s greatest ambition and its greatest challenge. Never satisfied with a companion who is just a person the Doctor met, Moffat instills each with an air of mythicism. The Girl Who Waited, The Last Centurion and The Doctor’s Wife. Clara is meant to follow in that mold, but not because of what we know about her. The reason she is so super impossible is a season-long mystery, right up until the end. At first glance, she appears to be more like the companions of the Davies era. She is clearly smitten with the Doctor and has a flirtatious banter with him that can keep them arms’ apart while she struggles with the relative dimensions of the TARDIS. However, her ordinariness is the secret key to all seven episodes.
 Clara is introduced twice before the Back Seven. In “Asylum of the Daleks,” she is the witty and eye-catching Soufflé Girl who turns out to be a long-dead woman trapped in a Dalek’s body. Then again in “The Snowmen,” she appears in 1892 London as practically Doctor-bait with her double life as a barmaid and Mary Poppins. She is also tenacious enough to never be the girl who waited by seeking out the sulking Doctor herself. Tragically though, she dies again. Hence, when he meets her final form in “The Bells of St. John,” he and the audience are naturally weary of the mystery girl. It is a mystery that is drawn out too long or not enough, depending how you view it. Given the episodic nature of Season 7, such a serial formula (Who is Clara?) becomes less of a recurring motif and more of an annoyingly hanging thread around the Doctor and his raven-haired companion’s weekly adventures. Some of the stories are fantastic (namely “Hide” and “Nightmare and Silver”), while others are dull (“Cold War”), but the mystery that keeps the Doctor distant from his potential honey pot siren is also what keeps her somewhat removed from the Doctor and audience. She knows that he does not fully trust her and that he is eying her awfully strangely. None of this can be attributed to Jenna-Louise Coleman. The pint-sized firecracker has an explosive chemistry with Smith any time the two’s forces collide. The curious energy she brought to Eleven in “Asylum of the Daleks” and “The Snowmen” was in many ways a breath of fresh air. And not just because she brought back the romanticism of the Davies shows. It displayed a unique side to Eleven’s personality. Despite being married to the daughter of Amy and Rory, Smith’s Doctor is curiously remote around the fairer sex. Amy is his little sister, his best friend, and mother all rolled up into one while River Song is a meeting of the minds and a marriage of convenience (more on that in a moment). But by the time he officially meets Clara in “The Snowmen,” he is strangely different. It is not until the Season Finale, “In the Name of the Doctor,” that we truly know why. Yet, the Doctor has wholly changed without a flicker of regeneration to be seen.
 At this point in the show, Eleven has been the Doctor for at least 200 years (probably closer to 300 given the implied break between “Manhattan” and “Snowmen”). That makes him the second oldest form the Doctor has taken, behind only Hartnell’s original 400-some year tenure over the body. If the Doctor clearly aged into that grandfather of the past, he has aged again here. When the Snowmen finally get around to walking, the Doctor has developed a hunch, wears only dark colors and needs glasses to read. Amy’s glasses. It is a teasing inversion to make the once jubilant and childlike Doctor of Season 5 into a more fatherly and aged figure when he meets a potential love interest. Between this story and the meta-knowledge of the show turning 50, it is a wonder Vastra hasn’t declared this a midlife crisis yet. Still, the way he bounces off Clara like a schoolboy with a crush in “The Snowmen,” without sensing her to have an ulterior motive, allows their chemistry to mix in a way that is refreshingly unlike the puppy dog eyes of Tennant and Rose. Of course, romance in a family show has never been Moffat’s M.O. He quickly (and “impossibly”) kills her off, turning her into something new. Subversion is terrific. Subversion is preferable. But subversion needs to be pinpointed and effective. Due to the strange break between the two halves of Season 7, Clara’s arc as The Impossible Girl feels shoehorned in and galloped over. When her supporting cast in Victorian London (a makeshift Banks family) feels more developed than their 21st century counterparts, the big ball of timey-wimey stuff is unwinding into a mess. Instead of the mystery being the cloth that connects the Back Seven, a clear abandonment of the Blockbuster pretense, it becomes an anchor around the series. Perhaps if Clara had a full season not bound by standalone episodes, her mystery could have been more effective. But half-a-year with little narrative cohesion becomes a detriment to a potentially great character. Even in the sterling episode written by Neil Gaiman, one that has revitalized the Cybermen into an awesome baddie, must pay lip-service to a mystery that is mostly spinning its wheels until the finale. This is not to say that Clara has not been a great addition. Merely, she has been underserved thus far. The way she plays off Warwick Davis and ‘Mr. Clever’ in “Nightmare in Silver” or brings the leaf that introduced her parents to one another (and thus precipitated her birth) to the Doctor’s aide in “The Rings of Akhaten” shows that early promise from the two girl twice dead. Perhaps, it is part of the plan that the character did not fully click until “In the Name of the Doctor?”
 During Season 7’s final moments, her impossibility is stunningly explained in the most basic and satisfying of manners. On Trenzalore, the apparent final resting place of the Doctor’s ever-approaching tomb, the show’s entire legacy comes to a head. When the Great Intelligence, embodied by the perpetually underused Richard E. Grant, throws himself into the Doctor’s timeline (the “tracks of his tears” hidden within his grave) to reverse all the hero’s past glories, Clara seemingly commits suicide by going in right after him. She is split into a million echoes of herself that live, die and help the Doctor. One through Eleven. It remarkably taps into the show’s grand 50 years of heritage while finally adding merit to The Impossible Girl’s title—by proving her ordinariness. Suddenly, when the Doctor goes to save her, she is worth so much more than just a mystery. The blue box turned the corner. Once upon a time, Rory Williams was just Amy’s hanger-on who disappeared into a crack in the fabric of space. Audiences shrugged. One appearance later and Rory ended Season 5 as The Last Centurion. All it takes is one amazing sacrifice for an ordinary companion to truly become great. For the Impossible Girl, it meant only getting past the elaborate stage that was set in seven disparate episodes.
 The Other Side of 50Which brings me to what Season 7 means for the future of the show. That goes for Eleven, Clara and the whole damn thing. Obviously, this kind of speculation MUST begin with the forthcoming 50th Anniversary. “In the Name of the Doctor” ended on a cliffhanger that made Whovians long for a TARDIS jump to November 23. The Doctor met his “dark side” in the wryly form of John Hurt. Introduced as the Doctor, despite Eleven’s protests that he is undeserving of the moniker, Hurt seems destined to play the pariah regeneration that subsequent Doctors have repressed or denied. Undoubtedly, this carefully constructed mental wall will crash and burn like a Neutron Star come November. The Doctor has always been lit in half darkness. Eleven let a whole race of space fish die and Ten showed a sadistic pleasure in drowning the baby Racnoss on one Christmas Eve. And then there is his most infamous crime: destroying Gallifrey, the home planet of his fellow Time Lords, as well as countless Daleks during the Time Wars….an event audiences never saw, as it took place during the blackout years. Is Hurt the Doctor who condemned billions of organisms, including many less-than-guilty Time Lords, to total extinction? It seems like a good bet, considering Internet photos have spotted him wearing an outfit similar to Nine’s appearance (the first regeneration after the war). However, in Season 7’s finale, the villainous Great Intelligence mentions that the Doctor would one day be known as the Valeyard. Juxtaposed with the Biblical name for the Anti-Christ, the Beast, the implications of the Valeyard are less than pleasant. A supposed aborted alternate form of the Doctor that takes place between his Twelfth and Thirteenth regenerations (as decreed in Classic Who), could Hurt be the future face of an evil incarnate to come? Or perhaps he is its harbinger since his appearance would make Eleven the twelfth regeneration. I will not speculate on Who Hurt plays (heh), because it’s like trying to guess the back story on River Song or Clara Oswald: exhausting and always wrong.
 What excites me more is what it may entail for Season 8. By delving into the Doctor’s dark secrets for the 50th anniversary,the show has a golden opportunity to bring back past mistakes. While NuWho has created a plethora of fun new villains (Weeping Angels, Silents and Vampire Fish, oh my!), the idea of seeing the Doctor’s darker side through villains long-thought vanquished could only unlock more mysteries of the character. In this vein, both Hurt and Clara can play tremendous repercussions for Season 8. If the Doctor confronts his evil past/future/whatever in November, then the aged Eleven, played by an actor likely on his way out from the role, may finally be forced to examine that evil from within the Christmas Special. We all know the Doctor can sometimes be a bastard, but could he admit it and fully embrace it in an increasingly old age? This brings us to Peter Capaldi, cast as the Twelfth Doctor. Besides being the one who will have to face up to the Valeyard, he will also be teh first Nuwho Doctor to appear older in age. Besides squashing potential romantic chemistry with Clara, this change of complexion will mean a Doctor who is weary enough to face his past deeds and mistakes, possibly without the joyous deflections inherent in Smith and Tennant’s performances. Likewise, Clara is no longer a mystery, but a great resource into his past. She has seen all eleven regenerations of the Doctor and thanks to a million lifetimes, she knows a lot more about the universe than any previous companion. With the bridge of trust finally being repaired (or built from her POV), they could return to the rapport of her first two appearances. And more tantalizingly, the Doctor will have a companion who actually knows a few things that he may not, including from his own past. A flirtatious rivalry as opposed to a pained longing would again twist modern expectations. No dramatic sighs necessary. Yet the biggest question for me likely remains: Will Professor Song return?
 River’s EndBefore closing the book on Season 7, it felt necessary to give a cheer to the Doctor’s Wife. Or OTHER wife, if you count the TARDIS. River Song first appeared during Ten’s reign, but she was Eleven’s girl. Her promises of being the Doctor’s once and future wife came true in Season 6…around the same time she was revealed to be Amy and Rory’s missing daughter who was lost to time. Whether she is being retired because Amy and Rory’s story is done or due to writers narrowing the competition for Clara (who didn’t notice them sizing each other up in the finale?) is moot. The point is that she died…off-screen. That turned out to be the definitive reason for the Doctor’s reclusive nature in “The Snowmen.” His wife (by way of alternate reality shotgun marriage) died on one of their unseen adventures. It is truly a lovely send-off. The timeline-crossed lovers parted ways in the ever-murky past before truly saying goodbye via a holographic conversation during “In the Name of the Doctor.” I will leave it to shippers in the Comment Section to decide whether the Doctor loved Rose or River more, but the woman who stole both the Doctor’s hearts seemed to take her final bow. If this is Alex Kingston’s true final exit, it was the most graceful one I have seen from the show’s seven seasons. The Doctor’s unofficial eighth companion of NuWho may have walked away with the spotlight from all of them.  In the end, parsing through Season 7 can be as terrifying as quantum physics. The format changed, the companions switched and it ultimately boils down to two starkly different mini-seasons that must be unraveled. Something that I hope Moffat REALLY avoids in the future.
 It is not the best run the show has had, but it maintains the storybook glow of all the Moffat seasons and unpacked enough interesting stories to still make it one of the best shows on TV bar none. Whether it is the Doctor losing a girl who waited or gaining one of an impossible variety for his whole lifetime, the season gave the series a number of unforgettable moments. Exquisite writing, direction and acting on a BBC budget still proved to be more enthralling than most of the quarter-billion dollar investments Hollywood releases every summer. For that, any geek—even the most diehard Davies loyalists who hate Amy, River, Clara and Smith’s manic bowtie—should be grateful. See you around, Doctor and gang. Yes, it is now a gang.