“Doctor Who,” that was just…cruel.
I started watching “Who” back in 2013. I needed something fun and lighthearted to watch after my mother’s death. (I’d been binge-watching “Homeland” before that–there’s nothing lighthearted about that.) Then I saw “Doomsday,” and my whole ‘fun and lighthearted’ theory was shot to hell.
You see, “Doctor Who” is a show that can tear your heart out sometimes. Not often–most of the time it is exactly that fun, lighthearted show I wanted: sometimes funny, sometimes creepy, often nonsensical. But sometimes, it’s a killer.
SPOILERS for anyone who hasn’t seen series 9, episode 10 yet…
So Clara Oswald is dead, felled by the raven. Actually, she was felled by her own increasing risk-taking behavior, and by Ashildr’s hubris. But whatever.
Clara has grown on me a lot over the last several season. As the companion to Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor, she was very underdeveloped as a character–more of a plot device as a person. But as the companion to Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor, she’s grown in leaps and bounds.
Her character arc put her front-and-center last season: the pull between the adventure the Doctor offers, and the love of Danny Pink (and the relatively safe, boring life that would have been). She tried to be both the companion and the lover, and she succeeded at neither–and the attempt indirectly cost Danny his life. I don’t think she ever got over that loss.
I just wish the show had made that a little more explicit. Clara’s growing sense of adventure turned into straight-up recklessness this season. It was as if, without Danny, Clara decided to wholeheartedly throw herself into her life as the Doctor’s companion, completely leaving her footprint on Earth behind. Yeah, she might have still had a job and an apartment there, but she always had one foot out the door–and on the TARDIS. And I think that was because she was running from her own grief.
But that’s my own assumption. Danny got nary a mention this season–until last night, when one of Clara’s last statements was, “If Danny Pink can do it [die with bravery], so can I.”
(Also, one minor plot nitpick: why couldn’t Clara just pass the chrono-lock on to yet another person? Like, she was standing there surrounded by nearly-immortal people. If Ashildr/Mayor Me had taken it, her body would have likely healed itself anyway. If the Doctor had taken it, he might have been killed, but he would have just regenerated into a new Doctor, because that’s what he does. One line–just ONE FREAKING LINE–would have solved this: It can only be passed once. Yeah, it’s completely arbitrary, but so was everything else about this game Ashildr was playing.)
Although rumors have been flying that Clara would die for a while now, I had no idea how sad I would be when it happened. With that in mind, this next statement might come as a surprise…
I hope she stays dead.
One of my chief complaints about the Steven Moffat-era of the show is that things often don’t have lasting consequences. River Song dies? That was only her first episode. Osgood? Well, only one of her died, the other one is still fine–and now there are two of them, again, since her beloved sister is, apparently, replaceable. Rory Williams gets sucked into a crack in reality? He’ll be back a few episodes later as a robot, and then in another twist I still don’t understand, made real again. The Doctor is on the verge of death and on his final regeneration? Don’t worry, he’ll just get a whole new set of regenerations. Even the Time War–the catalyst for much of the Doctor’s actions in the reincarnated series–was negated by the 50th anniversary episode.
Hell, how many times has Clara herself died, in any of her timelines?
So yes, I want this death to stick. Like Clara, I want her death to mean something. The relationship between the Doctor and his companions has always been a tenuous one. Not all of the companions come out of their time on the TARDIS better for it. The 10th Doctor’s run explored this quite a bit. Rose got stuck in a parallel dimension. Donna had the memory of her time on the TARDIS erased completely, and if she ever remembers she will die. Martha Jones fared slightly better, but maybe because she realized she would forever be pining after the oblivious Doctor–and trying to live up to the ghost of Rose Tyler–and left on her own terms.
The Doctor takes his companions on grand adventures. But the Doctor will live indefinitely, and his human friends will die, so each of those friendships has to end. No matter what else the companions do or experience, it’ll never quite live up to their time with the Doctor. And humans–as the show often ignores–are so very breakable.
So Clara Oswald should stay dead, much as I hate it. Story-wise, it’s the bold choice, and it’ll give Peter Capaldi a chance to shine.
The Doctor endures, whatever his face. His companions don’t, because they can’t. This is one of the great tensions of “Doctor Who,” and I’m glad Moffat is addressing it head-on this time.