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Clara Oswald – A Question of Perspective

Guest contributor Tania Vorovenci finds that Clara is so much more than just ‘The Impossible Girl’.

The Rings of Akhaten promo pics05

So, Clara Oswald then. The companion whose name echoes back to the origins of a TV legend. I am referring of course to Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who shot John F. Kennedy just one day before Doctor Who’s first ever episode aired.

Played by Jenna Coleman, the character’s casting was announced in March 2012 while the whole Whoniverse still had Amy and Rory’s departure on their minds and in their hearts. Still, everyone was curious, excited and full of hope for the new girl joining the long line of amazing companions.

Coleman’s first appearance, the unexpected role in Asylum of the Daleks was hailed by fans. Her second appearance in The Snowmen – as the official companion – even more so. Then something seemed to go wrong.

Why is it then, that after she returned for the third time as modern day Clara she wasn’t received with the same warmth as in the previous other times? Maybe because we hoped for a slightly different companion and Victorian Clara would have been the first companion from the past to travel with the Doctor since the show returned in 2005? Or maybe feisty computer genius Oswin Oswald would have been a good match (equal or even more) for our Doctor? Who knows? (pun intended) I will now take a look at the 21st century Clara and highlight the traits which prove she is not just a plot device but a faithful companion.

the-bells-of-saint-john-pics-batch portraits (7)As Clara Oswald is the original, the Clara, I will look at her different personas in the measure of being splinters of her personality. When we first meet her she’s working as a nanny. It is in no way surprising to me that after losing her mother to whom she was clearly very close (as revealed in The Rings of Akhaten) she decided to put her own life on hold looking after the Maitland kids who were just going through the same traumatic event she had. It’s clear that she loves children which also explains why she later became a teacher at Coal Hill School. In addition to that, travelling with the Doctor and taking a bit of distance from her daily life made her realise she had done her bit to help the Maitlands and she could move on without abandoning the people she cared about. Her transition from nanny to being a teacher is, in my opinion, a natural progression for someone with her skills.

During her first trip into space Clara proves she’s not put off by the strange environment and does what she knows best: gives hope and confidence to a frightened little girl. But when things go wrong she doesn’t hesitate to do her utmost best and save Merry, feeling clearly responsible for convincing her to face her fears. She gives up two things she loves most in the process but her sacrifices are met with gratitude from the people she saved and admiration from the Doctor, who despite his doubts about her, seems to accept her as a companion in that shared, long look before the dying old God.

After seeing how important the Doctor is to the Universe she tries her best to impress him in Cold War. Moffat often describes Clara as being a control freak and that becomes clear when she volunteers to talk to the Ice Warrior. Yeah, she’s brave but they were on a submarine under siege and one of the few ways she could keep on top of things was by confronting them. She shows no hesitation, does do the scary stuff and forms a bond with the creature which will ultimately help save the lives of those trapped.

In Hide she proves to be very down-to-Earth and observant noticing that Emma and Professor Palmer loved each other while later on in The Crimson Horror she’s the first to realise that the chimneys played a part in Mrs Gillyflower’s evil plan. Talking of the Crimson Horror, this is when the Time Lord realises that the lady is actually in charge as a trip to London goes a bit off course. Clara proves she’s not easily intimidated by confronting the clearly mad, villainous old hag and destroying her control station with a chair. Chairs are cool. Who needs sonic screwdrivers anyway?

Trapped again, this time aboard the TARDIS, she is one of the few people to find out the Doctor’s name. And in the beautifully acted scene on the brink of a fall, after facing the zombies and finding out she had died many times before, she can’t even feel safe with the Doctor who confronts her by finally expressing his doubts.

nightmare-in-silver-pics-promo-(32)In Nightmare in Silver she is left in charge and with a simple instruction of not letting anyone blow up the planet and this is when she proves she can handle difficult situations and think on her own feet without relying on the Doctor. Putting her resourceful mind at work she devises some clever tricks to hold the Cybermen off and turns down the proposition of being the queen of a thousand galaxies. Right answer, Clara.

And finally by the time the mystery is unravelled we already know Clara pretty well. She’s clever, resourceful, determined, ambitious, bossy, flirty, selfless, persuasive, total control-freak, she loves children, is confident, brave, loves making souffles and doesn’t abandon the people she cares about.

Clara just shines in The Name of the Doctor. To defeat the Great Intelligence and save the Doctor she sacrifices herself by jumping into the time stream and becoming the most important person in his life. As a result, we see splinters of her personality in flirty, self-assured Oswin, her love to children in the Victorian version of herself and many others scattered throughout the Doctor’s lives. Clara never gives up on the Doctor as proved in The Time of the Doctor when she asks the Time Lords for help. It is then, after such a long, long time the Doctor had lost faith in impossible things. But fortunately The Impossible Girl hadn’t.

All in all there is a simple explanation as to why the first two versions of Clara are preferred by fans. The element of surprise added a lot to our enjoyment the first time we met Oswin. The second time, lively, kind and inquisitive Clara does her best to get the clearly distressed Doctor back into the game. But then as we met The Impossible Girl for the third time, we didn’t welcome her with an open mind. No, no. This time we were suspicious, we were aware that she had become a mystery. We had doubts. And doubts weigh heavily in people’s minds. We all know that Whovian brains are strange places where intricate webs of ideas and theories lie and strange creatures lurk. So of course, we were suspicious. Was Clara a trap? Was she on the Doctor’s side? Was she one of the good guys?

And there’s also another thing. The story shows us Clara helps the Doctor. “But why does she?” we wondered. Surely it can’t be as simple as her being a good person and a true friend to the Doctor. We had developed the same thought processing system as that of a detective solving a mystery. We suspect everyone, we suspect everything and we hesitate to see the truth even if it’s staring us in the face. The simple solution, the old saying goes, is in most cases also the correct one. Character traits were there, staring us in the face but we didn’t believe they were genuine because we approached Clara with caution, we didn’t yet put our hearts into the character because we didn’t want to have them broken.

clara-montage-faceSome people blame Moffat, saying he used her as a plot device. That she is a character that doesn’t even seem remotely real. I think he took a gamble with Clara’s story, one that I quite approve of. She is different to other companions. By making her a puzzle for us to solve Moffat made sure the companion template doesn’t repeat itself. He hates repeats. So Clara came with an extra treat. She was a challenge for the theory-obsessed Whovian minds. And we did truly enjoy it. Speculation is always fun regardless of whether you are right or wrong. So did the great Moffat achieve that at the cost of a making us less caring for a brilliant companion? No. Because Clara’s journey is only just beginning and relieved from the impossible girl arc she shone in Day and Time. She is no longer an enigma.

To conclude, I have done my best to prove that Clara is neither characterless nor a simple plot device and the key to solving the mystery of her contemporary self’s somewhat diminished popularity lies in our perspective and in the manner we approached the character.

She certainly holds a very special place in the Doctor’s hearts as the woman who saved his life countless times and in so many ways and I am confident that she will gain a place in the hearts of those who are as yet unconvinced by The Impossible Girl. Now, with the advent of series eight just around the corner we can only look forward to the fantastic adventures of the Twelfth Doctor and Clara Oswald.

Step back in time...

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161 comments
jlocoleman
jlocoleman

I would've liked it if Amy and Rory left at the end of The Wedding of River Song in similar circumstances to Martha - as in, they don't go out in heartrending episodes aka Rose Tyler in Doomsday or Donna Noble in Journey's End, but for them to just step out the blue box one last time. And then we'd have Clara Oswald for all of Series 7, except the Impossible Girl arc could've been deleted, and in its place, we could have Moffat intelligently expand on the Trenzalore story arc - just in time for The Name of the Doctor, The Day of the Doctor, and The Time of the Doctor. And River Song's further appearances could tie in with a loose Trenzalore arc with simple memes akin to the "Bad Wolf" and "Torchwood" arcs of series 1 and 2. This would then aid in building the arc up until it explodes in the series finale.

TheOncomingFish
TheOncomingFish

"And finally by the time the mystery is unravelled we already know Clara pretty well. She’s clever, resourceful, determined, ambitious, bossy, flirty, selfless, persuasive, total control-freak, she loves children, is confident, brave, loves making souffles and doesn’t abandon the people she cares about."

I think for me that's the problem. Many of those qualities you could easily apply to other companions that have come before her and the qualities that are more unique to her, such as being a control freak, haven't really been explored. I ever would have got that she was a control freak if it wasn't stated in TTOTD. She hasn't been given enough depth or development for me to find her interesting. So far, to me, it seems like loving children and not abandoning people are her only really interesting qualities. Good article though!

Noybusiness
Noybusiness

Also, I was disappointed that Modern Clara didn't say "It's smaller on the outside" again like Victorian Clara, instead of "It's bigger on the inside".

jackrudrum
jackrudrum

I have to say personally clara's my favorite companion yet. I personally think she's the most normal companion yet. She actually reminds menof someone i know

A Friend of the Ood
A Friend of the Ood

I don't mind Clara, but she's just not interesting. I feel like Moffat tried so hard to make her a mystery, he forgot to make her human. After reading this, I feel like I understand her personality more, but I shouldn't need a list with examples to know what she's like. 

Donna seemed like she could be a real person. She had flaws (like all humans) and her character developed a lot. I don't see any character development in Clara.


I really wish the Victorian Clara could have been the companion.

BLINKANDYOUREDEAD
BLINKANDYOUREDEAD

I totally agree. Clara's my favourite companion, and it's probably because of her interesting personality. She is probably somebody that I would become very good friends with (intelligence and quirkiness are definitely two prerequisites for me). Great article!

allons_ywibblywobbly
allons_ywibblywobbly

I always thought Clara is some sort of Martha. For me at least. Brilliant girl, smart, brave and  loyal, but...something is missing. I like both Martha and Clara and I think they are great companions, there is really nothing wrong with them, but their story fail to touch my emotional side in the way Rose, Donna and Amy-Rory did. I don't know if this has something to do with the way the character is written (lacks of a certain craziness that the others had), their dynamic with The Doctor or simply just the actress. Maybe it's a bit of each.



Keableg
Keableg

I think the main problem with Clara is that it was shoe-horned in. We only had one series to get to know her before the anniversary was upon us. We could've done with it being spun out a bit more, it just seemed too rushed. I am fairly ambivalent when it comes to Clara. I won't be sorry to see her go.

RoweMatthew
RoweMatthew

Her first two appearances were big events that were carefully written and planned to make her as interesting as possible, but then, I don't know what happened, the modern day Clara came off as really dull. Her personality wasn't as strong. She had maybe one quip an episode as opposed to oswin's every line being a memorable quip. Her traits also seemed more generic - more like Amy and all the others - when put in the he origins of my modern day setting. Then she wasn't given much room for development because of the mystery of her character which took precedence despite not advancing at all until the reveal.

conallmc2013
conallmc2013

1- Firstly she is yet another stereotyped Moffat written female character making her as a character very dull, insulting and irritating as a viewer                                                                                                          2- Secondly her entire story arc is a paradox- She went into the doctors passed through the veil created by the doctors entire time stream from birth till death. But the doctor didn't die at the time of the doctor so the veil never would have existed! Even if you argue that she entered a future generations time stream she would have had to save future generations of the doctor- which she didn't- as she had no knowledge of the future. Plus are we made to believe that allow she's saved the doctor thousands of times despite meeting, bumping into and talking to previous incarnations it takes the doctor over 1000 years to realize her presence- or 11 re-generations. No but we are made to believe that he only catches on at the three most recent occasions of her appearances.


Sarah Manning
Sarah Manning

I just adore Clara and I truly hope that she stays with us for at least 2 more series.

Malohkeh
Malohkeh

I used to be bored by Clara, and now I absolutely adore her. It's almost terrifying how much she reminds me of myself.

TheElusiveWhovian
TheElusiveWhovian

The problem with Clara in my mind is that she has no unique features. She is very generic - feisty, loyal and brave are all words which can describe most Doctor Who companions.

Iris Wildthyme
Iris Wildthyme

I don't want a companion to be a challenge; I want a companion to feel genuine. The other greatest mistake in her characterization (aside from turning her into a cypher) was not retaining the memories of JttCotT. 

MeglosProductions
MeglosProductions

You make some good points. Clara isn't really all that remarkable as a character, but I easily prefer her to Rose and Amy.

PaddyB
PaddyB

I personally found Oswin a bit annoying as well as being the epitome of Moffat's 'cheeky, flirty' characterisation for which he is so often criticised. However, I did feel that some of the earnest pluckiness of Victorian Clara was lost when we met the modern version. It's not that I dislike modern Clara, it's just that she doesn't seem to have any definitive character traits or back-story (perhaps because Moffat was fed up writing introductions for Clara after the first two times so he didn't really bother the  third time round).

KingOfTheInterWebs has Kidneys
KingOfTheInterWebs has Kidneys

'We all know that Whovian brains are strange places where intricate webs of ideas and theories lie and strange creatures lurk.'


There are strange creatures in my head? Well that explains the tapping noise and the folk songs...

VictorWong1
VictorWong1

One thing I do appreciate is Clara's perceptions compared with other companions.

That line in Hide: "We're all ghosts to you." That's not something that Amy, or even Donna, could have come up with. That Clara is comfortable enough with Doc to challenge him on something that he (and, by extension, the viewer) takes for granted in time travel scenarios is a nice touch.

I also like the tension between Amy and the Tardis, in 7B. It's sometimes easy to forget, in TV shows, the real-life scenario where A likes B, A likes C, but B and C don't get along together.

I do think they dropped the ball on Clara's "genius computing" skills. Yes we see them in Asylum, and we see how she got them in Bells, but there's also the potential for "backdoor tricks" that Clara may have picked up during her upload in the GI Matrix, somethat that hans't been exploited in subsequent stories (with the possible exception of her connection to the hologrammic River in Name). But perhaps we'll see some more consequences of her upload in Series 8.

Noybusiness
Noybusiness

For me, the reason is that the modern Clara seemed more subdued than either of the incarnations we saw previously (Oswin listens to classical music while stranded on a Dalek planet, Victorian Clara is a barmaid who leads a double life disguising herself as a governess named Miss Montague and claims to have been born in Big Ben), and seemed to be relying on how well they had both been established without spending enough time showing that she was similarly quirky and "feisty". Now, hopefully we see more of this in Series 8.

Moonlightmile71
Moonlightmile71

Fantastic article . I have never felt a bonding with Clara .It is like there is not enough emotion just words unlike asylum Oswald or snowmen Oswald .i wish I could feel different and I try very hard to like the character .she kinda reminds me of Nyssa .

LGwalchmai95
LGwalchmai95

Oh by the way, Tania, top article! The best I've read here for a while, and I'm not just saying that because I agree with it 100%, that's a nice little bonus. It's terrifically written, well structuredand interesting. I hope you do more in the future. :)

DawnTime
DawnTime

One of my favourite companions along with Romana 2.  - Long may she stay and great article.

JayneThough
JayneThough

Funny. I started off hating her fictional guts.. But I came to love her.





Mercy Reborn2
Mercy Reborn2

I hope she improves ,and maybe with Peter being older and the doctor being a friend not  a boyfriend, maybe it will happen, and dont forget she will have Danny Pink as a close friend too. I think people might be right, maybe it was her arc that was to blame for her being less than real.

Clara Laurinda
Clara Laurinda

@conallmc2013 I am guessing that you are not a fan of Clara Oswald, or is it Moffat's work you are uncomfortable with? Both?

tealeaves
tealeaves

@Iris Wildthyme Surely the point of the Clara arc was that despite the mystery around her she is 'genuine'. Ultimately her splintering is not really about timelines or rips in the fabric of space and time, it is the act of a girl so brave she is willing to sacrifice her being to save her best friend's life over and over again. Throughout Series 7 we are reminded Clara is as the Doctor says, "just a girl". Her big sisterly conversation with Merrie and her discussion with the War Doctor in DotD immediately stand out as examples of Clara being actually far more 'genuine' than perhaps more brash characters such as Rose or Martha.

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

Well, I am relieved to hear that I'm not the only one with such problems...

Malohkeh
Malohkeh

@KingOfTheInterWebs has Kidneys "There are some corners of the Whovian's brain which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything we believe in. They must...sing folk songs...." -Actual Second Doctor

The Finn
The Finn

@VictorWong1 Tension between Amy and the Tardis in 7B? I think you either mean some other series or then Clara?

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

I certainly intend to write more and the great reception it's had is really encouraging.

I forgot how much I loved writing articles, I used to write them for school but since English is not my first language, it was more important that they were gramatically accurate than having an interesting content. So it's a relief for me that the ideas were considered to be good and people liked them.

Malohkeh
Malohkeh

@The Outer Space K9 For me, it's mainly her occasional fear and nervousness, her love of (and skill with) working with kids, and her random quirks (like the souffles).

PaddyB
PaddyB

@Malohkeh @PaddyB By no 'definitive' backstory I mean that we only found out that her mum is dead and that she has a leaf she likes to carry around with her. With previous companions we were immersed in their lifestyles and relationships but that seems slightly lacking with Clara. One thing I do like about Clara however is her voice, her voice makes me happy!

LGwalchmai95
LGwalchmai95

@The Outer Space K9I did think that you may not be English looking at that surname, but then I'm English but my surname isn't so there was always a chance! The fact that English isn't your first language makes the article even better, grammatically it is spot on, and I of course find the content interesting ;). I was actually in the process of writing a Clara defence article, but you've beaten me to it aha!

The Outer Space K9
The Outer Space K9

I have to try a souffle one of these days...but not one that I've made myself because that would definetly be too beautiful to live.

teddybowties
teddybowties

@PaddyB @Malohkeh yeah, i agree. Backstory fleshes out the character. even hints of backstory for a character meant to be mysterious would be better than just having it thrown at you, like Moffat is wont to do. I like Moffat, but... ARGH. he's arrogant if he thinks that all we have to do is look. There are some things that need connections to be more visible in order for the mind to be psychologically satisfied and he never gives us that. it's annoying. but it won't make me stop watching. sigh. 

tealeaves
tealeaves

@teddybowties @PaddyB @Malohkeh I'm very confused as to where the evidence that Moffat is 'arrogant' comes from. Read some interviews he's given on his own writing he raves about the work of other Who writers and regularly rips into his own. The idea that he is some arrogant egomaniac is just not true.

There are plenty of 'hints' at a backstory. TBoSJ's the Doctor works out that Clara was going to see the world but she can't leave this one family who have lost their mum. Akhaten we see the impact of her mother's death on Clara and how her parents fell in love. In TotD we meet Clara's family. Bare in mind Clara has been a companion for half a series less than any other companion so far - If we compare her with the first half of Martha's series all we found out was that her parents were going through a messy divorce and her sister and brother were barely in it unless the plot required it.

conallmc2013
conallmc2013

@Notsosmartguy  @Clara Laurinda @conallmc2013 Clara had potential and i liked the idea Moffat made regarding her. But as a character she is cast as a stereotypical Moffat women character- like river or amy who is controlling over the doctor and very fiesty- against gender roles in society. I liked it in amy and river's character but is very restricting for Clara in depth and not at all refreshing (not that I'm saying women shouldn't be, but there needs to be a breath of fresh air). As for the plot it had the makings of a good story but was held together by too many loose ends which Moffat always seems to miss (much to m dissapointment)- at the final, critical moment when the episode is 5 minutes from ending! I find it irritating that his ideas are wasted by being unstrutured and "air tight" to remove the viewers doubts in this case. In the time of the doctor his overly climactic story paradoxically became a major anticlimax in the incredible genius idea for the impossible girl storyline. I grew up watching RTD which makes me somewhat bias but i believe moffat is talented and has some good ideas but cannot execute them in the way it should be done