Clara Oswald – A Question of Perspective
Guest contributor Tania Vorovenci finds that Clara is so much more than just ‘The Impossible Girl’.
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.
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.
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.
Some 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.