Deep Breath: The Very Best of Clara Oswald
Guest contributor Ruth Long on Clara’s best moments and how the character developed.
Amidst the excitement and praise brought on by Peter Capaldi’s explosive introduction last Saturday, it seems that it wasn’t just this wonderful new Doctor who had blown people away. Clara Oswald, a character previously met with various measures of love and criticism, reached new heights in the Series 8 opener “Deep Breath”. Enough to earn the approval of many of her critics, and, in my humble opinion, elevate her from what I considered a great companion, to a phenomenal one.
So, let’s have a look at some of the standout Clara moments in this episode, what they tell us about her character and how these events change our understanding of her. I’ll add that despite my gushing, it’s also important to address some of the perceived problems and inconsistencies that may have been created. Without further ado, here’s why I think Clara triumphed, and proved that there is far more to her than first meets the eye.
“I often wondered what you’d be like when you lost your temper”
You’re not alone there, Madame Vastra. This scene perfectly introduced us to a side of Clara that we’d only caught the merest glimpses of before: a Clara who wasn’t in control, who wasn’t comfortable and who wasn’t in the least bit impressed with Vastra’s stern rebuke. Right from her outraged “how dare you”, to a defiant speech that can only be described as sheer brilliance, it was utterly captivating. No doubt that Jenny’s cheering response mirrored most of our own!
“I am not sure who you think you’re talking to right now, Madame Vastra, but I have never had the slightest interest in pretty young men. And for the record, if there ever was anyone who could flirt with a mountain range, she’s probably standing in front of you right now! Just because my pretty face has turned your head, do not assume that I am so easily distracted”
“How long can you hold your breath?”
I cannot accentuate enough just how marvellous Jenna Coleman’s acting was in this episode; the emotional range and the depth of her performance was nothing short of spectacular. An exemplary showcase of her talent is when the Doctor seemingly abandons Clara and leaves her at the mercy of the droids. In what was one of the tensest moments I have ever seen in the show (I can’t have been the only one who literally held my breath), we see her go from shock and disbelief at the Doctor’s apparent “betrayal” to absolute terror as she tries to avoid detection by the clockwork monstrosities.
“Go on then… do it”
But the ultimate peak of this scene was her facing the ‘half faced man’. It was then that we saw a woman who showed immense bravery; not in the absence of fear, but in spite of it. Refusing to answer his questions under the threat of torture and death; Clara cleverly stalled him with her words. She clung onto her faith in the man she felt she no longer knew, even when he had deserted her. Holding out a trembling hand in the desperate hope that the Doctor would save her, a hope that, luckily, was not unfounded.
“The Times, shall I send it up?”
Just this picture… need I say more? Safe to say it’s not wise to play catch with a Sontaran.
“Egomaniac and needy game player? … That was me?”
Now this gave us a great insight into Clara’s relationship with the new Doctor. Steven Moffat promised an entertaining argument in a restaurant, and we weren’t disappointed. I found their bickering reminiscent of an old married couple; from the Doctor’s gibes at Clara’s vanity to her poking fun his aged appearance “If I got new hair and it was grey I’d have a problem” his reply was equally snarky “Yeah I bet you would”. It demonstrates that their relationship will be a considerably rockier one than before, bringing out the best (and worst) in Clara, even her “deflected narcissism”
“He needs you”
In the tear-jerking climax of the episode Clara shared one last conversation with the 11th Doctor, “her Doctor”. After all that she had been through, the confusion, the anger and the uncertainty she felt, it took the reassuring words of the man she thought she’s lost for her to realise that he was still there, right in front of her, asking for her help. Her Doctor may have changed his face, but in the words of Madam Vastra, Clara remained “the person who knows him best in all the universe”.
It’s a real testament to Clara in this episode that there are so many great scenes with her, here are a few more:
- “You’ve redecorated… I don’t like it” Apparently Clara doesn’t approve of bookshelves! I bet you she was saving that line after the Day of the Doctor.
- “It’s perfectly alright, I washed in it myself” Strax and Clara should really have their own spin-off show.
- “He’s not Clara, I’m Clara!” The Doctor’s right,maybe you should wear labels, the resemblance is uncanny!
- “On the other side…” Clara worked out the puzzle, but it seems that it wasn’t the Doctor who put it in the paper…
- “Stop it all of you now!” A brief but revealing window into the past showed us that Clara is not always on top of the situation.
The next couple of points are not specific scenes but looks into Clara’s personality in this episode. It is here that I’ll discuss what some see as discrepancies with her character.
“Never try and control a control freak”
A significant complaint of Clara in the past was her lack of visible flaws, and though seeing her woefully out of her depth was welcome here, there is a feeling that her “bossy control freak” attribute was a bit of a retcon; added later with no prior indication. However, I would like to (partially) dispute this idea; because I have a feeling that it was somewhat intentional.
I’ve mentioned this in the past, but here’s my take on the issue. Until now, we’ve more or less seen the composed, self-assured Clara; a woman comfortably in control of her life. Even the Doctor saw her as faultless: “always brave, always funny, always exactly what I need… perfect”. But under the surface, beneath her bubbly, witty, confident persona, there is perhaps an underlying fear and insecurity (evidenced very subtly in Series 7).
You see, in my eyes the veil metaphor didn’t just apply to Vastra or the Doctor, but to Clara as well. She maintained a pretence; outwardly tough and brave, but inwardly afraid. With the shock of this new Doctor we started to get the full picture: it was almost as if we were finally introduced to the “real” Clara. I don’t see it as a contradiction to what we’ve seen before, rather revealing something that has always been there, just mostly hidden from view.
“I don’t think I know who the Doctor is anymore”
Another criticism and perhaps the one I’ve heard most is her trouble accepting the new Doctor. The argument put forward is that of all of the Doctor’s companions, Clara should be most comfortable with him regenerating. After all, she’s encountered all of his incarnations and even properly met a few of them. So why does she struggle so much? To the extent that she even asks how to change him back?
The important thing to take into consideration here is Clara’s perspective. Yes, she’s familiar with the concept of him changing; she knows that he’s had many faces, but remember that the 11th Doctor was “her Doctor”, her best friend. To her the man that she’d grown to know and love was gone; replaced by someone she wasn’t even sure she liked. Regardless of the truth, Clara saw a complete stranger: he didn’t look the same, he didn’t act the same, he was unpredictable and insensitive, and not the Doctor she wanted. What could be interpreted as sudden ignorance, to me was confusion and in some ways, grief.
Deep Breath shed a brand new light on the Impossible Girl: Jenna delivered an outstanding performance and I think she was written with true complexity and believability. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that this was Clara’s standout episode so far, and if this is any indication of what her character will be like this series, then we really are in for a treat. I eagerly anticipate seeing how she develops in the weeks ahead, but one thing is for sure, the very best of Clara Oswald is here, and long may it continue.
What did you think of Clara in Deep Breath? I’d love to hear your thoughts!