Series 8: Brave New Clara
Guest contributor Anke Wauters looks at the changing role of Clara in Series 8.
Even though “Deep Breath” was profiled as an adventurous first episode to introduce us to Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor, we saw a shift in the focus to his confused companion. The story circled around the mixed feelings of Jenna Coleman’s Clara towards the change of her dashing young ‘boyfriend’ into this reckless, disorientated and rambling old man. For a long time, the impossible girl struggled to adjust to her brand new grumpy friend.
On some level, Clara without a doubt mirrors the viewership that was disappointed when casting news about the new Doctor got made public. The layered scene in which Madame Vastra condemns Clara for her judgement of the regenerated Time-Lord comes across as a direct conversation between Moffat and his fangirls. The Doctor’s moving plea to see him as he really is at the end of the episode was a request to the Whovians all around the world to love the show and the Doctor for their essential story and not the ever changing cast.
Most Whovians though, had no trouble at all to accept Peter Capaldi as our new Doctor. On another level, Clara’s confusion reflects the transition of this companion and the growth of her character. The impossible girl has always been faced with a lot of scrutiny in the past. Even though we sometimes saw hints of her courage and wit, Clara seemed to remain devoid of personality and only scratching the surface of her ability to become the powerful and breath-taking companion she surely has inside her.
After all, we saw Clara in different situations that forced her to alter and let loose the brave woman inside her. In ‘Asylum of the Daleks’, she was playful, heroic and quickly became a lovable character when she sacrificed herself for the sake of the Doctor and the Ponds. We saw a feisty and charming governess in ‘The Snowmen’ who could think quick and was inventive as well as independent. And even in the seventh season, Jenna Coleman’s character got moments of greatness (we all remember her sacrifice in ‘The Rings of Akhaten’ and ‘The Name of the Doctor’).
But it wasn’t until now that Clara was truly forced out of her comfort zone. ‘Deep Breath’ spat out a Doctor who is dangerous and reckless, even to the point where it becomes slightly irresponsible. Clara, the control freak, gets thrown into an episode that is as unpredictable as it is different to what she was used to. Her perseverance gets put to the test and she is confronted with her own unstable values.
Up until now, we mostly got to see the ‘deer in the woods’-act from Clara, with a few exceptions, of promising fearlessness. Some Whovians already appreciated Clara but others had more trouble to see through the veil and discover the fierce, strong and funny woman behind the ‘manic pixie dream companion’. I have always believed that a companion is constantly exactly what the Doctor needs at that given moment in time and space. Whether it was a best friend, a partner in crime, someone to remind him of his humanity or even a romantic interest – the companion is there to complete the Doctor. And so was Clara, in his own words: ‘Always exactly what I need.’
Last season, Clara was this enigmatic and flirty girl who helped the Doctor get over the traumatic loss of Rory and most of all Amy Pond. She was slightly naïve and still believed in the good of the world, still capable of being moved by the wonders of the universe (in contrast to the Ponds who have seen it all). But as the new Doctor arrives, our companion is forced to change as well. In my opinion, what this Doctor needs most of all is a friend, someone who sees him for what he really is, trusts him no matter what and makes him feel – unlike the giant dinosaur wandering around London – less alone in this world.
The phone call from Matt Smith finally smoothened the transition for Clara and she stood up for her Doctor. It is a recurrent phenomenon that characters in Doctor Who tend to have a growth that is stretched over a certain amount of time. It is my hope that the same will happen for Jenna Coleman’s Clara. I hope she evolves with this new Doctor, that she leaves behind ‘sweet little Clara’ once and for all – something both the character and the audience have been waiting for – and that she lets out the phenomenal, mind-blowing companion she really is meant to be.