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What if… Clara had stayed Victorian?

Guest contributor Will Stanford examines whether Series 7 would have been better or worse.

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Last year, Neil Gaiman let slip the very interesting information that the Series 7B writers initially developed their scripts with Clara as Victorian governess/barmaid that we saw die in The Snowmen. The decision to create a third Clara in the modern day came fairly late on, and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that this switch is a significant factor in Clara’s character feeling a bit lacking when not in the hands of Steven Moffat so far. Gone was street-smart cockney Clara, and in her place came a more naïve girl-next-door type. I read Neil’s words and felt a sense of sadness for having missed out on eight episodes plus of the more compelling, more vital Clara that had been so wonderful to watch at Christmas. But would sticking to the original plan and keeping on Victorian Clara really have worked better? Let’s take a closer look…

More Intelligence

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It’s hard to fathom why considering the versions encountered earlier turned out to be echoes of our modern-day Clara, but each successive version of the character turned out to be a bit less bright. Not that our Clara is unintelligent, but compared to the self-proclaimed “total screaming genius” Oswald and the highly resourceful double-life leading Victorian she is a bit lacking. Would contemporary Clara have found the Doctor’s ladder-to-the-sky and the TARDIS’ cloud base? Possibly. Would she have passed Madame Vastra’s single word test? I’m not so sure (modern Clara reduced to one word per line?!). Would she have been able to hack into the Daleks’ central system and delete all memory of the Doctor? Absolutely not. Our Clara did gain some computer skills from her time captured by the Spoonheads in The Bells of Saint John, but these have not been in evidence since.

With the more intelligent Victorian Clara on-board the TARDIS full time, it’s hard to imagine the climaxes of episodes such as Hide and The Name of the Doctor playing out as they did. Clara would certainly have seemed a lot less helpless when trapped in the Doctor’s timestream, and perhaps wasted fewer words in the decision to jump into it. The protective, paternal element to the Doctor’s relationship with his new companion would therefore be diminished, if not lost altogether – especially as in this scenario the Doctor has only lost Clara/Oswin once. To me, to lose that dynamic between Doctor and companion would be to lose the driving force of the series and that is too great a loss to consider.

A win for: Contemporary Clara

More Romance

the-snowmen-clara-kiss-aThe TARDIS really might have become a snog-box had Victorian Clara stuck around. Clara does fancy the Doctor, this we know thanks to the truth field, but the Doctor’s overprotective instinct towards her prevents any reciprocation – as does Clara’s initial suspicion when the Doctor barges into her life in The Bells of Saint John. Victorian Clara got all the romance stuff out of the way, and I for one am happy for it to stay out of the way – that ground has been well and truly trodden since 2005. Had Clara stayed Victorian, we’d be seeing a much more sexual element to Clara’s feelings for the Doctor, and I don’t see any way how that wouldn’t turn into a re-hash of Rose/Madame de Pompadour/Martha/Amy/River/all of the above. Been there, done that.

A win for: Contemporary Clara

Different Kids

doctor-who-the-snowmen-gallery-(22)Controversially, I don’t hate the much-maligned Maitland kids. Yes, their acting could have been better and they weren’t suited to the more major roles they found themselves in for Nightmare in Silver – but they look the part, and expose some nice characteristics in both the Doctor and Clara. But would we have been any better off with the Latimer kids? Remember them, Digby and improbably-tall Franny? Could they have recurred in Series 7B, and ultimately ended up at Hedgewick’s World of Wonders? Short answer: yes. Whether they’d have fared any better in Nightmare in Silver is another question altogether, and one that isn’t so easy to answer. Although the kids are clearly written in the same mould, Angie Maitland appears more prone to sudden stroppiness than her Victorian counterpart – and it’s this that rings most false in her character to me. On the other hand, would a young Victorian girl hiding in the corner have any more impact when taken by a Cyberman? Acting aside, that scene had much more impact by focusing on an overconfident modern teenager rather than a repressed nineteenth-century one. And let’s not forget that Clara had a stronger connection to the Maitlands, being present when the mother of the family died rather than just employed as a governess. This, in turn, allowed the Doctor to glean a deeper understanding of Clara’s values (“you don’t run out on the people you care about”) and strengthened the bond between them. So overall, despite some misgivings I must conclude that we gained more than we lost by swapping Latimers for Maitlands.

A win for: Contemporary Clara

More Running

doctor-who-the-snowmen-gallery-(12)However, there’s a downside to Clara not running out on the people she cares about, and it’s that she doesn’t run out on the people she cares about. The Doctor picks her up at the start of every episode, and sets her back home at the end. No time away from home like Rose, no need to choose between the two lives like the Ponds, these two have a nice regular schedule going. But it’s not very interesting, is it? The companion needs to quit their life to see the stars, at least temporarily, or it all starts to feel rather pointless. Where’s the tension if Clara can pop back home at any time, with no risk of missing a thing? I’m hoping this matters is tackled in series 8 as there’s still plenty of time, but Victorian Clara would have cut to that chase much sooner. Yes, the occasional return trip to see the Paternoster gang and Latimer kids (The Crimson Horror would have, and presumably did at the first draft stage, fit into that nicely) would have been in order, but other than that Victorian Clara would have taken up residence in the TARDIS for sure. Considering the lack of clarification over Clara’s travelling status right up to the end of Nightmare in Silver, it seems very likely that this was the initial plan. So while Clara’s homing instincts open up a nice emotional door between her and the Doctor, too much was left to the viewer’s imagination for too long – and in a way the very Doctor/companion format was undermined.

A win for: Victorian Clara

Less Intrigue

clara-montage-faceAcross Series 7, Clara was all about the mystery. She was the impossible girl: how could she show up in Victorian London, having died as a Dalek in the future? For the viewer, the intrigue was there right from the moment Jenna appeared unexpectedly in Asylum of the Daleks. But for the Doctor, he didn’t start asking questions till Victorian Clara had died (or maybe just before, if you want to be picky). So if Victorian Clara didn’t die, when would he have put two and two together? We’ll probably never know what the plan was, but there doesn’t seem to be a natural place for this turning point in Series 7B. So consider this: the Doctor doesn’t realise that Clara and Oswin are one and the same until The Name of the Doctor. Less dragged-out mystery, sure, but also far less momentum behind the series – and much more frustration for the viewers, fervently asking a question all but unaddressed on-screen for nearly nine months.

A win for: Contemporary Clara

A Cockney Accent

Need I say any more?

A win for: Victorian Clara

Conclusion

And so, as much as it surprises me to write this, it is a resounding victory for our modern-day Clara. It’s easy to point at this one aspect and think it’s the route of series 7’s problems (I really enjoy Series 7, but I won’t bury my head in the sand and pretend it is free of significant flaws), but that simply is not the case. We may have had a more compelling and relatable companion had Victorian Clara stayed, but we’d have also lost so much of what made Clara and Eleven’s time together something new and we’d have lost what gave the latter half of the series its impetus. Looking to the future, would Victorian Clara have as much trouble adjusting to a new Doctor as our Clara appears to? Less grieving would mean a weaker dynamic for series 8, with less of the tension that looks to be the hallmark of Twelve’s early days. And that’s without even mentioning the superb shock impact caused by Clara’s Christmas death, which I wouldn’t trade in for the world. So while it was a bit of a bumpy road, now we’ve passed it the show is in a much stronger position than it would be with Victorian Clara.

Step back in time...

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