Mission Impossible: Clara Oswald in Review – Part 1
Connor Johnston begins an ongoing series looking at Clara’s development throughout Series 8; starting with episodes 1-3.
In a series that introduces a new incarnation of our favourite Time Lord, anyone would usually be correct in thinking that the spectacle of Peter Capaldi might outshine and steer focus away from any side characters or companions, and while Capaldi’s performance has been indeed inspired, there seems to be another equally rewarding role this series. Through both her evolutionary performance and an abundance of inspired writing, Jenna Coleman (and in turn Clara Oswald) has achieved the seemingly impossible: continuing to go from strength to strength and proving to be as much of a valued and important role as the titular character himself. Over the course of this series, we’ll be tracking the developments of Clara’s character as she is thrown into the strangest, most dangerous and most amazing environments, and hopefully watch as her popularity in the opinions of the fan base skyrocket. Our “Mission Impossible” begins with evaluations of Episodes 1-3 in Series 8, written by Steven Moffat, Phil Ford and Mark Gatiss respectively.
Deep Breath – by Steven Moffat
“Never start with your final sanction.”
What a day Christmas must have been for Clara Oswald! Waking up in the morning to the daunting task of cooking Christmas dinner for her family, before being whisked away (Like a Soufflé!) by the Doctor – being attacked by Weeping Angels, Daleks, and more horrifically her Stepmother, quickly followed by a D&M with a crack in the wall, watching her recently young-again best friend turn into a crazed confused old man, being eaten by a giant dinosaur, judged by a Lizard and watching the same giant Dinosaur from earlier burn to a crisp in Victorian London … ALL IN ONE DAY. Faced with the challenge of adjusting to a strikingly different and new incarnation of the Doctor while reasonably suffering from shock insured that the events of “Deep Breath” would prove to be as much of a struggle for Miss Oswald than it would for Capaldi’s Doctor.
Throughout the episode Clara is very much fulfilling the role of audience substitute in her reaction to the dramatic change of the Doctor. Like us, Clara’s overwhelmed by the idea of not knowing who the Doctor is anymore. Some have labelled Clara’s initial reservations to the new Doctor as acting “out of character” – but I for one support the plea that prior knowledge does not ensure she wouldn’t have been suffering from a cold case of shock and confusion. This shock no due to the fact the Doctor has changed, but rather to the fact the change has been so substantial and confronting. It’s like your average horror movie cliché: The young blond cheerleader walks down to the basement… and even though you KNOW what is coming when the axe flies into the camera and the horribly high-pitched ‘Melanie Bush’ scream floods your senses you still REACT to it. Frankly, if Clara hadn’t exhibited a reaction that expressed the emotional toll watching Matt Smith sneeze into Peter Capaldi before her eyes would ensure: only then would there have been cause for alarm.
Clara continued throughout the episode with caution but still willingness, introducing the audience to this new dynamic she shares with the new Doctor in the Mancini’s Restaurant scene, and proving that Jenna herself is more than capable of portraying this spirited heroine through both the exploration of her externally tough yet internally insecure persona. This proved finally to those previously unconvinced that Clara is much more than simply a one trick flirty pony. This is the episode where Clara Oswald emerged from a layer of sass and one liners to be recognised as the sensational, strong and genuine character only a minority of Whovians (including myself) had already realised she was.
Stunner Soufflé Scene: Deep Breath is easily one of Jenna Coleman’s (and almost by default Clara Oswald’s) greatest appearances in Doctor Who, which as such makes it such a difficult decision to showcase just one scene today. The endless list of runners up is headed by her confrontation with Madame Vastra, but without doubt the winning scene has to be her clash with The Half-Face Man and her challenging of his intolerance to negotiate that lead into the climax of the episode. It’s the first time we get an insight to how her experiences, specifically as a teacher, have influenced the way she conducts herself by summoning her inner Courtney and calling the Half-Face Man’s bluff– hopefully enough to silence the complaints that she was without development throughout her entire initial run, an argument I in no way ever learnt to sympathise with. Abandoned with no one to lean on, scared beyond belief and facing a threat unlike any she’d ever encountered before; Clara summons the courage and strength she exhibited constantly throughout the episode and delivered what could easily be one of the best performed and written scenes for a companion in Doctor Who history. The Doctor’s words mirrored my reaction perfectly: Clara is absolutely brilliant under pressure.
Into the Dalek – by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat
“No Doctor… that is NOT what we learnt today”
While the Doctor and Clara travel “Into the Dalek” for the second episode of series 8, the audience travels into the earth-bound life of Coal Hill English teacher: Miss Oswald. In a strange fashion to most companions post 2005, when we were first introduced to contemporary Clara in “The Bells of Saint John” the fact that she was introduced without a deep insight of her life and family (Bar the Maitlands… Need I say more?) was very clear. Whether this be the right or wrong decision, no one can truly know, but it does seem that it’s a decision that is being re-evaluated judging by the strong parts that Clara’s workplace, her colleagues and her students are set to play come the latter two thirds of the series. We are briefly introduced to Clara’s first real love interest in the form of Samuel Anderson’s ‘Danny Pink’ – though judging by the stunning first impression he gave his description will very soon be in no way limited to that. Their first meeting is quick, sweetly awkward and leaves the viewer anxious for more – but one thing that is certain is that the two share an enormous amount of chemistry and I personally cannot wait to see how their story develops.
Re-joining the main plot of the episode, Clara continues to fulfil the role of the audience’s in-universe representation to a certain extent, by still very much getting to know this new Doctor. What a thrill it is to have a companion not completely sure if she can trust this man, but still travelling with him, caring for him and admiring him all the same. The Doctor and Clara’s dynamic is nailed by Ford and Moffat, perfectly adhering to Capaldi’s description from earlier this year: “It’s not romantic, but it’s not without love.” The pair have such a refreshing deep respect for each other and it’s such a pleasure to watch. Clara’s newly emphasised confidence and strength is once again exhibited through her independent attitude, ability to hold her own in every situation thrown at her and of course her lack of fear in pulling the Doctor by the ears (more literally the face) when he starts to stray. Her performance and quick thinking actions particularly to regain Rusty’s memory is what makes the conversation between herself and the Doctor so sincere at the end – she has truly earned the Doctor’s praise, and he hers.
Stunner Soufflé Scene: For “Into the Dalek”, Clara’s best scene is for me at least a very easy choice. The obvious stand out being of course her confrontation with the Doctor in the heart of the Dalek. Mirroring one of my favourite scenes from Series 7’s “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS”, Clara’s put in a situation where death seems imminent, there’s no villain to outsmart, no supporting character to out sass, no baked goods to burn – Just herself and the Doctor. The scene is dedicated to Clara’s raw, personal and genuine reaction to the Doctor’s apathetic attitude. Confronted by the Doctor’s actions of using Ross’ death to his own advantage and being partly pleased to be proved right about a Daleks morality regardless of the fact that his whole team is doomed to die, Clara takes matters into her own hands… quite literally. Delivering the Time Lord a well-earned slap, Clara pulls the stubborn, arrogant acting Doctor back in place by harshly “teaching him a lesson” in how to make a Dalek good again – reminding him what they really learnt after implying that the real listen might have had the Doctor’s morality at its core. The answer is YES, Doctor. YES you most definitely should be paying her.
Robot of Sherwood – by Mark Gatiss
“Be safe, if you can be. But always be amazing.”
The third episode of Series 8 sees, once again, Clara’s flirty, playful, clever, “Oswin” side take form watching her beloved childhood story unfold before her eyes as the TARDIS pitches up tent in Sherwood Forest – home to the fearless and chivalrous outlaw Robin Hood. What’s sensational about Clara’s character work in this episode is that any initial reservation or caution when dealing with the new Doctor seem to (for this week at least) take the back seat in terms of their relationship. The atmosphere of the TARDIS is much more settled and casual, and this with this episode being slightly less weighted in its plot points and themes it allows us even more insight to the Doctors and Clara’s dynamic. Through the background plot of the episode we learn that the Doctor is considered by Clara to be her “impossible hero”, watching in awe as he defeats the most famous outlaw of all time with a spoon, showing no restriction in sharing the Doctor’s story with Robin, all culminating to a stunningly written touching scene between the 2 travellers: “Don’t you know”.
Gatiss continues the streak of Clara being more grounded, confident in her own decisions, and more than a few times now having to be the problem solving, logical “ringleader” of the plot. The face of the Doctor has got older, but it’s Clara who’s having to point out key conundrums that the Time Lord previously would have approached in different ways. She takes charge half way through the episode over the two squabbling heroes, practically telling the Doctor off at times. Once again Miss Oswald comes face to face with the main villain from the episode, cleverly and passively overwhelming the Sheriff into confessing his motivations to her. Jenna’s chemistry with both Peter’s Doctor and Tom Riley’s Robin Hood are particular highlights, especially during the conclusion of the episode when, during an intimate chat with the outlaw, persuading him to continue being the hero she knows him to be.
Stunner Soufflé Scene: Choosing simply one scene to showcase Clara every week is proving to be more and more difficult than one had originally thought. Robot of Sherwood is no exception to this, with countless moments in the script proving that Mr Gatiss has definitely grasped Clara’s character with more efficiency then his 2 previous attempts to write for her in Series 7. The Stunner Soufflé scene for the episode is most deservingly her confrontation with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Using the best weapons she has at her exposure; her wit, charm, charisma, intelligence and … womanly assets, Clara seduces the half-man half-machine into surrendering his past connections to the Robot knights as well as his future plans without even realising he was being tricked – already wrapped around her little fingers. What a companion! What a woman! What a character!
Join me in 3 weeks’ time when we continue in this “Mission Impossible” – following Clara’s changing role in the series by looking at episodes “Listen”, “Time Heist” and “The Caretaker” in terms of her character.