The Reckless Endangerment of Clara Oswald
Connor Johnston explores Clara’s more reckless nature and development throughout Series 9
“Why? Why shouldn’t I be so reckless? You’re reckless all the bloody time! Why can’t I be like you?”
As Series 9 kickstarted way back in late September with “The Magician’s Apprentice / The Witch’s Familiar”, so too did a new element in Clara’s character development – setting in motion a journey in which we watched Clara slowly lose perspective of both her mortality and the dangers of travelling with the Doctor.
From the moment we rejoin Clara at Coal Hill, it’s clear that her attitude and lifestyle had changed dramatically following Danny’s death. The separation of her life with the Doctor and her life at home had almost completely disappeared, almost advertising her impossible capabilities and the reality of situation to her class. There existed a certain flippancy and lack of reverence for her earth life, leaving her class in the most verbose way possible and obviously revelling in the confidence of being one of the first names called upon in the middle of a global crisis. While some may have been swept up more in the mystery and horror of the situation with thousands of innocent civilians trapped in the sky and millions more vulnerable underneath, Clara instead finds in it a certain excitement and thrill.
This same daringness is witnessed later on in the two parter as Clara sacrifices herself to the mercy of Colony Sarff when the Doctor gets captured. There’s no hesitation or fear for her own mortality and it’s clear that she’s totally lost sight of the fact that she’s not indestructible. Her confidence is completely reliant on her misguided certainty that she will survive regardless of the situation. Her grasp reality is completely distorted by her belief in the Doctor. At that moment she remains only concerned with the Doctor’s well-being and not her own, which dangerously foreshadowed the carelessness that was to come….
“Maybe this is what I wanted. Maybe this is it. Maybe this is why I kept running. Maybe this is why I kept taking all those stupid risks. Kept pushing it.”
“Under the Lake/ Before the Flood” sought to tackle the themes of Clara’s endangerment to both herself and others more explicitly in a plot that saw her separated from the Doctor and responsible for the safety of others. Where this story finds its grounding early on is through its exploration of the pair’s relationship and more specifically Clara’s worrying enthusiasm for risking her own life. It’s where we were introduced to the Doctor’s awareness of Clara’s attitude, with the ‘duty of care’ he has for her being highlighted at her unorthodox amusement at an unknown and deadly threat. The story also saw a judgement from Cass to Clara’s recklessness and ‘professional detachment’ when it came to the lives of others. Similarly to the previous story, Clara’s priorities are focused solely on the Doctor – though in a dangerous development it’s not just her life she’s willing to sacrifice in the process, but also the safety of others. For many, “Before the Flood” marked a point of no return for Clara’s character in which we began to physically see her lose grasp of her identity and principles through her time with the Doctor.
“Well if Danny Pink can do it, so can I…. Die right. Die like I mean it. Face the raven.”
As the series progressed, so too did the evidence that proved the strength of Clara both as a character and almost as an equal to the Doctor in terms of her capabilities in overcoming crisis and outsmarting enemies. In “The Girl Who Died” Clara’s continuing development to become more alike too the Doctor culminated in her confrontation with Odin. In the preceding scene we witness Clara at her most dangerous – embodying a sense of powerlessness and inability to help the village she knows is most likely doomed. Clara will and does do anything to maintain control over the situation, with no fear or hesitation, launching into action and putting herself in the direct line of fire once more – striking a clear parallel to her most recent episode. Finally, “The Zygon Invasion / The Zygon Inversion” once more seems to assert Clara’s strength in the way she equals – and sometimes even overcomes – the power of Bonnie, challenging her from inside her own mind and even from a position of vulnerability manages to hold her at a level of control.
“This is as brave… as I know how to be. I know it’s going to hurt you, but…please… be a little proud of me. Goodbye, Doctor.”
For what is essentially a standalone adventure, companion swan song and finale build up combined as one, “Face the Raven” achieves so much in terms of paying tribute to and culminating the development of Clara’s character. The opening scenes and most of the first half of the episode showcase the thrill and exhilaration Clara found through her adventures with the Doctor – as well as a contagious nature of being daring and adventurous that we’ve grown to associate so strongly with the character. Clara’s choice to switch places with Rigsy was one fuelled by many things – but above all the overwhelming sense of compassion to ensure that no matter what, Rigsy’s daughter will grow up with a mum and a dad because Clara herself didn’t. The foolishness of her bravery is really stressed through a perfect marriage between her sense of responsibility and her blind assurance in her own survival. It is the misconception of safety and distorted sense of reality that truly seals her face.
With her final goodbye finally, Clara finally accepts her situation – and above all accepts herself, recognising her carelessness and recklessness we’ve watched her ignore all series… and in the most triumphant way, despite recognising it she doesn’t condemn it, because that’s just who she is. There is compassion and heroism in her actions, there’s the Doctor-like intelligence in the fabric of her plan (which granted what she knew, is quite clever) – but there’s also an impulsion and recklessness. She’s heroic, but she’s also too self-assured, too confident in the face of tremendous danger, which is inevitably her downfall. There is no way out of her death sentence, her nobility to not sacrifice another’s life to save her own striking a very sombre, yet loyal connection to her well established gallantry. ABOVE ALL however, the true selflessness of Clara’s character is that even in her final moments Clara’s mind is on the Doctor and not on herself. She literally uses her last breaths to order him to not take revenge on anyone, and to not let whatever journey ahead change him. It’s one final, bittersweet and touching moment watching the control freak in action…. And it’s absolutely heartbreaking.
“Let me be Brave”
I mentioned earlier that the series, in cohesion with most of Series 8, proved Clara’s strength as a character as well as her ability to hold her own next to the usually unmatched benchmark set by the Doctor. She’s a character who entered the Doctor’s timestream in the hope of saving him, outsmarted the Half Face Man, the Sheriff of Nottingham, the boneless among others – almost single-handedly saved the life of an innocent creature who was unable to defend itself and repeatedly worked seamlessly with the Doctor to save the world time and time again. Perhaps this was why the circumstances of Clara’s death made it so profound and moving – that after all these victories it was something as mundane as an error of judgement fuelled by an illusion of indestructibility that was her undoing. It would be almost ironic if it wasn’t such an appropriate and fitting conclusion to her character’s development. It’s not specifically triumphant or bombastic – but simply remains character driven and dependent on such a strong level of sincerity in both it’s manner of storytelling and actor’s performances.
In an era like Clara’s – where character development, emotional investment, the Doctor and Companion dynamic and subtly in narrative form such a crucial and rewarding list of characteristics – there really couldn’t have been a more satisfying and moving death. Now the question involuntarily turns to the Doctor’s acceptance and thirst for closure – which will no doubt atone to Jenna’s mysterious role in the finale…