I’m concerned about Clara Oswald. Since Amy Pond’s plotline turned into such a mess, there was always the hope that a new companion meant a new start, a clean slate, and the ability to enjoy the show again. But although it seems premature to criticize a character who hasn’t properly appeared yet, warning bells are going off in my head.
Clara Oswald’s character is built to fail, because Clara is not being set up as a character; she’s a plot device. She’s been introduced as a mystery that has piqued the Doctor’s interest, just like a crack in a bedroom wall or a monster in the window of one of Van Gogh’s paintings, and the plot isn’t about this awesome person who adventures with the Doctor, but the Doctor’s attempt to figure out something that, in Moffat’s hands, is never going to make sense.
All my fingers are crossed that Clara doesn’t continue to die. If our companion dies at the end of every episode, and is replaced with someone from another time who looks the same, all chance for character development, or the development of a proper relationship between the Doctor and Clara, is lost. In this scenario, Clara is truly nothing more than a walking, talking plot device, as individual as the cracks across the universe (although possibly less deadly).
But even if the Clara we find in Saturday’s episode remains with us throughout the season, things are already looking ropey. In the prequel episode that was released at the weekend, the Doctor talks to a random young girl about the friend he’s lost. The girl, of course, turns out to be a young Clara. Which leaves me wondering… has Moffat ever written a major female character who doesn’t meet the Doctor as a child, obsess about him throughout her life, and then kiss him when she meets up with him again? Amy does it, River does it when her timeline is flipped, even minor, one-episode characters do it. Hopefully, in a realistic world, young!Clara won’t remember meeting the Doctor for more than a day… but in Moffat’s world, that seems unlikely. Once again, she seems like a female character primed to have her whole life built around the Doctor. And Clara, even more so than Amy, seems like a character whose personality, interests and life don’t matter. She is the same person across time, a person who keeps dying and reappearing, and the Doctor is determined to hunt her down to figure her out, rather than because he thinks “she was an interesting person. I want to see her again.”
New Who has always been about the somewhat-crazy, deeply flawed Doctor, and the amazing, seemingly-normal human being who shares his adventures. The narrative focus has always been on the companion. They’re our point of entry into the show, our emotional connection, the surrogate for the viewer — and, amazingly, they’re fully-fledged female characters. The narrative has had its problems, but it features real women who often drive the story and achieve great things. Now the female companion has been reduced to a point of interest, another piece of the convoluted plot that is the Doctor’s world. They are there for eye-candy, for some male-gaze camera angles, and for some Strong Female Character sexualized fighting, but they are not developed, do not have family or friends, do not have emotional consistency or long-term thoughts, opinions or problems of their own. Only lip service is paid to them being actual individuals, while the Doctor runs the show.
This is all speculation, of course, and I hope that I’m wrong. But everything about Doctor Who makes me nervous these days, and with Moffat still at the helm, reusing old, problematic tropes before the season has even begun, I doubt my concern is misplaced.